Cork-born Cillian Murphy led the pack, starring in three of the most high-profile films of the year.
After playing villains in the summer blockbusters “Batman Begins,” directed by British “Memento” filmmaker Christopher Nolan, and “Red Eye,” helmed by American horror-master, Wes Craven, the 29-year-old actor offered up a tour-de-force performance as kind-hearted Irish transvestite Kitten Braden in “Breakfast on Pluto,” Neil Jordan’s big-screen adaptation of Patrick McCabe’s novel, most of which took place in 1970s Ireland and London.
For his portrayal of the irrepressible Kitten, the blue-eyed “28 Days Later” star earned a Golden Globe nomination for actor in a musical or comedy. The nod pits Murphy against 52-year-old Drogheda native Pierce Brosnan, who was nominated for the same prize for his role in “The Matador,” a black comedy that casts the former James Bond as a foul-mouthed, washed-up assassin on the verge of a breakdown. It opens in limited release at the end of the month.
In addition to earning raves from critics and serving as the centerpiece of the New York Film Festival earlier this fall, “Breakfast on Pluto” also reunites Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson and Stephen Rea with Jordan, who directed them in the acclaimed 1996 film, “Michael Collins.” In “Pluto,” Neeson plays the cross-dressing Kitten’s father, who just happens to also be the parish priest, while Gleeson offers some comic relief as a costumed theme-park character who lends Kitten a hand. Rea plays a magician who takes the young transvestite under his wing, but whether his actions are driven by compassion or something more sinister is up to the audience to decide.
Although “Pluto” marks the first time he was directed by Jordan, Murphy has appeared with Gleeson in the movies “28 Days Later” and “Cold Mountain,” and has worked with Rea, an actor who has performed in nine Jordan films to date, in the 2001 film “On the Edge.” Neeson also appeared in Murphy’s “Batman Begins,” now on DVD, as Henri Ducard, a deadly warrior who mentors young Bruce Wayne/Batman (played by Christian Bale) and trains him in the combat he will need to fight the evil he has sworn to defeat.
It was a busy year for the 53-year-old Ballymena native, who along with Gleeson, a 50-year-old Dubliner, also play supporting roles in Ridley Scott’s Crusades epic, “Kingdom of Heaven.” Starring “Lord of the Rings” hunk Orlando Bloom, the film opened last spring with lukewarm reviews and disappointing box office receipts. It is now out on DVD.
Gleeson and Neeson also have memorable roles in two of the biggest children’s fantasies brought to the big screen this year. Gleeson portrays the eccentric new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, “Mad-Eye” Moody, in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” the fourth installment in the wildly popular franchise, based on J.K. Rowling’s boy-wizard books and Neeson lent his distinctive voice to the heroic, computer-animated leo, Aslan, in the film adaptation of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,” written by Belfast-born author C.S. Lewis. Although that movie’s cast is largely comprised of talented newcomers, it does feature performances by Scotland’s esteemed actors Tilda Swinton as the evil White Witch and James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus, the conflicted faun. McAvoy was also seen earlier this year in Damien O’Donnell’s critically acclaimed Irish film “Rory O’Shea Was Here,” a comedy-drama about two Irishmen (McAvoy and Steven Robertson) who try to live life to the fullest, despite the fact they are both in wheelchairs. Dubliner Brenda Fricker has a supporting role in the film, which is now out on DVD. “Narnia,” however, is still reaping loads of cash in theaters.
Like Murphy, Neeson and Gleeson, Irish-American actor/director George Clooney also worked on multiple projects this year.
The 44-year-old “Ocean’s Eleven” star co-wrote, directed and acted in “Good Night, And Good Luck,” a black-and-white film about how legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow tried to bring down Communist-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. That film earned Golden Globe nods for best drama film and best director, while American thespian David Strathairn, who plays Murrow in the film, earned a nomination for best actor in a drama. In addition to the accolades he is receiving for “Good Night, And Good Luck,” Clooney was also nominated for a Globe for best supporting actor in a drama for his depiction of a CIA operative in “Syriana,” a political thriller set against the backdrop of the oil industry. Both films are in theaters now.
One of the chief rivals of Clooney’s “Good Night, And Good Luck” is Woody Allen’s sexy new drama, “Match Point,” which hits theaters in New York and Los Angeles Dec. 28, then opens nationwide in January. Set in London, the film is about a handsome tennis pro (28-year-old Dubliner Jonathan Rhys Meyers,) caught in a web of love, lies and obsession involving two beautiful women, played by British beauty Emily Mortimer and American babe Scarlett Johansson.
The runaway hit of the Cannes Film Festival last spring, “Match Point” earned four Golden Globe nominations, including nods for Allen as writer and director, the film for best drama and Johansson for best supporting actress. Meyers, who also recently earned a Globe nod for his portrayal of rock and roll god Elvis Presley in the CBS miniseries, “Elvis,” isn’t the only Irish actor in the mainly British cast of “Match Point,” however. “Bloody Sunday” and “Cold Feet” star James Nesbitt, who hails from Coleraine, also has a small role as a detective in the film. The 40-year-old actor, who earned terrific notices earlier this year for his portrayal of a widowed father of two young boys in Danny Boyle’s uncharacteristically light-hearted fantasy, “Millions,” also reportedly has a role in Allen’s second London-based feature. “Scoop,” which once again stars Johansson, is expected to hit theaters next year.
Also due out at the end of this year is Colin Farrell’s new epic, “The New World,” directed by Terrence Malick. The story is about 17th Century explorer John Smith (Farrell) and the clash between English settlers and Native Americans. The film is the first the 29-year-old Castleknock native will be seen in since his film “Alexander” was critically mauled last winter. Although it is receiving positive early reviews, the fact it was shut out of the Golden Globe race means chances are slim it will earn Oscar gold next year. Most of the early media reports about the film have focused on the Smith character’s romance with Pocahontas, who was played by the stunning 15-year-old newcomer, Q’Orianka Kilcher, and on Farrell’s recent revelation that he is being treated for exhaustion and dependency on prescription medication.
Perhaps the year’s biggest disappointment in Irish film-making was Jim Sheridan’s “Get Rich or Die Tryin,'” which opened to mostly dismal reviews last month. A gritty story of how an inner-city drug dealer (rapper 50 Cent) uses his passion for rap music to escape a life of crime, the $40 million, R-rated film earned only about $30 million domestically after a month in theaters. It was the first film from the 56-year-old Dublin filmmaker since he was nominated for an Oscar, along with his daughters, for their screenplay for their 2003 semi-autobiographical film, “In America.”
While 2005 was not exactly a stellar year for Irish actresses, a few did find work in film.
In John Singleton’s summer-time action thriller, “Four Brothers,” Dubliner Fionnula Flanagan played the beloved adopted mother to Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, Andre Benjamin and Garrett Hedlund. Her murder brings all the boys home to mourn–and to find out what really happened. The 64-year-old “Waking Ned Devine” star has a completely different role in the gender-bending film, “Transamerica,” in theaters now. In that film, she plays the insufferable, much-too-tan mother of a cross-dressing man (Felicity Huffman) days away from undergoing a sex change. Despite her brief time on-screen, Flanagan manages to make the most of the part and her judgmental character even redeems herself by the film’s end.
In “The Boys and Girl from County Clare,” out in American theaters last winter and now available on DVD, Dundalk-born pop singer Andrea Corr plays an Irish fiddle player caught in a family feud that comes to a head at a Ceili music competition. “The Lord of the Rings” veteran Bernard Hill and “The Commitments” star Colm Meaney are wonderful as long-estranged, yet ultra-competitive brothers. Corr, in her biggest acting role to date, has some lovely moments as a nice girl in love with the (as far as her family is concerned) totally wrong boy.
This past summer, Irish-American actress Jennifer Connelly headlined “Dark Water,” a creepy supernatural thriller about a divorced mom who isn’t sure if she is being terrorized in her awful new run-down apartment or if she is simply losing her mind. “Gangs of New York” actor John C. Reilly offers some laughs as the fast-talking landlord who tries to dodge her reports of strange-goings-on.