It sounds like a cliche at this point but the Irish film industry really is coming on in leaps and bounds.
Given the small size of our country and limited budgets compared to others, what Irish film continues to produce year in, year out is amazing.
It's been a year of strong genre filmmaking as well as experimentation. And Irish documentaries continue to be top quality. There have also been numerous critical successes and a box office hit we hope you didn't forget about.
Boundary pushing Irish films
In terms of pushing the boundaries of documentary filmmaking, 'Citizen Lane' has been seminal this year. It stars Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Hugh Lane in a fascinating portrayal of the cultural icon. The doc boldly blends documentary and drama, and recreations and interviews in an innovative way.
Another boundary-pushing film this year was 'The Meeting'. It has the victim of a brutal sexual assault confront her attacker face-to-face nine years after the incident. Ailbhe Griffith courageously plays herself in the hard-hitting drama.
Another experimental film worth a mention is 'Kissing Candice' from writer-director Aoife McArdle. Lead Ann Skelly earned two IFTA nominations for her portrayal of a seventeen year old whose wild imagination and fantasies start to cause trouble. DOP Steve Annis deserves a lot of credit for the film's hypnotic, heavily red cinematography.
A shout-out is also worth giving to two Irish horror films that took risks: 'The Lodgers' and 'The Cured.' The former is set 200 years in the past and follows a pair of twins who are oddly close. 'The Cured', meanwhile, asks the question of what are the moral and social implications if zombies were able to be cured?
One area that Irish film and TV has always excelled in is documentaries. This year was no different. If you're looking for a Christmas present this year, 'Making the Grade' is a lovely one for the family over the holidays. From 'His & Hers' director Ken Wardrop, it looks at students learning piano all over the country.
A number of powerful political documentaries also hit Irish cinemas this year. 'I Dolours' recounts the life of former IRA member Dolours Price. 'A Mother Brings Her Son to be Shot' looks at modern-day Northern Ireland and how far-reaching the Troubles have been. From Irish filmmaker Christopher Kelly came 'A Cambodian Spring.' It delves into the corruption behind the development of the Boeung Kak Lake in Phomh Penh and leaves its viewers shook.
Last year we had 'Notorious' about Conor McGregor. This year we had 'Katie' about boxing legend Katie Taylor. Another documentary offering in late 2018 was 'The Camino Voyage.' Starring Glen Hansard, it tracks an eclectic bunch of Irishmen, including a writer, two musicians, an artist and a stonemason, making an ambitious 2500km journey from Ireland to the Camino by boat.
A number of Irish directors made a welcome return to the big screen with new features this year. Mark O'Rowe, the writer of 'Intermission' and 'Perrier's Bounty,' unveiled his directorial debut, 'The Delinquent Season'. This Irish 'Brief Encounter' looks at the impacts of a love affair on two married couples.
Paddy Breathnach, best-known for 'I Went Down' and 'Man About Dog', turned to social realism and drama in 'Rosie'. The deeply moving feature is about a mother struggling to protect her family after they're forced into homelessness. Profoundly of its time, it may be the most important Irish film of the year.
Oscar nominee Lenny Abrahamson's sixth feature is very different from what we're used to seeing from him. Part ghost story, part psychological thriller, part family drama, 'The Little Stranger' stars Domhnall Gleeson as a doctor who comes to visit a family he becomes more and more entrenched with.
Two Irish dramas got five star reviews from us this year. The first, 'Dublin Oldschool', follows two brothers trying to reconnect over a drug-fuelled weekend in Dublin. As funny as it is touching, the Irish capital hasn't been brought to the big screen in such an authentic way in years.
'Michael Inside' provides another hard-hitting film and establishes Frank Berry as one of the most talented Irish directors working today. Its eighteen year old titular character experiences prison life for the first time when he gets caught with drugs that he is hiding for his friend's brother. Never mind Hollywood dramatisation - this is what incarceration is really like.
Box office winners and award contenders
The big winner at the Irish box office this year was undoubtedly 'Black 47.' The top grossing Irish film of the year had the highest opening for an Irish film in Ireland since 'Brooklyn' in 2015. It crossed the $1 million mark going into its third week of release. Who would've thought that a drama about the Famine where the English gets their asses handed to them would've resonated so well with audiences?
Credit is also due to the stunning animated feature 'The Breadwinner', which earned an Oscar nomination at this year's awards ceremony. The focus of its powerful narrative is on a young girl growing up during the Taliban era. When her father is captured, she disguises herself as a boy in order to provide for her family.
One to look out for in the new year is Irish co-production 'The Favourite'. With five Golden Globe nominations and three SAG nods, it'll be waving the flag high for the Irish comes Oscars time. It hits cinemas on New Year's Day.