How was it for you? Esther McCarthy's highlights from 2018

Sarah Greene in Rosie.

Esther McCarthy selects her highlights of the year...

International film

This cinephile feels conflicted. As someone who frequently encourages others to see a new movie on the biggest screen they can find, two of my most dazzling movie experiences of 2018 were on the small screen.

It should be pointed out that both Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old and Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma got very limited theatrical releases but, like the vast majority of people, I saw both at home.

Jackson’s astonishing film revived 100-year-old footage from WWI through colourisation and the slowing down of the film. It’s a process some don’t approve of, but it had an incredibly humanising effect, reclaiming and owning the impact of war on these brothers, fathers and sons.

Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, though ostensibly very different, impacted on me in similar ways, bringing real humanity to the people who inhabit his intimate yet epic tale set in Mexico City in the 1970s. I was so moved by it I watched it twice on the same day, and marvelled at every stunning frame and the performance of Yalitza Aparicio, who had never acted before, as the housekeeper Cleo.

It’s been a decent year for cinema, though the growing chasm between big blockbusters that get saturation release and smaller films unseen outside the major cities remains a big concern.

One of my favourite films of the year, the terrific French thriller Custody, came to these shores with a heap of awards but got a tiny release. Many independent and foreign-language films met a similar fate. Much needs to change to give film lovers better access to low-budget, foreign-language and arthouse cinema, especially outside of Dublin.

Irish film

It’s been exciting to see the Irish punching above their weight in both domestic cinema and internationally. Barry Keoghan impressed again this autumn in American Animals.

I did a public interview with Killarney actress Jessie Buckley for the excellent drama Beast and it was a delight to see how excited and appreciative she was of her recent career breaks. Watch her go stellar in 2019 with Wild Rose and Judy.

Tom Vaughan-Lawlor was off playing a Marvel baddie in Avengers: Infinity War and showed how reliably good he is in the fine Hugh Lane docudrama Citizen Lane.

Along with films like the powerful prison drama Michael Inside, sports documentary Katie and Dublin Oldschool, domestic cinema is becoming more diverse in the stories it tells.

Few proved that more than Lance Daly, whose famine revenge thriller Black 47 was a big hit with movie fans and the biggest-grossing Irish movie of the year.

But for me, the year’s finest Irish film was Rosie, a powerful drama about homelessness from the pen of Roddy Doyle, with a bravura turn from Sarah Greene.

Best interview

I’ve been happy in 2018 to interview some of the most exciting filmmakers working today. Yorgos Lanthimos, whose Irish-produced The Favourite has become a serious awards-season contender, was far more relaxed and low-key than you might expect from a filmmaker who’s given us dark films like Dogtooth and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

Ditto Lynne Ramsay when we spoke for You Were Never Really Here. Mike Leigh has a reputation for being a tricky interviewee but he was cheerful and full of stories when we met.

Other highlights

Personally, it’s been a joy to see the opening of a cinema in my home town in Youghal, after many years without, in the restoration and return of the Regal. With strong programming and an upstairs wine bar and ladies’ nights and kids’ pyjamas parties, the Regal has proved a popular new opening.

Looking forward to...

I’m also looking forward to the next season of The Young Offenders. I had my doubts about where Peter Foott’s super film could find new life on a small-screen format but it turned out to be an inspired call, funny and heartfelt, inspiring many a Frank & Walters bus singalong. And I am counting the days until Robert Smith and The Cure return to Ireland for their Malahide Castle gig next summer. It’s been too long.

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