Five movies for St. Patrick's Day: 'Tis the viewin' o' the screen


St. Patrick's Day is upon us, and that can only mean one thing: staying at home and watching movies. Sure, you might want to go out and get drunk, too, and maybe watch a parade go by or something, but that kind of itinerary is best suited for people who actually need an excuse to drink too much and yell at people going down the street.

For the rest of us, or at least those of us who would prefer to avoid the bar crowds, a day in with a few friends watching stuff off Netflix is a decent substitute. If you want to connect with Irish culture in some way that doesn't involve the Dropkick Murphys and overpriced, green-dyed pisswater, we've pulled together an itinerary for you.

[jump] The Commitments

One of the most popular Irish films of all time, The Commitments is the first in a trilogy that also encompasses the Roddy Doyle novel-to-film adaptations The Snapper and The Van. While The Snapper is a bittersweet story of a woman who gets pregnant out of wedlock and has to deal with the resulting reputation-damaging gossip, and The Van details the schism between two broke friends as they attempt to get their own business off the ground. The Commitments introduces the trilogy's cast of characters in a context that directly addresses the trans-Atlantic exchange of Irish-American culture. The exchange, in this case, is protagonist Jimmy Rabbitte's idea to "bring soul to Dublin" by managing a retro-'60s R&B band, justifying this idea with a cockamamie oppressed-class alliance ("The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin") and sending the band off to just enough success to let jealousy split them up. The music's not bad, but the fast-paced, smart-arsed screwball dialogue is the real draw.

The Secret of Kells

There's bad luck, and then there's being nominated for a Best Animated Picture Oscar the year Pixar's Up makes everyone cry their eyes out. Granted, it's a decent kind of bad luck to have, since being in the running for that particular Academy Award against that particular opponent led a lot of people to dredge up some better-than-nothing "What the hell is this? I've never heard of it..." buzz. Now that this obscure but finely-crafted cel-animated picture is available on Netflix instant queue, that leaves you with a good chance to find out: This blend of Celtic mythology and eye-popping iconographic design contains some of the most stirring animated setpieces ever created outside a major studio system. It's one of those rare films where every single frame contains a piece of vividly striking imagery.

Thin Lizzy: Live and Dangerous

For a while, stateside rock critics tended to leave a bit of a gap between Van Morrison's Astral Weeks and U2's War when it came to venerated albums from Irish acts--as though the interim period, known with a shudder as the Pre-Punk Seventies was mostly just a wasteland of simple-minded, lager-swilling groin-rock. But while they're considered a couple-hit wonder according to the reductive history peddled by American classic rock radio ("Jailbreak;" "Whiskey in the Jar"), Thin Lizzy were goddamned phenomenal. Phil Lynott was the tragedy-minded romantic poster boy for sensitive tough-guy bravado, and the twin-guitar attack of Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham raised the stakes for the new wave of British heavy metal that was cresting over the horizon. Live and Dangerous covers some of the best material from their mid-to-late '70s hot streak, from the songs you know ("The Boys Are Back in Town") to the ones you should ("Still in Love With You," maybe the best power ballad ever recorded). And if you've put together a St. Patrick's Day party playlist that doesn't include "Emerald," you might as well not have any music at all.

Barry Lyndon

Sometimes backup plans turn into best-case scenarios. After completing 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick did a massive amount of research on the life, fashion, and manners of late 18th and early 19th century Europe in preparation for a picture on Napoleon Bonaparte. He then scrapped the project when another film about Napoleon flopped, and decided to save the scraps of what he'd studied for a different period film. The result, Barry Lyndon, was initially one of the more faintly received of his movies, but its story of a Irish scoundrel with a malleable identity and upwardly-mobile aspirations towards noblehood is currently considered an overlooked classic. Much of that owes to Kubrick's decision to film using as much natural light as possible, affecting the look of portraiture and paintings of the mid 1700s, and subsequently giving one of the more morally detached and heroism-deficient narratives in his entire filmography. It's three hours long and a bit of a challenge to pay undivided attention to, even when you're not watching it on a day devoted to gratuitous alcohol consumption, but if you're foggy-headed it's a damn pretty sight to stare at for a while.

The Leprechaun series

It would be criminal to put together a list of St. Patrick's Day movies that doesn't include at least one film that has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever and is best experienced through the haze of Beer #6. And if you want something you can howl derisively at without the self-conscious "Am I wasting my time?" concerns that usually come with watching garbage-assed movies, why not watch one of the most goofy-assed horror series ever made? Of course, if you can't decide between the mythology-establishing gravitas of the original or the canon-expanding refinements of Leprechaun 4: In Space and Leprechaun in the Hood, you could always watch a ten-minute distillation of everything that makes the movies ridiculous. Or you could forego them entirely and just yell "I WANT ME GOLD" at the top of your lungs to everyone in earshot. It's your call.