My Top Ten Movies of 2016

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By Esther McCarthy @Esthermccarthy

1. The Revenant

Essentially a tale about living in the moment and survival at all costs, The Revenant is a ground-breaking two and a half hours of cinema, an experience quite unlike anything on the big screen before.

It’s a tough watch  –  some scenes are graphically violent and you endure every sense of cold, pain, fear and tension as you go through it with these characters.

But boy, are the rewards abundant. Its immersive quality makes it a gripping experience, as thrilling as it is exhausting. And this story of revenge unfolds in a spectacular way. Leo Di Caprio, aided and abetted by a fine cast including Domhnall Gleeson, is super.

2. Sing Street

Sing Street is a joy of a film, a richly detailed love letter to Dublin, to youth and to romance.

There’s real depth, too, in the struggles (bullying, rejection, family strife) that its protagonists face, and great humour in their interactions.

But mostly, Sing Street is about the redemptive power of music, and what music  –  as well as The Cure and Duran Duran, there are some wonderful original tunes.

Like all of the best comedy and drama, it’s free of cynicism and true to the core, and you’ll identify with the dilemmas and banters its characters have.

Teenager Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, whose first film this is, is a revelation as Conor, a fifteen year old whose life is in a state of chaos. The constant rows at home suggest his parents (Maria Doyle Kennedy and Aidan Gillen) are headed for splitsville, while money problems mean he’s been moved from a fee-paying school to Synge Street.

The inner-city school run by the Christian Brothers is not a happy place. But there is hope, in the form of the beautiful Raphina who lives opposite the school. They make a connection when she agrees to star in a music video for his band. Now all he has to do is actually set up a band.

3. Spotlight

Spotlight is a film that champions good, old-fashioned, dogged, investigative, foot-in-the-door journalism  –  and a reminder of how it is vital to bring those who believe themselves untouchable into account.

Set in early 2000s Boston, the film tells how the Boston Globe’s investigative team  –  Spotlight  –  look at how the Catholic Church routinely moved and reassigned abusive priests around city and the state, leading to wide scale sexual abuse of children.

What emerges is an instant classic in the vein of All the President’s Men. It’s an important film, but never a wearisome, worthy one  – Tom McCarthy, directing his own script, does a super job of upping the ante and the tension as the full extent of what is being exposed unveils.

It will strongly resonate with Irish audiences, too. We’ve our own shocking experiences of clerical abuse in this country, while the roll call of priests’ names investigated in Boston are as Irish as they come.

4. A Date for Mad Mary

Think Bridesmaids, but set in Drogheda, with more grit and more sass, and you’re about halfway to describing A Date For Mad Mary, the stunning first feature from Irish director Darren Thornton.

Co-written with his brother Colin and adapted from the award-winning stage play, the movie successfully pulls off that rare combination of humour and drama  – it’s a film that feels almost note perfect, and a story with real depth and heart. It’s bloody funny, too.

Thornton is aided and abetted by a terrific young female cast, and of  these, Seána Kerslake, as Mary, deserves every bit of the hype she’s getting.

On returning to her home town of Drogheda to help organise the wedding of her closest and lifelong friend, Charlene (Charleigh Bailey), she gradually realises that both friends and family have been getting on with life without her.

Undaunted and stubborn, Mary sets about writing her bridesmaids speech and catching up with her increasingly reluctant friend. One of the best Irish movies of the year in a year of great Irish movies.

5. Hell or High Water

David MacKenzie is rapidly becoming one of my new favourite filmmakers. Here, he follows up on the gritty prison drama Starred Up with one of the best indie films I’ve seen this year.

He’s also coaxed terrific performances out of an up-for-it cast out of this contemporary Western/heist thriller. It’s a nice clash of genres, and the wry observations of its characters make it reminiscent of the Coen Brothers. But MacKenzie, working with a script from Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan, puts his own stamp on the story.

Set in Texas, the movie centres on the exploits of brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) who join forces to rob several branches of the same bank, taking smaller notes to avoid detection.

Their plan? To illicitly use the money to pay to the same bank, which is threatening foreclosure on their family home, in what is a neat plot device.

Their warped form of justice appears to be possible, until they fall under the radar of a Texas ranger (Jeff Bridges at his best) who doggedly pursues them in the hope of cracking one last big case before retirement.

It’s a familiar tale but one that builds wonderfully thanks to MacKenzie’s assured direction and some super cast performances.

6. Nocturnal Animals

Tom Ford’s film is a mischievously told account of an imploding marriage. But Ford, who also wrote the screenplay based on the novel Tony and Susan, blends fiction with fact.

From when we first meet wealthy and successful art gallery owner Susan Morrow (a fine Amy Adams) it is evident that all is not well with her.

She is surprised to hear from a person in her past  –  her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) who she hasn’t spoken to for years following a bitter break-up.

He has finally completed his first novel, dedicated it to her, and sent her the first copy. Intrigued, Susan starts to read, and soon finds herself overwhelmed by the dark tale within its pages.

The novel tells the story of a man (also played by Gyllenhaal) who is distraught when his family come under threat by criminals, and joins forces with a top detective (Michael Shannon) in the hope of tracking them down. Shannon is terrific in support here and deserves a lot of love come awards season.

7. I, Daniel Blake

Legendary filmmaker Ken Loach is at his angriest  –  and sometimes, his funniest  –  with this Cannes Palme D’Or winner.

It’s one of his finest films in years, examining, as Loach has so often in the past, the struggles faced by Britain’s working classes. For Irish people coming through years of recession and austerity, it will truly hit home.

Dave Johns is terrific as the title character, a talented carpenter from Newcastle who has worked all his life but is urged to take leave by his doctor following a heart attack.

Attempting to negotiate a social welfare system that’s bureaucratic and seems designed to trip him up no matter what approach he takes, an increasingly frustrated Blake navigates queues, automated phone calls and the internet in a bid to get an income.

In doing so he befriends a young mother (an excellent Hayley Squires), who has been forced to move from London to Newcastle with her two kids to take up an offer of a council house, but is struggling on every level.

Loach’s films are sometimes dismissed as populist, but there is nothing false about the characters we meet and their efforts to better their lives while navigating a “one size fits all” social welfare system.

8. The Young Offenders

For a movie about two petty criminals on the hunt for washed-up bales of cocaine, The Young Offenders is surprisingly charming.

Writer/director Peter Foott has brought two great talents out of Cork in the form of young actors Chris Walley and Alex Murphy, who play our leading lads Jock and Conor.

Their bromance unfolds in the form of matching hoodies and haircuts, and their days are spent robbing bikes in the city and getting up to mischief with the local hoodlums.

There’s a reason they spend so much time together and are so dependent on each other  –  life at home’s not great for either of them. Jock is in a running battle with his violent, alcoholic dad, while Conor’s mother (a very good Hilary Rose) has become snippy and stressed due to the pressures that single motherhood bring.

When they hear reports that dozens of bales of cocaine has been washed up during a failed drugs smuggling operation (Foott’s film takes the real-life event from 2007 as a jumping off point for the movie) the duo head for West Cork in the hope of finding a bale and using the money to better their lives.

The movie succeeds or fails on the draw of its two leads  –  and Murphy and Walley, both starring in their first feature film  –  are delightful. Best of all, The Young Offenders is an absolute hoot  –  packed with hilarious one-liners and absurd comic moments.

9. Midnight Special

Batty and fantastical sci-fi dramas don’t come much better than Midnight Special, a movie that requires you to leave your scepticism at the cinema foyer and get on board with its (initially) outlandish premise.

If you can make the leap, the rewards are numerous. Jeff Nicols’ film is tense and riveting, and a true original.

Young Jaeden Leiberher is terrific as Alton, a strange little boy, who, we learn, wears those earphones and sunglasses for very unusual reasons.

Alton, you see, has special powers that are not always within his control, and the film opens with him on the run with his father (the brilliant Michael Shannon) and his dad’s mysterious friend (Joel Edgerton).

That’s because everyone wants a piece of Alton, not least the cultish community who’d taken him under their wing in a place called The Ranch (run by an underused Sam Shepherd). Their entire belief system functions around the boy, and with doomsday coming, they are desperate to bring him back to save them.

The movie has strong echoes of the classic Spielberg sci-fi movies of the 1980s (I found myself thinking of ET many times) and it has a power and energy.

10. Love & Friendship

Jane Austen gets the Whit Stillman treatment to delightful effect in Love & Friendship, a comedy written and directed by Stillman and based on Austen’s source letters.

Filmed on location in Ireland, with venues like Newbridge House doubling  for UK period locations, the movie features terrific performances from Kate Beckinsale and Tom Bennett.

Beckinsale is Lady Susan Vernon, the conniving widow who hasn’t let bereavement prevent her social climbing. Glamorous but down on her luck, she visits the estate of her in-laws to wait out the colourful rumours of her dalliances  –  and add a few new ones of her own.

Her manipulation doesn’t stop at her own love life  –  Lady Susan is also keen to match up her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) with the wealthy but dim Sir James Martin (a terrific Tom Bennett).

Austen screen adaptations are generally mined for their sweeping romance, but Stillman parks the heaving bosoms for pure comedy, and the resulting film is a joy.

We are reminded what a witty, socially observational writer Austen was, and how she and Stillman make great collaborators two centuries apart.

Droll, funny and refreshingly unsentimental, Love & Friendship is one of the sharpest and wittiest takes on Austen yet.

 

Farrell’s Finest

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By Esther McCarthy (@Esthermccarthy)

One of Ireland’s best-loved actors  –  Colin Farrell  –  turns forty today. Here’s my take on  his ten greatest performances.

 

  1. In Bruges: Farrell led a terrific cast in this pitch black comedy, from writer/director Martin McDonagh, about two hit men forced to lie low in the Belgian city, which earned him a Golden Globe award. The movie’s many great lines will be with us for years to come. Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes deserve honours for bringing out the best in the Dubliner.
  2. The Lobster: He brought pathos and humour to this batty dystopian drama filmed in the stunning and delightfully strange surroundings of Parknasilla in Co Kerry. Yorgos Lanthimos (Alps, Dogtooth) brings the dark laughs, and crucially, the heart. They’ve signed up to work together again.
  3. Tigerland: He got his break and didn’t waste it in Joel Schumacher’s super conflict drama, set around a group of young soldiers in a US boot camp in the weeks prior to their posting to Vietnam. The young Farrell was cast as the rebel of the piece after sending Schumacher an audition tape. A rapid ascent in Hollywood followed.
  4. Phone Booth: The Dubliner shines as a snaky PR man forced to rethink his actions when he’s taken hostage. He works again with Schumacher, showing great range in this experimental film, shot on location in New York over just twelve days.
  5. Minority Report: Farrell’s first move into mainstream Hollywood and he only goes and robs the film from its biggest star. As an investigator tasked with enforcing the pre-crimes of  Philip K. Dick’s source story, he steals the movie from Tom Cruise (also great here, to be fair) in Steven Spielberg’s super sci-fi thriller.
  6. True Detective: The TV crime series was widely derided but Farrell’s performance was the best thing about the show. The series storytelling was a mess but the cast were largely on form, especially Farrell’s conflicted Ray Velcoro.
  7. The New World: He brings his trademark intensity to the fore in Terrence Malick’s under-seen and under-loved romance based loosely on the story of Pocahontas.
  8. Saving Mr Banks: Colin provides strong support in this moving drama about Mary Poppins creator PL Travers. As the author’s troubled father, Farrell’s character navigates the tricky flashback story to bring context to Travers’ conflicts as she fights for the integrity of her novel’s Hollywood adaptation.
  9. Crazy Heart: He’s great as a country singer (and can hold a tune) in this gentle, beautiful, under seen tale of a tortured soul played by Jeff Bridges. Bridges shines as a country singer lost to alcoholism, and Farrell shows how capable he is in support.
  10. Intermission:  He gives great skanger, rocks a dodgy jumper, and had people everywhere trying brown sauce in their tea before throwing it out, in this edgy Dublin crime comedy.

Interview: Lenny Abrahamson

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Room director Lenny Abrahamson has been offered several international movies and a web TV series after getting rave reviews and four Oscar nominations for his adaptation of the hit novel.

They include a controversial real-life biopic of gay boxer Emile Griffith, whose career was forever overshadowed by one notorious fight.

Lenny has also signed up for a new series featuring Hugh Laurie and a drama starring Domhnall Gleeson. But the filmmaker has vowed to keep working at home as much as possible.

The Dubliner, who admitted “I thought I’d misheard my name” when he was shortlisted, said it’ll mean a lot of travel for him and his young family.

“Will I be working abroad more? It’s inevitable,” he told me. “It’s difficult to only make films here, though I do want to keep making films here. But it’s just the way it works. The US still carries this weight in cinema, so a lot of the projects end up being set there. It’ll mean travel with family, it’s the only way.”

This spring he’ll produce and direct Chance, a new series for web-streaming Hulu, described as a psychological thriller. It features House star Hugh Laurie in the lead role.

He’s also making a film about Emile Griffith, a 1960s heavyweight boxing champ who was taunted for being gay by boxing rival Benny Paret, who subsequently died in the ring during a vicious fight against Griffith. The fight has gone down as one of the most notorious and controversial in boxing history and caused such uproar that US TV channels suspended broadcasting of boxing matches for several years afterwards.

“It’s a fascinating story. I’m co-writing the script and I would hope to film within the next year,” said the director.

“There’s also a drama called The Little Stranger, which Domhnall Gleeson is connected to, and a civil war story called Neverland.

“A lot of stuff is now being sent to me, which is amazing. I get to see almost everything now. It’s about where things are going to happen and what that means for the family.”

The director of films like Adam & Paul and Garage is on the radar of the top Hollywood studios after Room  –  a drama about a woman who raises her son in a tiny room after being abducted and incarcerated. The story has echoes of real-life stories like the Fritzl case.

“We read about the famous real cases in the States and elsewhere, but it only gets you so far to do that really,” he said. “We did talk to a very interesting man, a psychologist, who’s an expert on trauma and on people’s experiences of post-traumatic stress disorder.”

“It can be exciting,” he said. “Early on, when you first start reading of your film as a possible Oscar contender, or being contacted by very well known people to tell you how much they loved your film (director Rob Reiner and Tatum O’Neill are fans) that part of it is exciting.

“But the intensity of focus on awards, particularly in LA, and the industry of awards prediction is out of control, and if you get too caught up in that, it’s not healthy.

“I’m in the heat of that in a way that I’ve never experienced before. The key is to enjoy the bizarreness of the ride, and the fact that it stems from people responding to the film. And not getting caught up on whether you’re now predicted to be film number four or number seven (in the Oscar race).

“You see films that are made specifically for awards. You do get that, and I don’t want to ever be that.”

Abrahamson’s film deserves all the attention it’s getting. The man who previously brought us intimate dramas like Adam & Paul, Garage and Frank has fashioned a gripping and complex drama from Donoghue’s best-seller.

“We always wanted it to be about the deeper truths that apply outside of situation they’re in, about the universal aspects of parenting, of childhood, and growing up.”

And he’s coaxed a lead performance from actress Brie Larson that’s poised to turn her into a huge star.

“She’s great,” he agreed. “When we were casting, somebody in the office said: ‘You should watch (indie drama) Short Term 12’ and I thought she was amazing in that. She looks like a real person, Brie.

“She looks very striking and has great vivacity on screen, but you want to have her believable. I met her and auditioned her, she was so interesting and so intelligent that I didn’t want the conversation to end. That’s when I knew I wanted to work with her. There’s just something about her. I could see the film that would occur with her in it.”

The director has also found a brilliant child actor in Jacob Tremblay and the nine-year-old could well find himself up for a supporting actor nomination.

“All he’d done before was a voice part in The Smurfs 2 which is a bit different to this!” laughed Lenny.  “When the audience meet him at cinemas where we do question and answer sessions it’s fascinating, because you live inside his head and care about him, and when he trots out at the end of the film, he’s so tiny. He’s a great little boy, he has no pretention about him.”

Being Colin Farrell

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By Esther McCarthy (@Esthermccarthy)

Colin Farrell is a favourite interviewee of many journalists, and with good reason. He’s witty, good-natured and answers questions spontaneously, often to hilarious effect. We met in Dublin for his zany and clever dystopian drama, The Lobster, which is now released on DVD.

(This interview originally appeared in Irish newspaper The Sunday World for the film’s theatrical release).

 

COLIN FARRELL has told how his own brush with alcohol and drug addiction helped spur him to make a movie about homelessness.

Now he’s planning to make a movie on the subject which he hopes will not only entertain film fans but also make a real difference in terms of improving resources for and awareness of the issue.

The movie  –  which has been scripted and could start filming in Ireland as early as next year  –  will centre around the Irish team’s efforts at the Homeless World Cup. Colin will co-produce the film and star as one of the footballers.

“There’s something very tragic about how many men and women are living on the streets without a roof over their heads. For me there’s certainly an element of: ‘There go I but for the grace of God’. Maybe it’s because of some of my own personal stuff, with alcohol and drugs and all, maybe there’s a little bit of that as well.”

“I remember at the Golden Globes for In Bruges, somebody said to me: ‘Do you find it harder trying to get straight in the public eye?’ I was like NO!

“I get where they were coming from. But I came out of rehab and I had two films lined up and a 3,000 square foot home. A whole infrastructure that was there.

“The majority of people who come out of something like that, or who are struggling to get their lives back together, have lost their families, their jobs, their homes.”

He says the movie will be a comedy drama which follows the efforts of the Irish footballers. “If the film’s good and it’s brought to life in the way I feel it could or should be – and I’d better make sure it is – there’s a load of possibility as to what we could do.”

“We’ve talked about holding screenings outdoors, how we can fundraise, there’s a whole slew of stuff, which ideally will benefit the film as well but will help draw the attention to a place where attention should be drawn.”

Farrell has previous when it comes to lending his support to a personal cause. Just last year he wrote a powerful open letter in support of the marriage referendum for Irish newspaper The Sunday World, and outlined the vicious bullying his brother, Eamon, had suffered for being gay. The emotional piece made headlines throughout the world.

“We did our bit!” he grins when we meet in his hometown of Dublin. “I started answering your few questions and, like I do here in interviews, when I was answering I talk too much. But I was delighted to be part of it and we did our bit. So many people did.

“It was a monumental time for the country  –  and the world  –  an opportunity to lead the way. We’re something else for a nation of four million.”

Now based in Los Angeles with his sons James (12) who was born with a rare condition called Angelman Syndrome, and his little brother, six year old Henry, Colin is home for the premiere of his new movie The Lobster.

He spent the previous evening celebrating the bash with family and friends after the movie opened to rave reviews at the Cannes Film Festival last year.

Shot in Co Kerry, the movie is about a dystopia where single people are urged to mate and turned into wild animals if they don’t find a partner within a month. He drank melted ice-cream to help put on three stone for the role.

“You seldom come across anything that is as singular and unique as this.

In the shooting of it, it remained a mystery. I never felt  –  none of the actors ever did  –  that we knew exactly what we were doing, or what the f**k we were making.

“It is about loneliness and it is about love. Every character in the film has been disavowed of their own emotional truths by living under this political and societal structure.”

He was overjoyed to learn in the early stages that the film was to be made in Co Kerry. “Kerry has the lead role  –  the rest of us are just supporting players. It was a lovely coincidence that it got made here.

“Parknasilla and Sneem were perfect, just odd enough, out of the way enough, rustic and old yet contemporary enough.

“At the weekends I’d go driving. The South West of Ireland, particularly the Beara Peninsula, has quite a significant bearing, I think, on my life. I did Falling For a Dancer there when I was only 20. I did Ondine and thereby had my youngest son, he’s from Beara almost, because I met his mam (Polish actress Alicja Bachleda) there while working on the film.”

It’s been a huge year for Farrell, who’s getting raves for The Lobster as well as widespread acclaim for his performance in True Detective  –  even among those who feel it didn’t live up to the first series.

It took nerve, I tell him, to follow up on the much-loved series starring Matthew McConaughey. Was he worried?

“I was very hesitant. Although it’s not a remake, the first year is sacrosanct to a lot of people and they hold it in such high regard. So I knew there was going to be comparisons, and I knew there was no way that lightening could strike with the same kind of ferociousness, the same degree of amplitude that it did in the first year.

“You can dig yourself a hole. You think ok either do it and let go of the first year, completely, really, or else listen to the concerns, feel they’re insurmountable, then just move on and do something else.

“I said I’d never play a cop again, I think I’d said that three days earlier. But when I signed on for it that was it, I was done thinking about the first year which was a completely separate entity.”

The Lobster is now out on DVD and on Irish web-streaming service Volta.

 

The Irish Are Coming

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By Esther McCarthy (@Esthermccarthy)

Irish cinema is thriving creatively, globally and financially as a new generation of filmmakers and actors make their mark.

Artistically, we’ve always punched above our weight as a small country  –  but for a nation of storytellers, our cinematic output hasn’t always been consistent or strong.

But there’s a sense of change in the air, with emerging filmmakers like Gerard Barrett, Mark Noonan and Juanita Wilson joining established talents such as Lenny Abrahamson, Conor Horgan and John Carney.

Enabled by shrewd support from The Irish Film Board, there’s a thriving new group of filmmakers who, crucially, understand the importance of getting their films seen.

For a long time, it felt as though Irish film fans were wary of Irish films  –  and who could blame them?

But in a classic case of “If you build it, they will come”, the audiences are returning, encouraged by great films. Offbeat dystopian drama The Lobster, documentaries Older Than Ireland and The Queen of Ireland and animated film Two By Two all performed solidly at Irish cinemas in recent months, while Brooklyn took over €2.6 million at the domestic box office, reaching the top ten of 2015 among the superhero flicks and blockbusters.

It can only help that several of our native actors and filmmakers are likely to feature strongly as autumn’s heavy hitters compete for plaudits and box-office in the coming weeks.

Lenny Abrahamson’s Room  –  the eagerly-awaited film version of Emma Donoghue’s chilling novel  –  is in serious contention for the Best Picture race at the Oscars.

Brooklyn is widely regarded as the most likely Irish contender for a Best Picture nod. The moving period drama  –  shot in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford last summer  –  was directed by Dubliner John Crowley and features a largely Irish cast as well as dozens of extras hired for scenes shot in Wexford.

It tells the story of a young Irish immigrant, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan, terrific) who emigrates from her quiet hometown to Brooklyn. She falls in love with an Italian immigrant, and when her family circumstances in Ireland change dramatically, becomes torn between her old life and new.

After winning a top award at last weekend’s Toronto film festival, Room has emerged as another big player. Six of the last seven films to win the award featured as Best Picture nominees come Oscar night.

While Room was filmed in Canada, it has huge Irish interest  –  it’s written by Irish author Emma Donoghue, directed by Dubliner Lenny Abrahamson (Garage, Adam & Paul) and co-produced by an Irish film company.

Movie industry bible Variety described the film as a “Game-Changing Best-Picture Oscar Nominee” likely to take on the big guns over the coming weeks.

Kerry actor Michael Fassbender is also generating plaudits for his performance in Steve Jobs  –  his portrayal of the Apple co-founder is getting him numerous awards nominations.

Early screenings have led to critics describing Fassbender as “a shoo-in” for a Best Actor nomination, while Danny Boyle’s controversial biopic was described as “racing in high gear from start to finish” by The Hollywood Reporter.

The drama, which is set around three different iconic Apple product launches, was penned by The Social Network scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin.

Irish drama Viva is also regarded as our strongest nomination for Oscar’s Best Foreign Language film in years.

Even though it’s in Spanish and set in Cuba, there is Irish involvement all over the film. Dubliner Paddy Breathnach directed and Mark O’Halloran wrote the script, while it was made by an Irish production company.

It’s an exciting time for Irish cinema and it’s encouraging how many emerging talents are ready and willing to win the hearts and minds of movie goers.

Sly’s Finest Performance

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By Esther McCarthy (@Esthermccarthy)

Sylvester Stallone has become a surprise contender for next spring’s Oscars  –  after landing rave reviews for his latest Rocky movie.

The actor  –  better known for his action blockbusters than his award-winning roles  –  steals the hearts of movie goers as an ageing Rocky Balboa in his new film.

Having caught a preview of the film shortly before Christmas, I can say Stallone deserves all the awards-season love he gets for his heartfelt and heartbreaking performance.

The movie won’t be released here until the New Year, but Stallone’s heartfelt performance makes him a dark horse for next spring’s awards, according to pundits.

Stallone, 69, is getting the best reviews of his life for a character he first brought to the big screen almost 40 years ago.

Creed, released in cinemas in Ireland on January 15th, sees Stallone move from the centre of the ring to the corner, when he agrees to coach Adonis Creed (an excellent Michael B Jordan), the son of his old boxing rival, Apollo.

Far from a cash-in, the rousing movie is regarded as on a par with the first and best Rocky film, and is making a fortune at the US box office.

Now he’s being tipped for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, his first and only since getting a nomination for Rocky back in 1977. The film’s even being touted as a Best Picture contender.

US critics have been giving raves, with one calling it “his best on-screen work to date” and Variety saying: “he finds continually surprising, understated notes of tenderness and regret”.

Stallone says he had to be convinced to get on board for another movie in the iconic boxing series. “I was so happy with Rocky Balboa in 2007 and the conclusion, I thought the story was over and we didn’t need to go any further with it.

“Ryan Coogler (the director) was very adamant about doing it. Then I thought: ‘My story has been told but it is two generations since Rocky started, and the next generation story has not been told’.

“What is amazing is this story and this character have stayed around without any special effects, or car chases, or blowing anything up, which I usually do.”