Wednesday, February 09, 2011


I once overheard a colleague and former film student say "No good films ever come from England". A stupendously ignorant claim, as Time Out London's terrific list of the 100 Best British Films suggests. Their list - and the many contributors individual lists - are a good reminder of the cinematic traditions of the UK and the richness and breadth of films produced here over the decades. For some reason, they ignored me, but I love a good list, as regular readers will know, and so, in no particular order, a Top 10:

(I'm excluding the likes of Blow Up and Barry Lyndon, which would both breeze into this list, since they're directed by foreigners, and would therefore seem to be about as British as, say, An American Werewolf in London)

Bad Timing (Nicholas Roeg, 1980)
Roeg's most challenging and rewarding film, elliptical, disturbing and erotic, it's an amazing piece of editing as style, with Roeg shuffling scenes, time frames, moods and emotional states to powerful effect.

Wonderland (Michael Winterbottom, 1999)
One of the only films to truly capture modern London, without tourist landmarks or mockney Gangsters, but in all it's beautiful energy and occasional desolation, Winterbottom's multi-character drama is lovely, brilliantly acted and benefits from one of Michael Nymans greatest scores.

Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)
Devastating, arty yet accessible, beautiful yet horrifying. Fassbender is extraordinary.

Nil By Mouth (Gary Oldman, 1997)
Grim but brilliant, Oldman takes what he learned from Mike Leigh and Alan Clarke and makes a social realist drama set in working class South East London, confronting big issues like domestic abuse without a hint of a flinch, and all of it is cinematic, remarkably visceral and visually exceptional.

Went the Day Well (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1942)
A subtle, darkly funny satire on the nature of Englishness and English self-image and also a thrilling WWII action thriller with some shocking scenes, nicely handled by Cavalcanti.

The War Game (Peter Watkins, 1965)
Watkins virtually invents a genre and creates a thrilling piece of cinematic propaganda in the process. Traumatically frightening and incredibly powerful, too.

Sexy Beast (Jonathan Glazer, 2000)
The best New wave British Gangster film, tipping a hat to Frears' great The Hit but entirely new with it's mix of moods and sub-genres, its moments of fantasy and Glazers stylish command. Ben Kingsley: awesome.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Michael Powell, 1943)
Any one of six Powell and Pressburgers would do, but this is my favourite, a sweet comedy on the life of a man and a Nation. Ravishing, too, like all their work.

Billy Liar (John Schlesinger, 1963)
The least-dated of the kitchen sink films of the 60s and more universal in it's account of a dreamer planning an escape he'll never attempt. A great sense of place, too, and the best performance Tom Courtenay ever gave. Julie Christie doesn't hurt, either.

The Hill ( Sidney Lumet, 1965)
Brutal, remorselessly powerful stockade drama. Lumet was always happiest with his camera focused on faces, and this showcases that powerfully. Connery leaves 007 behind fully for the first time.

An Alternative 10 it hurts too much to leave unmentioned:

Winstanley (Kevin Brownlow, & Andrew Mollo,1975)

Elephant (Alan Clarke, 1989)

Distant Voices, Still Lives (Terence Davies, 1989)

Radio On (Chris Petit, 1979)

Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968)

Bill Douglas Trilogy (Bill Douglas, 1972)

Excalibur (John Boorman, 1981)

Mona Lisa (Neil Jordan, 1984)

A Hard Days Night (Richard Lester, 1964)

Accident (Joseph Losey, 1968)

Labels: , ,