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Best of British – Top British films of the last 25 years

Mike Leigh's Naked

Mike Leigh's Naked (ooh matron!)

My response to today’s Observer Film Magazine list of ‘The Best British Films 1984-2009′

My 15 favourite home-grown films of the last quarter century (in no particular order) are:

  • In Bruges [not in The Observer list, made by FilmFour, a cracking script by Martin McDonagh]
  • 24 Hour Party People [I'm not a huge fan of Steve Coogan but he's brilliant in this #24 of 25]
  • Venus [Peter O'Toole and Leslie Phillips make a great double act, not in The Observer list]
  • The Remains of the Day [deeply moving performances by Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, not in The Observer list]
  • A Room with a View [perfectly executed film of its type, not in The Observer list]
  • Naked [the fruit of David Thewlis' creativity #14]
  • The Hours [Nicole Kidman shines among a host of brilliant actresses, not in The Observer list]
  • The Constant Gardener [another powerful Ralph Fiennes performance, not in The Observer list]
  • Last Resort [Pawel Pawlikowski bursts onto the British scene, not in The Observer list]
  • Hunger [a bold, fresh artist's film from (the other) Steve McQueen but not an arty one #16]
  • Chaplin [captures something of the greatest film-maker of all time, not in The Observer list]
  • Secrets & Lies [a culmination of Mike Leigh's approach #3]
  • In the Name of the Father [powerful acting spearheaded by Daniel Day-Lewis, not in The Observer list]
  • A Month in the Country [a gentle, bucolic one - not in The Observer list]
  • Defence of the Realm [a top-class thriller shot by Roger Deakins, not in The Observer list]
  • The Commitments [energised by the powerful lungs of Andrew Strong, not in The Observer list]

Bubbling under: Borat, Howard’s End, High Hopes, Shadowlands, Johnny English, East is East, The Bounty, Son of Rambow, Billy Elliot

venusI enjoyed flicking through the pages of today’s Observer Film Magazine, The Nation’s Choice, focused on contemporary British cinema as I supped my Cullen Skink outside a pub on the Shore of Leith, winding down from the manic activity of the Edinburgh Television Festival, said soup surely worthy of sitting alongside Tarmac and Lino as a GSI (Great Scottish Invention). [It would have been fun to check out the online discussion the mag urges us to visit but after ten minutes searching for it on The Guardian/Observer site I gave up.]

Leafing through I realised this has been a fairly significant part of my life over the years, despite being more focused on telly – from the photo of my old flat-mate Emer McCourt alongside #21, Ken Loach’s Riff-Raff, to Loach’s producer Rebecca O’Brien who sat at the table I hosted at the TV BAFTAs a couple of years ago; from Mike Leigh who I met at Dick Pope‘s around the time my first son was born (the same son who three years later slammed a heavy glass door onto the renowned director in a Crouch End shop) to Dick himself, one of my first bosses at Solus, who shot #3 Secrets and Lies (and much of Leigh’s oeuvre besides); from Ben Gibson, Director of the London Film School, with whom I was involved trying to set up a South African film/tv scholarship to Ewen Bremner, featured in both #1 Trainspotting and #14 the marvellous Naked, who I met when he was making a training film early in his career (written by John Mole and, unbeknownst to the casual viewer, based on Beowolf).

Beyond this punctuation of connections though is the steady presence of Channel 4, FilmFour, More 4, Britdoc (the Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation) – in particular, my esteemed colleague Tessa Ross whose fingerprints are on so many of the films (from Billy Elliot to #9 Slumdog Millionaire), dubbed recently the Mother of British Film-making. Choose Life is engraved on the glass doors of Channel 4′s Glasgow office in recognition of the Channel’s role in bringing the landmark movie that is Trainspotting to life. #11 Touching the Void was commissioned out of Peter Dale’s More4. #16 Hunger was patiently nurtured by my much missed colleague Jan Younghusband in Channel 4 Arts (her ex-husband Peter Chelsom made Hear My Song, which starred my friend Adrian Dunbar and whose script crossed my desk at Solus (and still sits in my bookcase) on its way to Roger Deakins, another of my bosses at Solus – the kind of thing which links the Channel 4 nexus and my pre-C4 web of experiences). The next generation is represented by Mat Whitecross, whose film Moving to Mars is being broadcast on More4 in November and was part-financed by Britdoc, run with flair by former C4 fellow Commissioning Editor Jess Search. I haven’t worked it out exactly but I’d say well over 30% of the Top 25 has FilmFour/Channel 4  input. Stephen Frears’ big break with #5 My Beautiful Launderette. From #17 Shane Meadow’s This is England to #10 Four Weddings and a Funeral, the full gamut. What an incredible record and a significant contribution to the last quarter century of British cinema.

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