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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7 comments so far

  1. PracticalPsychologist on

    So – no ‘Trainspotting’ for you then Arkangel? Is your fear of needles ongoing?

    I think I would include ‘Trainspotting’, ‘The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and her Lover’ and ‘Borat’ (but is ‘Borat’ really British?)high up in my list but then I always was a vulgarian.

    I had completely forgotten ‘Naked’ – a great film. And the cynic in me rather agreed with a review at the time of
    ‘Secrets and Lies’ – two and half hours of Eastenders.

    Can I nominate ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ as the worst British film of the last 25 years?

    Radio four are currently doing a weekly feature on lost British film classics as a way of dispelling the Truffauism that ‘British Film’ is a contradiction in terms. And if we are talking lost British classics I think Lindsay Anderson’s ‘Britannia Hospital’ will just miss the 25 year mark but I loved it.

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  2. ArkAngel on

    You’ve hit the nail on the head – needles, vomit and shite not my thang – though, of course, it’s a great film, just not a personal favourite.

    Borat I think you can consider British since the key on-screen and writing talent is Brit-talent. As you can see, just bubbling under for me.

    Britannia Hospital is, as you say, just out of the date range.

    I’m totally with you on Truly, Madly, Deeply – unwatchable.

    Right up there with… Shirley Valentine (no notion of any kind of sub-text, all on the nose).

    And Nanny McPhee was another one that almost drove me to the edge (what you’ll only do for your children).

    Any other candidates for worst British film of the last 25 years?

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  3. practicalpsychologist on

    Well TMD is out in front (and I agree about Shirley Valentine too). But I am going to also nominate ‘Withnail and I’, not because it is so bad (although I can’t get through it), but because it’s hype is ludicrous in relation to it’s quality. Top ten British film of the last 25 years? Not for me.

    I always remember you being a fan of ‘The Commitments’.

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  4. ArkAngel on

    I have my reservations about Withnail too (hence its absence above) – I think it may be one of those movies where you just skip between the good bits.

    I’d overlooked The Commitments – between Alan Parker and screenwriter Dick Clement I reckon it’s legit as a Britfilm. That one deserves to be on the list (will add it now). Was thinking about it this week as I saw Bronagh Gallagher on stage in War Horse (well worth seeing). Birdy and Mississippi Burning were excellent movies too from the Parker stable in the said period (though obviously not eligible).

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    • fishwing on

      I’d add Meantime – though I think it’s a tad earlier than 1985. Seminal film (for me at least) and surpasses some of Mike Leigh’s later films – Life is Sweet for example. Got really fed up with Naked myself, though David Thewlis’ performance is magnetic.

      Another addition would be Looking for Langston – Isaac Julien’s beautiful film about Langston Hughes, or even better Handsworth Songs, the doc that made us all think differently about race and culture at a seismic moment in the UK, from Black Audio Film Collective.

      And what about The Crying Game? Bend it Like Beckham? Gregory’s Girl?

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  5. ArkAngel on

    The range is 1984 to now so Meantime gets in on that front but is technically a TV drama I believe. Sadly my knowledge of Isaac Julien’s work is very limited – first one I saw was Young Soul Rebels. The Crying Game (in which Adie Dunbar appeared) I wasn’t mad on, though I do admire Michael Collins (worthy of Bubbling Under). Bend it Like Beckham – I really enjoyed, feels a bit thin in retrospect. Gregory’s Girl – too early (around 1981-2 – I remember spotting John Gordon Sinclair in an Indian in Willesden Lane in 86 and he was already starting to seem like ancient history.)

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  6. […] Best British Films […]

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