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The 100 best British films
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A family are thrown into poverty and forced to move to the country when their father is accused of treason, but inbetween playing on the railway lines Kids: don't try this at home and various acts of minor heroism, they become accustomed to their new life. Winning over recalcitrant station master Bernard Cribbins and befriending strangers on trains proves to be its own reward in the end, building to a happy ending that still brings a tear to the eye. Seriously, if you don't well up a little when Jenny Agutter, looking through the steam, spots her father and cries, "Daddy, oh my daddy" we can only assume it's because you had your tear ducts surgically removed.
There's epic, there's really epic, and then there's Gandhi. As befits one of the most important figures of the 20th century, and certainly one of the most admirable among those figures, Richard Attenborough approached this biopic determined to do justice to both the Mahatma's lofty ideals and also the sheer scale of his achievement.
So star Ben Kingsley gets to bring Gandhi to life over a year period, starting from the earliest glimmerings of his political conscience to his eventual assassination, surrounded by some of the best actors ever to grace stage or screen. Along the way Gandhi brought independence to India, pioneered peaceful protest on a massive scale and provided a new benchmark for idealists everywhere. Kingsley's performance is extraordinary, but he's backed up by Attenborough's sweeping cinematography and enormous ambition - there are hundreds of thousands of extras in that funeral scene, dwarfing even the armies of Isengard for scale.
It's a mad benchmark that, in these digital days, will never be threatened, but it's hard to think of a more worthy subject. Five Oscar nominations are tribute to a none-more-British film about the Blitz that found an appreciative audience on both side of the Atlantic.
Seen through the eyes of ten year-old Billy Sebastian Rice-Edwards , John Boorman's autobiographical movie turns London's bombed-out suburbs into a giant adventure playground for schoolboys. An interesting — and wistful — companion piece to Steven Spielberg's Empire Of The Sun , filmed just down the road at almost at the same time, it's full of visual snapshots of an extraordinary time in England's past, a sepia photo album brought back to life.
It's full of startling visual cues, too. Witness the sudden blast of a Luftwaffe bomb unfolding in horrifying slow-motion or the dead fish floating for Billy and his sister to collect after a rogue bomb lands in the river. But the randomness of the war's impact is best captured by the discovery that another rogue bombs means school is out - permanently. See, war isn't always hell, especially when it gets you out of double maths. Thanks at least in part to his movie, everyone knows what happened next.
Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge emerged from the smoke and turned one of the most beautiful countries on Earth into a boneyard. Down the road, Brando's Kurtz may have been murmuring about "the horror" but here it was, up close and brutally impersonal. Schanberg may have won that Pulitzer for his reportage, but Haing Ngor's fearless journo is the beating heart of the story - and the film.
In a tragic coda, the man who played him, first-time actor Haing Ngor, was gunned down on an LA street 22 years later. Before he moved across the Pond and made Midnight Cowboy and Marathon Man , John Schlesinger presided over one of the greatest hitting streaks in British cinema. The first of these remains influential to this day, Tom Courtenay's Walter Mitty-like smalltown boy with big plans a prototype for a thousand British dreamers.
Ricky Gervais cites Billy Liar as an inspiration for Cemetery Junction 's bored twentysomethings, but the quirky supporting cast of motley Brits, from Leonard Rossiter's lugubrious mortician to Leslie Randall's catchphrase-spouting telly personality "It's aaall happening" , are building blocks for Gervais's great sitcoms too. Billy, though, is Schlesinger's tour de force and the director drew Courtenay's greatest performance as the lovable romantic who just happens to machine gun anyone who frustrates his plans in his dreams, of course. Funny and melancholy, it's a poignant hymn to broken dreamers.
When confronted with the working practices of the famously Method Dustin Hoffman on Marathon Man , Sir Laurence Olivier is said to have drawled, "Try acting, dear boy; it's easier. This celluloid record of his Hamlet gives us some idea why: directed by Olivier himself he was also an early multi-hyphenate at the height of his powers and beauty, this is still a compelling portrait of the Dane, however far acting styles have changed since then. While Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet is richer in location and outdoor scenes, it's so much window dressing beside the still-gripping power of the story itself, and there Olivier excels.
Out went the mystifying Quantum and its devious plan to do something or other in Bolivia; in came the arch and motivated Silva Javier Bardem to add a much-needed dose of theatricality and threat to the franchise. Craig seems re-energised, neon-lit in one virtuoso Shanghai sequence and mixing the debonair with the deadly as the story races from one affectionate Bond homage to another. It speaks volumes for Hitchcock's thrillers that they have a habit of reappearing in modern-day threads.
All three are a handy reminder that no-one does Hitchcock like the man himself: for timeless characters and devilish schemes, he's just peerless. Boarding his train-bound thriller are folk musicologist Gilbert Redgrave and his new companion Iris Lockwood , a smart woman heading home to marry her "blue-blooded cheque chaser", who find them themselves trapped among some trigger-happy agents.
When fussy governess Miss Froy Whitty mysteriously vanishes from the dining car, the sparky pair get their amateur sleuth on to track her down. Even with the help of cricket-obsessed Basil Rathbone and Naunton Wayne, their journey across the fictional country of Bandrika gets more dangerous with every passing mile. It's as much fun as you can have on a train, although if you can spot that Hitch cameo, you've got sharper eyes than us.
A great big hug of a movie, Paddington charmed the public and critics alike in one of the nicest surprises of , adding itself to the canon of beloved Christmas movies and proving that bears aren't just for Werner Herzog documentaries and savaging Leonardo DiCaprio. Post-Brexit, it feels more like a lovely dream. If you know a teacher who's just had a bad day, put this on to remind them of the importance of what they do.
A deeply moving but blessedly unsentimental look at one teacher's career over a year span, this chronicles his rocky early years, the changes wrought by the arrival of his wife and the deep scars — both personal and professional — taken along the way. While on one hand there are the successive generations of a single family who keep returning to the school, on the other there are the remembrance services for the dead of several conflicts, culminating in the devastation of World War I.
This serves as a chronicle of a changing world as well as one man's life, and it serves as a tribute to ordinary, everyday greatness.
A film about a stuttering posho is not the most obvious crowdpleaser in film history, even with a wunderkind director and the most likeable star this side of Tom Hanks. And yet somehow this is gripping, suspenseful cinema , a sort of Rocky for the non-physical contender and an underdog story that would make a stone cheer. Colin Firth plays Bertie, the s prince and future George VI afflicted with a terrible speech impediment that cripples his efforts at public speaking; Helena Bonham Carter is his endlessly supportive wife and Geoffrey Rush his eccentric speech therapist.
It's talky, it's largely set in a London basement with peeling walls and creaking floors, and it's edge-of-your-seat stuff as Bertie struggles to get a word out, and faces both the throne and the outbreak of war with less trepidation than he displays faced with a microphone or small audience. Stirring stuff, no matter what you think of the monarchy.
This may not quite provide the "muse of fire" for which Shakespeare's narrator wished in telling the story of Henry V , but it comes closer than any other adaptation to illustrating the scale and scope of his wars against the French, and gives even the previously gold-standard Laurence Olivier version a run for its money in the character stakes.
Shakespearean wunderkind Branagh stepped into Olivier's footsteps in his directorial debut, directing himself as the young King goaded into a war in France and facing overwhelming odds.
Here are the feature and TV films airing the week of Aug. 4-10, 12222
These battles are bloody, muddy and ungallant, making the most of cinema's scope and locations and a far cry from the often dry adaptations that had previously been the rule. The sheer number of luminaries in the cast is almost distracting even Christian Bale is tucked away in there somewhere but if you don't feel a stirring at the St. Crispin's Day speech, you're either dead inside or French. The second most recent film on the list, this gets a spot for doing the impossible: not going out with a whimper.
So high were the expectations for this eighth instalment of the series that you would have forgiven director David Yates for locking himself in Dumbledore's office and refusing to come out until it was all over, but instead he turned out an action-packed, character-driven, sometimes brutal finale to the adventures of the boy wizard.
Finally there's the all-out magical war that the series had always sidestepped; finally there's a resolution to the Harry and Voldemort conundrum. If nothing else, you have to admire the chutzpah of a series that not only takes time out for a metaphysical jaunt in the middle of the big final battle but also does the unthinkable and lets the bad guy have his victory on the way.
Naked represented a shift in Mike Leigh's work away from piercing studies of domestic mundanities into something far more edgier. David Thewlis is Johnny, an over-educated, unemployed drifter who comes to London fleeing a sex attack in Manchester and stays with an ex-girlfriend Lesley Sharp , sleeps with her flatmate Katrin Cartlidge and generally expounds his caustic worldviews to anyone who listens. Naked sees Leigh getting to grips not only with a different subculture — underground London — but also with moviemaking, Dick Pope's cinematography full of tracking shots and interesting lighting strategies that felt new in Leigh's work.
What doesn't surprise is the strength in depth of the performances: Thewlis is terrific as Johnny - bitter, articulate, deeply unpleasant, always compelling. If you've only ever seen him in Harry Potter , rectify this now. There's a perennial pub debate that poses the question: Which is better, Snatch or Lock Stock? Snatch apologists talk a good game, but the correct answer is, of course, Guy Ritchie 's jaw-dropping debut. After all, this is a movie that brought the world 'The Stath', Vinnie Jones hammering someone's skull with a car door, and the knowledge that a big purple dildo can be used an offensive weapon.
Essentially the shaggiest of shaggy dog stories - to call the plot "complex" is to do it a disservice - it's all so slickly done, delivered with such balls-out confidence and written with such an amazing turn of phrase that somehow the convoluted to-ing-and-froing works like clockwork. So well, in fact, that over 18 years later, it remains Ritchie's finest film, a fantastic achievement from a first-time director who took a group of meticulously-cast but relatively unknown actors and spun them into solid fackin' gold.
Therapist-turned-screenwriter Jonathan Asser channels his own experience working to rehabilitate prisoners into a violent, bruising and most of all, realistic depiction of life on the inside. O'Connell brings a laser-beam focus and ferocity to the role of uncontrollable young offender who's had to be "starred up" to an adult prison. It's a cocky, charismatic turn that brings to mind Finney, Burton and Courtenay and in the heydays of the British new wave.
The initial mistake, born of adolescent stupidity and self-importance, mushrooms out of control, rolls into adulthood and overshadows a number of lives. The final revelation of its consequences is devastating, no matter how inevitable it is. Alexander Mackendrick deserves to be remembered more prominently than he is among the titans of British film, given that he's responsible for classics like Whisky Galore!
Alec Guinness plays the idealistic young chemist who invents a revolutionary fabric that never wears out or requires washing - only to learn that both industrialists and workers are united against his wonder-cloth, terrified that it will destroy the economy and put them all out of business. If not as vicious as Mackendrick's great American effort, Sweet Smell Of Success , this is still a plenty cynical view of the chances for real innovation in our imperfect world, and feels as relevant today as it did 60 years ago, if not more so see Who Killed The Electric Car?
It's a comedy - more or less - but it will leave you thinking long after the credits roll. A fresh-faced Sam Riley took his place in the pantheon of on-screen rockstars with his depiction of Joy Division front man Ian Curtis. All jittery energy and charisma on stage, Riley's post-punk star is a troubled soul who jerks from elation to despair off it. We know what's coming from the first reel but experienced through the eyes of Debbie Curtis Samantha Morton , his suicide still comes like a punch in the gut.
If Joy Division's music doesn't do it for you — and Riley and co. Frankly, if that's not enough for you, you're a big dog's cock. It wasn't Pierce Brosnan 's fault that the Bond franchise ran aground, but equally you could hardly blame Daniel Craig that some fanatics couldn't see him mirroring Brosnan's suave charm, Moore's wry humour or Sean Connery's ability to look deeply sexy even when wearing dad slacks and a golf visor.
The whole Craig-not-Bond farrago was a reminder that, back in the early '60s, even Connery wasn't everyone's first choice. That seemed to work out okay and so, emphatically, did this. Sure, we'd probably have sacrificed all that product-placement ahead of gadget-fiend, Q, and we kinda missed the silly kiss-off lines, but the return of Bond matched all reasonable expectations and then blasted past them.
From Craig's first ppearance , a Bourne-like flashback ferocious enough to pin moviegoers back in their seats, every head-punch, put-down and swimming-trunk-clad step felt like a mission statement for the reborn franchise. You can almost hear the remote-controlled car backing hurriedly into the garage. Behind all the chiffon and posing is a seriously smart premise that Brian De Palma would later borrow for his thriller Blow Out It has Hemmings' David Bailey-alike realising that he's unwittingly photographed a murderer lurking in the treeline of a deserted park.
Returning the next day, he stumbles upon the victim's body, only for it to vanish soon afterwards. Will the snapper tear himself away from the sexy romping long enough to solve the case and bring the killer to justice? Come on, this is Antonioni we're talking about. If you've seen L'Avventura , you'll know that he prefers his mysteries unsolved. Far from the dyed-in-the-wool petrolhead you might expect, Asif Kapadia 's knowledge of Formula 1 was fairly scant when he set to work on his mesmerising character study of Brazilian superstar Ayrton Senna.
Definitive proof that politics — or movies about politics, at least — can be side-clutchingly funny, In The Loop is an expletive-filled masterclass in modern political satire, saying fuckety-bye to New Labour with one last cinematic kick to the balls. Cracking out one-liners like "Christ on a bendy-bus. Don't be such a fucking faff arse" and "Good morning, my little chicks and cocks" he's definitely the star of the show, but Chris Addison, James Gandolfini and Steve Coogan steal a good scene too.
It's a documentary movie about an event so fantastic you couldn't script it. It's a heist movie without any attempt at theft. And yet Man On Wire not only works brilliantly, but grips like a vice as it tells the story of daredevil Philippe Petit and his distinctly unsanctioned mission to tightrope walk and dance, and spin, and sit on a rope strung stories up between the summits of the twin towers of the WTC. Months in the planning and hours in the execution, this combination of contemporary video and partial reconstruction gives modern viewers the chance to share in the magical and clearly impossible for all rational people, at least feats of Petit, still an endlessly energetic figure and, we must assume, something of a magician.
His debut feature, a stark meditation on political protest, largely sidelined the actual politics behind Bobby Sands' Fassbender hunger strike to zoom in on the man himself. It's not an easy watch, by any means. Michael Fassbender's astonishing portrayal of the dying IRA man is disquieting viewing, while McQueen's Maze Prison, faeces-smeared walls, urine sloshing corridors and all, will haunt your dreams.
The 33lbs Fassbender lost for the part, a Machinist -like plunge into emaciation, translates into a performance filled with heavy-lidded determination: the frailer Sands' body becomes the stronger he seems, a dichotomy the actor explores to the full. His 17 minute exchange with Liam Cunningham's Catholic priest offers an electric centrepiece scene captured in one unobtrusive take by McQueen's camera. Okay, Hunger probably isn't a movie to settle down to with a pizza, but it's an essential piece of modern art from a director we'll be seeing a whole lot more from.
Another sparkling prize jewel in the already-gleaming crown of Ealing Studios, The Lavender Hill Mob is a quaintly British, lightly-satirical comedy among their very best. Produced in the middle of what many consider to be the studio's peak years the post-War period from - , director Charles Crichton and Oscar-nabbing screenwriter T. Clark crafted a likeably amoral crime caper centred on Alec Guinness' meek bank clerk who decides to pull off a brilliant gold robbery. Though later scenes hint at a possibly darker direction the Eiffel Tower chase, for instance, has obvious shades of Hitchcock , this is a lighter affair than other Ealing masterpieces such as Kind Hearts And Coronets or The Ladykillers.
The cast sings not literally , but the most satisfying moments both belong to Guinness; first, when he realises that he's the eponymous mob's boss, and second when he endearingly admits that he'd like to be called "Dutch". Chariots Of Fire is, perhaps, the definition of a movie that became too successful for its own good.
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Twenty-first century newcomers to Hugh Hudson's classic sports drama have to dig through a steeplejump's worth of hype, a catchphrase that looms like stormcloud screenwriter Colin Welland may always regret whooping, "The British are coming" when picking up his Oscar , and a small army of top-hat wearing, ever-so-snooty characters that are hard to not laugh at on occasion. But if you can see through all that, there is a beautiful movie beneath, dealing with devotion and identity, religion and fame. It's a piece of music so magnificent it'd make Zookeeper watchable, and we don't say that lightly.
With the London Olympics year fast approaching, expect the film to return to favour in a blaze of not-on-Sunday patriotism and slightly tuneless whistling. Like many of Mike Leigh's films, Secrets And Lies was only loosely scripted, with the cast then improvising the rest. The central idea is all Leigh's - in this case, an adopted, middle-class black woman Jean-Baptiste as Hortense Cumberbatch discovers her real mother is white and working class Blethyn as Cynthia Purley , throwing both their lives into an emotional maelstrom - but for the most part, the lines are the actors' own.
Leigh's unorthodox directing technique may not be Hollywood's way doing things, but when the result is as touching and hilarious as Secrets And Lies , it doesn't much matter. Sure, no golden bald men ended up in Leigh's hands, but plenty of BAFTAs did, as well as the Palme d'Or, making it comfortably the biggest critical success of his career. Cynics often carp that British cinema falls into two distinct categories: the glossy costume efforts and the grim-oop-north dramas. This one, however, manages to leaven the grimness still very much present in the constant shadow of economic meltdown with a sense of humour and quiet determination, as a gang of unemployed steel workers try to make a little money by, well, stripping completely naked for a horde of baying women.
It's a true underdog story, glued together by immensely sympathetic performances, particularly from Carlyle, Addy and Wilkinson, all of whom were launched into Hollywood after their turns here. Worth watching just for the Post Office queue dance scene, wherein each of the team quietly start shifting in time to the music as they await their dole cheques. This is more than just a music promo.
It's more than a pre-MTV attempt to market a band through film. It's an honest-to-god comedy with genuine wit and heart and also - not incidentally - some terrific tunes. A day in the life of the Fab Four at the height of Beatlemania, rushed out before their inevitable decline so thought the executives it went a long way to establishing the popular perceptions of each of the group, with Lennon as the smartass, McCartney the sensible one, Harrison quiet and Starr a clown. Aside from the obvious comic elements, much of it was true to their lives at the time, screenwriter Alun Owen spending weeks with the band observing their reality before constructing his script.
Richard Lester's sure direction and more fantastical touches completed the picture, reinventing the music biopic and inspiring everything from spy movies to The Monkees. One half of Britain's greatest filmmaking double act, Michael Powell's darker side came out to play when his old pal Emeric Pressburger wasn't about. Powell struck out on his own with this startling thriller about a serial-killing filmmaker Boehm who murders his subjects with a blade hidden in his tripod.
Audiences and critics hated it, and the controversy that surrounded its release was so acrid it practically finished Powell's career. Strangely, it wasn't entirely alone in its boundary pushing: Hitchcock's Psycho was delivering similarly psycho-sexual shocks across the Pond at the same time.
Horror | SYFY WIRE
The difference? Hitch grabbed four Oscars and enough box-office loot to fill the Bates Motel; Peeping Tom played to empty cinemas. Peeping Tom's startling ideas - especially its suggestion that the audience was complicit in Boehm's brutal murders — were just too much for contemporary viewers to chew on. As Martin Scorsese, one of the film's great champions, points out: "It shows how the camera violates and the aggression of filmmaking. Happily, the passing of time has been a whole lot kinder, although it's still not a brilliant date movie. Whichever way you cut it, it's one big mantlepiece.
Rewatching it now, it's easy to see why. Anthony Dod Mantle's gorgeous cinematography makes India its very own, and Jamal Patel and Latika Pinto deliver the sweetest romantic moments seen in cinemas this century — including that glorious dance sequence during the credits. Some critics proclaimed it "feel-good" but with the persistent darkness throughout child slavery, battery-aided interrogation, drug-dealing and violence, anyone?
Still, it remains a stunning, Capra-esque Hollywood melodrama that blew the world away, and reminded everyone what a fantastic director Danny Boyle can be — as if that were in doubt. Another Ken Loach slice of unflinchingly-real social examination, another masterpiece that the masses probably won't have seen. Again focusing on poverty-stricken individuals trapped in the system, My Name Is Joe follows Peter Mullan 's reformed, alcoholic nutter Joe who coaches the local football team in Glasgow's mean streets while trying to avoid the bottle and any bother.
Affable, haunted and more sympathetic than Rocky, it's a stunning tour-de-force from Scot-scene regular Mullan, completely deserving of the Best Actor award it won him at Cannes. Bleak and tragic yet somehow hopeful, many will wish for a less downbeat finale, but such is Loach's commitment to realism. And you rarely see endings that brave in blockbuster territory. This was the film that beat Saving Private Ryan to the Best Picture Oscar, probably because it's fizzier and more frivolous than Spielberg's effort, which the Academy occasionally responds to.
As biopics go, it's high on invention and low on fact, but it's also a delightfully witty literary in-joke, reimagining Shakespeare's life as, well, a Shakespearean comedy of errors. Tom Stoppard's script doctoring left the screenplay littered with in-jokes and direct lifts from the Bard's work, while a game cast of RSC stalwarts like Judi Dench so good as Elizabeth I that her cameo landed her an Oscar and American upstarts like then-ingenue Paltrow and Ben Affleck threw themselves into the caper. Mixing tragedy and comedy, it may not - quite - be high art, but it's immense fun.
The movement towards social realism in British films of the s wasn't merely confined to the present day; this Tony Richardson effort showed that it could be applied to period films too, and bawdy literary adaptations at that. Albert Finney was at his cocky, charming best as the young rapscallion of the title, raised a bastard by a kindly nobleman but denied his true love by his low birth. Instead, he embarks on a series of love affairs, dogged by a jealous rival, until everything finally comes together at the very last minute.
It's meticulously researched and constructed, but all done with such a breezy insouciance and flair, the characters even interacting with the camera and riffing on film style that silent movie opening, for instance , that it feels both thoroughly modern even now and very '60s, winning a clutch of Academy Awards for its trouble. John Schlesinger's follow-up to the Oscar-winning Midnight Cowboy is the most personal film of the filmmaker's career.
The first film to depict a non judgemental portrait of a homosexual character in a lead role, Sunday Bloody Sunday is an exquisitely explored menage a trois between Peter Finch's gay Jewish doctor, Glenda Jackson's career counselor and the sculptor Murray Head — he of One Night In Bangkok fame whom the couple both love.
This isn't a film about sexuality although Finch and Head's affectionate kiss caused a stir at the time ; it's a film about the minutiae of complex relationships realised through a trio of great performances. Also keep your eyes peeled for a year-old Daniel Day-Lewis in the minor role as a vandal. The third and still the best of the Potter films, this was the one where things got magical. He's also helped by the fact that this is maybe the best of the books, upping the stakes more significantly than any other single instalment, introducing a welcome element of ambiguity to Hogwarts' hallowed halls with the development that an escaped prisoner may be responsible for the deaths of Harry's parents or, then again, not and that the cool new teacher may hide dangerous secrets.
The films may get progressively darker, but this one had just the right mix of shadows and light.