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The Very BEST Of British
Member Name: wampyrii
Date: 17/05/01, updated on 26/02/02 (247 review reads)
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Oooooh...a chance to blather on about 10 different movies in one category...is it my birthday?...lol. I watch a lot of movies...no, in fact I watch a HELL OF A LOT OF MOVIES, so the chance to ramble on about 10 of the best British movies around is just perfect. No doubt I'm going to miss off your personal faves here, but that's either because they fall outside of my top ten or simply because they escaped my memory at the time. Either way, I'm sure you'll forgive me...
I am constantly told that British film-making is in a state of decline. Poor funding, decreasing numbers of features etc. would all appear to support that fact but one thing which is certain is that there may not be the quantity there...but its the QUALITY which must surely count. Hollywood churns out hoards of movies each year, around 5 are excellent 10 good and 20 average, whilst the rest are merely watchable - if that. Britain consistently produces classic movies, directorial talent taking over to replace the complacency generated by a big budget. Some of the best movies ever made have been produced on a pittance, their actors going on to hit the 'big time' and more than a fair number of these come from the UK. There is just something special about the gritty realism that British made films have which Hollywood movies can never seem to match no matter how hard they try. Everything is just far less sanitised and generally 'fresher' than the tired old re-workings of old ideas that seem to proliferate elsewhere. But that’s kind of a pet subject of mine and I could go on...and on for days - so on with the list...
In no particular order...
1) Monty Python and The Life Of Brian
The best of the Monty Python movies features Graham Chapman as a normal everyday guy who is mistaken at birth for the messiah. The movie follows his life as joins a terrorist group, gathers together a band of devoted followers and generally runs a life dr
awing parallels with the Bible fable(wonder if I'll get away with that one lol). This is an extremely funny movie, easily the most coherent of all the Monty Python movies by actually playing like a film rather than a collection of sketches. Graham Chapman is superb in the lead role, taken away from John Cleese much to his chagrin apparently because he desperately wanted to play a lead role in a movie - although this was to come later in his career of course. He is so brilliantly meek and humble and underplays the part to perfection. The jokes come thick and fast, in the usual brand of Monty Python humour, so there isn't a dull moment for one second here. I am not a fan of Monty Python in general, but nothing can take away from the sheer brilliance of this movie. Apparently its release was met with protests across this country in the form of petitions to local councils and in America the cinema's were picketed by nuns in some states. The Monty Python team loved this of course because its like one of their own sketches in itself and of course it raised the profile of the movie to enormous heights, far more than any marketing campaign could do, and the movie was an enormous hit on both sides of the Atlantic. It is a timeless classic, easily the funniest movie ever made in my opinion and yes...its British again. Completely unique.
Ok so its not exactly pretty but its a perfect example of the hard, gritty, uncompromising standpoint that British film makers are willing to take in the production of their art. This is the complete opposite of the glossy approach taken by just about everywhere else when it comes to portraying what is and was a pretty damn evil system. Scum is about the British young offender institutions know as the borstal. It is the most shockingly violent movie I have ever seen on video, made more so by its closeness to reality and a masterful performance by its young cast. When Ray Winstone yells 'I'm
the daddy now!' nobody is going to argue with him, he is the hardest man on earth for these brief moments. It is an absolute masterpiece under the directing of Alan Clarke. Originally made for the BBC it was never shown at the time due to its uncompromising content. Suicide, gang rape, hand made coshes, plenty of 'claret' and the underlying message that there is no escape from the system once you fall foul of it meant it received an immediate ban from terrestrial television. It is a vicious condemnation of the penal system, made even more effective by the lack of music, and the documentary style camera-work. Scum is not a pleasant viewing experience, but nobody could argue with either its message or its quality. Superb.
3) A Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrik completely under-estimated the effect of this movie when he released it to the paying public in 1971. On the surface its just another piece of uncompromising violence, but in reality it is much much deeper than that. It passes comment on various aspects of crime and punishment, free will and state intervention, morality, violence, voyeurism...the list is seemingly endless. However, no doubt Kubrik believed that its appeal would be to the intellectual and everyone else would have difficulty following it and just pass it by...but he was wrong. The cinemas were packed with those with the sort of mentality which his film was portraying in the lead 'droog' characters - taking notes and apparently re-enacting the movie's themes outside of the movie theatres. Kubrik withdrew it, but that of course did little to aid the situation but instead gained the movie more notoriety. Now that the director is gone and 30 years after its original release it has finally made it onto video - and despite its slightly dated look, the messages held within are as powerful as ever.
Again, this is not easy viewing. On the surface, it is about a world of the future where mindless gang
s of youths roam the streets delighting in the excesses of 'ultra-violence' - basically beating the hell out of everything that moves. We follow Alex(Malcolm Macdowell) and his gang of 'droogs' through various scenes of excess and violence before Alex's inhumane(?) treatment at the hands of the British justice system where he is 'reprogrammed' so that violence is not an option for him. This movie offers up so many points of discussion that its difficult to know where to begin...so I won't...lol. Watch it and make up your own mind about the movie's multitudinous messages, the points of contest, what questions it is asking of you the viewer and society in general and then have a damn good argument over them afterwards...that’s what always happens here. I live with a criminology student...go figure.
4) Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
I figured it was time to come up with something that wasn't over 20 years old at last. Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels completely revived the British gangster movie genre which we are somewhat renowned for. It does however put a completely different spin on the old Michael Caine/Harry Palmer gangster which became one of most famous exports, but again features the same great characterisation, fantastic scripts and simply fantastic memorable scenes. Its not your typical gritty gangster drama, but rather an ingenious p*ss take on the whole genre. It features a host of unknown actors in the lead roles as four blokes lose a poker game to the local crime boss and have to come up with a rather large sum of money to be able to pay him off in a very short space of time. What follows in a glorious mix of backstabbing, hustling and dark comic humour as the boys race against time, all held together by the brilliant cinematic debut of Vinnie Jones. Lock Stock was never to everyone's tastes and to be fair, it is riddled with holes but it is certainly clever, fast and damn f
unny as well. Guy Ritchie received numerous unfair and blatantly pathetic slatings because of his family background after the release of this movie...because obviously you need to be from the East End to make a gangster movie...geez. If you haven't already then check it out.
This ranks as the best costume drama ever produced, telling the true(ish) story of the rise to power of Elizabeth I, Britain's most successful monarch. Catholic Britain conspires against its new Protestant ruler following the death of Queen Mary. Elizabeth is weak and reliant upon her manipulative advisors, who seek nothing more than either her downfall, or to marry her off(as only a woman of course) to a strong powerful European ally. However, Elizabeth is not to be manipulated and recalling Walsingham from exile, goes about the rule of Britain her way.
The ultimate in grrrrl power movies? Well maybe, but definitely much more than a lavish costume drama or historical document. This movie simply oozes class. Yes there are the expected lavish sets, flickering candles and dark conspiratorial whispers in even darker more conspiratorial corners, but it is much more than this. The performances are simply stunning. Cate Blanchett is just perfect in the role of Elizabeth, filled with regal poise and grace. Her nobility however is tempered by the fact that she is still little more than a girl at the start but slowly this begins to fall away as she becomes hardened through the duties thrust upon her. Geoffrey Rush is also amazing as Walsingham, delivering a performance filled with quiet understated menace. His ruthlessness and cunning is almost a 'joy' to behold here and even the likes of Eric Cantona and Angus Deaton as the French ambassador do not fall completely flat. Arguably one of England's most fascinating women and despite its historical inaccuracy(don't ask me, I know nothing of history) also a damn fine movie. I have never
heard of Shekhar Kapoor before seeing Elizabeth but if this is an example of the quality of their movies, I expect to hear a lot more in the future. Absolutely stunning.
6) Four Weddings and A Funeral
Yes, so I'll probably get slated for this, but its undeniably the most popular British comedy release in many years. Quintessentially English in its humour, it is the perfect antidote to the masses of American khazi-oriented comedies we are bludgeoned with year in year out. Of course, Four Weddings relies upon liberal use of such things as the 'F' word and bumbling, upper-middle class-ness for its humour instead which is sooooo English its almost painful, but there you go...
Four Weddings and a Funeral, for those who somehow have managed not to stumble across it in the last 8 years, is quite literally based around four weddings and a funeral, following a group of friends and their exploits. Sounds dull, certainly isn't. Four Weddings is an inspired piece of scripting writing from Richard Curtis, previous known for his work on the absolutely incomparable Blackadder series. Later it spawned the rather less than brilliant Notting Hill, where Hugh Grant played pretty much the same role(but then doesn't he always) although this was strangely more successful...fickle people. As an example of what's great about British comedy then this can't be beaten, except by the Monty Python movies...but then they're form another planet surely...
I couldn't let a top ten list go pass without including at least one Michael Caine movie. It was a choice between this and Get Carter, but having already mentioned one gangster movie already I opted for Zulu instead. It documents the story of the defence of Rourke's Drift by a small group of Welsh soldiers defended the area against approximately 4000(?) Zulu warriors. The tension is fantastic as the Zulu's amass on the hilltops, chantin
g and doing a war dance, but cut like a knife by some biting Welsh stereotypes which are simply hilarious in their delivery. "They have a good bass section, but no decent tenors" says one member of the embattled soldiers as the chanting comes again from brow of the hill. Michael Caine is not exactly convincing in his upper-class role here(he never is unless he's a gangster) but he is at least endearing, with the show being stolen by Stanley Baker as Chard. There are some simply brilliant moments in this movie, none more so than the super stereotyping of the Welsh guards as they show the 'fuzzy-wuzzies' how to do it by joining in a stirring rendition of 'Men Of Harlech' in response to their war chants. I don't suppose it would win would win any awards today in terms of its political correctness but its certainly one of the best movies I've seen.
8) The Elephant Man
Directed by David Lynch, this is a heartrending tale based upon a true story of a man with elephantiasis. John Merrick is the 'elephant man' as he is dubbed by a cruel circus owner who keeps him as an exhibit in his freakshow. Hideously deformed by his disease Merrick is kept as an animal and is treated far worse than that by his 'owner' until a doctor, played by Anthony Hopkins, takes him under his wing and tries to treat his affliction. This is an incredibly compelling movie, so sad and deeply shocking, made even more so by the reality of the story and Lynch's choice of shooting the movie in black and white. Filmed on London's cobbled streets it actually gives the impression of being filmed in the 19th century and as such becomes even more effective. The special effects used on John Hurt to portray his affliction are both superb and disgusting, and his performance is absolutely outstanding. You will never feel so much pity for a movie character ever, than you will here in this movie. I'm loath to say it again...but its
so sad :o( - check it out, but have a box of Kleenex ready when you do...unless you're a guy of course because we don't do that over movies...when being watched lol
Ohhhhh the adrenaline in this movie...
From its opening sequence of Renton and his gang running through the streets of Edinburgh, to the drug fuelled highs and lows of heroin abuse and right through to its violent conclusion, Trainspotting is an absolutely superb mixture of adrenaline fuelled, drug abused lunacy. Its an explosion of talent, packed into a sweet 90 minutes and arguably the movie which single-handedly relaunched the British film industry...if it ever needed it. Directed to perfection by Danny Boyle, alongside John Hodge's acid script and adapted from Irvine Welsh's best-seller(which I thought stank), Transporting is like nothing you have ever seen before. It features some of the best movie characters seen for decades - if ever, in depicting a group of four friends who would just as likely screw each other over at the first opportunity than help. Ewan Mcgregor is fantastic as the Drug obsessed Renton, this his only decent performance since Shallow Grave, outdone only by Robert Carlyle as the Pub-psychopath Begbie. This movie delves deeply into uncharted waters. The unsanitised effects of drug abuse, squalor and decay, dead babies crawling on the ceiling and Renton sinking into the carpet during a period of cold turkey. Begbie's violent psychopathic outbursts are truly terrifying and there are some outrageously gross moments here which laugh horribly in the face of apparent US gross-out movies. They ain't seen nothing yet. The pace of this movie is electrifying, the 90 minutes passing in the blink of an eye, fuel poured on its already blazing inferno by an awesome soundtrack. This is one movie you should NOT miss.
10) The Bridge On The River Kwai
Yes, its one of a long list of war film which I
could have included but this is one of my favourites. Getting on a little now in terms of its age, the story and performances however remain as fresh as ever. It details a prisoner of war camp in 2nd World War Japan, where Alec Guiness(as the commanding officer) and his men are ordered into rebuilding a bridge (over the river Kwai) which has been bombed out by allied troops. He instead uses the exercise as a means by which to build up his troop morale and create a rapport between his men and his Japanese captors for an easier life.
BOTRK is perhaps most notable for its extreme bravery in showing the Japanese to be almost benevolent at times towards their prisoners so close after then end of the war. Director David Lean must have handled this part with extreme caution for fear of an understandable backlash. However, the brutality is also depicted on more than one occasion and perhaps it is the humanising of the captors which makes these actions seem all the more evil. Alec Guinness is masterful in the kind of role he was born to play as a stiff-upper lipped Colonel and the sumptuous visuals are an absolute joy to behold. Yes, its was filmed in 1957 and arguably there are better British movies around...but as an example of the kind of war movies Britain became so masterful in producing at the time, it is perhaps the finest.
Well...that’s the ten. Yes, I had a much longer list and couldn't really separate them out, so I picked some which hopefully covered a few different genres. I wanted to include some sci-fi on there, but couldn't think of a single decent British sci-fi movie, but I suppose that involves a decent budget so go figure. I would have included something from the Hammer horror studios as well, but that would have been a pure piece of self indulgence so I refrained(just) from doing so. Hoped you liked it.
So of those that didn't quite make it include:
Withnail and I(For giving student
s a simply brilliant drinking game - email me...lol)
Kes(For being made twice...sorry Billy Elliot fans but you know its true)
The Italian Job(for giving Michael Caine impersonators a different line to use)
The Crying Game(for offering the biggest shock in cinema history
The Krays(for making the Kemp brothers look hard)
The Full Monty(For being absolutely abysmal, and still packing them in)
Gregory's Girl(For showing spotty, horny teenagers at their worst)
and hoards more...