As we dive into the second half of this 100 British flicks, I wondered how many of you have got this far, and are still awaiting the literal bollocks of a dog. For those impatient few, that term is just British slang for something first rate. Glad we cleared that up. Here, then, are ten more films that are the canines testicles. Nah, that doesn’t work. Grab yourself a Cornetto, and have away with this lot.
Shaun of the Dead – Edgar Wright (2004)
Not since Quentin Tarantino burst onto the scene in the 90s has a filmmaker delivered a debut movie with this much confidence, style and so much self-assured-ness in his craft, like director/co-writer Edgar Wright. And his homage/parody to George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead series, and to Italian zombie horror flicks.
Wright, along with his writing partner and star Simon Pegg, deftly blend humor and horror. As Shaun (Pegg), a charming slacker, must protect his mates, his mother, and his ex-girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), from the hordes of undead that have risen to engulf all of England. Without skimping on the gore. – – – – – Jonathan
Perfect Sense – David Mackenzie (2011)
An epidemic spreads across the globe: people suddenly lose one of their senses. At first, it’s an outbreak of loss of smell. It’s often presaged by a destructive violent outburst. During this madness, a relationship between two people begins to blossom. The couple are called Susan (Eva Green), and Michael (Ewan McGregor). Susan is a scientist who is desperately trying to figure out what is happening, and Michael is a chef who faces being out of a job, due to people losing the sense of smell and taste. The plague continues, and as more senses disappear, the civil authorities struggle to maintain order.
This is a flavour-rich drama, with absorbing performances from McGregor and Green, who have a lot of on-screen chemistry together. The film is less about the plague, but rather about the strength of human relationship. The epidemic is all depicted in the background, which represents what happens in reality. Chaos occurs around us much to our lack of attention, until it becomes too much to ignore. Perfect Sense is a thoroughly engaging, thought provoking film, which doesn’t let its budget limit it’s ambition. It is not a tragedy, but a celebration of what makes us human. Perfect Sense gently and courageously points to a world in turmoil, and asks us to look past hatred, prejudice and anger, and instead focus on the power of love and respect. – – – – – Bianca
Nil by Mouth – Gary Oldman (1997)
Perhaps Gary Oldman knows a thing or two about some of the subject matter of his directorial debut, Nil by Mouth. Not directly autobiographical, but familiar ground for Oldman. And his biting, frank screenplay and gritty, brutish direction, make for a shell-shocking experience. Working class, South East London is the setting, with the rough around the edges family, pulling at the seams of what would hardly be called functional. Ray (Ray Winstone) is abusive to his wife Val (Kathy Burke), and her drug addict younger brother Billy. They all live in the same flat it seems, with Val and Billy’s mother and grandmother.
Cosy family set-up this is not, then. Ray’s irrational, easily-provoked behavior, on more than one occasion, gets the better of him. Both, Billy and Val, are on the receiving end of the bouts of violence at one time or another. Oldman directs with an unfiltered rage, Nil By Mouth simmers under a raw, fiery tension. Winstone is ridiculously impressive. And terrifying. Also a revelation, albeit a more timid one, is Kathy Burke, who refreshingly was awarded the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival. – – – – – Robin
28 Days Later – Danny Boyle (2002)
There have been dozens of horrific post-apocalyptic pieces of cinema over the last few decades, but few are as genuinely terrifying as Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. Boyle’s bleak vision of Britain ravaged by a disease, which turns thousands of unlucky civilians into bloodthirsty zombies, is truly unsettling, and downright scary. The deft decision to change the infected victims from the slow-walking, brain-eating drones of zombie films of the past to quick-paced, violently energetic monsters out for blood, is a masterstroke. This one adjustment elevates the film to something we’ve never seen before from this genre.
With a star-making turn from Cillian Murphy as Jim, a lucky sod who’s been unconscious in a London hospital, while the outbreak takes grip of the city. And terrific supporting work from Naomis Harris, Megan Burns, and the ever-reliable Brendan Gleeson, 28 Days Later is not just a spine-chilling horror film, but also a brilliant character piece. Boyle’s shots of the normally bustling, but now deserted London streets (achieved with road closures of only a few minutes), are truly unnerving. As are several suspenseful sequences involving ferocious zombie attacks. It’s a tense rollercoaster, that barely stops to take its breath. For horror fans, it’s a deliciously thrilling ride you want to take again and again. – – – – – Doug
The Selfish Giant – Clio Barnard (2013)
The Selfish Giant is a contemporary fable, which is loosely based on Oscar Wilde’s short story of the same name. Barnard’s film follows 13 year old Arbor (Conner Chapman), and his best friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas). Excluded from school and outsiders in their own neighborhood, the two boys meet Kitten (Sean Gilder), a local scrap dealer. Wandering their town with just a horse and a cart, they begin collecting scrap metal for him. Swifty has a natural gift with horses while Arbor emulates Kitten – keen to impress him and make some money.
However, Kitten favors Swifty, leaving Arbor feeling hurt and excluded, driving a wedge between the boys. As Arbor becomes increasingly greedy and exploitative, tensions build, leading to a tragic event that transforms them all. Featuring some wonderfully emotionally funny scenes, equally matched by ones of sadness, this film shows a side to Britain that has often been overlooked. Yes, this may be depressing, and grim, but this is Britain as it is. This is really how life can be; but it is far more a story about a boy’s journey to manhood. Connor Chapman, who gives a genuine and confident performance, something which is a marvel considering his young age. Yes, there are echoes of Kes, however The Selfish Giant is a classic in its own right. – – – – – Bianca
Hot Fuzz – Edgar Wright (2007)
Between Shaun of the Dead, this, and the final entry of Wright’s Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy in The World’s End, this parody on the buddy-cop genre is perhaps my favorite of the three. Pegg plays Sgt Nicholas Angel, a dedicated London cop, who gets transferred to Samford, a quiet village whose idea of a wild goose chase is, well, chasing a wild goose that’s on the lose. His partner, Danny (Nick Frost), spends his days irritating him about whether or not a person’s head explodes from being shot in the head, and referencing Bad Boys II and Point Break ad nauseum.
The Police chief in charge (played by Jim Broadbent) continues to blather on about “the greater good” in Samford, and his fellow officers are either hopelessly incompetent on the day-to-day procedures of police work, or simply indifferent about the job itself. It’s not til the second half when action gets going, as a series of grizzly “accidents” begin to pile up, and Angel believes that they might be connected to Timothy Dalton’s charming and shadowy supermarket owner, Simon Skinner. But Wright and Pegg never takes its premise too seriously, which results in a terrific lampoon of every cop and action movie cliche you can think of. – – – – – Jonathan
The Man in the White Suit – Alexander Mackendrick (1951)
Sidney Stratton, a humble inventor, develops a fabric which never gets dirty or wears out. This would seem to be a boon for mankind, but the established garment manufacturers don’t see it that way; they try to suppress it. Alec Guinness is a genius who is beyond geekiness, he’s obsessive. He lives in poverty and obscurity, he takes dead-end jobs that barely pay the rent, all so that he can complete his research and present the weary post-WWII world with a miracle:
A fabric that will never get dirty, wrinkle, or wear out. Nobody will ever have to do laundry, iron, or spend for new clothes ever again. Of course, when he tries to start production, not only do the captains of industry realize that it’ll put them out of business, so do the unions. Chaos ensues, to say the least. This sophisticated and subtle comedy takes a dig at a number of the cultural institutions that characterise northern England. It’s not so much a satire directed at capitalism, but the relationship between capital and labour, and the broader unworkable relationship of commercial achievement with scientific progress. – – – – – Bianca
The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover – Peter Greenaway (1989)
The plot of Greenaway’s most controversial work, is contained in its title. The Thief, a grotesque and sadistic man, is the tyrannous head of a chamber society – a restaurant where he dines with his Wife and counterparts. The Wife, diminished to an accessory, begins another man. The Cook, on his hand abused by the Thief, becomes an accomplice in the Wife’s lustful treason. This quartet of power dynamics ends in, well, graphic cannibalism.
Often discussed as an allegory of Thatcher’s England, and opulent in Hitchcock’s holy trinity of food, sex and death, Greenway’s film is pure aesthetics of grotesque. Angry dogs devour raw meat outside, as lovers fuck in toilet cabins and on kitchen counters in this restaurant where humans and food are equally disposed. At times as paintings, at times as Brechtian techniques, the colours of each character’s clothes change with the frame to match the colours of the rooms they inhabit. As Brechtian tradition goes, there is a greater depth is such sensory symbolism, a depth worth revisiting in today’s political climate. – – – – – Theodosia
Wish You Were Here – David Leland (1987)
Neither a British holiday show, nor a Pink Floyd album, David Leland’s 1987 film, Wish You Were Here, can leave you blissful as a sunny day, or somewhat comfortably numb. And these are both huge thumbs up. Leland took inspiration from the early life of Cynthia Payne (his Personal Services would delve into her later life), writing and directing the quaint, feisty project. Wish You Were Here received a rapturous reception during the Directors’ Fortnight run at Cannes. And is often look back on fondly, a relevant, briskly touching entry into British cinema’s repertoire.
With itchy feet, and a potty mouth, 16 year-old Lynda Mansell (Emily Lloyd, one in a million), lives in a seaside town during the 1950s. She’s bored, sexually precocious, unable to hold down a job, but beyond all, Lynda has a natural free-spirit to brighten the rainiest of days. As the turbulent adolescent, Lloyd (who was a fresh-faced 16 year-old herself) will always be remembered for this breakout role. And rightly so, its a true marvel to watch. Lloyd brings a sad tinge to Lynda’s restlessness, all the while delivering a smashing, engaging, energetic performance. One which still has me laughing today. The term “Up yer bum”, alone, is now a timeless British phrase. – – – – – Robin
The World’s End – Edgar Wright (2013)
Unlike Wright’s previous efforts, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the final entry to The Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy is far and away the most mature of the bunch. Gary King (once again played by co-writer Simon Pegg) convinces his former friends, Andy (Nick Frost), Steven (Paddy Concidine), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Peter (Eddie Marsan) to return to their hometown of Newtwon Haven, in order to finish what was started all those years ago: “The Golden Mile”, a block of pubs the gang attempted to hit up all in on night, but failed to reach the last three.
The latest snag in Gary’s attempt to relive the glory days of his youth, happens to the the entire town has been replaced by androids, and the boys have to survive the night by completing the Mile. It’s hilarious to see this group get into fights with alien creatures during the pub crawl, but Wright is hunting bigger game this time. He’s telling a story about how nostalgia can be a trap, and showing what happens when Gary, the equivalent to Peter Pan, doesn’t grow up and stays in the same place he was as a teenager. It feels like Wright and Pegg are delivering hard-won wisdom, wrapped up in a sci-fi comedy, and it’s a perfect way to close a fun, genre-bending trilogy. – – – – – Jonathan