Here goes, not an easy top 10 to do…
10.. THIS IS ENGLAND – 2006 – From the opening credits’ blare of Toots & The Maytals’ ska classic ’54-46 (That’s My Number)’, rhythmically synched with an identity parade of Falklands-era heroes and villains, there was a sense that Shane Meadows was going to deliver a film to live up to its mission-statement title. And so it proved, even if the BBFC’s draconian 18 certificate meant that the people it was aimed at couldn’t actually see it. Set in the Nottinghamshire boondocks, This Is England is a slice of Brit realism with an energy all of its own, a film with serious fire in its belly. The source of its zeal, Meadows, tiptoes between brutality and tenderness with the poise of a dancer – albeit a dancer who looks a bit like a prop forward. It’s a celebration of friendship, a love letter to its director’s teenage years (Thomas Turgoose’s Shaun surrogates for the young Meadows) and a big old ‘V’ sign to the National Front. It also spawned terrific telly in the shape of Channel 4’s This Is England ’86 N `88. Pretty good for a self-professed ‘cult’ movie..
09.. LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS – 1998 – 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, 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 a decade 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.
08.. THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY – 1980 – Long before Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham arrived, John Mackenzie set the bar high for British gangster flicks with the raw and still-influential Long Good Friday. It’s dated, sure, but there are a host of memorable sequences (including the infamous meat-hook interrogation), an impossibly-catchy sax score and the saltiest, geezer dialogue this side of Michael Caine (“A sleepin’ partner’s one thing – but you’re in a fuckin’ coma!”). As the East End kingpin whose empire is rapidly crumbling, Bob Hoskins delivers a towering performance (check out his wordless final scene), while a young Helen Mirren sparkles as the sexy femme fatale and the support is littered with familiar faces (including Pierce Brosnan, a few Ritchie regulars and Charlie from Casualty). Produced for a paltry £930,000 (unthinkable nowadays), it lacks the gloss of today’s copycats, but in every other department, this blows them away.
07.. SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING – 1960 – One of the key films of the ’60s realist movement, this is the one with Albert Finney as the cocky factory worker (“Don’t let the bastards grind you down. That’s one thing you learn.”) who is courting Doreen (Shirley Anne Field) and playing around with married Brenda (Rachel Roberts). It’s difficult now to assess its rawness, but this is still superbly enacted and filled with a tangible yearning for better lives. If nothing else, the film has proved enormously influential on Northern indie musos; a line from the movie – “I want to go where there’s life and there’s people” – turned up in The Smiths’ ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, and the movie inspired the title of the Arctic Monkeys’ debut ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’.
06.. 28 DAYS LATER – 2002 – Whether we’re going to technically class it as a zombie movie or call them “infected”, there’s no question that Danny Boyle’s film juiced up British horror in particular and the horror genre in general. Shot on a digital video that manages to look both gritty and gorgeous, combining moments of heart-stopping terror with stretches of quiet horror at the profoundly unnatural sight of an empty London, it’s become the new benchmark, inspiring a wealth of imitators but few equals. Boyle’s eye for talent pays off too: newcomers Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris hold the attention even at the heart of the storm, however many of the monstrous horde pursue them, while Christopher Ecclestone’s late appearance reminds us that people don’t have to be infected to be seriously disturbing. Still, it bears repeating: those infected are reallyfast and seriously scary.
05..TRAINSPOTTING – 1996 – Trainspotting didn’t so much reinvigorate British cinema as spike filmmaking heroin into its vein. In adapting Irvine Welsh’s cult novel, director Danny Boyle re-teamed with the winning creative talent behind Shallow Grave (producer Andrew Macdonald, screenwriter John Hodge) and the result is another offbeat rush of dark, orgasmic cinema. Ignoring tabloid arguments of whether the movie glorifies drug use or not (it doesn’t), a grotty depiction of the Edinburgh junkie subculture just shouldn’t be this enjoyable. But in fusing wildly imaginative style (Renton’s plunge into the filthiest toilet in Scotland) with naturalistic but witty dialogue, an impossibly iconic soundtrack, some truly disturbing imagery (the baby, anyone?) and, er, Dale Winton, it spoke to the ’90s chemical generation. From Robert Carlyle’s ‘tache-totting psycho to Jonny Lee Miller’s Connery-worshipping wideboy, it’s also full of memorable, quote-worthy characters, while Mark Renton remains the performance of Ewan McGregor’s career.
04.. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE – 1971 – Malcolm McDowell always claimed that while making A Clockwork Orange he was under the impression that it was a comedy. As Hans Gruber might say: “Ho… ho… ho”. On its release in 1971, amid a hurricane of controversy that would eventually lead Stanley Kubrick to pull his film from cinemas, a comment like that would have had Daily Mail readers spluttering into their morning tea. Now, however, it seems somehow apt: the 20 minute rampage by the droogs, Alex’s “rehabilitation” and his friends’ recruitment into the police force and so on, are in their own dark and twisted way, extremely funny. But, more importantly, they’re also shoulder-shakingly prescient. To this day, its impact on the first-time viewer cannot be denied. Here, movie-lovers, is a crash course in humanism (featuring massive dildos, orgies and brainwashing) only Kubrick could deliver.
03.. THE ITALIAN JOB – 1969 – Ask most film lovers what they remember most about The Italian Job and the mains ‘Turin traffic jam’, ‘robbery’, ‘Mini’ and ‘getaway’ will feature prominently – and rightly so. But a Boxing Day rewatch will remind any casual fan just what a camp comic triumph this movie is. Sure, it’s also about the pride every Englishman feels when British pluck and derring-do win (part of) the day (kind of), but with characters like Benny Hill’s Professor Simon Peach, with his penchant for extra-large ladies, and Noel Coward’s not-quite-royally appointed crime boss Mr. Bridger, there’s no denying The Italian Job’s chuckles are firmly rooted in saucy seaside postcards and all that carry on. But it’s because of that untouchable team of comic talent – Caine in particular – as well as the pacy robbery antics and the “England! England!” wave of patriotism that crashes out of those Turin sewer entrances, there’s no conceivable way anyone born on this sceptred isle can watch The Italian Job without cracking a smile..
02.. GET CARTER – 1971 – Get Carter was intended to be very violent. Michael Caine recently remarked, “It looks like Mary Poppins now.” But it doesn’t. In fact, it’s surprising how hard-hitting and brutal Get Carter still is, even in these desensitised times.
London hitman Jack Carter (Caine) revisits his Newcastle upon Tyne birthplace after the mysterious death of his brother Frank. He enters a seedy world of porn, corruption and murder, eventually joining the dots between “Mr. Big” Cyril Kinnear (Osborne), slot-machine magnate Cliff Brumby (Bryan Mosley) and scumbag chauffeur Eric Paice (Ian Hendry). Though warned off, Carter connives and strong-arms his way to the awful truth. Adapted from the novel Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis (interestingly, set in an unnamed steel town), Get Carter can be viewed as a pale, drizzly imitation of Raymond Chandler – director Hodges even throws in a copy of Farewell My Lovely to head off facile comparisons – but in its desperately grim north-eastern setting and the casual stylishness of its cruelty, it creates a semi-mythic world all of its own. Though Caine exudes cool (only really losing his composure during the coal-cart climax), his heartlessness and contempt for women are never neatly redeemed.
This is a gangster film without the laughs of Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, the pop of Pulp Fiction or the theatre of The Godfather – a landmark British thriller that deserves more than just kitsch appreciation for having Corrie’s Alf Roberts and one always-misquoted famous line in it. It’s violent without buckets of blood, sexy without being explicit, and contains a revelatory sequence with a film projector that trumps 8mm. “Clever sod, aren’t you?” says one lowlife to Carter. “Only comparatively,” he replies.
01.. THE WICKER MAN – 1973 – The Wicker Man isn’t scary in a conventional manner and, arguably, is more of a Gothic mystery than a horror movie, but you’d be hard-pushed to find a more disturbing and horrific film experience. Certainly one of the most chilling British movies ever created, there’s something indefinably unsettling about Robin Hardy’s strangely seductive cult chiller from the moment Edward Woodward sets foot on the remote Scottish island. While his buttoned-up Christian copper from the mainland searches for a supposedly missing girl, this strange place hauntingly evolves from a small town of eccentric locals to a paranoid-flavoured asylum with no way out. In the lead, Woodward has never been better (except perhaps in The Equaliser), while nobody does sinister menace quite like Christopher Lee and his burning eyes.