14. Attack the Block (2011)
Written and directed by Joe Cornish (still better known as one half of comedy duo Adam & Joe with Adam Buxton) a gang of young teenage hoodlums in Brixton, London become involved in thwarting a potential alien invasion of their tower block.
What follows in an enjoyable 88mins with little wasting of screen time. Featuring Nick Frost as Ron the local dealer, the members of the gang were made up of a cast of unknowns from local youth and drama group – all of whom had apparently gone through a series of eight auditions.
With a plot inspired after Cornish was himself mugged, the plot began to develop as he quizzed youth groups on what weapons they would use if there was an alien invasion – influences of which are evident in the final film. American distributors were concerned about the use of South London accents and Brit slang in the film expressing the warning that subtitles or a dub may be necessary for release in the U.S – this did not happen although release in the States was limited.
The fictional name of the area depicted in the film was Wyndham estates so called as a himage to John Wyndham, writer of Sci-Fi alien invasion classic The Day of the Triffids. At heart, there’s a coming of age theme to proceedings.
13. Seven Psychopaths (2012)
The second collaboration between writer and director Martin McDonagh and lead Colin Farrell, following 2008’s In Bruges. Also starring Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrleson amongst others, the film was a co-production of the United States and the United Kingdom.
The plot focuses on Martin “Marty” Faranan (Farrell) a stuggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s (Woody Harrelson) beloved Shih Tzu.
As some critics observed this is a film which knows it is a film, channelling Tarantino throughout. It’s notable that whilst the film perhaps doesn’t carry the same more simplistic appeal of In Bruges, arguably being a little too contrived, McDonagh’s skills as a director appear to have developed somewhat.
12. Tyrannosaur (2011)
Set in an unspecified area of Northern England (but shot in Leeds and Wakefield), Paddy Conserdine writes and directs this bleak film starring Olivia Coleman, Peter Mullan and Eddie Marsan.
Opening with Joseph, an unemployed widower kicking his own dog to death, the audience are given a hint at the sort of intense content to follow. Hannah (Coleman) is an employee in a charity shop who offers to pray for Joseph and his misgivings – he later berates her for it. Hannah herself is in an abusive relationship with her husband (Marsan) – something which leads to a shocking reveal and unexpected consequences.
Bleak, intense and unflinching, Tyrannosaur (and expansion of an earlier short written and directed by Conserdine, Dog Altogether, which also won a BAFTA) is evidence that the strain of British realism begun in the late 1950’s is still carried as a necessary constant to voice difficult social issues today, something of contrast to the warm Rom Coms of Curtis or the current trend toward the grey pound of recent films such as Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. All of which seem to offer example of what a modern audience expects of a British film.
11. Frank (2014)
This Anglo-Irish co production, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, written by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan (from an original story by Ronson), follows Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) a wannabe musician as by chance he becomes a keyboardist for experimental band the Soronprfbs.
The band of oddball musicians, including Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) are all resistant to Jon’s presence within the band, apart from curious frontman Frank (Michael Fassbender) – who never removes his papier-mâché head even when offstage. Tensions begin to come to a head as via Jon’s persistent social networking the band achieve some recognition and are booked to play at the South by Southwest festival in Texas.
With themes of mental illness and musings over the myth, mystery and perhaps unquantifiable nature of creativity and genius, Frank is a mysterious and cryptic film in itself – leaving plenty to the viewer’s own interpretation. British audiences of a certain age range (and tastes) will immediately recognise the head Fassbender wears as being a replication of the one worn by writer and comedian Chris Sievey in his popular guise of Frank Sidebottom.
Co-writer Jon Ronson was once a member of Sievey’s band and his semi-autobiographical writings (also inspired by other musicians such as Daniel Johnston and Captain Beefheart) were developed into this fictional screenplay (which went on to win an award at the British Independant Film Awards).
Sievey, who died in 2010, is said to have given his backing to the film. The distinctive head of Frank is alledged to have been based on 1930’s and 40’s musical hall and later film star George Formby. The music used in the film was recorded live by the cast during filming.
10. Submarine (2010)
Richard Ayoade’s (perhaps still most recognised as Moss from UK comedy series the IT Crowd) makes his directorial debut with the this coming of age comedy drama (based on the novel of the same name by Joe Dunthorpe).
Set in Swansea (the audience are to assume at some point in the 1980’s) the main plot of the film follows 15 year old reflective soul Oliver (Craig Roberts) in his pursuit and resultant relationship with Jordana (Yasmin Page). This becomes complicated for Oliver when he learns that Jordana’s mother has a potentially fatal brain tumour.
There is also a subplot concerning the threat of a new neighbour (Paddy Considine), a new wave healer and former boyfriend of Oliver’s mother’s (Sally Hawkins) and the threat he poses to the stability of Oliver’s family. A touching coming of age comedy drama that does not play out in the same predictable manner as many others, the narrative, like its characters has something one could describe as a more sincere emotional complexity.
In tune with this, Submarine also has lively teen element (something enhanced with the soundtrack provided by Arctic Monkey’s frontman Alex Turner). Edgier and refreshingly more modern than the likes of Gregory’s Girl of 30 years previous, Submarine does bear comparison by being far more genuine and less crude than many a contemporary U.S teen film.
Perhaps deliberately anachronistic both stylistically and for the sake of triggering nostalgia, Submarine is also noteworthy from a visual point of view and makes for something of unique experience. As a counter point, apparently the late British filmmaker Michael Winner stated something along the lines of Submarine being yet another British Film with no commercial appeal that won’t make any money.
9. Sightseers (2012)
Ben Wheatley directs this black comedy about a couple, Chris and Tina (Steve Oram & Alice Lowe who also wrote the script along with Amy Jump) on a caravanning holiday come road trip. Tina, a somewhat timid women, embarks on a caravanning holiday with her new boyfriend Chris, an aspiring writer who claims to be on a sabbatical from teaching but as it turns out has most likely been recently sacked.
Events turn sinister as Chris runs over and kills a walker for dropping litter. Initially claiming this to be an accident, the couple keep it a secret and drive on – what follows is a darkly comedic killing spree on both their parts as they roam about the countryside acting out a strange kind of moral/eco-heritage conscious justice.
Wheatley’s follow up to Kill List is something different again, comparable to Mike Leigh’s 1976 Play for Today Nuts in May but for a post Tarantino audience (arguably there could also be a hint of Natural Born Killers or even Kalifornia here). Oram and Lowe were apparently inspired by characters encountered on childhood holidays and began working on the idea seven years previous to filming but struggled in gaining backing owing the film being deemed too dark until Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) stepped in.
Critical reception was slightly mixed, possibly as many were searching for something similar in mood to Kill List, Sightseers for all its killing is far lighter and less intense but much more re-watchable and entertaining. Bruce Robinson’s cult favourite Withnail and I was apparently something of an early inspiration for the film.
8. We Need To Talk about Kevin (2012)
Directed by Lynne Ramsey from Lionel Shriver’s novel, this U.S/U.K co-production film stars Tilda Swinton as the mother of Kevin (Ezra Miller), a teenager who has been imprisoned following his carrying out of a massacre at his high school.
The film uses frequent flashbacks to chart the run up to the event, following Kevin as a difficult baby and young child, so much so in complete frustration his mother, Eva, throws him against a wall breaking his arm – something Kevin later blackmails his mother about. The question of nature and nurture is posed with Eva eventually asking Kevin why he did what he did to which he cannot give a definite answer.
The increasingly topical film premiered at Cannes in 2011 and was met with universal praise, much of this centred on Swinton’s performance as the troubled mother.
Arguable too close to sadly all too familiar events and news stories, the film also attracted some divided views –with some considering We Need to Talk About Kevin as a brave attempt to merge dark events with a ‘redemptive message’ , whilst others considered it as a sensationalist horror movie masquerading as a ‘psychological puzzle’.
There is the slight wonder, that had this instead been set in the U.K and given a more realist edge, events and questions posed may’ve less a reflection and more of a shocking urgent warning. Regardless, the performances from all the cast remain strong and the narrative compelling, elevating what could well have been TV movie fodder into something cinematic.