7. Under the Skin (2013)
Describable as an arty science fiction thriller, Jonathan Glazer directs, and co scripts along with Walter Campbell, this adaptation of Michel Faber’s novel. The film stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien seductress who preys on men – leaving only empty skins behind.
The film was over 10 years in development, Glazer wanting to begin production after Sexy Beast in 2000. Johansson’s alien is followed by a mysterious motorcyclist played by champion road racer Jeremy McWiliams. Adam Pearson a man with genuine facial deformity was also cast as Glazer did not want to use prosthetics. The men approached by Johansson were non-actors filmed with a hidden camera to gain a more genuine reaction.
The original script allegedly featured two aliens disguised as farmers – at this point Brad Pitt was attached to the project. The final film attracted mixed reviews and many fans of the source novel were dissatisfied. Opinion remains divided, visually stunning and haunting on the one hand and a tedious over arty insult to the source novel on the other.
6. The World’s End (2013)
Edgar Wright directs and co-scripts along with star Simon Pegg, this the third film in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy which began with Shaun of the Dead.
Gary King (Pegg) is a middle-aged alcoholic who tracks down his old school friends to complete a pub crawl (finishing at The World’s End Pub) in their hometown that they never completed as teenagers. It is during this reunion crawl that Gary encounters what is revealed to be an android (a ‘blank’). The friends realise that an android invasion is underway with human being replaced by androids, regardless they battle the androids whilst continuing the pub crawl.
It transpires that the androids have been steadily advancing the Earth’s tech for several decades so that they may contribute to the galactic community. The friends are offered eternal youth as androids but decline the offer, leaving the androids to abandon the planet, plunging it back into a new Dark Age.
With its themes of pub crawl, reunion and youthful dreams perhaps unfulfilled as middle age sets in, World’s End echoes back the theme/warnings of perpetual adolescence posed in Shaun of the Dead. In this case the central characters turn down the offer to be young forever.
In some respects with pubs, androids instead of zombies there is something of a similar train of thought. However, as Edgar Wright has commented the script began life many years ago as originally entitled ‘Crawl’ about a group of teenagers on a pub crawl, the final film taking shape after he noted that many of the small town pubs, cafes and restaurants up and down the country are becoming increasingly the same.
This compounded with the feeling of being an outsider when returning to one familiar hometown places led to the idea that perhaps such areas had been taken over by aliens – or androids. On a similar theme, the largely Madchester/Britpop/Indie soundtrack echoes the youth of both the creatives behind the film and the characters (the cast comprised of many familiar faces from British film).
The World’s End perhaps lacks the freshness of Shaun of the Dead but is a fun journey with familiar faces and a fitting end to the ‘trilogy’.
5. The Selfish Giant (2013)
Arbor (Conner Chapman) and Swifty (Shaun Thomas)are two teenage boys growing up in an impoverished area of Bradford in Northern England. Arbor, the younger and smaller of the two is a pushy impetuous youth suffering from hyperactivity and after the pair are suspended from school he leads Swifty, the quieter of the duo, into gather scrap metal for cash.
After being initially mocked by scrap yard owner Kitten (Sean Gilder), the pair soon make money and save face stealing power cables and steel from beside railway lines. When Kitten sees Swifty’s natural skill with a horse and cart and favours him jealousy brews up within Arbor, this results in a plan which backfires and sees them both attempting to steal live power cable with tragic consequences.
Writer and director Clio Barnard had previously achieved notoriety for her documentary the Arbor (as referencing in one of the lead character’s names) about the life of Bradford born writer Andrea Dunbar (Rita, Sue and Bob Too). The Selfish Giant was described by Ken Loach himself as Kes revisited for the post-Thatcherite Britain.
Although, arguably this tale could be told at any time since the Second World War, perhaps that is the strength of one of the social messages it carries, that for those living in poverty little has changed and exclusion remains. The Selfish Giant remains a compelling piece of contemporary British filmmaking in the familiarly gritty ‘new wave’ style.
4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Based on the 1974 Cold War novel by John Le Carrie (who appears briefly in a cameo), it stars Gary Oldman as George Smiley, along with Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciarán Hinds. Set in London in the early 1970s, the plot focuses on the hunt for a Soviet double agent at the top of the British secret service.
Expectations of the film were high and some of the publicity speculated if it would be up to the standard of the award winning BBC TV version of 1979 starring Alec Guinness. The film did not disappoint with fine performances from all concerned. Peter Morgan (The Damned United & more recently Rush) wrote the original draft of the screenplay before the project was passed onto Peter Straughan and his wife, Bridget O’Connor (who later died during production) together they redrafted what became the final version.
Upon its early cinematic release in the UK, some audience members commented at how dark the film was visually, apparently this unintentional effect was due to some cinemas not altering the projection system after having screened 3D versions of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film. Straughan and O’Connor were awarded a BAFTA for best adapted screenplay.
3. Skyfall (2012)
Directed by Same Mendes, this twenty third Bond outing; Daniel Craig’s third, also marked 50 years since Dr No first hit the big screen. The plot centres on MI6 itself being targeted by a former agent (played by Javier Bardem) turned cyber terrorist. The climax of the film sees Bond fee along with M (Judi Dench) to Skyfall Bond’s childhood home in remote rural Scotland. However, they are pursued, the result being a siege of the house.
In the wake of 2008’s Quantum of Solace, which attracted a fair share of negative criticism, audiences could be forgiven for mixed or low expectations of the follow up. Something compounded by the fact that the film’s production was suspended throughout 2010 owing to MGM’s financial troubles.
Apparently, there were also plans to have the plot follow on from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, in 2011 rumours circulated that the new film was to be based upon a continuation novel Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver. In the end, Skyfall was reasonably well received, becoming the highest grossing Bond film to date and the seventh highest grossing film of all time.
There are a number of refreshing changes to Skyfall, although the plot draws on cyber terrorism Bond is consciously gadget free – even returning to his classic Aston Martin DB5 to avoid detection. Equally so, the siege toward the end of the film sees a Bond adopt a low tech ingenuity more akin to an episode of MacGyver – or in a strange way evocative of Home Alone.
This evocation of other films of the last 50 years appears intentional – at moments/shots/scenes the film is reminiscent of Blade Runner, Return of the Jedi, Enter the Dragon and perhaps even (in relation to the final siege) Straw Dogs to name a few.
There is also a hint of Bond’s own broader spectrum of sexuality which is well played in a brief moment with villain Raoul Silva. Importantly, as critic Kim Newman remarked, Skyfall seemed to have the right mix of tension, action and fun which previous outings had perhaps been lacking.
2. The King’s Speech (2010)
Directed by Tom Hooper with a script by David Seidler, Colin Firth stars as British Monarch George VI, who must overcome his stammer when he must take to the throne following the shock abdication of his older brother Edward (Guy Pearce). To undergo this process he enlists the aid of speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).
Writer Seidler was first attracted to the story back in the 1980’s but was asked by the Queen Mother (George VI’s widow) not to proceed with the story until after her death. The film focuses on the relationship between the King and his therapist – eventually using actual dialogue spoken within the sessions in the final script – source information from Logue’s own notebooks.
An uplifting quality heritage production, there was the slight criticism upon release that it was rather the sort of film the BBC could have produced for television. This is open for debate, the narrative possibly, but the production and the cast would not have been quite as grand. Firth is suitably empathic whilst Rush as Logue provides some intrigue and energy to proceedings.
Not without controversy, the use of f-word expletives in one scene saw the film classified a ‘less commercial’ 15 certificate by the BBFC. Following an appeal, the BBFC reclassified the film as a 12 – allowing a broader age range to see the film (also possibly not ‘scaring away’ the prized commercially viable grey pound).
The BBFC citied the change as the result of reconsidering the use of expletive as being ‘within the context of speech therapy’, however urban myth speculates this was down to intervention from the Palace. The King’s Speech is a rewarding experience.
1. Shame (2011)
This U.S/U.K co-production directed and co written by Steve McQueen and starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, the film attracted controversy upon release in the U.S owing to explicit scenes relating to the central character Brandon’s (Fassbender) sex addiction.
Brandon lives a sleek executive life in New York, becoming increasing addicted to sexual encounters yet losing the ability to connect with anyone emotionally. Seeminly with no friends and with family contact, Brandon is annoyed when his sister Sissy (Mulligan) comes to stay unexpectedly. There is a strange relationship between the two, she is emotionally needy something which frustrates Brandon but slowly causes him to consider his own life.
With intense performances from both Fassbender and Mulligan, McQueen was intent to use only top quality actors even for Brandon’s sexual partners -the director’s being that each of these sexual partners should evoke Brandon’s state of mind. The film met with critical acclaim upon its release for its serious look at sex addiction in a way that not been explored previously.
Author Bio: George Cromack is a tutor at the University of Hull’s Scarborough Campus, with a BA in Scriptwriting he also teaches evening classes in Scriptwriting and Film Studies for the WEA. Whist also working towards his PhD, he is a keen writer of both prose and script, Cold Calling, a film short written by George premiered in October 2013. Follow him on Twitter @MadBasil.