After discussing a bunch of Edgar Wright recommendations in a few different genres, we now move away from genres with this list and instead discuss some recommendations that came out of the Brit’s home country.
British cinema is often compared to that of the US, probably since big British properties like Harry Potter and James Bond are co-produced and tend to have some US values slipping in. Even so, British films have a rich variety of unique characteristics, maybe most obviously noticeable in British humour. More so, the UK has given us plenty of auteurs who are celebrated around the world for their body of work. Think Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, and Michael Powell. Or makers still working like Ridley Scott, Mike Leigh, and Steve McQueen.
Wright always seems to be proud of his country’s film history and deservingly so. With this list, we want to celebrate some of these British films, some popular and some underrated. Without further ado, here are 10 great British films recommended by Edgar Wright.
1. Sexy Beast (2000)
Of course this has a place on Wright’s 1000 favourite films list, but before that list came to light, this film was already mentioned by Wright on an earlier occasion as one of his favourite British films from the past 25 years. Although that occasion was more than a decade ago, we still want to talk about “Sexy Beast” under the assumption his opinion of the film hasn’t changed. Gal, retired from a life as a gangster, now lives a good life with his wife Deedee in his house in Spain. As one day he’s sunbathing next to his pool, a boulder comes racing down a hill, barely missing him. Soon, this boulder that caused a near-death experience gets replaced for another boulder, this time in the form of Don Logan. Don is an old ‘friend’ wanting Gal back for one more job, but Gal enjoys his retired life and declines the offer. Too bad for Gal, Don doesn’t take no for an answer.
Jonathan Glazer is of course best known for his film “Under the Skin,” but “Sexy Beast,” although totally different, is just as good or arguably even better. Of course we can’t dismiss his film “Birth” either, but this entry is reserved for “Sexy Beast,” and when talking about “Sexy Beast,” of course that killer performance from Ben Kingsley as the despicable Don can’t go unmentioned.
2. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
In a ‘Phantom of the Paradise’ fashion, a madman is on the loose, hiding out mostly in his room playing the organ. In between his musical outbursts, he plots to murder doctors, each in a gruesome way that represents one of the nine Biblical plagues. Detectives on the case are stumped at first, but soon discover that each of the victims assisted Dr. Vesalius on an unsuccessful operation involving the wife of organist Dr. Phibes. But Dr. Phibes couldn’t be the killer, since he was killed in a car crash upon learning of his wife’s death.
What Ben Kingsley is for Sexy Beast, Vincent Price is for Dr. Phibes. His brilliant portrayal of this spite-filled madman is one to admire. Price is a joy to watch, even though he murders doctors in the most sadistic, gruesome ways that could as well be in a “Saw” movie. Aside from Phibes and his killings, there’s plenty more to love, especially the stylized look of it all.
3. Brief Encounter (1945)
We mentioned him in the intro of this article already, but of course we have to dedicate an entry to the most influential Sir David Lean. Lean originally started out as a movie editor, which is a big part of why he became such an influential filmmaker, since even when making the shift to directing, he still kept inventing new editing techniques for his epic films.
“Brief Encounter” is not one of his three-hour-long epics, but still one of his best films. The film is an intimate story of love, once voted to be the best romantic film of all time. The story follows Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard), who meet at a railway station. Both are married and have children, but that doesn’t stop them from gradually falling in love. Each Thursday they meet and with each Thursday passing they feel closer to each other, but simultaneously realize they don’t have any future.
“Brief Encounter” is a first hand witness of the experience of falling in love. It being named the best romantic film by over a hundred industry professionals (a group including Edgar Wright) should be enough reason to pique your interest if you haven’t watched it already.
4. The Hunger (1983)
Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve) is a vampire who has already lived for thousands of years. During her time alive, she had many mortal lovers, who she injected with her blood to make them live for centuries. However, after these centuries their lives come to a sudden end as they start aging rapidly. This is also the case for Miriam’s latest love, John (David Bowie). Together they seek help from a scientist, Sarah (Susan Sarandon), who claims to have discovered the secret to eternal youth. As this claim turns out to be false, Miriam ends up seducing Sarah, while John is declining fast.
Tony Scott’s feature debut is a film nothing like his later work. While known for being an action director, in his first attempt at making a movie he already proved he could do much more than just action. The film is a dramatic and horrific look at the curse that is death, or rather the curse that is not being able to die. He does this by crafting an incredibly stylized tale of a love triangle. These three leads brilliantly portray their life-obsessed characters and make a good movie into a great one.
5. The Italian Job (1969)
Here we have a title more people will know as F. Gary Gray’s “Ocean’s Eleven meets Fast and the Furious.” Although that remake is quite fun, we believe the original British film is the superior one.
Sir Michael Caine plays Charlie, fresh out of prison and ready for a big job. He hears from a job involving stealing four million dollars’ worth of gold in Italy; a job that a friend unsuccessfully attempted. With his crew assembled he comes up with a plan to shut down all traffic in Turin, Italy in order to make it a hard task for the authorities to catch them. Using three Minis as getaway vehicles, they have the advantage, since the cars are small enough to get through many obstacles.
Edgar Wright praised the film on multiple occasions; he recommended it as a double bill with “The Hot Rock” (1972) and even named it as a source of inspiration for “Baby Driver.” He notes that just like in “Baby Driver,” the chases in “The Italian Job” are great practical moments, but eventually it’s the characters in the center of all that count. He especially had high praise for the bold cliffhanger ending that “The Italian Job” is known for.