Feb 13, 2011

Is this the best British film of all time?

1. Don't Look Now
2. The Third Man
3. Distant Voices, Still Lives
4. Kes
5. The Red Shoes
6. A Matter Of Life And Death
7. Performance
8. Kind Hearts And Coronets
9. If...
10. Trainspotting
I've been trying not to comment on Time Out's list of Best British films but the more I think about it the more perverse their list looks. It's not just that I think Trainspotting is a crock of shit, Distant Voices Still Lives overrated or that both Mike Leigh and Alfred Hitchcock deserve a place in the top ten (as opposed to two Nic Roegs? Two Powells? really?). As for Kes, I'm still in the doghouse with my wife for making us watch in on New Year's Eve having forgotten what happens to the falcon in the final reel. I did try to explain that all animals appearing in a British film in the 1970s come to a bad end but she thinks I've jinxed our entire year. I think the problem stems from the fuzziness that surrounds Time Out's notion of what constitutes a "British film." It's one or other or all of either "director", "funding", "actors", "original book" or "setting" depending on which way the wind is blowing. For most of the entries, it seems to be "directed by a British director with British money in a British setting." So Alexander McKendrick and Hitchcock do fine until they move to America, at which point they become persona non grata. But Kubrick's Barry Lyndon gets in, neither directed by a Brit nor funded by Brits; same with Blow Up — Italian director, international money, London setting. Brazil is in even though it was directed by an American for an American studio and set in South America. The Third Man also gets in, even though Selznick was a financial partner and contributed American stars, in a Viennese setting, reducing that film's Britishness to just it's director. So why no English Patient? Why Brazil but not Blade Runner? Vertigo? Rear Window? City Lights? Modern Times? Point Blank? Midnight Cowboy? Alien? Sweet Smell of Success?


  1. Hooray! I doff my hat to anyone who agrees with me that Trainspotting is a load of rubbish.

  2. There are five Powells in the top 20.

  3. This topic of which country can legitimately claim what came up with the AFI Top 100 a few years back. Rather than cut-and-paste my sentiments, I'll just link and you can look if you like: http://bit.ly/eA2EY3

    Anyway, I know (or hope?) you're joking, but if Sweet Smell of Success is a British movie, I'm Basil Bloody Dearden.

    I don't think this is a bad list at all, especially if you compare it to the yawn-inducingly safe and cozy AFI 100. It's the ordering that gets me. If I pretend they assigned numbers by drawing the 100 titles out of a hat I'm reasonably pleased. It also finally prompts me to come clean and quit qualifying my dislike of Transpotting. The movie repulsed me.

    I do think they could have come up with more than two women for the journalist/critics group, though, unless there's a shortage of female film writers in Britain, in which case next year, instead of a preservation blogathon, Marilyn Ferdinand and I will happily organize an airlift. Particularly if TOL has the nerve to use Pauline Kael as the avatar for that section, then two out of forty is, well, insulting.

  4. I don't think Sweet Smell of Success is "British" any more than Brazil or Blow Up is British, and only an inch or so from what makes The Third Man British. I'm just playing silly buggers with their qualifying criteria. My favorite female film writer in Britain is Antonia Quirke (see
    http://www.clivejames.com/antonia-quirke ). But the numbers are not good. We may need that airlift.

  5. I didn't think you did! Surely themes and setting count more than anything? So many great American movies were made by foreign-born directors.

  6. Just curious. What makes Trainspotting an out 'n out crock of shit?

  7. Slightly off-topic, Tom, but thought you'd get a kick out of this.