The 100 best British films: directors

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Explore the top ten British films of all our guest contributors

Linked title denotes top 100 placing

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Wes Anderson, director (‘Rushmore’)

Richard Ayoade, Director (‘Submarine’)

Some cheating on the numbers here. I tried to make such hateful indecision less appalling by lumping films together with their directors – and this list already misses out any Mike Leigh or Shane Meadows – which is a disgrace.

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Alfonso Cuarón, director ('Children of Men')

I hate lists because films are not groceries, but here I am trying a quick one – in no special order.

I considered films directed in this country by a British director, so I'm not including films by directors like Stanley Kubrick, Jospeh Losey or Terry Gilliam.

I opted for variety, otherwise I would have included more titles from the Brighton School: James Williamson, George Albert Smith and Alfred Darling. Those guys were brilliant, they pretty much invented the film grammar we still use and nobody gives a damn about them. I would have also included every film Hitchcock directed on this island.

Michel Gondry, director ('Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind')

Joanna Hogg, director (‘Unrelated’)

I see this ‘list making’ as a kind of mission statement, identifying the constellation by which I’m currently navigating. These films are ones that matter to me at the moment. The films I like change all the time. Tomorrow I will create a different list from today’s.

My regret is I haven’t been able to list more films by female filmmakers.

1. A Canterbury Tale (Powell and Pressburger, 1944)

As a ‘Woman of Kent’ this one is irresistible. Quite possibly the most lyrical and heartfelt of all their films. My list could have been made up solely with Powell and Pressburger, but I’ve limited myself to just one.

2. Walkabout (Roeg, 1971)

Despite the setting, this is another quintessential British film. One day I’d like to make a similarly non-linear and fragmented story, told entirely with images.

3. Swinging the Lambeth Walk (Lye, 1939)

I love Len Lye’s films. Colour, sensuality and sublime rhythm – qualities not usually abundant in British films.

4. Blow-up (Antonioni, 1966)

Whenever I hear wind through trees I think of this film.

5. Dawn Chorus (Coates, 2007)

Brilliantly explores the relationship between birdsong and human behaviour. Funny and very moving series of short films by a contemporary British artist. I wholly agree when he says, ‘I thought for a long time being an artist was about making art, but in fact it's about representing what you are passionate about.’

6. Kes (Loach, 1969)

Aged about 12 when I saw this, it was the first film to really stretch my empathy beyond my immediate peer group.

7. Full Metal Jacket (Kubrick, 1987)

Shot in Beckton Gas Works by a long term resident of the UK, I think this counts as a British film. Kubrick’s vision of war is an unrelenting and brutalising experience.

8. Orlando (Potter, 1992)

Epic, stylised, personal and intimate thanks in large part to Tilda Swinton’s presence.

9. Robinson in Space (Keiller, 1997)

A radical and witty documentation of the real economic and political structure of Britain.

10. Jubilee (Jarman, 1977)

I saw this when it came out, with an audience of punks spitting and throwing things at the screen. True interactive cinema.

Ben Hopkins, director (‘The Nine Lives of Thomas Katz’)

Here’s my list of ten best British films... none pre-World War II, I know, but nothing earlier really made the grade.

In no particular order:

The Innocents (Clayton, 1961)

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Jones, 1979)

Comedy is very important to me and is one of the UK's best exports.

Lawrence of Arabia (Lean, 1962)

Naked (Leigh, 1993)

Not quite so certain about this one as it has its definite flaws… however its ‘good bits’ are just fantastic.

Repulsion (Polanski, 1965)

Made by some Polish geezer... but Brit locations, Brit money? British?

Orlando (Potter, 1992) or Edward II (Jarman)

I want one of these two (you decide which!) to represent the virulent and very important, minority strain of anti-realism in Brit cinema. It was a shame I couldn't fit in a Greenaway for the same reason. Both the Jarman and the Potter are lovely films, made with great imagination.

A Matter of Life and Death (Powell and Pressburger, 1946)

Ratcatcher (Ramsay, 1999)

The Third Man (Reed, 1949)

Performance (Cammell and Roeg, 1970)

Gotta 'ave a cockney gangster film.

Neil Hunter, director ('The Lawless Heart')

1. Don’t Look Now (Roeg, 1973)

1. The Third Man (Reed, 1949)

Two films that feel like miracles, so perfect yet so bold.

3. The Red Shoes (Powell and Pressburger, 1948)

Powell and Pressburger could have formed half the list; this is perhaps their most beguiling.

4. The 39 Steps (Hitchcock, 1935)

A thriller with the logic and texture of a dream.

5. If... (Anderson, 1968)

Now the shock has gone, what remains is the love it concealed.

6. Kes (Loach, 1969)

The flipside of ‘If...’, with its breathtaking balance of violence and lyricism.

7. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Jones, 1979)

Still funny, still true, after all these years.

8. South

Images from this documentary about Shackleton’s ill-fated 1919 Antarctic expedition remain indelibly in my memory.

9. Victim (Dearden, 1961)

So much more vigorous and gripping than the campaigning piece you might expect, and widely underrated.

10. The Wicker Man (Hardy, 1973)

Still the best of the don't-leave-London genre.

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Rowan Joffe, director ('Brighton Rock')

Asif Kapadia, director ('The Warrior')

1. Don’t Look Now (Roeg, 1973)

I love the unsettling atmosphere, the fantastic cinematography, the editing and direction is fantastic. A masterpiece of visual filmmaking.

2. Straw Dogs (Peckinpah, 1971)

I first saw this at the BFI, it may still have been banned at the time. I had to remind myself to breathe at the end, I have never felt such unbearable tension in the cinema before.

3. Lawrence of Arabia (Lean, 1962)

This film set the rules for epic filmmaking.

4. Kes (Loach, 1969)

Probably the first feature film that I can recall watching all the way through, I saw it in my class at school, obviously I had no idea who Ken Loach was at the time. He’s an inspiration when it comes to naturalism and working with non-professional actors.

5. Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960)

I have to put a Hitchcock film in the list somehow, it could be ‘Vertigo’. He’s the man: the greatest film director of all and he’s from Leytonstone.

6. In This World (Winterbottom, 2002)

While others sit around ‘developing’ films, Winterbottom and his producer Andrew Eaton go off and make them. Great script by Tony Grisoni and a beautiful score by Dario Marianelli.

7. Bloody Sunday (Greengrass, 2002)

Brilliant, visceral filmmaking.

8. Richard the Third (Loncraine, 1995)

Great leading performance, excellent design, costumes and a very clever use of London locations.

9. Nineteen Eighty-Four (Radford, 1984)

Exactly what the book should’ve looked like. With a moving performance by the always excellent John Hurt.

10. Alien (Scott, 1979)

The film takes its time. Brilliant tension and design. Studied at the Royal College of Art.

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Gideon Koppel, director, ('sleep furiously')

I am not good at these kinds of favourite lists – being both fickle and inconsistent.

My choices would change from day to day – but today’s top ten British films for me in no particular order would be:

A Bigger Splash (Hazan, 1973)

One of the great films which explores painting.

Carry On Up the Khyber (Thomas 1968)

One of several films ‘Carry On’ films I could have picked which are brilliantly funny embodiments of British vaudeville.

Kes (Loach, 1969)

A film with a deep sense of humanity that when I first saw it as a child, changed the way I saw the world.

The Red Shoes (Powell and Pressburger, 1948)

Cinematic fantasy which has a resonating quality like an epic painting.

Gallivant (Kötting, 1997)

A deeply moving film which celebrates life and the power of cinema to both explore and evoke life.

Where I Am Is Here (Tait, 1964)

Powerful associative film making with a ‘rare for British cinema’ poetic quality.

Wittgenstein (Jarman, 1993)

Elegantly simple evocation of an interior and exterior world.

British Sounds (Godard, 1970)

Might be argued as not a ‘British film but hey, any excuse to get a Godard film into this list and one which is an extraordinary document of Britain.

A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, 1971)

An examination and portrait of human psyche which only great art can achieve.

Went The Day Well? (Cavalcanti, 1942)

Constructs a deeply disturbing autonomous world, this film is all the more extraordinary given the historical context in which it was made.

Andrew Kötting, artist and filmmaker (‘Gallivant’)

And if a programme of ten shorts constituting the running time of a feature film might be allowed as the tenth film then it might run as follows:

Associations and Girl Chewing Gum (Smith, 1976)

This is My Land (Rivers, 2006)

Downside Up (Hill, 1985)

‘K’ (Parker, 1989)

Forest Murmurs (Hodgson, 2006)

Rabbit (Wrake, 2005)

The Battle of New Orleans (Lester, 1968)

Ivul Unmade (Hulse, 2009)

The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film (Lester and Sellers, 1960)

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Richard Kwietniowski, director (‘Love and Death on Long Island’)

Mike Leigh, Director (‘Naked’)

I would also like to add the complete works of Mitchell and Kenyon, those recently discovered early pioneers of British filmmaking. Their work is consistently stunning, and I’m concerned that they’re so new to us all that we run the risk of overlooking them.

Ken Loach, director ('Kes')

Here’s my list – in alphabetical order, not in order of preference. I only included films from the distant past since I have too many friends making films now and I don’t want to show any partiality!

Gillies MacKinnon, director (‘Pure’)

1. Repulsion (Polanski, 1965)

Masterfully creepy.

2. Whisky Galore (Mackendrick, 1949)

This kind of pure vitality in filmmaking is rare.

3. If… (Anderson, 1968)

Delinquent and shocking in its time.

4. The Hill (Lumet, 1965)

Dynamic narrative – and bloody good acting from start to finish.

5. The Offence (Lumet, 1973)

Was Sean Connery ever so good as in this dark two-hander mostly set in one room?

6. The Bridge on the River Kwai (Lean, 1957)

Every time I see it I expect a different outcome.

7. Ice Cold In Alex (Thompson, 1958)

For the pleasure of watching the marvellous Sylvia Syms adrift in the desert with John Mills and Anthony Quayle.

8. Ratcatcher (Ramsay, 1999)

A bold and original first film which transcends any colloquial limitations. I have two Argentinian friends who loved it though they couldn’t follow the dialogue.

9. This Is England (Meadows, 2006)

Bang-on memoir of a time and place – and a fantastic young cast.

10. My Childhood (Douglas, 1972)

Deeply reflective filmmaking. It had the power to inspire many new filmmakers.

Philip Ridley, writer-director (‘The Passion of Darkly Noon’)

There are just so many I want to mention. And of course there’s that dividing line between a film you know is a great film, and a film that might not be ‘great’. Sometimes, these two things come together in one film and you’re safe. In my list, for example, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ – a great film and a great film in my own personal story. Perhaps I’m on less safe ground with things like ‘The Last of England’ and ‘Dreamchild’ – but they mean so much to me I could not ignore them.

Anyway, enough rambling and excuses, if I had to give you a list now, on this snowy December morning in 2010 it would be:

And I am desperate that I have to leave out ‘High Wind in Jamaica’ (Mackendrick, 1951/1965), ‘The Browning Version (Asquith, 1951), ‘The Cruel Sea’ (Frend, 1953), ‘It Always Rains on Sunday’ (Hamer, 1947) or ‘The Spider and the Fly’ (Hamer, 1949), ‘Went the Day Well?’ (Calvalcanti, 1942), ‘Millions Like Us’ (Launder and Gilliatt,1943), ‘Of Time and the City’ (Davies, 2008), ‘The General’ (Boorman, 1998), ‘Peeping Tom’ (Powell, 1960), ‘Time Without Pity’ (Losey, 1957), ‘Oliver Twist’ (Lean,1948), ‘The Sound Barrier’ (Lean, 1952), ‘Noose’ (Greville, 1948), ‘The Sporting Life’ (Anderson, 1963).

Ben Wheatley, director (‘Down Terrace’)

1. Performance (Cammell and Roeg, 1970)

Mind-blowingly modern. More imagination in one minute than a dozen contemporary films.

2. Culloden (Watkins, 1964)

The start of docudrama. Brilliant bold filmmaking. I'd happily fill the list with Watkins, Roeg and Clarke’s work.

3. Scum (Clarke, 1979)

The best British horror film ever made. Terrifying.

4. Withnail and I (Robinson, 1987)

Like a warm duvet. Endlessly watchable, and the best advert for drinking ever.

5. Brazil (Gilliam, 1985)

I saw the trailer when I was young and never forgot it. Watched this film over and over.

6. Get Carter (Hodges, 1971)

Hard as they come crime classic. Cancels out ‘The Long Good Friday’ sadly.

7. The Third Man (Reed, 1949)

Pure cinema. Seeing Harry Lime’s fingers poking through the drain when I was a kid made me aware that film could be art.

8. Robbery (Yates, 1967)

No ‘Robbery’ – no ‘Bullitt’, no ‘Heat’. Years ahead of its time.

9. Bladerunner (Scott, 1982).

Only Ridley Scott makes this British but he was trained in UK advertising so it counts. Seen it dozens of times.

10. The Ladykillers (Mackendrick, 1955)

I never tire of watching this. First film I had on Betamax taped off the TV. I Watched it every day for a year.

Penny Woolcock, director (‘The Death of Klinghoffer’)

God, I hate lists. The order is a bit weird… I just can't do it sensibly. Also all a bit heavy but I think I prefer American comedies.

Anyway... it would be different last week or next week but here goes:

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