To prevent the shock that I associate with jumping into an unheated pool, I’ve gradually been trying to ease myself into the realization that I’m going to be living in the UK for two years. To achieve this, I’ve been watching (in some cases re-watching) some favorite UK-themed movies. I provide here a semi-annotated list, semi-ordered. I bias my list towards recent films–there are plenty of “top 100 British films” lists online for those of you who like old stuff.
Flip’s Favo(u)rite Marshall Movies
- Love Actually: I’m a bit of a sap for feel-good films and this one is way up there on my life of favorites. Suchitra, a former Stanford grad student and current fellow at Trinity College (Cambridge), and I agree that the scene where Hugh Grant is dancing in his boxers is distinctly an “Ian-thing-to-do.”
- Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels: Another one of my all-time favorites, this is the ridiculously funny story of crime-gone-wrong. It’s very similar in spirit to Snatch, but one-ups the Brad Pitt film due to its colorful cast of characters.
- Snatch: It may only be a Brad Pitt version of the aforementioned Lock, Stock, but Pitt’s “pikey” accent deserves a congressional medal of some sort. Both films were directed by Guy Ritchie and share similar themes and actors.
- Wallace and Gromit: The three W&G shorts and one feature film are certainly the cutest things on this list. The train scene in The Wrong Trousers is, to the best of my knowledge, the pinnacle of claymation.
- Harry Potter: Of course, the Harry Potter series proudly rounds out the top five. I didn’t get into Harry Potter until the third movie, which I saw with some friends as an excuse to sit next to a girl in the movie theaters. Unfortunately, she had the habit of talking during the movie. So, instead of romance, I was inspired to pick up the Harry Potter audiobooks to fill my car trips from Palo Alto to Los Angeles. When I the voice actor’s methodical exposition couldn’t keep up with my raving desire to find out what happens next, I finally became addicted to the books. No, I don’t think J.K. Rowling will kill Harry. Yes, Snape is a good guy. And my personal theory is that Malfoy will play a role in saving the day. I intend to beg with all my might to have the Marshall contingency visit JKR’s castle when she releases book 7.
- Billy Elliot: The heartwarming story of a boy in a working-class single-parent household who wants to become a ballet dancer had always been one of my favorite tug-at-your-heartstrings movies. It has since gained further significance because it takes place at Durham, where I am thinking about spending my second year of the Marshall Scholarship.
- Cashback: I purchased this artsy Oscar-nominated short some time ago after I found out that Sean Biggerstaff was playing the lead role. The short has since been turned into a feature film (yet unavailable in the states). Unfortunately, Biggerstaff sheds the Glasgow accent that made him a heartthrob in Harry Potter, but otherwise does a good job narrating as a student paying his way through art school by working the late shift at a supermarket. I can’t say that the film has terribly much in originality, but it’s charming none-the-less.
- Bridget Jones’ Diary: I learned from Jessica (a fellow Marshall) and Marianna (a future Marshall) that this is an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, so I can avoid watching that movie and instead say that I found this hilariously difficult to watch because of its ability to portray the some gutwrenchingly embarassing moments.
- Bond Movies: I personally think Goldeneye was the peak of the Bond series. As a whole, however, James Bond may be Britain’s best ambassador to the US in the same way that Monica, Joey, Rachel, Ross, and Phoebe were the United States’ best ambassador to the UK. Debonair, suave, and classy, James Bond was just too cool for villains to kill him the easy way.
- Four Weddings and a Funeral: I regret placing this movie so low on my list because it’s still quite good. However, once again the best part may have been the Glasgow accents as the rest of the movie seems just a tad out of date (pre touchtone phone era).
- Monty Python: I’m really only familiar (and even that’s a bit of a stretch) with the Holy Grail movie. It was a riot in 7th grade, but has since slipped out of the mainstream with age.
- Notting Hill: Another Hugh Grant movie that just wasn’t a convincing performance. It’s the story of a British travel bookstore owner who falls in love with a famous American actress. Oh yeah, and he’s got a strange roommate.
- Orlando: Adapted from Virgina Woolf’s book, this is the story of a woman who lived centuries through English history and at some point became a man and had a thing or two to say about gender in Victorian times… or something like that.
Honorable Mention (not quite UK, or not quite movies, or otherwise)
- Austin Powers: These faux-UK films (though the last one was disappointing) are funny not because they’re over the top, but because they manage to hover delicately just so over the top that one is amazed at the balancing feat of corny humor.
- Brave Heart: This movie earns honorable mention because it’s semi-historical and has neat accents. It doesn’t crack the ‘favorites’ list because it’s violent and features Mel Gibson.
- Clockwork Orange: Another ‘classic’ UK book-to-film adaptation that one has to admire but that gets relegated to an honorable mention because of its violence.
- Shakespeare in Love (and any other Shakespeare-related film): This gets honorable mention because I haven’t seen it. Tacitly included in this judgement are Romeo and Juliet (with Leonardo DiCaprio before he got chubby) and ‘O’ (the college basketball adaptation of Othello).
Other Media (not quite movies, but notable)
- Teen Titans: This past year I discovered one of the last great American cartoon series, Justice League. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the UK. The baby-brother of this series, Teen Titans, did, however, have a cute “Mad Max” episode where a UK-themed villain turns San Francisco into a psychedelic version of London. Overall the episode was rather poor, but I enjoyed it because of my personal context (i.e. “hermeneutics” for those non-scientists).
- South Park: One of the crudest, dirtiest cartoons currently being played in good conscience on [cable] TV, South Park is also one of the sharpest works of satire available every week. Any episode with Pip, the polite student from Britain, is worth mention on this list. At the top of the list is the dodgeball episode where Pip’s classmates repeatedly (and mistakenly) call him a “Frenchie” to his dismay.
- Discworld: Terry Pratchett, a British author who has also become an American hit, has a knack for humorous writing. His Discworld series sets the bar for humorous fantasy in the same way Douglas Adams sets the bar for sci-fi humor.
- Arrested Development: This has nothing to do with the UK other than that fellow Marshall Adam showed me the first few episodes and I have since become a fan. Apparently there’s an episide featuring a Briton that suggests that the British Parliament is tricameral, causing some embarassment at a recent dinner Adam and I attended.
Update: I forgot to mention Bend it Like Beckham, which was quite nice and touched on minority life in England with a
soccer football theme. By the way, I’ve been told to cheer for Liverpool and Celtic, and to definitely not cheer for Manchester United.
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