Foreign films made a big splash at the turn of the century, with many moviegoers finally realizing that subtitles weren’t so bad after all. Though a language barrier was never the reason the British film scene failed to take off, it really came into its own in the aughts with the introduction of new talent like Guy Ritchie, Edgar Wright, and Danny Boyle. As part of our look back at the movies of the 2000s, here’s a list of the best British imports of the decade. You’ll probably notice some similarities among many of the entries, but that’s just because when it came to delivering great genre films, the U.K. was king.
10. “Son of Rambow”
Movies like “Son of Rambow” don’t get nearly as big of an audience as they deserve, which is a shame, since it’s one of the most wildy inventive family films I’ve seen in a long time. And who better to make a movie that incorporates animated doodles into its character’s imagination than the director-producer duo that created the wacky, stop-motion music video for Blur’s “Coffee and TV”? It’s a match made in heaven, though much of the film’s success is thanks to newcomers Bill Milner and Will Poulter, who give child actors a good name.
9. “Billy Elliot”
Jamie Bell may be all grown up, but “Billy Elliot” remains the best thing he’s done. A classic feel-good movie featuring a great soundtrack, a funny and heartfelt script, and a memorable performance from Julie Walters as the title character’s chain-smoking ballet teacher, “Billy Elliot” was nominated for three Oscars and was eventually adapted for the stage (with music by Elton John, no less) where it went on to win ten Tony Awards. Still, for as much love as the Broadway musical has received during its five-year run, the movie version is still one of the most entertaining British films I’ve ever had the pleasure to see.
8. “Sexy Beast”
Though it’s best remembered for Ben Kingsley’s riveting turn as Don Logan, a venomous, high-strung gangster who doesn’t take “no” for an answer, “Sexy Beast” is a smart and energetic crime drama that also happens to be pretty damn funny. Of course, most of that humor comes from Kingsley’s expletive-laced performance, and it’s a crime that he wasn’t rewarded with a nice, shiny Oscar. Still, even though the movie is essentially the Ben Kingsley Show, “Sexy Beast” served as a nice introduction to Ray Winstone and Ian McShane, and will likely go down as one of the better crime dramas of the decade.
Say what you will about Guy Ritchie, but his movies are an absolute blast to watch, and “RocknRolla” is easily his most mature film to date. Though he still seems to favor style over substance, the movie still succeeds thanks to an amusing story and lively ensemble cast led by Gerard Butler and Tom Wilkinson. Plus, that bizarre dance scene between Butler and Thandie Newton is one of the funniest WTF moments of the decade (not to mention their subsequent sex scene). Ritchie’s films may never receive the credit they deserve (he’ll forever be remembered as a Tarantino wannabe, even though QT himself has been accused of stealing several times over), but “RocknRolla” is what going to the movies is all about.
6. “28 Days Later”
Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” may have netted the director an Oscar, but it’s his 2002 horror thriller, “28 Days Later,” that proved to be the more influential of the two. Not only did it feature the very first instance of fast-moving zombies, but it completely revitalized the genre to the point that Hollywood became positively obsessed with the brain-chomping monsters. Though Boyle’s modern take on the zombie genre quickly earned its own legion of fans, what made the film so great was that it delivered on the kind of biting social commentary we’ve all come to expect. Plus, without “28 Days Later,” there probably wouldn’t be movies like “Shaun of the Dead” or comic books like Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead.”
5. “Love, Actually”
There aren’t very many romantic comedies that I enjoy enough to own. Christmas movies, on the other hand, I don’t usually like at all. How peculiar, then, that Richard Curtis’ “Love, Actually” has become such a personal favorite of mine, because it’s both a romantic comedy and a Christmas movie. Though it isn’t the first film to use the gimmick of interconnecting storylines, the ensemble cast is so good that it definitely feels like it. After all, where else can you find the likes of Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Laura Linney, Hugh Grant and Keira Knightley sharing the screen? And that’s not all. There’s there’s also an amusing cameo by Rowan Atkinson, a comically sweet relationship between a couple of porn stand-ins (including “The Office” star Martin Freeman), and Bill Nighy and Gregor Fischer as the funniest couple of all.
4. “Bend It Like Beckham”
This may just be the soccer fan in me, but I went into “Bend It Like Beckham” with pretty high expectations. Thankfully, even though soccer doesn’t play as big of a role as you might expect, the movie managed to win me over with its charming story and lively cast. Parminder Nagra is excellent in the lead role, while both Keira Knightley and Jonathan Rhys Meyers round out the main trio nicely. Though Knightley had yet to blossom into the Oscar caliber actress she’s become today, you can definitely see that star quality in her the minute she arrives on screen. Fizzy, fuzzy and lots of fun, “Bend It Like Beckham” may be little more than a formulaic underdog film, but it’s the kind of guilty pleasure that no one should feel guilty about watching.
Some critics may put down “Snatch” as a polished remake of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” but Guy Ritchie’s sophomore effort accents everything its former had to offer. It’s slicker, snappier, more confident and better acted. It also features a career-topping performance by Brad Pitt and some of the wackiest characters (from Vinnie Jones’ Bullet Tooth Tony to Rade Serbedzija’s Boris the Blade) to ever appear on film. “Snatch” is the epitome of what Ritchie does best, and though he does inhabit the same filthy underworld as some of Tarantino’s earlier films, what “Snatch” may lack in originality, it makes up for with an intoxicatingly manic energy.
2. “Hot Fuzz”
“Hot Fuzz” was one of the best-reviewed movies of 2007, and yet somehow, most people have probably already forgotten about it. It’s too bad, really, since Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are one of the funniest trios working today. Their second feature isn’t as good as the 2004 cult hit, “Shaun of the Dead,” but it comes pretty damn close thanks to a witty script (co-written by Wright and Pegg) that playfully honors buddy cop flicks like “Point Break” and “Bad Boys 2.” Of course, the film is more setup than payoff, but when the payoff finally arrives in the form of a lengthy “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid”-style shootout, it’s well worth the wait. The only thing funnier than a gun-toting reverend is watching a mean old lady get kicked in the face. Cheers to the boys of “Hot Fuzz” for finding room for both.
1. “Shaun of the Dead”
Wright’s feature film debut is arguably one of the best movies of the decade, but it’s also one of my favorite movies of all time. It might not look like much on the surface, but “Shaun of the Dead” has something for everyone – comedy, action, horror and even a little romance. The writing is dead on and never misses a comedic beat, like in the deftly funny tributes to “Night of the Living Dead” and “Evil Dead,” or when Bill Nighy shows up unconcerned about his bite mark because he “ran it under a cold tap.” What ultimately makes “Shaun of the Dead” such an instant classic, however, is Simon Pegg, who took an otherwise generic role and turned him into a movie icon.