In no order at all here are my favourite Scottish Films of the decade, all of which are now available on DVD. On reflection this was one of the best periods for Scottish Film, and choosing a top ten was more difficult than I first expected. The brilliant Orphans missed out as it was released in the latter part of 1999, there is one selection that some may view as a bit of a cheat (but it’s my baw) and fans of Super Ally McCoist will be disappointed as his, as yet only, film A Shot at Glory doesn’t make the cut. Do you remember he made that film with Robert Duvall, Michale Keaton, Brian Cox and most of the Airdrie team? It seems like a weird dream now. Anyway, I’ve seen it and it’s not going in.
1) The first one that is arrives from the pen of ex-Skids singer, poet and all round dude Richard Jobson. Based on his early life 16 Years of Alcohol
(2003) follows teenage gang leader Frankie Mac whose existence when we meet him is one of violence and alcohol. Redemption comes in the form of love and music, and Jobson’s love of music is one of the best things about the film, particularly the scenes set to early ska such as this one:
Great central performance from Kevin McKidd, and good support as well, this is an often brutal film that doesn’t shy away from showing just how grim life can be, but there’s lots of films, some of them on this list, that also do that. What makes this stand out is Jobson’s vision, poetry and heart. It may be my favourite on this list:
2)Although that award may actually go to David Mackenzie’s Young Adam
(2003). Based on one of my favourite Scottish novels, Alexander Trocchi’s book of the same name, (and if you’ve never heard of it I recommend it, particularly if you are a fan of Beckett or Camus), this film ticks a lot of my boxes. Great source material, soundtrack by David Byrne. Stars Tilda Swinton and the legendary Peter Mullan (Scotland’s greatest actor?). Even Ewan MacGregor gives a good performance, and usually I’m not a fan (Trainspotting
and Shallow Grave
aside.) David Mackenzie’s direction and the fantastic camerawork gives this film a rare beauty and shows parts of Glasgow that are rarely seen. Here’s the trailer, but you really must see the whole thing:
3) How you react to the next choice will depend on how you view horror movies. I’ve always had a soft spot for ones that are done with a sense of fun along with the scares. Neil Marshall’s film Dog Soldiers
(2002) follows in the fine tradition of The Evil Dead
of being a genuinely scary movie made on a small budget. There’s bags of gore and and shaggy wolves. Again Kevin McKidd does sterling work, and there’s an argument to say that he is now Scotland’s most consistently excellent actor, but this is not about star names, it’s about turning the lights out, turning the sound up, and getting more shocks for your money than most horror movies today manage.
4) In the same year as Dog Soldiers Lynne Ramsay made the big screen version of one of Scotland’s great modern novels, Alan Warner’s Morvern Callar (2002). This is a wonderful film that is truly cinematic. In staying true to the book there is hardly any dialogue, and Ramsay forgoes any temptation to stick a narrative voice-over to explain Morvern’s actions. Instead she gets an incredible performance from Samantha Morton in the title role, and uses sound and the soundtrack to evoke mood and emotion, and below is a short example of this:
It’s a magical piece of cinema, one that makes you wish Lynne Ramsay made more movies. I can’t imagine any other director making this film the success it is.
5) 2002’s Festival does what it says on the tin. Written and directed by Annie Griffin (remember The Book Group on Channel 4?) Festival looks behind the scenes of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, from high powered comedians and their long suffering PA’s, through TV wannabees who see the festival as a way to get ahead, to university theatre groups playing to audiences of a smaller number than the people on stage. There are some great performances all round, but Stephen Mangan and Daniella Nardini are particularly good and for those who regularly visit the Festival it all has the ring of truth.
6) The debut feature from Andrea Arnold (she used to be in No73 you know, for fans of 1980’s Saturday morning kids telly) Red Road is a story of personal tragedy and grief. But it also deals with the very modern paranoia; that we are always under surveillance. Set In the Red Road flats in the north of Glasgow, from which the film takes its name, Red Road has two incredible and believable central performances from Kate Dickie and Tony Curran. It doesn’t make for comfortable viewing, but you can’t ignore the human stories which are at its centre. Perhaps the best of the best.
7) Another David Mackenzie success, Hallam Foe
is an adaptation of Peter Jinks novel of the same name. It focuses on the odd central character of Hallam, played in career changing style by Jamie Bell, and his growing infatuation with an older woman who reminds him of his dead mother. The relationship between Hallam and Sophia Myles ‘Kate’ could have been toe-curling, but clever writing, direction and subtle acting make for a surprising and lovable film. The accompanying soundtrack is just as wonderful, marrying Orange Juice, Franz Ferdinand, James Yorkston and King Creosote amongst others. Add artist David Shrigley’s animated opening credits, as shown below, and you can see that this is the type of film that will appeal for decades to come:
8) Black Watch
(2007) Yes I know it’s a play, but what a play. The success of the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Black Watch
was global, and reminded audiences that when art has the power to move us while making us think it is never better. Of all the productions I have shown at Glasgow University’s Scottish Film Society (contact me for details!) this is the one that provoked the strongest reactions. If it was good enough for me to show it there, its good enough for me to include it here. If you weren’t lucky enough to see it live then I urge you to buy the DVD. You won’t be disappointed. Below is the trailer:
9) There were fruitful collaborations this decade between Scottish film makers and Scandinavian film makers. The aforementioned Red Road
was the result of such a collaboration, as was Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself
(2002)with Danish writer Anders Thomas Jensen involved with both. Set in Glasgow, it tells the tale of Wilbur who, as it suggests in the title, is determined to kill himself, and how his life’s ambition impacts on those he comes into contact with, including family, his ‘support’ group, and the hospital staff who are trying to give him the help that he doesn’t appear to want. The performances of all of the members of this ensemble cast make this a film well worth watching. Jamie Sives is perfectly cast as Wilbur, but it’s Adrian Rawlins as Wilbur’s gentle, kind and understanding brother who steals the film. There is also a terrific support from a cast which includes Shi
rley Henderson, Mads Mikkelsen and Julia Davis. I would suggest that this would make a great double-bill of a night with Hallam Foe
10)The funniest film of the decade was this year’s In The Loop
, but considering the source it’s no surprise. Written and directed by Armando Iannucci, and starring Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker, In The Loop
manages to pull of that seemingly impossible trick of successfully transferring a TV show onto the big screen. How many others can you think of who have done so? The move of taking it to the US, which could have backfired terribly, changes the situation just enough to make the film stand aside from The Thick of It
, the show from which it is adapted, and the casting of James Gandolfini as the gruff, anti-war, Lieutenant George Miller was inspired. Also look out for a great Steve Coogan cameo that reminds us just how good he can be. Here’s the cinema trailer which sadly avoids the quality swearage:
The nicest thing about this list is the quality of the films that are missing. Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen, the 2004 remake of The Rocket Post, American Cousins and Douglas Gordon’s amazing art house piece, Zidane, are just a few of the others which were considered. When such a list is compared to what was happening in Scottish cinema in the 1980s, then the progress made is clear. My hope for the next decade is that Scottish film can move on again and continue to make interesting, challenging and entertaining films.