11 Best Movies to Watch by Monica Dolan

Staff & contributors

, 2014

It’s 1984 and miners in England are on strike against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s plans to close pits. Their cause has unlikely appeal for Mark Ashton, a human rights activists who decides to take a group of people who had joined an early Gay Pride parade in London to rural England to show support for the (often socially-conservative) miners.

You can see how things might go wrong, but in this case they didn’t. This heartwarming tale is based on a true story. An easy, funny, and relevant movie about the bond that oppression brings to the oppressed. Super earnest, too.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Abram Rooney, Adam Ewan, Alexander Perkins, Andrew Scott, Ben Schnetzer, Bill Nighy, Bryan Parry, Chris Overton, Christian Patterson, Dean Ashton, Deddie Davies, Derek Barr, Dominic West, Dyfan Dwyfor, Ed Coleman, Faye Marsay, Freddie Fox, George MacKay, Giles Cooper, Henry Garrett, Imelda Staunton, Jack Baggs, Jaimi Barbakoff, James McGregor, Jâms Thomas, Jessica Gunning, Jessie Cave, Jim McManus, Johnny Gibbon, Jordan Metcalfe, Joseph Gilgun, Joseph Wilkins, Joshua Hill, Julie Barclay, Karina Fernandez, Kyle Rees, Lauren Johns, Lee Shepherd, Lisa Palfrey, Liz White, Matthew Flynn, Matthew Seadon-Young, Matthew Tennyson, Menna Trussler, Monica Dolan, Neal Barry, Nia Gwynne, Olwen Medi, Paddy Considine, Rhodri Meilir, Richard Shanks, Roger Morlidge, Ross Waiton, Russell Tovey, Sean Hart, Sophie Evans, Tomos Eames, Will Haddington

Director: Matthew Warchus

Rating: R

Keira Knightley stars in this incredible true story of an Iraq War whistleblower who remains relatively little-known in the U.S. Katharine Gun was working for the communications office for the British government when she received a memo in the months leading to the war that showed that the U.S. requested illegal wiretapping assistance from the U.K. on U.N. diplomats. In a heroic act, she chooses to share this memo, hoping that it would stop her government (then led by Tony Blair) from going to war. Spoiler alert: didn't happen, but this decision, which first seemed like a personal sacrifice, has severe implications on her family as the government finds out that she was behind the leak. A compelling political mystery of a case that deserves much more attention than it once got.

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller

Actor: Adam Bakri, Andrew Marr, Angus Wright, Brett Allen, Chris Larkin, Chris Reilly, Clive Francis, Conleth Hill, David Maybrick, Fiona Skinner, George W. Bush, Hanako Footman, Hattie Morahan, Indira Varma, Jack Farthing, Janie Dee, Jeremy Northam, Jessica Fostekew, Jodie McNee, John Heffernan, Katherine Kelly, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Cranham, Lindy Whiteford, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Michael James, Monica Dolan, MyAnna Buring, Niccy Lin, Peter Guinness, Raad Rawi, Ralph Fiennes, Raquel Cassidy, Ray Panthaki, Rhys Ifans, Shaun Dooley, Sophie Duval, Tamsin Greig, Tony Blair, Vinta Morgan, Will Barton

Director: Gavin Hood

Rating: R

Artist and filmmaker Clio Barnard put herself on the map of new British talents with her 2010 debut The Arbor, a daring, genre-bending biopic about Bradford-born playwright Andrea Dunbar and her tragic personal and impressive artistic life. Coming from a poor working class family with seven siblings, Dunbar wrote her first play age 15. She died in 1990, aged 29, and left a legacy of three plays in total. Knowing how under-appreciated her work has been, Barnard decided to revive the life that imbued Dunbar's creations. Rather than staging a conventional documentary, the director features interviews with family and friends, performed and lip-synced by actors in front of the camera. She also adds re-enactments of the plays that feature the estate where Dunbar grew up, as well as archival footage of her TV appearances. The Arbor is an experimental documentary, but that doesn't prevent it from being touching, humane, and a special tribute to art flourishing in adverse circumstances.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Christine Bottomley, Danny Webb, George Costigan, Jimi Mistry, Jonathan Jaynes, Josh Brown, Kate Rutter, Kathryn Pogson, Kulvinder Ghir, Manjinder Virk, Matthew McNulty, Monica Dolan, Natalie Gavin, Neil Dudgeon, Robert Emms

Director: Clio Barnard

TV’s Alan Partridge — Steve Coogan’s brilliant skewering of small-time celebrity vanity — gets the big-screen treatment in this suitably parochial action thriller. The premise feels like the kind of ridiculous scenario the radio DJ would fantasize about in between songs: Pat (Colm Meaney), an ex-employee of North Norfolk Digital, returns to the station armed and takes his former colleagues hostage, refusing to negotiate with anyone but Alan. Those familiar with Coogan’s painfully self-absorbed character will foresee that going straight to his already delusions-of-grandeur-filled head, and it does; as one character puts it, he’s like a puffed-up robin.

Much of the hilarity comes from the way Alan’s obvious glee at the heroic position he’s found himself in distracts him from actually saving the day, but there is equally sharply drawn satire in the supporting characters, too. Favorites from the TV series, like Alan’s put-upon assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu) — herself a brilliant feat of perceptive comedy — make welcome returns here, but, like Alan, their eccentricities are made accessible enough that Partridge virgins won’t feel their ignorance. With all the original writers back onboard (including Armando Iannucci, the comedy genius behind The Death of Stalin and Veep), Alpha Papa is another reliably hilarious entry in the Partridge canon. Back of the net.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Alan Rothwell, Anna Maxwell Martin, Colm Meaney, Dan Mersh, Darren Boyd, Diane Morgan, Dustin Demri-Burns, Eleanor Matsuura, Elizabeth Berrington, Felicity Montagu, Jayne Secker, Jessica Knappett, John Boyd, Karl Theobald, Kieran Hodgson, Lucy Briers, Monica Dolan, Nigel Lindsay, Peter Singh, Phil Cornwell, Rita Davies, Robert Whitelock, Sean Pertwee, Simon Delaney, Simon Greenall, Simon Kunz, Steve Coogan, Tim Key

Director: Declan Lowney

Rating: PG-13

A dark and sophisticated slow-burning drama, Never Let Me Go is adapted from the highly acclaimed novel of the same name by Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro. It stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield as boarding school raised teenagers eager to explore the outside world when they learn a secret that will threaten their very existence. Anything more is a spoiler, watch it.

Genre: Drama, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Amy Lennox, Andrea Riseborough, Andrew Garfield, Anna Maria Everett, Carey Mulligan, Charles Cork, Charlie Rowe, Charlotte Rampling, Chidi Chickwe, Damien Thomas, David Sterne, Domhnall Gleeson, Ella Purnell, Hannah Sharp, Huggy Leaver, Isobel Meikle-Small, Izzy Meikle-Small, John Gillespie, Kate Bowes Renna, Kate Sissons, Keira Knightley, Lydia Wilson, Monica Dolan, Nathalie Richard, Sally Hawkins

Director: Mark Romanek

Rating: R

If you're a fan of musical theater of any kind, Topsy-Turvy pays tribute to that notoriously tricky art form with a stunning attention to detail and a dedication to telling its story without any unnecessary drama whatsoever. It's hard not to get swept up in the humor, entertainment, and simple joy found in the writing process and in rehearsals of entire scenes. Come for the Oscar-winning costumes and makeup, stay for the wonderfully old-timey musical numbers, the brilliantly grounded performance from Jim Broadbent, and the sense of satisfaction of just watching everything finally come together to thunderous applause.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History, Music

Actor: Akemi Otani, Alison Steadman, Allan Corduner, Andy Serkis, Angela Curran, Anna Francolini, Ashley Artus, Ashley Jensen, Bríd Brennan, Cathy Sara, Charles Simon, David Neville, Debbie Chazen, Dexter Fletcher, Dorothy Atkinson, Eiji Kusuhara, Eleanor David, Eve Pearce, Francis Lee, Gemma Page, Geoffrey Hutchings, Heather Craney, Jim Broadbent, John Warnaby, Jonathan Aris, Julia Rayner, Julian Bleach, Kacey Ainsworth, Kate Doherty, Katrin Cartlidge, Kenneth Hadley, Kevin McKidd, Lavinia Bertram, Lesley Manville, Lorraine Brunning, Louise Gold, Mark Benton, Martin Savage, Mary Roscoe, Matt Bardock, Matthew Mills, Mia Soteriou, Michael Simkins, Monica Dolan, Naoko Mori, Nicholas Boulton, Nicholas Woodeson, Nick Bartlett, Paul Barnhill, Paul Rider, Richard Coyle, Roger Heathcott, Ron Cook, Rosie Cavaliero, Sam Kelly, Shirley Henderson, Sophie Duval, Steve Speirs, Sukie Smith, Teresa Gallagher, Timothy Spall, Togo Igawa, Vincent Franklin, Wendy Nottingham

Director: Mike Leigh

Is an innocent child’s life worth millions of other civilian casualties? In a modern-day drone warfare led by Colonel Katherine Powell, played by the very versatile Helen Mirren, she is conflicted to order the target of the Somali terrorist organization when she spots Alia, a young girl who just happens to be selling bread within the premises of the Kill Zone. Her icy exterior, however, is a far cry from Lieutenant General Frank Benson’s profound sympathy, the portrayal of the late Alan Rickman in his last onscreen role being one of his most remarkable ones to date. Eye in the Sky is a thriller that will have you questioning your morals while gripping your seats in what appears to be a battle of the best choice and the only one. Do the ends always justify the means?

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller, War

Actor: Aaron Paul, Aisha Takow, Alan Rickman, Armaan Haggio, Arman Haggio, Babou Ceesay, Barkhad Abdi, Carl Beukes, Daniel Fox, Ebby Weyime, Francis Chouler, Gavin Hood, Graham Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Iain Glen, James Alexander, Jeremy Northam, John Heffernan, Kate Liquorish, Kenneth Fok, Kim Engelbrecht, Kim Suzanne Engelbrecht, Laila Robins, Lemogang Tsipa, Lex King, Michael OKeefe, Monica Dolan, Phoebe Fox, Richard McCabe, Roberto Meyer, Sabrina Hassan Abdulle, Vusi Kunene, Warren Masemola, Zak Rowlands

Director: Gavin Hood

Rating: R

The Dig is a reliable telling of an archaeological expedition. The setting is Britain in World War II, and a widow (played by Carey Mulligan) hires an archaeologist (played by Ralph Fiennes) to dig through her estate where a historic discovery is waiting to be found. The biggest thrills are a conflict regarding control of the land and its treasures, and an affair that blossoms within the archaeological team.

The film’s cadence is akin to that of a weary traveler sharing a fascinating tale, with each frame lit softly and beautifully. No twist or surprise appears as you turn the corner — you’re merely beckoned to uncover the past amidst a tumultuous, wartime present. Director Simon Stone has capable hands and Mulligan and Fiennes as the leads — supported by a cast that includes the charming Lily James — tick all the British, repressed, stiff upper lip boxes. All, in varying juicy degrees, exhibit an emotional undercurrent befitting the film’s subtle dramatic tension. Those seeking more insight into those undercurrents will come away sorely disappointed, however, as the well-tempered nature of the film keeps it mild and tasteful.

Though it’s not as compelling as it could have been, The Dig is, by all accounts, a lovely film.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Archie Barnes, Arsher Ali, Ben Chaplin, Bronwyn James, Carey Mulligan, Christopher Godwin, Danny Webb, Eamon Farren, Ellie Piercy, Jack Bennett, James Dryden, Joe Hurst, John Macmillan, Johnny Flynn, Jonah Rzeskiewicz, Ken Stott, Lily James, Monica Dolan, Paul Ready, Peter McDonald, Ralph Fiennes, Robert Wilfort

Director: Simon Stone

Definitely a film you will either love or hate, Sightseers is an extremely dark comedy on the verge of being a horror movie. And it's British, with many elements of deep British culture. A couple go on their dream road trip in the countryside to suddenly find themselves killing strangers. Sightseers will feel almost like a very British version of True Romance. Again, it's a unique film, but don't get me wrong that does not make it hard to like - it's really about if you like it, you will find it absolutely hilarious.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Crime, Horror, Romance

Actor: Alice Lowe, Aymen Hamdouchi, Christine Talbot, Dominic Applewhite, Eileen Davies, Gemma Lise Thornton, John Hurt, Jonathan Aris, Kelly Munro-Fawcett, Kenneth Hadley, Lucy Russell, Mark Kempner, Monica Dolan, Rachel Austin, Richard Glover, Richard Lumsden, Roger Michael, Sara Dee, Sara Stewart, Seamus ONeill, Stephanie Jacob, Steve Oram, Susan McCardle, Tom Meeten, Tony Way

Director: Ben Wheatley

Rating: Not Rated