13 Best Movies to Watch From Channel Four Films

Staff & contributors

This tender, autobiographical coming-of-age story about a working class family in post-war Liverpool is Terence Davies’ masterpiece—evoking memories through a series of loosely connected scenes that highlight the joys and woes of growing up. It is comprised of two films shot two years apart. The first details the tribulations of a young family surviving an abusive father in the ‘40s. The second part follows the kids grown up and finding their way in the ‘50s, and the influence of music and cinema on their lives. Davies uses a series of beautifully composed tableaux to tell the tale, which bring the setting and the characters intimately to life. Distant Voices, Still Lives is regarded as one of the greatest British films of all-time.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Alan Bird, Andrew Schofield, Angela Walsh, Anne Dyson, Bill Moores, Carl Chase, Chris Darwin, Dean Williams, Freda Dowie, Ina Clough, Jean Boht, John Michie, Lorraine Ashbourne, Matthew Long, Michael Starke, Nathan Walsh, Pauline Quirke, Pete Postlethwaite, Roy Ford, Sally Davies, Susan Flanagan

Director: Terence Davies

A woman yearns to find her biological mother, another woman struggles with infertility, a third wants to connect with her rebellious daughter. Director Mike Leigh has the prowess to seamlessly weave these stories together, and part of the joy is knowing, that like clockwork, these narratives are set on a spectacular collision course.

As melancholy as it is optimistic and as funny as it is tragic, Secrets & Lies is a perfect example of Leigh’s oeuvre and earned him a Cannes’ Palme d’Or. The film features a full cast of his regulars with the fantastic addition of Marianne Jean Baptiste as Hortense - the woman who sets the wheels of the film in motion.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alison Steadman, Amanda Crossley, Angela Curran, Annie Hayes, Anthony O'Donnell, Brenda Blethyn, Brian Bovell, Claire Rushbrook, Clare Perkins, David Neilson, Denise Orita, Elizabeth Berrington, Emma Amos, Frances Ruffelle, Gary McDonald, Gordon Winter, Grant Masters, Hannah Davis, Jane Mitchell, Janice Acquah, Jean Ainslie, Joe Tucker, Jonny Coyne, Kate O'Malley, Keylee Jade Flanders, Lee Ross, Lesley Manville, Linda Beckett, Liz Smith, Lucy Sheen, Margery Withers, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Metin Marlow, Mia Soteriou, Michele Austin, Nitin Ganatra, Paul Trussell, Peter Stockbridge, Peter Waddington, Peter Wight, Phil Davis, Phyllis Logan, Rachel Lewis, Richard Syms, Ron Cook, Ruth Sheen, Sheila Kelley, Stephen Churchett, Su Eliott, Su Elliot, Su Elliott, Terence Harvey, Theresa Watson, Timothy Spall, Trevor Laird, Wendy Nottingham

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: R

This poetic memoir by the late director Terence Davies opens with a tracking shot that takes us down a rainy, dilapidated Liverpool street, finally settling on the wet staircase of a roofless house as three audio tracks morph into one another: a Nat King Cole song, dialogue from a movie, and, finally, a boy calling for his mother. Just as we hear the latter, the shot of the exposed staircase dissolves, taking us into the past to reveal the owner of the voice sitting in the same spot — only now, the stairs are dry, the roof restored. 

The scene perfectly encapsulates the film: it's a dreamlike pool of sensory recollections from that lonely boy’s childhood, assembled according to the strange logic of memory. Music and movie dialogue echo across the film as we watch snapshots from Bud’s (Leigh McCormack, playing a proxy of Davies) early years. Though most of the memories radiate warmth — Christmases with family, euphoric cinema trips — a note of melancholy tinges these blissful recollections. Callously cruel schoolmates, desperate church prayers, and instantly rueful stolen glances jar against the nostalgia and let us know that something dark is coming. Intensely, painfully intimate, this is one of the best and most unbearably sad evocations of memory in cinema.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anthony Watson, Ayse Owens, Leigh McCormack, Marjorie Yates, Mark Heath, Nicholas Lamont, Patricia Morison, Peter Ivatts, Tina Malone

Director: Terence Davies

IRA terrorists kidnap a British soldier to negotiate an exchange for one of their own imprisoned members. Among them is Fergus (Stephen Rea), whose ambivalence is amplified by his interactions with the hostage soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker) while guarding him. After the terrorists' plan goes awry, Fergus tracks down a woman Jody spoke of during his captivity, only to become confronted with even more complications.

The film, its cast and crew won a slew of awards and nominations in 1993, including the Academy award for Best Original Screenplay. It's a knockout. Each act presents an increasingly challenging psychological and emotional conflict for Fergus: conflicts that require him to question the choices he makes and his beliefs, even about himself. It’s a dark but deeply touching thriller that is ultimately unforgettable.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Adrian Dunbar, Andrée Bernard, Birdy Sweeney, Breffni McKenna, Bryan Coleman, Forest Whitaker, Jack Carr, Jaye Davidson, Jim Broadbent, Joe Savino, Miranda Richardson, Ralph Brown, Ray De-Haan, Stephen Rea, Tony Slattery

Director: Neil Jordan

, 1995

Something is wrong with Carol White. She’s a well-off housewife living in the picturesque suburbs of Los Angeles. Her husband’s job is going well, her step-son is pleasant, and her social life consists of boutique lunches, fruit-filled diets, and lavishly pink baby showers—all is well on this side of the white picket fence.

Until Carol starts sneezing. Then she begins coughing, and she experiences a violent asthma attack while driving on the freeway. Afterward, Carol’s nose won’t stop bleeding. She starts having seizures. Struggling to breathe, Carol winds up in the hospital, seeing doctors and psychologists trying to diagnose what’s wrong and whether her mystery illness is physiological or psychological.

Todd Haynes’ Safe is an unnerving examination at our relationship with the environment—and in an increasingly modernized world, how much we can tolerate of what we create: white noise, toxins, busy work, everyday poisons, monotonous obligations. It’s also a complicated reflection on the ways in which women’s pain is disregarded and minimized, and what the loss of invisible agency looks like when it begins to manifest outward.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allan Wasserman, April Grace, Beth Grant, Brandon Cruz, Cassy Friel, Chauncey Leopardi, Dean Norris, Eleanor Graham, Elinor O. Caplan, Francesca P. Roberts, James Le Gros, James Lyons, Janel Moloney, Jean St. James, Jessica Harper, Jodie Markell, John Apicella, Julianne Moore, Kate McGregor-Stewart, Lorna Scott, Martha Velez, Mary Carver, Peter Crombie, Peter Friedman, Rio Hackford, Ronnie Farer, Saachiko, Sarah Scott Davis, Steven Gilborn, Susan Norman, Tim Gardner, Tricia Dong, Wendy Haynes, Xander Berkeley

Director: Todd Haynes

An absolute delight of a gem starring a young Winona Ryder as well as an amazing cast. Arguably Jim Jarmusch's best film, it tells the story of 5 different places at night from the perspective of cab drivers and their passengers: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki. It's really hard to pick a favorite among the stories, from a messy tomboy having to deal with a busy businesswoman, to a blind woman in Paris making a frustrated driver from Ivory Coast go insane. But look out for Helmut and Yo-Yo, from the New York story. I've rarely seen anything in film as fun as their story.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Béatrice Dalle, Eija Vilpas, Emile Abossolo M'bo, Gena Rowlands, Giancarlo Esposito, Gianni Schettini, Isaach De Bankolé, Jaakko Talaskivi, Kari Väänänen, Klaus Heydemann, Lisanne Falk, Matti Pellonpää, Paolo Bonacelli, Pascal N'Zonzi, Richard Boes, Roberto Benigni, Romolo Di Biasi, Rosie Perez, Sakari Kuosmanen, Stéphane Boucher, Tomi Salmela, Winona Ryder

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Rating: R

Mike Leigh’s films have always touched on class politics, but seldom as directly as in this lowkey portrait of Thatcher-era London. Cyril and Shirley are a sweet working-class couple at a crossroads in their relationship. Their lifestyle is contrasted with Cyril’s sister and her husband who exist in a more comfortable middle-class setting, and then paralleled again with an upper-class couple living next door from Cyril’s mother. 

Even at this early stage of his career Leigh gracefully entwines these stories to create a moving and coherent narrative. ‘High Hopes’ as a title might be largely sarcastic, but the film is full-hearted and occasionally even optimistic as it strides its snarky way through the grim facades of 80s London.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Cheryl Prime, David Bamber, Diane-Louise Jordan, Edna Doré, Heather Tobias, Jason Watkins, Judith Scott, Lesley Manville, Linda Beckett, Phil Davis, Philip Jackson, Ruth Sheen

Director: Mike Leigh

Light-hearted and compassionate, Raining Stones is one of Ken Loach’s lesser-known films. It’s also one of his funniest, telling the story of an unemployed chancer trying to raise enough money to buy his daughter her first Communion dress. Desperate for the cash, he falls foul of ruthless loan sharks.

As ever, Ken Loach is keenly attuned to the concerns of the working class, as he finds humour even in the most depressing of circumstances. The dialogue is natural, funny, and yes, profane. He also gets excellent performances from the non-professional actors in the cast, with club comedian Bruce Jones superb in the lead.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama

Actor: Anna Jaskolka, Anne Martin, Bruce Jones, Gemma Phoenix, George Moss, Jack Marsden, Jimmy Coleman, Julie Brown, Karen Henthorn, Lee Brennan, Little Tony, Mike Fallon, Ricky Tomlinson, Ronnie Ravey, Stephen Lord, Susan Cookson, Tom Hickey, Tony Audenshaw, William Ash

Director: Ken Loach

Clive Owen stars as a struggling writer who reluctantly accepts a lucrative offer to work as a croupier at a London casino. His characteristic aloofness, hatred of gambling, and sharp observational skills allow him to remain uncompromised and able to catch any attempt at cheating within his field of vision. But when a savvy professional gambler he shares an attraction with asks him to participate in a heist in an uncompromised way, he’s forced to consider playing the angles. Owen’s coolly detached performance is a marvel, and the depiction of the London casino scene is detailed and gritty, both of which make for compelling British noir.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Alex Kingston, Alexander Morton, Barnaby Kay, Clive Owen, David Hamilton, Eddie Osei, Gina McKee, Kate Hardie, Nicholas Ball, Nick Reding, Ozzie Yue, Paul Reynolds, Rhona Mitra, Sheila Whitfield

Director: Mike Hodges

Rating: Unrated

A sweet and wholesome tale of two boys falling in love against the backdrop of 90s homophobia and social issues. Jamie is a heavily bullied high schooler whose only sanctuary is his family's low-income apartment. His mom Sandra decides to also make that apartment a sanctuary for Ste, another highschooler suffering from an abusive father and older brother. They share Jamie's bed and their prospect of friendship quickly turns into something else.

Beautiful Thing is beautifully scripted and never too emotional. In fact, whenever the story moves towards the emotional, a funny scene is introduced to ease the tension. Many of these scenes feature Sandra's boyfriend, a well-spoken hippie by the name of Tony. Features heavy British accents, subtitles may be necessary!

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Andrew Fraser, Anna Karen, Ben Daniels, Beth Goddard, Davyd Harries, Garry Cooper, Glen Berry, Jeillo Edwards, John Benfield, John Savage, Jonathan Harvey, Julia-Lee Smith, Liane Ware, Linda Henry, Marlene Sidaway, Martin Walsh, Meera Syal, Scott Neal, Sophie Stanton, Tameka Empson, Terry Duggan

Director: Hettie Macdonald

Rating: R

, 1993

Based on the true story of Daniel “Rudy” Rettinger, this biographical movie follows young Rudy as he pursues his childhood dream of playing football for Notre Dame, despite significant obstacles and copious discouragement from those around him. The movie works not by hitching the action to any major sequences of ball play, but rather to the most remarkable feature of the story: the sheer determination of the title protagonist. The film’s success also largely comes down to a fantastically consistent and earnest performance by Sean Astin, who outshines a very talented supporting cast to the legendary, crowd-stirring end.

Genre: Crime, Drama, History, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Amy Pietz, Charles S. Dutton, Chelcie Ross, Christopher Erwin, Christopher Reed, David Anspaugh, Deborah Wittenberg, Forest Whitaker, Gerry Becker, Greta Lind, Jason Miller, Jim Broadbent, John Beasley, Jon Favreau, Kevin Duda, Lauren Katz, Lili Taylor, Luke Massery, Mary Ann Thebus, Miranda Richardson, Mitch Rouse, Ned Beatty, Ralph Brown, Robert J. Steinmiller Jr., Robert Prosky, Ron Dean, Scott Benjaminson, Sean Astin, Stephen Rea, Vince Vaughn

Director: David Anspaugh, Neil Jordan

Rating: PG

As Nicole Holofcener's directorial debut, Walking and Talking stands out not only for its honest dialogue and wonderful performance from the young Catherine Keener, but also for its portrayal of female friendship in a genre which too often portrays mindless cliches. The movie focuses on two best friends as one of them gets engaged and the other fears their friendship is getting lost in the middle of the excitement around her friend's marriage. Catherine Keener does a brilliant job as the likable but depressed friend and Anne Heche does an equally as good job playing her sympathetic half. A great movie if you're in the mood for something sweet, honest and sometimes sad.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alice Drummond, Allison Janney, Amy Braverman, Anne Heche, Bettina Skye, Brenda Denmark, Catherine Keener, Harold Ramis, Heather Gottlieb, Joseph Siravo, Kevin Corrigan, Liev Schreiber, Lynn Cohen, Miranda Rhyne, Rafa Alvarez, Randall Batinkoff, Todd Field, Vincent Pastore

Director: Nicole Holofcener

Rating: R

Renton (McGregor), a Scottish twenty-something junkie, must choose to clean up and get out, or continue following the allure of the drugs and the influence of friends. Find out if he chooses life in this brutal yet entertaining Danny Boyle masterpiece. While definitely not for the faint of heart, Trainspotting still manages to be funny at times, and provides an overall very entertaining experience.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Annie Louise Ross, Billy Riddoch, Dale Winton, Eddie Nestor, Eileen Nicholas, Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Finlay Welsh, Fiona Bell, Hugh Ross, Irvine Welsh, James Cosmo, Jonny Lee Miller, Kate Donnelly, Keith Allen, Kelly Macdonald, Kevin Allen, Kevin McKidd, Pauline Lynch, Peter Mullan, Robert Carlyle, Shirley Henderson, Stuart McQuarrie, Susan Vidler, Victor Eadie

Director: Danny Boyle

Rating: R