Here’s the thing about actor/musician Riz Ahmed: You want to hate him because he’s beautiful. Then, behind that great face, there is that amazing talent, tons of wit, and impossible integrity. And now I’ve learned he also has impeccable taste, because when asked to list the decade’s top British films and directors, he came up with a group I defy anyone to find fault with.
Yet, before we get to that: A bit about Riz himself. You may remember him as Shafiq Rasul, one of the Tipton Three, in Mat Whitecross and Michael Winterbottom’s Road to Guantanamo, or if you’re a crazy anglophile, from his banned single and music video “Post-9/11 Blues.” Now he’s got a lot more in the mix: A starring role in the Big Brother-inspired zombie series Dead Set (a must get on U.K. DVD or watch it here), a BIFA-nominated part in the thriller Shifty (out in England next April), a bit next to Jude Law and Judy Dench in Sally Potter’s upcoming Rage, and a new album out in January 2009. (If you’re in Chicago, he’ll play Homeroom on Dec. 5; in New York, he’ll hit Avaaz at Public Assembly in Brooklyn on Dec. 8.)
But what we in the U.S. can get most excited for right now is Peter Kosminsky’s two-part miniseries Britz, which begins airing on BBC America this Sunday night at 8 p.m. Ahmed plays a young British-born Pakistani who joins MI5 around the same time his sister (the wonderful Manjinder Virk) rails against the government and becomes a Muslim militant. It’s superb. Check out the clips after the jump, after you read Riz’s picks of Britain’s best films and filmmakers.
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Shooters (2001, directed by Dan Reed)
RIZ AHMED: This is about as real as it gets. Dan Reed found ex-convicts and professional criminals in Liverpool and got them to improvise a story about the lifestyle of a Liverpool gangster. It’s unscripted and unfake-able — urgent yet understated. The result is beyond gritty; it’s the real deal.
Dead Man’s Shoes (2004, directed by Shane Meadows)
I love Shane Meadows and I loved This is England. With Paddy Considine and Toby Kebble in the mix, this becomes something very special. A tense revenge tragedy full of muscular performances that appeals to the action loving boy in me, as well as the film lover. Fantastic twist at the end as well…a DVD classic.
London to Brighton (2006, directed by Paul Andrew Williams)
A fantastic example of how a small British film can do so much with almost nothing. The budget on this was about the same as my new film Shifty, around £100,000 [$150,000]. Gripping and tense from the start, it’s an undeniable thriller — not a typical low-budget British tale of kitchen sinks and gray skies. Simple idea done very well. The flashback sequence is horrifying even though you see nothing.
He is completely unclassifiable as a filmmaker. All his films have a different style. When we were shooting The Road to Guantanamo, I had just finished drama school specializing in Shakespeare, and I found his guerrilla-style, freewheeling approach completely terrifying at first. It soon became totally liberating. Maximum results with minimum fuss. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story came out around the same time, and you couldn’t get two more different films.
Okay, so I’m not just listing people I’ve worked with, I promise. He’s an institution and a professional troublemaker at the same time. Peter is a dying breed — socially conscious and fearless. He can make whatever he wants, but he genuinely feels the responsibility of the artist to hold a mirror up to society, and he acts on it with mastery. His work — from his documentaries to his recent dramas, which he wrote as well as directed — are all intoxicatingly filmic. He finds the human story and tells it with elegance and grit, he never preaches. A national treasure.
Now, tell me, do you agree? Have any additions? Wanna argue with Riz?
BITS AND BOBS CALENDAR
Monday (Nov. 24): Eamonn Walker talks to CBS’ Craig Ferguson at 12:35 a.m.
Tuesday: Sundance airs Shane Meadow’s This is England (recommended by Ahmed above and PopWatcher Jonas last week) at 11:30 p.m.
Wednesday: Sean Ellis’ Oscar-nominated short Cashback plays on Sundance at 3:30 a.m. Transporter 3, with Jason Statham, hits theaters. Adele visits Craig Ferguson.
Thursday: Man your TiVos for the Gavin & Stacey marathon on BBC America from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Daniel Craig stars in Roger Michell’s The Mother (written by Hanif Kureishi) on Sundance at 11 p.m.
Friday: Xbox owners/Netflix members — spend the day checking out all the British TV and movies you can get streaming though your player. I watched two episodes The Vicar of Dibley, the Manchild pilot, and Dead Man’s Shoes last night alone. Next up: House of Cards.
Saturday: Visit the BBC Archives’ project, "The Genesis of Doctor Who," online here (you can’t watch the videos in the U.S., but everything else is fair game). Then watch the Doctor take Donna to her first alien planet on BBC America at 9 p.m.
Sunday: Britz begins on BBC America at 8 p.m (the conclusion airs Monday, also at 8 p.m). Here’s a clip from each: