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24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, 2002
Starring: Andy Serkis, Steve Coogan, Paddy Considine, John Simm, Tony Wilson
Forget London, in the early Nineties the coolest place to be in England was Manchester. Tony Wilson and his Factory label were at the forefront of this musical movement that put the Northern city on the map, this is the story of how they did it.
Unless you’re a big music fan, or have been watching Granada TV over the past twenty years, you might not know who Anthony ‘Tony’ Wilson. However, his influence on music scene, particularly in the UK, of the late Eighties and the early Nineties is indelible. On his TV show he bought punk to light in Manchester and created a night for new bands that were playing this type of music. This club, the Factory which has been through many incantations, became world famous and the acts that went through its doors were legendary. These included Joy Division, The Happy Mondays and New Order.
Control, Anton Corbjin’s biopic of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis, was particularly bleak, both in image and in tone. The black and whites and the grim Northern backdrop fitted in perfectly with the troubled life of the suicidal singer. 24 Hour Party People mix of fact and fiction has no such dark preoccupations, this was the story of Manchester’s blossoming into a colourful world of dance music, drugs and guns. Obviously the bad moments can’t be avoided, but as the Boethius quote goes, “Good times pass away, but then so do the bad,” a particularly fitting quote for the life of troubled Factory records.
24 Hour Party People is the biopic of Tony Wilson, played expertly by Steve Coogan, as he struggles to control a label with more outlay than they can possibly ever hope to recoup, a producer who shoots the manager and bands that have sold all the studio equipment for drugs. It’s not an easy task and as Tony Wilson neatly sums up his position halfway through after he is nearly set on fire, “I’m Tony Wilson, I’m in charge of Factory Records. I think.”
While their accounts and management may have been in total chaos the music they were creating was truly legendary. Creating post-punk masterpieces, funky house classics and club tunes that are still being played today what they were doing was more like art than a business. As such, the company eventually folded, with the only evidence of it today being in the dance music creations spun in clubs on weekends and in the music of art-punk bands across the world.
The film makes the most of this colourful experiment as it creates a lovingly crafted homage to the whole anarchic spirit that was Factory. While this Tony Wilson’s story, the music he helped create is definitely the star, but that’s not to undermine his importance. Tony Wilson was a particularly outspoken man, and in capturing the character there was only ever one choice when it came to casting.
Alan Partridge is a famous British TV character invented by Steve Coogan. Throughout the Nineties and the Noughties, viewers watched Alan find television fame, lose it and struggled to regain it while he laboured away as a forgotten radio DJ; this inspired creation was originally based on Factory Records manager, and regional TV presenter, Tony Wilson. Steve Coogan essentially reprises his role as Partridge here, but with much more confidence and much more style than was ever seen when he was the Norwich based presenter.
The characterisation is excellent and it’s an honest and often hilarious performance, as Coogan repeatedly breaks the fourth wall as he narrates his own life in his own inimitable, some say arrogant, style. Tony Wilson’s arrogance is shown as being birthed by his constant exasperation that he is stuck doing regional programming, in a region of the country largely ignored, while the best and most important music around goes unheard. This isn’t just a man getting annoyed for the sake of it, this outwardly arrogance is born of frustration at small-city mentality. This frustration and desire to try new things is why Factory was started, and why Wilson tried so many wild and adventurous things throughout his life and Coogan does a great job of playing him without it becoming simply a joke.
The whole cast is full of excellent performances, something which is particularly difficult when trying to capture mannerisms of real-life musicians. Michael Winterbottom’s casting choices are inspired, with everyone from Bez to Bernard Sumner, captured perfectly. Andy Serkis’ Martin Hannett is played just unhinged enough so that he is constantly dancing on the line between genius and insanity. Shaun Ryder quickly makes the transition from ne’er do well street urchin to entitled rock star in the time it takes to pop to Barbados, and Danny Cunningham’s immersion in the role is excellent.
As well as actors playing the roles there are a lot of a cameos from the real-life counterparts of those portrayed. These include Bernard Sumner, Howard Devoto, Mark E. Smith, Paul Ryder and of course, Tony Wilson. The whole thing is steeped in history and it’s definitely worth doing some research once you’ve watched it once as it rewards repeated viewings
The music, which is at the forefront of the story, is all original recordings and this helps effortlessly recreate the urgency and importance of what was created throughout that period. While Tony Wilson may opine that he is a minor player in his own story, this is no bad thing. The story is so maddeningly insane, exciting, reckless and debauched that simply to be part of it is more impressive that most other things people ever manage to accomplish. As a study of a man before his untimely death it’s excellent, and as an overview of Manchester and the rich musical heritage it has, it’s essential.
24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE