My Name Is Joe (1998)
As far removed from Hollywood's glamour as can come is Ken Loach's take on working-class life in Glasgow, in this film centered around a recovering alcoholic named Joe. Or rather non-working class, because the poverty and despair of the struggling late 1990s characters in My Name Is Joe feel as palpable as real unemployment. Loach describes the hopelessness of post-Thatcher peripheral Britain, much like Danny Boyle did in Trainspotting or Peter Cattaneo did with The Full Monty during the same period, only without the flashiness of the former or the bubbling positivism of the latter. Loach's characters are utterly and fundamentally sad – even when they are trying to have some fun. And since they have been in this rot for a long time, their destructiveness and, to be honest, often lack of redeemable qualities almost makes you feel they deserve their bad luck. Loach certainly gives them nothing for free.
Still, and as you may have learned by now, love has its way, and the romance between Joe and a well-doing health visitor named Sarah comes with a rare filmatic bareness and honesty. The lack of any kind of classical romanticism between them brings out another aspect: how much these two need each other; theirs feels like a romance borne out of necessity and circumstance, not plot-convenience. Like he has become known for doing over the years, Ken Loach strips his characters and environments down and presents them to us as they are. My Name Is Joe does tests the audience's zeal and goodness, but ultimately even Ken Loach rewards his most patient viewers.