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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Top 10: Foreign-Language Films

While Hollywood may dominate the worldwide box office with its constant stream of films, there has been many a brilliant piece of cinema that has been produced outside the United States. Most of the world's larger countries have strong and flourishing film industries, and although they can't quite compare with the strength of Hollywood, they still manage to produce a number of great flicks. I've only recently - as in the past few years - started to delve into the world of foreign-language film, but in that span, I've managed to see quite a few great flicks, so I figured I'd make this particular list to showcase them.

Below is a list of the top ten foreign-language films I have ever seen. Now, while it could be considered a foreign film, you're not going to see any films from English-speaking countries like Canada or England. Instead of taking films simply produced outside the United States - which would include classics like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West - I chose to stick with films that are predominantly not in English. I think that makes for a little bit more of an interesting selection.

With that, here's the list! I hope you enjoy it!

10. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Japanese: Letters from Iwo Jima

Released nearly simultaneously with its English-language sister film Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima manages to expand upon and outperform its predecessor by bringing a more emotional tale to the screen. Director Clint Eastwood does well to show the Japanese side of the lost battle, and it works in brilliant fashion, and the film benefits from a fantastic leading performance from Ken Watanabe.

9. Downfall (2005)
German: Der Untergang

Many people have seen snippets of this film, but they may not quite recognize it. There's an ongoing Internet video featuring a scene from Downfall in which the subtitled language is replaced for comedic purposes, but the scene comes from this particular picture, which documents Adolf Hitler's last days alive. It's an interesting character study about a man who's losing his grip on reality, and in a way, it's almost a tragic tale.

8. The Lives of Others (2007)
German: Das Leben der Anderen

Although I think The Lives of Others was an undeserved winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture - it went up against Pan's Labyrinth, for goodness sake - it still manages to be one of the better foreign films I've ever seen. Equal parts mystery and human drama, it manages to keep you completely invested with each character, regardless of whether you like them or not. Kudos to the cast and crew.

7. Cinema Paradiso (1990)
Italian: Nuovo Cinema Paradiso

This is a more recent watch for me, and I instantly fell in love with the story of an aging filmmaker reminiscing about his childhood introduction to the world of cinema. It's an epic tale of a boy's life and growth into a young man, and it manages to hit all the key emotions along the way. It's a film made for people who love film, so if you fall under that category, this one's definitely for you.

6. Amélie (2001)
French: Le fabeleux destin d'Amélie Poulain

I remember first hearing about this French film during my first year of college, and after hearing so many people talk about how much they love it, I had to give Amélie a try for myself. What I got was a splendidly delightful tale about a young woman with whom you can't possibly fall in love. Audrey Tautou gives a stellar performance, and the light-hearted and whimsical tone of the movie is sure to draw you in immediately.

5. Das Boot (1982)
German: Das Boot

I've long known of this movie's existence, but as you can see by my year-old review (linked above), it's only recently that I've been able to take in its greatness. Arguably one of the best war movies ever to film, Das Boot effectively manages to convey the claustrophobic atmosphere of submarine life, all while bringing forth an incredible story of men just trying to survive.

4. Amores perros (2001)
Spanish: Amores perros

I saw this film after seeing movies like 2005's Crash and 2006's Babel, when the "intersecting storyline" thing was a big deal. Four years earlier, Amores perros did the same, with arguably much better results. It's a gritty tale, and it's going to take you to some very deep places, but if you can stomach some of the violence, then you're going to be amazed by the final result.

3. Let the Right One In (2008)
Swedish: Låt den rätte komma in

What starts as a very strong look at an off-beat horror film turns into something magnificent and beautiful with the film's climactic scene, and ever since, Let the Right One In has stuck with me. The relationship between the two young leads' characters is heartbreaking, but it's the glue that keeps this film together. Although still a strong film, the 2010 English-language remake (Let Me In) just doesn't compare to this original Swedish masterpiece.

2. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Spanish: El laberinto del fauno

In 2006, Guillermo del Toro gave the world Pan's Labyrinth, one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen, and one that made a run for the top spot on this list. Heralded as a fairy tale for adults, the film manages to bring a sense of wonder and dread all at once. Set against the backdrop of war, the story takes many a dark turn, and it's definitely not for the faint of heart, but I'll always hold this one dearly in my heart.

1. The 400 Blows (1959)
French: Les quatre cents coup

What can I say about this film other than its about as perfect as they come? It might be the truest "must-see" film I've ever managed to see, if only because I think every single person needs to see this masterpiece at some point in their life. I watched it at exactly the right time in my own life, and I think that was the reason the message seemed so clear to me. There isn't a person in the world that can't relate to the film's central character, and for that reason, I think that makes this a must-see for everyone.

And so, there's my list of the ten best foreign-language films I've ever seen. As with my other "top 10" lists, this one will be ever-changing, so keep your eye on it!


  1. Great list. Have you seen City of God?

  2. not forgot couple of them :)....ok...couple of recommendations
    for the "artistic" side "Le concert" ;" Okuribito"; Tarkovsky's "Stalker", Kurosawa's " Shichinin no samurai ", "Ran" and "Rashomon"
    then the new Asian cinema "Serbuan maut"; "Akmareul boatda"; "Chugyeogja"....just what came into my mind for the moment

  3. ammm...forgot "Leon" ; "Die Welle" and "Hero"

  4. You have no Bergman, Fellini, or Herzog!

  5. So you watched 9 foreign movies on the imdb top 250 (Letters from Iwo Jima is more american) and you think that you have the knowledge to make a list of the greatest foreign movies? Here is a few tips for a new list: Watch
    Akira Kurosawa (especially 7 Samurai, Ran and High and Low),
    Ingmar Bergman (especially Wild Strawberries, Persona and Fanny and Alexander),
    Andrey Tarkovskiy (especially Stalker, Solaris and Mirror),
    Jean-Pierre Melville (especially Le samouraï, Army of Darkness and Le cercle rouge),
    Federico Fellini (especially 8 1/2, La Strada and La Dolce Vita)
    Yimou Zhang (especially Raise the Red Lantern, Hero and To Live)
    Krzysztof Kieslowski (especially Red, Blue and The Double Life of Veronique
    Hayao Miyazaki (especially Princess Mononoke, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and My Neighbour Totoro)
    Fritzlang (especially Metropolis, M and the Testament of Dr. Mabuse)
    Kar Wai Wong (especially In the Mood for Love, Chungking Express and 2046)
    F.W. Murnau (especially Nosferatu, Sunrise and The Last Laugh)
    Fernando Meirelles (especially City of God)

  6. Awful list. Blog less and start watching movies.

  7. Any list of this kind that doesn't include works by Kurosawa, Miike, Kar Wai Wong, and the Big 4 in Contemporary Korea (Park Chan Wook, Bong Joon Ho, Kim Ji woon, and Kim Ki Duk) is invalid by default. Sorry. Go watch more movies, and you'll realize why your choice of including Downfall and Letters from Iwo Jima are laughable.

  8. 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days? Secret in Their Eyes? The Bicycle Thief? A Prophet? Majid Majidi? A Separation? You also completely overlooked the Korean New Wave... amazing stuff has come out of that movement.
    I have to assume you either haven't seen them or have no perspective on what makes a movie great.