While Hollywood may dominate the world-wide box-office with its consistent string of blockbusters, many great films have been produced outside of the United States. World cinema has produced some true classics over the years; films that are not so synonymous among mainstream audiences mainly because they are not in English. Here’s a look at the ten foreign language films I find to be the best. Honorable Mentions: Hard Boiled (1992) – Hong Kong, Downfall (2004) – Germany
10. 8 1/2 (1963) – Italy
Federico Fellini is regarded as one the greatest auteurs of world cinema. He was behind some of the most beautiful and original films ever made, from La Strada to La Dolce Vita to Nights of Calibria. 8 1/2 however was in my opinion his crowning achievement. A film that served as a autobiographical account of the legendary film director, 8 1/2 is a beautiful, complex and meticulously constructed film and one of the greatest films to emerge from Italian cinema.
An unflinching look into the street life of Rio de Janiero and how crime and poverty affects it’s poor population and the life of two young boys over the course of three decades. Fernando Meirelles demonstrates the craft of a true pro as he takes us into the darkest parts of Rio, his direction is truly flawless. City of God’s biggest draw is the visceral nature of the film, it’s mix of wonderful storytelling and disturbing scenes that make the film very, very compelling.
8. Bicycle Thieves (1948) – Italy
One of the greatest films of the Italian neo-realist era, Bicycle Thieves has such a simple plot yet offers a fantastic cinematic experience. Set during post-World War II Italy when the nation was in shambles economically, Bicycle Thieves tells the story of a man and his son as they search for a stolen bicycle vital for their job. Bicycle Thieves is without doubt one of the most powerful and moving films ever made and one of the high points of Italian cinema.
Before Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu made it big in Hollywood with films like 21 Grams, Babel and the most recent Birdman, he made Amores Perros, film about a horrific car crash that interconnects three stories, each involving characters dealing with loss, regret and life’s harsh realities in Mexico City. Amores Perros is all in all an extremely intense and gritty film that provided us the first glimpses of Alejandro’s true talent and can probably be credited for launching his career.
6. Oldboy (2004) – South Korea
Very rarely does one see a film that operates on the same level as Oldboy. Brutal, violent, shocking, sublime and thrilling are just some of the reasons why Oldboy is one of the greatest revenge thrillers you are ever likely to see (Kill Bill, eat your heat out!) The film has all the marquee violence synonymous with Asian cinema as well as a fantastic story. Chan-wook Park’s taut direction is instrumental in making this film great but this is a film that thrives mainly on its wonderfully dark screenplay that keeps the audience interested at each turn and quite possibly one of the best twist endings ever.
5. The Wages of Fear (1953) – France
The quintessential suspense thriller, The Wages of Fear is one of the greatest and most suspenseful films ever made. Directed by Henri-Georges Cluzot, The Wages of Fear follows the story of four desperate men, broke and stranded in a Latin American town. Desperate to get out, they sign up on a suicidal mission to drive two truckloads of nitroglycerin 300 miles down a hazardous road knowing the slightest mishap could result in them being blown to pieces. Cluzot’s craftsmanship is truly exceptional here, as he creates one nail-biting situation after another and drives the film with unrelenting suspense. The Wages of Fear has since been an inspiration for many films and its influence is evident on modern-day thrillers.
4. A Seperation (2011) – Iran
Iranian cinema has produced some great films like: Ten, Taste of Cherry, Children of Heaven and for that mainly Majid Majidi and Abbas Kiarostami are to thank, but nothing quite like A Seperation was made before. An excellent and suspenseful Hitchcockian drama that is impeccably well crafted and superbly acted, A Seperation represents the personification of Iranian cinema and how a wonderful and complex screenplay can guide a film.
Long before Clint Eastwood ever took the screen as ‘The Man With No Name’ in Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, there was Yojimbo – a brilliant film about a cunning samurai warrior who comes to a town divided by two criminal gangs and decides to play them against each other to free the town. The film is one of the best of Kurosawa’s long, illustrious career and features one of the best performances from actor Toshiro Mifune as well. The film has since been the inspiration to countless films like A Fistful of Dollars, Last Man Standing, Django.
A film that is likely to make you laugh and cry in the same sitting, Life is Beautiful is as the title says a truly beautiful tragicomedy. Set in World War 2 Italy, the film follows the story of a Jewish man who tries his best to protect his son with the help of humor after his family is taken to a Nazi concentration camp. Written, directed and starring Roberto Benigni, who gives a masterful and convincing performance, Life is Beautiful is one of the most good-hearted and poignant films ever made as well as one of the best war movies.
Akira Kurosawa is an auteur in the broadest sense. His work has influenced many people including the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese. Lucas went as far as saying that Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress was his main source of inspiration for Star Wars. Countless of his films have been remade. Seven Samurai is the embodiment of everything Kurosawa had been working on throughout his career; a film that combines the best elements of the samurai and western genres to make a stunning film that is epic in scale and ambition, with Toshiro Mifune stealing the show with a performance that soon elevated him to a regular lead.