Over the last week or two during our in-house message conversations, we’ve managed to gravitate toward talking about some of our favorite foreign films. Perhaps it was triggered by Logan’s recent review of Pan’s Labyrinth. So why not get it all together in a list format for everyone to see and discuss! Check out our favorite foreign films below…
And to clarify one thing, foreign film doesn’t necessarily mean foreign language. We’re all from The States, so we’re including British and Australian films, among others, in consideration of our favorites. Here you go!
1) The Umbrellas of Cherbourg – 1964, French (directed by Jacques Demy, starring Catherine Deneuve)
Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay and Best Foreign Language Film, this gem from the French New Wave is one of my favorite movies. It’s a musical—the entire movie is sung. Through dramatic music and sumptuous settings, Demy takes a little story about two lovers in a little town and raises it up to the level of a grand opera—making everyday human emotions and problems larger than life. It’s a pleasing paradox, and while it may feel odd when the movie begins, it doesn’t take long for it to engross the viewer. Here is an extended clip with the love theme “I Will Wait for You”
2) Amélie – 2001, French (directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, starring Audrey Tatou)
Also nominated for five Oscars, this French romantic comedy always makes me happy when I watch it. It’s sweet and quirky, and I love Jeunet’s style of filmmaking. And of course there is the traveling gnome.
3) In the Mood for Love – 2000, Cantonese & Shanghainese, made in Hong Kong (directed by Wong Kar Wai, starring Tony Chiu Wai Leung and Maggie Cheung)
This film is pure poetry. All of the elements work together beautifully and harmoniously. It feels like watching a dance—which it essentially is. It’s the story of two neighbors who suspect their spouses of extra-marital affairs, while attempting to keep their own feelings for one another at bay. The dialogue is relatively minimal, and the storytelling relies heavily on the visual elements on screen (which are stunning). All of this accompanied by the incredible score make In the Mood for Love one of the most beautiful films (in my opinion) ever made.
Honorable mentions: anything directed by Akira Kurosawa or François Truffaut
1) The World’s End – When I write reviews I tend to come across as straight-laced and serious but I actually love joking around; and I especially love good comedies. Directed by Edgar Wright (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) and starring the hilarious Simon Pegg (“Shaun of the Dead”) as an aging hipster desperately hanging on to his glory days, this British comedy has everything I love: hilarious slapstick, witty jokes, cool sci-fi, even some touching moments. The only thing is: it earns its R rating for the language.
2) City of Lost Children – You gotta love the French! This is a crazy, visual masterpiece about an evil scientist who steals children’s dreams to keep from aging. I love the surrealism and the steampunk aesthetic, especially the Cyclops’ eyepieces. This movie definitely deserves multiple viewings to fully appreciate it.
3) Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb – Directed by the great Stanley Kubrick, the premise of this British film is not as interesting to me as Peter Sellers’ performance. Honestly, someone could edit this movie down to just Sellers’ performance and I would love it that much more. Dr. Strangelove’s battle with his own limbs is priceless! “Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!”
Before I get started, let me just say that I know my list is lame. I really haven’t seen many movies that would be considered “foreign”. So
keep that in mind.
1) Slumdog Millionaire – I was very skeptical before seeing this, but was happily surprised. This isn’t about a kid becoming a millionaire, it’s actually about how a boy became the person he is. It’s about life and love, which often times makes for some of the best stories. As far as I can think, this is the only movie I’ve seen about life in India and maybe that’s part of the reason I was drawn to it.
2) From up on Poppy Hill – A group of Yokohama teens look to save their school’s clubhouse from the wrecking ball in preparations for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. This is a film by the writer who also made movies such as Castle in the Sky and Howl’s Moving Castle. The animation is great and the characters were fun, plus it had the ending I was hoping for.
3) The Legend of Drunken Master – It’s been a long time since I saw this one, but I remember it having some awesome fight scenes. However I do not condone drunken fighting….
1) Pan’s Labyrinth – I love movies, and I’ve often wanted to see some foreign language films, but didn’t know where to start. When I said to my wife that I needed more practice with Spanish (since that class routinely kills me week after week), she suggested I see Pan’s Labyrinth. The film is a fascinating fantasy film set in the Spanish Civil War. It focuses on a girl named Ofelia who has a vicious step-father, and her realization that she’s not just some girl, but instead she’s actually the heir to the throne of a world full of fairies and fauns. It contains some language and graphic violence, but never before have I seen a film where I thought the violence of the film was so integral to the story. I highly recommend it.
2) Downfall – There have been a lot of films about World War II. This one is a bit unique, however, in the sense that it’s German. Every war film that I’d seen up to this point focused on Americans. We look at what Americans went through in World War II, but have we ever stopped to think about what was going on behind the scenes? This film takes a look at that, seeing the charisma of Hitler, as well as his ugly side when things turn south during his final days.
3) Howl’s Moving Castle – Believe it or not, there’s more to anime than Pokémon and Avatar. This film was made by the filmmaker who’s essentially the anime equivalent of Disney. Like many anime films, it contains some interesting fantasy elements. A girl is cursed by a witch to look like an old woman, and through a crazy series of events, ends up working for the charismatic magician known as Howl. It’s a charming story, and in the English dub of the film, Howl is voiced by Christian Bale, which was really interesting to watch and listen to.
I’ll add a similar caveat to my list as what Elliott did. I don’t seek out foreign films to watch. It’s just a very basic principle of mine. If I want to read, I’ll get a book, not watch a movie. The only exception I make for this is martial arts films, and fortunately Kung Fu has plenty to choose from in the foreign film category.
1) Ip Man – Listen, you haven’t seen Kung Fu until you’ve seen Donnie Yen portray Bruce Lee’s mentor and master, Ip Man. Set in 1930’s China, before and after the Japanese invasion, Ip Man is the hands down martial arts master in Fo Shan, the Kung Fu capital of China. Ip deals with various struggles, including how he can impact the socio-economic struggles of his people. This movie is simply a must-see for any fan of Kung Fu. This video below is Ip’s first confrontation with the leader of an out-of-town gang. (sorry no captions)
2) Kung Fu Hustle – I was quite skeptical of this film at first hearing about it. It is a Kung Fu satire and is pretty heavy on making light on some of the corny elements of the genre as a whole. But, it works as an entertaining and impressive piece of work that is both a comedy and an action film. So long as you aren’t trying to take it too seriously, this movie is a fun watch.
3) Fearless – Suitably dubbed as Jet Li’s “final martial arts epic”, Fearless does a solid job of mixing terrific martial arts from some of the best in the business, with a character arc spanning the heights of pride and luxury to the depths of debasement and humility. Many would say Hero is Jet Li’s finest film, but I think this character of Huo Yuanjia is far deeper and much more interesting.
So what are some of YOUR favorite foreign films?