Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
Each year, foreign films are among the most critically acclaimed, yet they fail to catch on with American audiences. In 2013 alone, Italy's The Great Beauty, France's Blue Is the Warmest Color, and Romania's Beyond the Hills were praised by critics, but they were overlooked at the American box office. It seems, generally, that American audiences are averse to subtitles, and instead prefer to sit back, relax, and let a film do all of the work. There is a misconception that all foreign films are "artsy" and "complicated," which causes American audiences to ignore them. Not only is this not true, but it's also a shame that leads us to missing out on some of the best films ever made. Below is a list of 10 foreign films that you should start watching immediately. These films don't require an appreciation for art-house cinema nor do they require a film studies degree. All that is needed is an open mind, an ability to read, and a love for the cinema.
4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007)
Directed by Cristian Mungiu, this powerful Romanian film follows a young woman as she tries to obtain an illegal abortion for her friend. Set in the 1980s, the film is situated within the Romanian New Wave, a recent cinematic movement in which filmmakers come to terms with the consequences of the Ceausescu dictatorship. You can stream 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days on Netflix and Amazon.
The Best of Youth (2005)
I ordinarily wouldn't recommend a six-hour film to anyone, but now that we're in the age of binge watching, it's a propitious time for audiences to discover this gem from Italian director Marco Tullio Giordana. The film is an epic narrative of one family over the course of 40 years as they react to personal and political turmoil. Many critics, including A.O. Scott, listed this beautiful film as one of the best of the 2000s. You can stream The Best of Youth on Netflix.
The Edge of Heaven (2008)
Written and directed by Fatih Akin, this Turkish-German drama tells the story of a Turkish man who returns to Istanbul to find the daughter of his father's former girlfriend. It's a moving tale of the binds that tie families together and how they can be torn apart. You can stream The Edge of Heaven on Netflix and Amazon.
Mysteries of Lisbon (2011)
Like The Best of Youth, Mysteries of Lisbon is a long film, but the rewards are endless. Master director Raúl Ruiz has made the ultimate costume drama with this film, and audiences unknown to his work will surely be delighted, amazed, and enthralled. You can stream Mysteries of Lisbon on Amazon.
Jafar Panahi's Offside depicts the struggle women face in Iran through their exclusion from soccer stadiums. The film is often funny and endearing, but it never strays from the political message at its core. You can stream Offside on Amazon.
Oslo, August 31st (2012)
Joachim Trier's second feature film follows the day in the life of Anders, a young recovering drug addict, as he reunites with old friends and family. Olso, August 31st is a bittersweet film about the inevitability of change. You can stream Olso, August 31st on Netflix and Amazon.
The Piano Teacher (2002)
Isabelle Huppert gives a harrowing performance as a masochistic piano teacher in Michael Haneke's French erotic thriller. Haneke is known to most American audiences for his Oscar nominated love story Amour (2012), but it's here where his brilliance shines through. You can stream The Piano Teacher on Netflix.
From South Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong, Poetry is a heartbreaking film about an older woman who struggles with the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. In order to cope, she enrolls in a poetry class, and what follows is a melancholy meditation on memory and the mind's inability to cope with the past. You can stream Poetry on Netflix and Amazon.
Billed as the first feature film to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and the first feature film made by a female Saudi director, Wadjda is a cultural landmark. Writer/director Haifaa al-Mansour has created an uplifting ode to female liberation in the face of oppression. Despite the film’s charming tone, there is a powerful political message at its core that cannot be forgotten: In many cultures, women remain disenfranchised. You can stream Wadjda on Amazon.
Waltz with Bashir (2008)
This animated documentary from Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman comes to terms with the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Waltz with Bashir is a wildly ambitious film about the horrors of war and the ways individuals and nations respond to it. You can stream Waltz with Bashir on Amazon.
David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
The fifth annual ceremony took place in Hong Kong, but the Japanese devastation overshadowed the event, with many Asian stars, including nominated actors Koji Yakusho (13 Assassins), Rinko Kikuchi (Norwegian Wood) and Takako Matsu (Confessions), absent from the party.
Weinstein joined Hong Kong actress Carina Lau onstage to present the Best Actor prize, but took a moment to publicly greet Japanese actor Ken Watanabe and send his best wishes to the people of Japan.
Speaking directly into the camera, Weinstein said, "We hope you're safe and we hope things turn very well very quickly."
The tragic events in Japan also played on the minds of other celebrities at the awards show.
Filmmaker Feng Xiaogang, whose earthquake epic Aftershock landed honours for Best Visual Effects and Best Actress (Xu Fan), revealed bosses at two of the movie's key investors, Media Asia and Huayi Brothers, had pledged to donate $76,000 (£47,500) to the country's relief efforts.
Other winners at the Asian Film Awards included Thai film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Best Picture), and South Korean director Lee Chang-dong, who claimed Best Director and Best Screenplay for Poetry.
Ha Jung-woo walked away as Best Actor for his work in The Yellow Sea, and retired producer Raymond Chow, the man behind the careers of Bruce Lee, Jet Li and Jackie Chan, was handed the Lifetime Achievement Award, as previously reported by WENN.
Chinese film AFTERSHOCK triumphed at the 2010 Asia Pacific Screen Awards on Friday (03Dec10) after it was named Best Picture. The movie, directed by Feng Xiaogang, also claimed Best Performance for actor Chen Daoming, while South Korea's Lee Chang-dong was awarded the Best Achievement for Directing for Poetry.
Spaniard Bardem shared the Best Actor Prize with Elio Germano, while The English Patient star Binoche was named Best Actress for Certified Copy.
The Cannes Film Festival's competition jury president Tim Burton handed the coveted Palme d’Or honour to acclaimed Thai movie Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. The runner-up Grand Prix prize went to Of Gods and Men.
French actor/director Mathieu Amalric claimed the two-week festival's Best Director award for Tournee, while the event's Best Screenplay prize went to Lee Chang-dong for Poetry.
Other big winners during the closing ceremony's prizegiving included Ano Bisiesto (Camera d’Or), A Screaming Man (Prix du Jury), Ha Ha Ha (Prize of Un Certain Regard) and Octubre (Un Certain Regard Jury Prize).