The top 15 greatest foreign language films ever

Posted by · 2:14 am · August 25th, 2008

Nosferatu the VampyreI thought I’d respond to some harking in a recent post about my tendency to lean toward domestic cinema.  The assumption seems to be that I don’t care for foreign language cinema, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

One of the great joys of attending a film festival is to seek out films from other countries, to learn what one can about their cultures through their brand of cinema and to understand that art, in any form is really not so different around the globe.

I discovered foreign language film at a very young age thanks to a local rep cinema that constantly played movies like “Breathless,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Wild Child” and “Rules of the Game.” The first time I went to see “Breathless” I was 13 and was thrilled by this “new” experience of reading subtitles and watching something that seemed so different to me. Of course as I matured I realized that what seemed new was the artistic vision of a different culture.

The old theater ran some films directed by the great Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray: The Apu Trilogy. For the first time I saw what extraordinary realism could be created on the screen. I remember when “The Tin Drum” was banned in Ontario (stupid, stupid, stupid). I headed down to Buffalo to see it…loved it.

I remember the first time I saw a film directed and written by Lina Wertmuller, who was huge in the 1970s for a short time, as well as my discovery of Ingmar Bergman and Bernardo Bertolucci as well, Akira Kurosawa and Federico Fellini, their films forever seared into my mind.

Now back to the reason for posting this entry: Do I prefer North American cinema? Shoot me, but yes I do, because it is what I was raised on, what I am used to.

Random asides on some of the greats…I believe Ingmar Bergman is overrated, and though I have enjoyed a few of his films, I certainly do not believe everything he makes is a masterpiece. His work, the two exceptions on this list below, strikes me as pretentious and over-intellectualized.

Though Jean-Luc Godard did something rather extraordinary with “Breathless,” I have not liked much of anything else he has directed, some of it nothing more than artistic masturbation.

I think it is somewhat sad that so few foreign language films actually make it to these shores, however.  But on with the list…

(FYI, I have included two Canadian films on the list because they were made in a language other than English, in these cases Innuit and French.)

1. “The Rules of the Game”
2. “Seven Beauties”
3. “The Tin Drum”
4. “Breathless”
5. “Beauty and the Beast” (1946)
6. “Nosferatu the Vampyre” (1979)
7. “Das Boot”
8. “City of God”
9. “Downfall”
10. “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner”
11. “Day for Night”
12. “Ran”
13. “8 1/2”
14. “Cries and Whispers”
15. “The Bicycle Thieves”

…and I also liked “Hero,” “Children of Paradise,” “Open City,” “The Seven Samurai,” “M,” “The Barbarian Invasions,” “The Tin Drum,” “Swept Away,” “Amelie,” “A Very Long Engagement,” “Fanny and Alexander,” “Mephisto,” “Grand Illusion,” “The Apu Trilogy,” “Dersu Uzala,” “The Motorcycle Diaires” and so many others.

→ 15 Comments Tags: , | Filed in: Daily

15 responses so far

  • 1 8-25-2008 at 3:55 am

    The InSneider said...

    Diving Bell? Infernal Affairs? Seven Samurai? Meh list…

  • 2 8-25-2008 at 6:04 am

    David said...

    Downfall is a great choice

  • 3 8-25-2008 at 6:14 am

    Bryan said...

    Have you seen Paradise Now (2005).

  • 4 8-25-2008 at 8:24 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    A few that pop up on my list tend to be “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” “The Seventh Seal,” “Metropolis,” “Seven Samurai” and “Contempt.”

  • 5 8-25-2008 at 10:05 am

    Ross Miller said...

    My list would be (in no particular order. Most of them will be more modern stuff, haven’t seen a ton of older foreign stuff, I’m sorry to say):

    City of God
    Pan’s Labyrinth
    Seven Samurai
    Aguirre, the Wrath of God
    Nosferatu ((Original: Does this count as foreign?)
    Funny Games (1997)
    Spirited Away
    Sympathy for Mr Vengeance
    Run Lola Run
    4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

    Hmmm, that’s only 13…..

  • 6 8-25-2008 at 10:14 am

    mike said...

    Pan’s Labyrinth
    City of God

  • 7 8-25-2008 at 11:15 am

    Chad said...

    1. The 400 Blows
    2. The Bicycle Thief
    3. The Passion of Joan of Arc
    4. Les Diaboliques
    5. Come and See
    6. Chloe in the Afternoon
    7. The Battle of Algiers
    8. Ikiru
    9. Tokyo Story
    10. Eyes Without a Face

  • 8 8-25-2008 at 11:29 am

    Mr. Gittes said...

    1. Huozhe ( To Live)

  • 9 8-25-2008 at 1:44 pm

    Dan said...

    A little late but..

    1. The Bicycle Thief
    2. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
    3. My Neighbor Totoro
    4. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
    5. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
    6. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
    7. Aguirre: The Wrath of God
    8. Ikiru
    9. Umberto D.
    10. Rosetta
    11. Fanny and Alexander
    12. Jules and Jim
    13. Princess Mononoke
    14. In the Mood for Love
    15. M

  • 10 8-25-2008 at 1:49 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Not going to put myself through list-hell, but I just want to say that Victor Erice’s “The Spirit of the Beehive” is a film that everybody needs to see.

    That’s all.

  • 11 8-25-2008 at 3:00 pm

    Joel said...

    “Nosferatu” (the original 1922 silent film) and “Metropolis”.

  • 12 8-25-2008 at 3:18 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Actually, I think “The Rules of the Game” is quite overrated. Bergman was and will forever remain one of the greatest artists of all time – in any medium. I LOVE foreign cinema, and lists generally feel kind of restrictive to me, but here are a few films I feel you left out that should have been on there (and films that would be high on mine):

    “Nights of Cabiria” (Fellini’s greatest film)
    “Persona” (Bergman’s greatest film)
    “The 400 Blows” (Truffaut’s greatest film)
    “Pelle the Conqueror” (VERY underrated gem)

    Nice list though.

  • 13 8-25-2008 at 6:20 pm

    Leonard Zelig said...

    Glad to see the enthusiasm of people in this blog, mine is about Guerrilla Filmmaking, this post is giving me an idea the the best 15 Guerrilla Films ever, I would let you know when I write it, for now, I’m leaving here my selection, I’m surprised that nobody included “Red” from Kieslovski…

    Here my list:

    1- Amelie
    2- City of God
    3- The Live of others
    4- Red
    5- Celebration
    6- Roshomon
    7- Das Boot
    8- The Bicycle Thief
    9- 8 1/2
    10- Amores Perros
    11- Stanno tutti bene
    13- Thesis (The 1st film of Alejandro Amenabar)
    14- The Hairdresser’s Husband
    15- The double life of Veronique

  • 14 8-25-2008 at 10:00 pm

    John K said...

    Fun list. I still have a lot of catching up to do in terms of international cinema, so I don’t feel qualified to put a list out there, as preliminary as it might be. However, I do see some glaring omissions in both the post and the comments.

    – So much Kurosawa, and not a single mention of “Yojimbo?” Come on.

    – Where is “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?” I hope it’s not a matter of hype overshadowing quality, because the film truly deserved whatever hype it received. Sublime filmmaking.

    – “Hard Boiled,” the second greatest action film of all-time next to “Die Hard.”

    – “Grave of the Fireflies.” Just devastating.

  • 15 8-26-2008 at 12:59 pm

    Andrew said...

    “The Tin Drum” is a great choice. How this film has managed to slip through the cracks is beyond me. Bravo to Chad, too, with his inclusion of “Come and See”! Simply the most emotionally devastating film I have ever seen – makes Apocalypse Now and Schindler’s List look like fairytales.

    1. “Rashomon” (Japan)
    2. “Breathless” (France)
    3. “Battleship Potemkin” (Russia)
    4. “Metropolis” (Germany)
    5. “Rome, Open City” (Italy)
    6. “The Tin Drum” (Germany)
    7. “8 1/2” (Italy)
    8. “Bicycle Thieves” (Italy)
    9. “Come and See” (Russia)
    10. “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” (Germany)
    11. “Trois Coleurs: Rouge” (Poland/France)
    12. “Week End” (France)
    13. “Ashes and Diamonds” (Poland)
    14. “The Seventh Seal” (Sweden)
    15. “Tokyo Story” (Japan)

    Yup, two Godard and Kieslowski films there. French New Wave is my favourite film movement, and the Cinema of Moral Concern kicks ass, too. Other choices:
    “The 400 Blows”
    “Wild Strawberries”
    “Jules et Jim”
    “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”
    “Pather Panchali”