Friday, December 24, 2010

The Best Foreign Films of 2010 (from the small world of those Seth Seeith)

As I wrote about at length back in September, 2010 has been a watershed year in terms of my exploration and enjoyment of world cinema.

While I have long appreciated films made in other lands and languages, this year--stimulated and supported by a variety of factors and 'Facets,' including the Chicago Film Discussion Meetup group, Netflix and the Skokie Public Library,--I developed not only a passion for foreign films, but a vociferous appetite.

With a few days still remaining in 2010, I have watched over 100 films made in 28 countries outside the U.S., including approximately 25 "new ones" (films, not countries; more on this in a moment).

Although I have a great fondness for the unique, non-Hollywood sensibility of many films made in England, Ireland, Australia and Canada, for list-making purposes, any movie without subtitles will be lumped in with my still-to-come "Best Movies of 2010" list, which will focus on English-language feature films from any country of origin.

Also beyond those listed below, I saw two excellent and one good foreign language documentaries; those were cited in my Best Documentaries of 2010 piece. (My favorite foreign language doc, Budrus, from Israel, will play a return engagement at Facets in Chicago this coming week; the other "excellent" one is Last Train Home, from China.)

Finally, while such minutia might not matter to the few people kind enough to read this, I tried to keep "eligibility" to those movies that were first released (to theaters and/or DVD) in the United States in 2010. This isn't an exact science, as I saw two films at the Chicago International Film Festival and considered them eligible even though they might not get wider (or Netflix) release here until next year. Hence, some of my picks were already Oscar-nominees for Best Foreign Language Film while others might be next year.

So in addition to my official list below, I'll also mention these five 2009-eligible films that I watched in 2010 and found to be excellent, in order of preference (with links to IMDB): Sin Nombre (Mexico), The Stoning of Soraya M. (U.S.-made but in Persian), Broken Embraces (Spain), Lorna's Silence (Belgium), Summer Hours (France).

But now, if we've got all the disclaimers and preambles straight, here are my picks for:

The Best Foreign Language Films of 2010

1. The Secret in Their Eyes (Argentina; IMDB) - This won the Oscar and may be the best newly released film of any origin I saw in 2010.

2. Mother (South Korea; IMDB) - An amazing piece of filmmaking from Joon-ho Bong, who also directed The Host.

3. The Matchmaker (Israel; IMDB) - A beautiful coming-of-age story enhanced by remarkable secondary characters, including a family of dwarfs who run a cinema.

4. Lebanon (Israel; IMDB) - Follows Israeli soldiers exclusively within a single tank without ever being less-than-compelling.

5. Welcome (France; IMDB) - About an Iraqi teenager who wants to meet up with his girlfriend in England, but must learn to swim the English Channel to avoid deportation back from France.

6. A Prophet (France; IMDB) - Along with Animal Kingdom and Mesrine (parts I & II), one of three new French gangster films that my cinephile friends Dave and Al highly recommend; I haven't seen the other two yet.

7. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Sweden; IMDB) - The first of the trilogy; I'm curious to see how David Fincher Americanizes it. The Girl Who Played With Fire was also an excellent adaptation; haven't seen #3.

8. The Concert (France; IMDB) - Combining French & Russian characters, this one gets a bit ragged but redeems itself; Melanie Laurent (from Inglorious Basterds) is transfixing.

9. Peepli Live (India; IMDB) - Avoids over-the-top Bollywood staples in telling a universal story about the media age.

10. Erratum (Poland; IMDB) - A man heads to his hometown for an errand and gets stuck there for multiple reasons.

Others Seen

All of these were worthwhile, but other than The Girl Who Played With Fire, I can't really bestow "Honorable Mention" on any. After being lukewarm about the much-lauded The White Ribbon the first-time I saw it, I watched it again last night and didn't like it any better. A fine piece of moviemaking, I guess, but it bored me. Ajami also didn't quite meet expectations.

35 Shots of Rum (France; IMDB)
Sandcastle (Singapore; IMDB)
Guzaarish (India; IMDB)
Ajami (Israel; IMDB)
Jaffa (Israel; IMDB)
The Girl Who Played With Fire (Sweden; IMDB)
The White Ribbon (Germany/Austria; IMDB)


Greg Boyd said...

So, did you ever get around to seeing "Revanche"? It was the best foreign film I saw last year, although "Summer Hours" was very good.

I really need to watch "A Prophet".

Seth Arkin said...

No, and I actually don't remember you or anyone else mentioning it. But it's on Netflix streaming, so I just added it to my queue to watch pretty soon.


Greg Boyd said...

No problem, and thank you for this list. There are quite a few films that I'd either forgotten about or never heard of, and I'm looking forward to checking them out. "Lebanon" in particular... I remember hearing a lot about how great it was. As I've mentioned, I don't get out to the Chicago art-houses much, so it's Netflix (which is awesome for foreign cinema) and DVD for me.