Top 25 Best Foreign Films of All Time (2020 Edition)

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I am a true blue cinephile. I go to film festivals here, and abroad. I've attended Moscow International Film Festival and Busan International Film Festival last year. If not for Covid-19, i would be attending Tokyo International Film Festival and Hong Kong International Film Festival this year. When i travel, i always make time to go to movie theaters and catch the latest flicks showing. I've watched movies in Bangkok, Nagoya, Seoul and Jakarta, too. While in quarantine, i thought i share with you 25 of my most favourite foreign films of all time. More than a decade ago, i started getting interested in watching foreign films. I think a part of me will always be watching one, to get inspired. What can i say, i am a cinephile. 



1. In the Mood for Love - Wong Kar-Wai - Hong Kong
Hong Kong, 1962: Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk) move into neighboring apartments on the same day. Their encounters are formal and polite—until a discovery about their spouses creates an intimate bond between them. At once delicately mannered and visually extravagant, Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love is a masterful evocation of romantic longing and fleeting moments. With its aching musical soundtrack and exquisitely abstract cinematography by Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping-bin, this film has secured a place in the cinematic canon, and is a milestone in Wong’s redoubtable career. Source


2. Irreversible - Gaspar Noe - France 
The camera looks on unflinchingly as a woman is raped and beaten for several long, unrelenting minutes, and as a man has his face pounded in with a fire extinguisher, in an attack that continues until after he is apparently dead. That the movie has a serious purpose is to its credit but makes it no more bearable. Some of the critics at the screening walked out, but I stayed, sometimes closing my eyes, and now I will try to tell you why I think the writer and director, Gaspar Noe, made the film in this way. Source


3. Cold War - Pawel Pawlikowski - Poland
“Cold War” is one of those love-among-the-ruins romances that turn suffering into high style. Like its two sexy leads — who fall for each other and keep on falling — the movie has been built for maximum seduction. It has just enough politics to give it heft, striking black-and-white images and an in-the-mood-for-love ambiguity that suggests great mysteries are in store for those who watch and wait. You won’t wait long. The movie runs just 89 minutes, during which swaths of the 20th century flutter by like a flipbook. Source


4. The Killing of a Sacred Deer - Yorgos Lanthimos - Ireland/United Kingdom
Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon presiding over a spotless household with his ophthalmologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two exemplary children, 12-year-old Bob (Sunny Suljic) and 14-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy). Lurking at the margins of his idyllic suburban existence is Martin (Barry Keoghan), a fatherless teen who Steven has covertly taken under his wing. As Martin begins insinuating himself into the family’s life in ever-more unsettling displays, the full scope of his intent becomes menacingly clear when he confronts Steven with a long-forgotten transgression that will shatter the Murphy family's domestic bliss. Source


5. A Fantastic Woman - Sebastian Lelio - Chile
The life that Orlando (Francisco Reyes) has built with his girlfriend, Marina (Daniela Vega), which viewers glimpse in the opening 15 minutes of A Fantastic Woman, has a warm sense of stability. Orlando relaxes at a spa, then heads over to a bar where he watches Marina, a singer, perform. They celebrate her birthday at a Chinese restaurant, then head home to their apartment. Their relationship (he’s a cisgender man in his 50s, she’s a transgender woman in her late 20s) feels quiet, but not secret; it’s something they’ve carved out together, free of judgment. Source
6. Life is Beautiful - Roberto Benigni - Italy 
Some people become clowns; others have clownhood thrust upon them. It is impossible to regard Roberto Benigni without imagining him as a boy in school, already a cutup, using humor to deflect criticism and confuse his enemies. He looks goofy and knows how he looks. I saw him once in a line at airport customs, subtly turning a roomful of tired and impatient travelers into an audience for a subtle pantomime in which he was the weariest and most put-upon. We had to smile."Life Is Beautiful" is the role he was born to play. The film falls into two parts. One is pure comedy. The other smiles through tears. Benigni, who also directed and co-wrote the movie, stars as Guido, a hotel waiter in Italy in the 1930s. Watching his adventures, we are reminded of Chaplin. Source


7. Parasite - Bong Joon-Ho - South Korea
Described by its creator as “a comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains”, Parasite is more Shakespearean than Hitchockian – a tale of two families from opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, told with the trademark genre-fluidity that has seen Bong’s back catalogue slip seamlessly from murder mystery, via monster movie, to dystopian future-fantasy and beyond. We first meet the Kim family, headed by father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin), in their lowly semi-basement home, hunting for stray wifi coverage and leaving their windows open to benefit from bug-killing street fumigation. They have nothing but one another and a shared sense of hard-scrabble entrepreneurism. So when son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) is faced with an unexpected opportunity to home-tutor a rich schoolgirl, he gets his gifted artist sister, Ki-jung (Park So-dam), to forge a college certificate, bluffing his way into the job and into the home of the Park family. Source
8. Manta Ray - Putthipong Aroonpheng - Thailand
A humanist heart beats loudly in “Manta Ray,” the promising feature debut of Thai writer-director Phuttiphong Aroonpheng. Centered on a mute Rohingya man rescued by a Thai fisherman after having washed ashore near the Thai-Myanmar border, this superficially simple tale of identity, displacement and friendship is wrapped in layers of symbolism that will likely be pleasurably hypnotic for many viewers. While a tough commercial road lies ahead for the film, it seems assured of a lengthy festival life following September playdates at Venice, Toronto and San Sebastian. It will be interesting to monitor Aroonpheng’s progress from here. Source
9. Season of the Devil - Lav Diaz - Philippines
When news surfaced that Lav Diaz’s latest film was a self-billed “rock opera” titled “Season of the Devil,” you’d have been forgiven for thinking the prolific Filipino maximalist had made a drastic departure into proggy 1970s Ken Russell territory. As it turns out, Diaz’s definitions of both “rock” and “opera” are as idiosyncratic as everything else about his super-sized filmmaking. Dwelling solemnly on the lives and communities destroyed under the Marcos Dictatorship, and performed entirely in incantatory, instrument-free song that won’t be giving Lin-Manuel Miranda any sleepless nights, this uniquely onerous experiment may ostensibly be the filmmaker’s first musical, but its mood, aesthetic and historical outlook all place it unmistakably in Diaz’s creative universe: call it “Lav Lav Land,” if you will. Source



10. Cinema Paradiso - Giuseppe Tornatore - Italy 
Just about everything you ever loved (or hated) about Italian films can be found in Giuseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso," from the industry's entrenched system of postdubbing to the unofficial requirement that, somewhere in the movie, a man treat a woman's breasts the way others do the accordion. Source
11. Bacurau - Kieber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles - Brazil
Brazilian auteur Kleber Mendonça Filho, here co-directing with his producer and production designer Juliano Dornelles, has relinquished the quieter, more humanistic tones of his earlier pictures for this disturbing ultraviolent freakout. Set deep in the north-eastern Sertão – the Brazilian outback – it mashes up many themes and influences, but is chiefly a scream of satirical defiance against new president Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right globaliser who made his international statesman debut at Davos this year, famously promising to make the country more open to foreign trade. This movie’s closing credits pointedly note that the production created 800 jobs. Source
12. Run Lola Run - Tom Tykwer - Germany
"Run Lola Run" opens with typical smashing bravado, as a few vague voice-over speculations about the nature of mankind give way to a strikingly bold image. A crowd milling around suddenly forms the word Lola as the camera shifts from ground level to aerial view, and with that we're off and running. Or Lola (Franka Potente) is, anyhow, in a film that keeps her hurtling forward almost all the time. The setup sounds like something out of a game's rule book: Lola's boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), will be killed if she can't come up with a large sum of money and meet him across town in 20 minutes' time. Source
13. Y Tu Mama Tambien - Alfonso Cuaron - Mexico
This smash road comedy from Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón is that rare movie to combine raunchy subject matter and emotional warmth. Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna shot to international stardom as a pair of horny Mexico City teenagers from different classes who, after their girlfriends jet off to Italy for the summer, are bewitched by a gorgeous older Spanish woman (Maribel Verdú) they meet at a wedding. When she agrees to accompany them on a trip to a faraway beach, the three form an increasingly intense and sensual alliance that ultimately strips them both physically and emotionally bare. Shot with elegance and dexterity by the great Emmanuel Lubezki, Y tu mamá también is a funny and moving look at human desire. Source


14. Lust, Caution - Ang Lee - China
The title gets it the wrong way around. What we have here is first a lot of caution, then an explosion of lust. Ang Lee has followed his magnificent version of E Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain with another love story - more explicit in many ways, though more complex and oblique - and it's a movie that showcases Lee's flair for period detail and genre stylisation. For his sheer muscular verve and ambition, Lee deserves a standing ovation. Orson Welles was described once as picking up a play with the confidence of a marksman picking up a rifle, and that is exactly how I felt Lee handles this source material: a short story by Eileen Chang. He has given Tony Leung a chance to shine with one of the most charismatic and memorable performances of his career, and in the twentysomething newcomer Tang Wei, he has made a tremendous discovery. Fiercely intelligent and hauntingly beautiful, she gives a passionate, courageous performance that deserves a shelf-full of awards; it's already made her an Asian movie-star to rival Zhang Ziyi. Source
15. Shoplifters - Hirokazu Kore-eda - Japan
Shoplifters is, very quietly, a film about a crisis. The Shibata family comprises three generations crammed together into a small home—the adults earn low wages; work menial jobs; and struggle to feed, clothe, and educate the kids. This family, and their lives, could easily be framed in the dreariest way possible, and the writer and director Hirokazu Kore-eda has been up front about wanting to use his film to address the widening class divides in Japan, which have shredded the country’s social safety net. But his storytelling touch is deft, rendering Shoplifters a warm, heartfelt, and engrossing experience that’s entirely deserving of the Palme d’Or it won at Cannes this year. Source
16. Buoyancy - Rod Rathjen - Cambodia/Australia
Australian Rodd Rathjen’s first film as director, “Buoyancy” is a powerful dramatization of human trafficking within Thailand’s offshore fishing fleet. Shot largely in Khmer and Thai, and selected as Australia’s foreign-language Oscar contender, it may also be a role model for cultural sensitivity and activism. The film plays this week in competition at the International Film Festival & Awards Macao. Having discovered the harrowing subject in an online report, Rathjen set about interviewing survivors and escapees from the fishing fleet. Then he put together a cultural consultancy draft of the screenplay, before shooting it as authentically as possible. “We always had people who had been on the boats in the film in non-speaking roles,” Rathjen told Variety. “We could always ask while we were filming – everything from understanding the fishing process, to understanding the emotional and psychological trauma.” Source


7. Anti-Christ - Lars Von Trier - Denmark
In Antichrist – a film of rich, wild symbolism, violent beauty and boundless ideas – we encounter perhaps von Trier’s bleakest vision and his darkest, angriest film to date, where accusations of misogyny were again a source of controversy. From the outset of this vicious, visceral battle of the sexes, Antichrist has the mark of something supernatural. Unfolding within a mesmeric dreamscape, governed by its own rules, the film might be best read as a dark fairy tale, weaving all the metaphorical potentialities of Eden into a miasma of menace and death. Here, unreliable visions chew up meaning, a husband and wife fall apart when they can no longer connect with each other, and eventually, both are destroyed. Source
18. The Dreamers - Bernardo Bertolucci - France/Italy
In the spring of 1968, three planets -- Sex, Politics and the Cinema -- came into alignment and exerted a gravitational pull on the status quo. In Paris, what began as a protest over the ouster of Henri Langlois, the legendary founder of the Cinematheque Francais, grew into a popular revolt that threatened to topple the government. There were barricades in the streets, firebombs, clashes with the police, a crisis of confidence. In a way that seems inexplicable today, the director Jean-Luc Godard and his films were at the center of the maelstrom. Other New Wave directors and the cinema in general seemed to act as the agitprop arm of the revolution. Source


19. Kandahar - Mohsen Makhmalbaf - Iran/Afghanistan
A conundrum: the Islamic Republic of Iran, no friend of Western-style liberty, somehow nurtured (well, permitted) the great humanist cinema of the 90s. We’ll let the political scientists explain that one, and just note that men like Makhmalbaf and Abbas Kiarostami have directed on their own, and encouraged in others, films whose stripped-down, but never simple, artistry touches souls around the world. The stories are often about children —poor ones, blind or lame ones —who fight long odds not to triumph but simply to survive. In the past few years, the focus of Iranian films has shifted from within the country to its even more besieged neighbors in Kurdistan, Iraq and the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. That is the setting for Makhmalbaf’s masterpiece, with scenes of horrific beauty. At a Red Cross outpost, artificial legs rain from the sky in parachutes dropped from a plane, and the legless Afghani men race out of the tents to scavenge for them. Because he is also the great colorist of Iranian film, Makhmalbaf makes Kandahar an experience as visually elevating as it is emotionally devastating. Source
20. Lolita - Adrian Lyne - United States
The new version of Lolita, released at last, turns out to be a beautifully made, melancholy, and rather touching account of a doomed love affair between a full-grown man and a very young woman. But that, of course, is not what Vladimir Nabokov’s masterpiece is about. As Louis Menand pointed out in Slate – in a necessary statement of the obvious – Nabokov’s book is devoted to a love affair between a man and a child. The book Lolita is truly shocking and quite impossible to adapt “faithfully.” (Stanley Kubrick didn’t even try in his brilliant 1962 film version.) Nabokov’s narrator, Humbert Humbert, is an educated but moldy European living in America, a pedophile who longs for downy, slender limbs and “delicate-boned, long-toed, monkeyish feet” – the gawky, undeveloped beauty of 12-year-olds. The book is a lyrical black comedy balanced between lust and humiliation, between perversion and rhapsody. It is a dizzying, morally dangerous work – and an extraordinary entertainment. Humbert the fetishist covers his criminal intentions with stuffy cultural superiority and a show of parental concern. He’s a low, devious fellow, a worm, but a worm who, in the end, truly gives his love, and that’s the other side of the joke. Lolita is both an undermining satire of obsessive love and a genuine love story. Source


21. The Reader - Stephen Daldry - United Kingdom/Germany
THE READER is based on an acclaimed German novel that was also a bestseller in America. Kate Winslet plays 36-year-old Hanna, a mysterious trolley car worker in 1958 Germany, who starts a torrid affair with 15-year-old Michael Berg. In between explicit sex scenes, Hanna makes Michael read the books he’s reading in his literature class, including Homer’s ODYSSEY. One day, she suddenly disappears. Cut to 1966, where Michael, a law student now, is observing a trial for six female guards at a small Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust. Michael is disgusted and pained to discover that Hanna is one of the defendants. Source


22. The Night Comes For Us - Timo Tjahjanto - Indonesia
Action fans could hardly wish for anything more than what’s served up in “The Night Comes for Us,” a Jakarta-set Triad crime epic boasting some of the most inventive, gory, and dazzlingly choreographed screen violence in recent memory. Confidently executed by Indonesian writer-director Timo Tjahjanto, whose credits as one half of the Mo Brothers team include “Killers” and “Headshot,” this cartoonish cavalcade of carnage potently reunites “The Raid” stars Joe Taslim and Iko Uwais as former friends on a corpse-strewn collision course. Source
23. Beanpole - Kantemir Balagov - Russia
The first sounds, over the black of the opening titles, are of tiny, gasping breaths catching in a throat. It could be a death rattle or an asthma attack or the last throes of a strangulation, but it is undoubtedly a human in distress. And it’s a very close analog for how “Beanpole,” the slow, ferocious, and extraordinary second film from blazing 27-year-old Russian talent Kantemir Balagov can make you feel. You quite often have to remind yourself to breathe. These noises are coming from Iya (Viktoria Mironshnichenko), also known as Beanpole due to the almost freakishly tall figure she cuts, with her skin so pale, hair so fair, and eyes so huge under vanishing white eyelashes. She is experiencing one of her regular PTSD-related fits, frozen in place and dissociated, in the laundry of the overworked Leningrad veterans hospital in which she works as a nurse, in the months immediately following the end of World War II. Source


24. The Salesman - Asghar Farhadi - Iran
 The Salesman begins with what seems like an earthquake—the ground starts to shake at a comfortable-looking abode in Tehran, cracks suddenly appear in the walls, and the happily married Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) have to flee into the street. The newest film from Iran’s master of the domestic potboiler, Asghar Farhadi, is as subtly and methodically told as his other works, but to begin, he does allow himself one obvious visual metaphor. Emad and Rana’s life together is going to come apart at the scenes, seemingly out of nowhere, like a cruel act of god. Source


25. Verdict - Raymund Ribay Gutierrez - Philippines
Writer/director Raymund Ribay Gutierrez shows no sign of first-timer nerves or showmanship as he steps up from his award-winning shorts Imago and Judgement to his debut feature – a no-nonsense domestic abuse drama that whips along with the pace of a thriller as he puts the Filipino justice system in the dock. Expanded from Judgement, it sees Max Eigenmann and Kristoffer King (in his final film role before his death, at just 36, this February) reprise their performances as Joy Santos and her violent husband Dante, whose latest drunken outburst hurts their six-year-old daughter Angel (Jorden Suan) and finally pushes his spouse to the limit. Badly beaten – but not before slashing Dante with a knife in self-defence – Joy scoops up their daughter and runs to a police station. As the bureaucratic wheels begin to turn, we follow her as she tries to report the incident and through ensuing trial. Source

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