The 100 Best Foreign-Language Movies of All Time

They say travel is the best way to see the world. I'd say the next best thing would be to transport yourself through international cinema. Most film lists online are dominated by American movies –– which only goes to show how titles that feature a main language other than English tend to get sidestepped by global audiences. But the world is a big place, and there’s more to streaming great films than Hollywood. To reset the balance and help guide your journey through contemporary world cinema, we’ve curated a list of the 50 best foreign-language films to come out in the past decade or so.

Beginning with a great opening shot of townhouse on a side street in Paris, only ti discovers that the shot is actually from a video sent to Anne and Georges Laurent (Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil). The married couple who live in that house have no idea who sent the video. More videos appear and events unfold. I can't say much more about this film without ruining it, it's definitely one of those films better enjoyed if you go into it not knowing a lot. Directed by Michael Haneke who won the Cannes Best Director Award for it.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Actor: Aissa Maiga, Annie Girardot, Caroline Baehr, Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Bénichou, Nathalie Richard, Walid Afkir
Director: Michael Haneke
Rating: R
The White Ribbon (2009)

This 2009 Palme d'Or winner is filmed beautifully in black and white by Michael Haneke. In equal parts mysterious and disturbing, it is set in a northern German village in between 1913 and 1914 where strange events start to happen seemingly on their own. The people of the village, who feel as if they were punished, try to investigate it as the events start affecting them one by one. As they speculate on who is behind the acts that never stop, the film unfolds its slow but captivating plot. A brilliant and unique movie.

Genre: Drama, Mystery
Actor: Burghart Klaußner, Burghart Klaussner, Christian Friedel, Detlev Buck, Ernst Jacobi, Fion Mutert, Gabriela Maria Schmeide, Josef Bierbichler, Klaus Manchen, Leonie Benesch, Maria Dragus, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Michael Kranz, Rainer Bock, Roxane Duran, Sebastian Hülk, Steffi Kuhnert, Stephanie Amarell, Theo Trebs, Ulrich Tukur, Ursina Lardi, Vincent Krüger
Director: Michael Haneke
Rating: R
Rams (2014)

I always seek out Icelandic films; something about the quality of light and quirky sensibility that appeal to me. Having developed a fondness for sheep on a recent Welsh trek, "Rams" had a double attraction. A tale of brothers divided by life but ultimately united in and by their deep, tender, inspiring love of their rams. Close to perfection. Sigurdur Sigurdurjonsson is luminous in the lead role.

(Melina Buckley)
Genre: Drama
Actor: Þorleifur Einarsson, Charlotte Bøving, Charlotte Bøving, Gunnar Jonsson, Ingrid Jonsdottir, Jon Benonysson, Jorundur Ragnarsson, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson, Theodór Júlíusson, Thorleifur Einarsson
Director: Grímur Hákonarson
Rating: R
A Fortunate Man (2018)

This is a gorgeous Danish period drama that’s based on a famous story and book in Denmark called Lykke-Per (or Lucky Per) by Nobel Prize-winning author Henrik Pontoppidan. Per, the son of an overbearing catholic priest, leaves his family house in the country side to seek a new life in Copenhagen. His passion about engineering was at the time contrary with the Christian faith, but manages to introduce him to the capital’s elite, and a chance at social ascension. Lykke-Per and A Fortunate Man are about nature versus nurture. Per’s passion about engineering and renewable energy (back in the 1920s) is set against his need to emancipate and the pride that was instilled in him by his upbringing.

Genre: Drama
Actor: Anders Hove, Benjamin Kitter, Bille August, Esben Smed, Jens Albinus, Julie Christiansen, Katrine Greis-Rosenthal, Katrine Rosenthal, Ole Lemmeke, Peter Plaugborg, Petrine Agger, Rasmus Bjerg, Sarah Viktoria Bjerregaard, Tammi Øst, Tammi Ost, Tommy Kenter
Director: Bille August
Rating: TV-14
Happy as Lazzaro (2018)

Set in 1970s Italian countryside, this is a quirky movie that’s full of plot twists.

Lazzaro is a dedicated worker at a tobacco estate. His village has been indebted to a marquise and like everyone else, he works without a wage and in arduous conditions.

Lazzaro strikes a friendship with the son of the marquise, who, in an act of rebellion against his mother, decides to fake his own kidnapping. The two form an unlikely friendship in a story that mixes magical realism with social commentary.

(Bilal Zouheir)
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
Actor: Adriano Tardiolo, Agnese Graziani, Alba Rohrwacher, Alice Rohrwacher, Carlo Tarmati, Luca Chikovani, Natalino Balasso, Nicoletta Braschi, Pasqualina Scuncia, Sergi Lopez, Tommaso Ragno
Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Rating: PG-13
Dogman (2019)

In a small Italian town, a dog cleaner’s wholesome days dealing with elderly owners and eager children are balanced with a series of messy nights. The small and frail man finds himself targetted by the town’s black-sheep, a strong and fearless ex-convict. Dogman is about the line between being bullied and wanting to be part of something, it’s a beautiful and often thrilling character study from Italian genius filmmaker Matte Garone. Won the Best Actor award at Cannes.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Actor: Adamo Dionisi, Edoardo Pesce, Francesco Acquaroli, Laura Pizzirani, Marcello Fonte, Nunzia Schiano
Director: Matteo Garrone
Rating: Not Rated

Free Watching Options:

Watch Dogman (2019) on Hulu for free
Macadam Stories (2015)

This dark French comedy is set in a neglected building in a working-class neighborhood. The elevator breaks and every tenant agrees to pay to fix it, except for the person who lives on the first floor. The neighbors go through with the reparations without the first-floor tenant, on the condition he never uses the elevator. Everything is fine until an incident puts him in a wheelchair.

Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Gustave Kervern, Isabelle Huppert, Michael Pitt, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
Director: Samuel Benchetrit
Rating: Not Rated

Free Watching Options:

Watch Macadam Stories (2015) on Amazon Prime for free
Polytechnique (2009)

Polytechnique directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a dramatization of the 1989 Montreal massacre of multiple female engineering students. This film focuses on a male student navigating the massacre for the majority of the film’s run time. The performances and minimal dialogue in this film certainly make this an unnerving film to watch. Littered with the screams of the actors portraying the engineering students, this could be mistaken as a gaudy horror film. However, this is far from a fictionalized horror.

This Villeneuve classic is undoubtedly one of the most emotionally brutal films of the 2000s, yet I appreciate the honesty of the storytelling. Polytechnique encourages its audience to ask itself if it truly understands the truth of misogyny. 

(Jasmine Renaé)
Genre: Crime, Drama, History
Actor: Evelyne Brochu, Karine Vanasse, Maxim Gaudette, Natalie Hamel-Roy, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Sébastien Huberdeau
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Rating: Not Rated

Free Watching Options:

Watch Polytechnique (2009) on Amazon Prime for free
Manon of the Springs (1986)

Manon des Sources (Manon of the Springs), directed by Claude Berri, follows a young woman named Manon living reclusively in the rural countryside. This film is the sequel to Jean de Florette, during which a young Manon watched her father fall victim to the greedy manipulation of two men. Now, a decade later, Manon is older and more cunning—and when she sees the opportunity to gently avenger her father, she exacts tragic revenge.

Perhaps the greatest strength of Manon of the Springs lies in its actors. Emmanuelle Béart is captivating as Manon, quiet and observant, while Yves Montand and Daniel Auteuil are fittingly terrible as César Soubeyran and Ugolin. Manon and the springs she must protect are worthy heroes of this epic saga.

(Taylor Leigh Harper)
Genre: Drama
Actor: Daniel Auteuil, Emmanuelle Béart, Yves Montand
Director: Claude Berri
Rating: PG
13 Tzameti (2005)

13 Tzameti is a unique suspense movie from Georgia and the debut of director Géla Babluani. This film explores the life of a migrant worker from Georgia working in France, who literally gambles his life in a high stakes game of chance organized by powerful criminals.  13 Tzameti won the World Cinema Jury Prize at Sundance in 2008, and of course, a not nearly as good American remake. Do yourself a favor and check out the original!

Genre: Action, Mystery, Thriller
Actor: Aurélien Recoing, George Babluani, Jo Prestia, Pascal Bongard, Vania Vilers
Director: Géla Babluani
Rating: Not Rated

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