Highly-rated yet little-known movies

agoodmovietowatch suggests excellent movies (and recently shows) that you might not know about.

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In my own wished-for parallel universe, French actors Vincent Cassell and Emanuelle Devos are voted the sexiest actors alive. I find them both transfixing and appealing in every role they’ve performed, and they are quite the pair here. Devos plays Carla, a put-upon assistant at a property management company. While good at her job, there is little room for her to advance her career, as she is one of the only women at her company and also has a hearing deficiency. Into her humdrum life walks ex-convict Paul (Cassell), who Carla hires as a personal assistant. It turns out that what Paul lacks in secretarial skills he makes up for in other ways. The first half of the film plays almost like a dark workplace comedy, before taking a dangerous turn towards psychological crime thriller. Overall, it’s a dark and sexy character study of two mismatched outsiders who turn out to complement each other perfectly.

7.2

How does a standout director follow up to a film like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? With a more profound exploration of style, a further exploration of his originality. Gael Garcia Bernal (who you might know from Y Tu Mama Tambien) plays an imaginative but awkward kind of guy who falls for his cute neighbor, played Charlotte Gainsbourg. Bizarre and whimsical dream sequences follow and a sweet, if hesitant, love story unfolds. An eccentric, funny and very French movie (with most scenes in English).

7.2

Beautiful story-telling and powerful acting boost the story of an Iranian man returning to France to finalize his divorce. He finds that his wife has a new lover. A lot more happens that I wouldn't want to spoil for you, the film is in fact directed by Iranian legend Asghar Farhadi, so expect twists and subtleties you're probably familiar with from A Separation or About Elly. That said, The Past remains to some extent different from his previous work since it focuses on romantic relationships, failed ones, and the toll they take on the humans involved. Learning about the characters is a lot like meeting them in real life and hearing their stories: it's hard to take sides or tell who's wrong - you'd rather stay silent and try to make sense of it all.

9.0
BF

A wealthy paraplegic needs a new caretaker. His choice is surprising -- an ex-con down on his luck. Both of their lives are changed forever. Based on a true story, it is funny, touching, and very surprising.  It will have you rolling on the floor laughing one minute and reaching for your hankie the next. Intouchables is one of those perfect movies, that will easily and instantly make anyone's all-time top 10 list.

9.6
BF

Directed by celebrated artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the true story of French journalist and fashion editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), who suffered a devastating stroke at the age of 43. Almost completely paralyzed by what is termed “Locked-in Syndrome”, Bauby was left with only the operation of his left eye intact, leaving him forced to communicate via partner-assisted scanning (selection of each letter of the alphabet via blinking). Ultimately, Bauby employed this painstaking procedure to dictate his own memoir “Le Scaphandre et le Papillon”, which became a number one bestseller in Europe. The film alternates between Bauby’s interaction with his visitors and caretakers (including the dictation of his book) and his own dream-like fantasies and memories of his life prior to paralysis. With the title, Bauby uses the diving bell to represent his self-perceived state of isolation, akin to a deep-sea diver encased in an oxygenated chamber, and the corresponding butterfly to represent the freedom he enjoys as he often journeys quite magically through his own mind’s eye. It’s a somber yet engaging film full of heart and vision, featuring wonderful performances by the entire cast across the board.

9.0
BF

A cynical, gripping and unconventional French film that combines prison drama with the Goodfellas-styled narrative of the rise to criminal power. A Prophet takes age-old cliches and turns them upside down, resulting in a movie that manages to be completely original while remaining truthful to its influences. It's not often that a film leaves me giddy with enthusiasm and has me constantly thinking back to it, but A Prophet achieves it. Incredible acting, fantastic pacing, great narrative arc, with a brutal, cynical and uncompromising take on morality, self-realization and life on the fringes of society. There are only two "action" sequences in this movie and they are as brutal and realistic as they are unexpected. Look past the subtitles, do yourself a favor and watch it.

9.3
BF

At the risk of being cliché, I'm going to state that only the French could have made a movie about racial issues and the troubles of youngsters in the suburbs and still make it elegant. I've tried looking for other adjectives, but I couldn't find one that better describes those long takes shot in a moody black and white. But despite the elegance of the footage, the power of the narrative and the acting makes the violence and hate realistic as hell, dragging you into the story and empathizing with the characters until you want to raise your arm and fight for your rights. Aside from this unusual combination of fine art and explicit violence, the most shocking thing about La Haine is how much the issues it addresses still make sense right now, even though the movie was released 20 years ago.

8.1

A Kurdish-Iraqi immigrant runs into serious immigration problems as he tries to immigrate from France to England in order to be reunited with his girlfriend. Eventually he begins to train in swimming, in an attempt to swim the channel between France and England. Welcome is a gripping tale of tolerance as well as relationships between locals and immigrants. It also gives a great look into the shortcoming of the European immigration system, and will have you crying by the end of it, no question.

7.1

This French film, written and directed by the filmmaker Sylvain Chomet, is in the strictest sense an animated foreign comedy film but it is unlike anything I have ever seen. It has a unique surrealist animation style that manages to stay oddly grounded. In other words, it wasn't some psychoactive drug trip but more like taking a look at the world through Salavador Dali's eyes. However what struck me the most while watching this film was how everything was animated to extenuate ugliness and imperfection. None of the surroundings and characters look like you see in most animated films, either hyper-realistic or like unblemished porcelain dolls; everything is drawn with blatant, over-exaggerated, and warped features. These features define each character as well as instantly evoking what thoughts and feelings the director wants you to associate with them. The characters' exaggerated features also allow the film to progress without almost any actual dialogue. Contextual clues and facial expressions were more than enough to conduct entire conversations as well as progress the story line without ever saying a word. This makes the movie accessible to people of all tongues without the subtitle stigma that many people have with watching foreign films. In conclusion, while this film is not for the causal movie watcher, it is still a beautifully imperfect work of hand-drawn art that is an experience that goes far beyond mere entertainment.

8.9
Also see: Best Films
Best Films are our staff picks, they're all movies rated 9.0 and above. Here, we selected three for you.

The story of one of the most influential musicians of recent history, George Harrison, told through the eyes of one of the most prominent filmmakers, Martin Scorsese. Director and producer, Scorsese offers one of the most complete documentaries on any artist – ever. And what an artist he was - successful and talented, yes, but also incredibly inspired and spiritual. Through interviews, home movies, and concert footage, this long and intimate film will allow you to travel through the world of The Beatles, and explore the incredible mind of George Harrison. A heartfelt documentary.

9.2
BF

A cynical, gripping and unconventional French film that combines prison drama with the Goodfellas-styled narrative of the rise to criminal power. A Prophet takes age-old cliches and turns them upside down, resulting in a movie that manages to be completely original while remaining truthful to its influences. It's not often that a film leaves me giddy with enthusiasm and has me constantly thinking back to it, but A Prophet achieves it. Incredible acting, fantastic pacing, great narrative arc, with a brutal, cynical and uncompromising take on morality, self-realization and life on the fringes of society. There are only two "action" sequences in this movie and they are as brutal and realistic as they are unexpected. Look past the subtitles, do yourself a favor and watch it.

9.3
BF

A brilliant science fiction film from the writer of 28 Days Later (and 28 Weeks Later).It tells the story of a developer who is invited by a billionaire CEO to participate in a groundbreaking experiment and interact with a robot called Ava. Questions of trust and ethics soon collide with the protagonist’s personal views. It’s a cultural take on the debate between artificial and human intelligence.The visual effects are stunning and efficient, making Ex Machina feel just as casually futuristic as Her. In its emphasis on ideas, it is as daringly simple as a David Fincher production.

9.0
BF
That's all for the 9 Good French Movies to Watch. Go back to all suggestions