Goddamn I’m sick of making lists. Thankfully this is the last one of the year for me, and even better it’s the one I find most important. Foreign movies don’t always get the attention or the exposure they deserve, so it’s nice to have the chance to highlight the ones I think are the best. And while some folks believe the term ‘foreign films’ should only apply to foreign language films I’m tired of that artificial restraint, so this list is open to movies from any and all countries outside of the US. (Except Luxembourg of course. They know why.)
In addition to the language question ranking the year’s best foreign releases can be a major pain in the ass thanks to multiple other factors… most foreign films actually released in 2009 haven’t reached US screens yet, many of the movies that did get a domestic release did so in an extremely limited number of theaters or possibly just a festival screening, and many more made their US debut on DVD. So what guidelines do I use when compiling this list? Who the hell knows. Here are my fifteen favorite foreign films released in and around 2009!
Antichrist (Lars Von Trier, Denmark)
Von Trier’s entry into the family film genre comes complete with a happily married couple, a cute little boy, and furry woodland creatures. But this is Von Trier, so the couple quickly goes batshit crazy, the kid dies, and the fox spouts anarchistic catch-phrases. Less of a great film, more of an oddly fascinating one.
Breathless (Yang Ik-joon, South Korea)
I’ve been pushing this little Korean drama since seeing it at Fantastic Fest, and I recommend to anyone who likes scrappy, independent movies with strong central characters. And violence. And drama. And dark humor. And more violence. A powerful and affecting look at domestic violence and the cycle of abuse, an incredibly personal debut from Ik-joon who also stars in the lead role.
Bronson* (Nicolas Winding Refn, UK)
Biographical films are often dry and predictable, but this look at one of Great Britain’s most violent and most well-known criminals gives new meaning to the word ‘unconventional.’ Wild editing, occasional stage-like scenes, and one of the year’s best performances (Tom Hardy) make watching one this an engaging and kinetic experience.
The Class* (Laurent Cantet, France)
Not since Jim Belushi played The Principal has a movie shown such a raw and unfiltered glimpse into the troubled world of the public school system. But seriously, this French flick gives a sobering look at what teachers world-wide have to endure on a daily basis. How do you handle the good kids, bad kids, and all the lost ones in between?
In the Loop (Armando Iannucci, UK)
Is this the funniest movie of the year? It just may be, and unlike The Hangover which successfully utilized gags and ridiculous plot turns for much of its humor, In the Loop relies only on razor sharp and brutal as hell dialogue. Peter Capaldi is amazing as a foul-mouthed, mean-spirited, callous bastard of a government official. I’m still waiting for a video mash-up between his character here and Hans Landa. That’s a conversation I would love to see.