7. In the House
A teacher (Fabrice Luchini) grown tired with today’s teens forms a bond with a boy who shows real talent on the page, but as the story unfolds the line between teacher and student blurs to the point of obsolescence. French director François Ozon is no stranger to the fractured nature of modern day relationships, both intimate ones in the home and less personal ones out in public, but here he examines the layered divide with a darkly comic meta tweak. It unfolds brilliantly to its unexpected but perfect end.
6. Drug War
The leader (Louis Koo) of a drug cartel is arrested, but when faced with execution (the punishment in China for major drug-related offenses) he agrees to assist in further investigations by turning against his accomplices. Johnnie To makes a wide array of films, but he’s best known for high-energy action epics that leave the ground littered with bullet casings and blood. This is one of his best as it pairs some exceptionally well-choreographed set-pieces with a thrilling procedural resulting in a film that enthralls from beginning to end.
5. The Attack
Amin (Ali Suliman) is an Arab doctor living in Tel Aviv with his wife, but when a suicide bomber leaves dozens dead and more wounded he’s most affected by the knowledge that his wife may have been involved. The topic of terrorism has become a ubiquitous one in films, but Ziad Doueiri‘s film finds a way to marry suspense and drama with a personal tale of loss and the devastating revelation that the life he thought he had may have been a lie.
4. A Touch of Sin
Four stories, tangentially related, offer a starkly realistic glimpse of modern-day China, and the picture is a grim observation on the collision between traditional values and their growing consumer society. Chinese filmmakers are bound by some fairly strict guidelines, but writer/director Zhangke Jia seems immune to those rules. His characters cross moral lines, sometimes without consequence, and his outlook of where his country’s headed is far from bright.
3. Big Bad Wolves
A young girl goes missing, and while a dogged and determined detective struggles to prove his number one suspect is guilty the girl’s father takes matters into his own hands. This genre-bending thriller from Israel mixes suspense and the blackest of comedy into a deliriously fun concoction, and while the story and script would be enough to make it worth a watch co-writers/directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado also ensure their film is gorgeously photographed and scored with pulsing perfection. And I’m not kidding about it being the blackest of comedies.
2. Blue Is the Warmest Color
A teenager (Adèle Exarchopoulos) learns about sex, love, and heartbreak over a few years’ time as she moves from boys to the love of a blue-haired woman (Léa Seydoux). Abdellatif Kechiche‘s film has received the most attention for its fairly explicit sex scenes, but they’re actually the weakest (and most unintentionally comic) elements in an otherwise beautifully-shot romantic drama. It’s raw and honest in ways very few films are these days, and the two lead performances are both brave and intensely affecting.
1. The Hunt
Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) works at a local kindergarten where he falls victim to a misguided lie that sends his life crumbling as mistrust and doubt threaten his small town existence. Thomas Vinterberg‘s film is a haunting look at the weight of accusation in a world where judgement is too frequently passed without proof or evidence, and Mikkelsen’s powerful performance makes the experience that much more devastating. This is also a too rare example of a film nailing the perfect ending.