Editor’s Note: To ensure the quality of our Year in Review feature, we’ve turned to our expert columnists to bring us Top Ten lists from their favorite genres. And when it comes to foreign films, Rob Hunter is our guy. To read more of Rob’s foreign perspectives, check out Foreign Objects every Wednesday.
This was a fantastic year for movies, both domestically and overseas. Neil’s Best Movies of the Year will soon be elsewhere on the site and worthy of a read, even if he is sorely mistaken on some of his choices. I’ve been tasked with presenting the Top Ten Foreign Films (and while you may think that some of my choices are mistaken as well, you would in fact be mistaken). You may also notice that it differs substantially from other foreign film ‘best of’ lists… this is due to two reasons. I’ve seen a shitload of foreign films this year, but there are several that I’ve missed (like France’s The Class) and several that just aren’t as good as other critics are claiming (like Italy’s Gomorrah).
When it comes to ranking the year’s best foreign releases though, we’ll have to use some guidelines. Most foreign films released in 2008 never reached US shores, so for our purposes, a film is only eligible for this list if it received a theatrical release of some kind in the US this past year. Keep in mind that “theatrical release” could include festival screenings and limited releases too… and away we go!
10. Son of Rambow (UK)
This is a sweet and funny coming of age tale that uses Stallone’s Rambo films as the creative spark that ignites two boys’ imagination and friendship. Scenes of adolescent joy come to life as the boys turn their dreams into an outrageous sequel of sorts where Rambo’s son saves his father from all manner of evil creatures and bad guys. The movie slowly trades much of that for a more traditional tale of friendship, but it always stays honest, light, and enjoyable.
9. JCVD (Belgium)
Witness the rebirth of Mickey Rourke Jean-Claude Van Damme as he stars as a real world version of… himself! Van Damme shows true acting ability and talent throughout the film (honestly), most poignantly in a scene where he literally rises above the set and talks from his heart directly to the viewer. Add in some truly funny dialogue and inside jokes for action movie junkies, and you have one of the most surprising movies of the year.
8. The Fall (Earth)
Sure this movie is from 2006, but it didn’t receive a proper (albeit extremely limited) release until this year. A simple story told with more beauty and extravagance than any ten other films. Writer/director Tarsem delivers a labor of love that appeals to both the heart and the eyes. And it also features one of the most intriguing performances from a child actor of the past few years.
7. Boy A (UK)
No matter your feelings on crime and criminals, Boy A will probably give you something to think about. A young man is released from prison after serving his childhood behind bars, and the film follows his attempt at a normal life. Andrew Garfield gives a heartbreaking performance as a man torn between desire for a future and guilt over the past.
6. The Chaser (South Korea)
This dark and twisted thriller is unconventional on almost every front. The protagonist is the ultimate antihero as he moves from ex-cop to pimp to would-be rescuer, and the movie goes places you’d never see in a more traditional thriller (which makes the upcoming US remake with Leonardo DiCaprio an interesting proposition). Gut-wrenching and suspenseful, The Chaser is an impressive debut for director Hong-jin Na and marks him as one to watch.
5. Tokyo Gore Police (Japan)
You’ll either love this movie or you’ll think it’s the stupidest piece of Japanese crap ever. It’d be a mistake however to write this off simply as crazy Asian exploitation or idiotic f/x fest. Director Yoshihiro Nishimura’s vision of the future has some sly social commentary up it’s sleeve, just imagine an absurdly over-the-top version of Robocop, and it delivers it alongside action, violence, and humor. And yes, lots of gore. It also has a fantastic sword fight between an oddly attractive policewoman and an (even more oddly attractive) quadruple amputee. Oh, and a golden shower scene that’s guaranteed to make you smile (or at least make your jaw drop…)
4. Tell No One (France)
Who knew the French were capable of producing such a smart and swift thriller reminiscent of the best Hollywood has to offer? Sure it’s based on a suspenseful and entertaining American bestseller, but credit for the film version rests solely with the French. A likable leading man is plunged almost immediately into a twisty tale of murder, lies, deceit, and danger as he searches for the truth behind his wife’s disappearance and death years earlier. It’s sharp and suspenseful, and surprises as one of the best love stories of the year.
3. The Good The Bad The Weird (South Korea)
Director Ji-woon Kim is one of South Korea’s top three directors (alongside Joon-ho Bong and Chan-wook Park). From the dark beauty of The Quiet Family to the creeping terror of A Tale of Two Sisters, Kim has shown himself to be a master of multiple genres. His latest film tackles the action western with style, grit, and pure cinematic joy. Spectacular vistas, speeding trains, and three crazy and charismatic lead characters make this movie a must-see.
2. Let the Right One In (Sweden)
Everything you’ve heard about this moody chiller from Sweden is true. It’s creepy and sweet, dark and humorous, and absolutely beautiful to look at. A bullied boy meets a troubled girl with a blood-thirsty secret. Young love has never been more interesting. One of the three best films of the year, foreign or domestic. Try not to read too much more about it, just go see it.
1. In Bruges (UK)
It was a close call between this and Let the Right One In for the top spot, but the deciding factor came down to multiple viewings. The Swedish vampire tale is well worth watching more than once (as are all the films on this list) but In Bruges manages one step better… it manages to surprise each time with dialogue that continues to bring a laugh or a smile. Colin Farrell’s performance is equally surprising (and probably the second funniest of the year behind Robert Downey Jr.’s in Tropic Thunder) as an amateur hitman in hiding from the police, the boss, and his own conscience. Brilliant movie, brilliant script… the closest comparison I have is Shane Black’s masterpiece Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Lofty praise yes, but well deserved.
What were your favorite foreign films of 2008?