The title of this list is slightly misleading in that not all of the films were released this year. The sad fact is that the vast majority of foreign language films never reach our shores, and the ones that do often appear a year or two (or more) later. So while all of the films below played in the US in 2012 (in some capacity) they may have premiered elsewhere in 2011 or earlier.
Three of the titles below are also featured in my list of the 12 Best Movies of 2012.
And because I know you’re curious, no, Holy Motors didn’t make the cut. (It is included in the Honorable Mentions list at the bottom of the page though!) I know every other critic loved the merde out of it, but I found it to be an occasionally engaging series of sketches highlighted by a love for cinema.
Now read on for what I think are twelve better films (in alphabetical order).
A notoriously cold Austrian filmmaker delivers his most humane film yet with this tale of an elderly couple, Georges and Anne, facing their impending mortality when she suffers an escalating series of strokes. That’s not to imply the film is awash with emotion as Michael Haneke keeps his tale simple and heartfelt, but that said, love and loss are undeniably in the faces and performances of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.
This is “for better or worse” playing out before our eyes, and we can only hope we’ll face both sides of this sad, unavoidable coin with the same dignity and affection.
Black Out (Netherlands)
An ex-mobster wakes up the day before his wedding with no memory of the night before and a dead body beside him. Things go downhill from there. This is a genre film to be sure, and it’s none too subtle regarding its Quentin Tarantino/Guy Ritchie influences, but the damn thing’s near flawless in its execution.
The expectedly twisted story is carried along with a wicked sense of humor, sharp violence and some crazy cool characters. Director Arne Toonen doesn’t reinvent the wheel here, but he delivers an immensely entertaining movie guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
I Wish (Japan)
Two young brothers live hundreds of miles apart, separated by their parents’ divorce, but a childish belief offers them the promise of a permanent reunion. Yelling out your wish as two lightening fast bullet trains pass each other for the first time supposedly grants those wishes, so both boys and their respective friends set off on an adventure.
Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda offers a sweet glimpse into childhood when friendships were cherished and anything was possible. It’s a fantasy film grounded firmly in reality but magical all the same.
A wealthy quadriplegic hires a young man from the wrong side of the tracks to be his caregiver even as his advisers and family criticize his decision, but instead of leading to disaster it becomes the basis for a great friendship. This is a heartwarming, hilarious and occasionally tear-inducing film erroneously accused of falling under the “magical negro” sub-genre when it’s actually based on a true story. More than that, it’s simply about an unlikely friendship with race playing little to no part. Francois Cluzet manages emotion and intent using only his face while Omar Sy reveals himself as a charismatic and talented force of nature.