Year in Review: The 12 Best Foreign Films of 2012

Masquerade (South Korea)


Korean emperors kept meticulous records throughout history, but fifteen days are missing during King Gwanghae’s 17th century reign preceded by a mysterious entry: “One must not record that which he wishes to hide.” Lee Byung-hun stars as both the emperor and his lower class doppelganger in this speculative look at one possible explanation for that missing period of time, and the result is a strongly affecting performance in an entertaining and lushly photographed period film. It’s not unlike Ivan Reitman’s Dave in the hope it brings to a system most of us have given up on.


Michael (Austria)


“It’s so frighteningly everyday that it’s like being punched after a warm hug.” That’s the last line in Scott Beggs’ spot-on review of this quiet yet squirm-inducing little gem, and it sums the film up nicely. We meet an unassuming young man as he goes about his business just like anyone else before returning home, locking up and then molesting the ten-year-old boy he keeps prisoner in the basement.

Writer/directer Markus Schleinzer wisely leaves the worst imagery to our imagination and instead presents Michael’s life as a relatively mundane experience punctuated by hints of the unforgivable. It’s a too-calm, muffled nightmare beautifully performed by two people you hope aren’t method actors.


Nameless Gangster (South Korea)

2012_nameless gangster

An easily corrupted customs official (Choi Min-sik) climbs the ranks of the Korean crime syndicates through some unexpected methods, but even if he reaches the top will he be able to hold onto it? The answer seems to be a resounding “No” in this blackly comic mob film from South Korea.

Choi has been somewhat absent from cinema the past few years, but his return here shows he’s still at the top of his game as he delivers a performance that deftly moves from bumbling fool to ruthless bastard with the flick of his eyes. Yun Jong-bin‘s film is funny and violent, but it’s also a history lesson of sorts about the country’s relatively recent past and an exploration of identity through ambition and accident.


Oslo August 31st (Norway)

2012_oslo august 31

A young man leaves an institution ostensibly cured of the depression and addiction that put him there, but his next twenty four hours (and a failed suicide attempt just before leaving) hint that his greatest struggle is still to come. Director Joachim Trier has crafted an incredibly heartbreaking yet undeniably beautiful film about one man’s battle with an overwhelming  sadness, and Anders Danielsen Lie delivers a performance filled with pain and angst. His genius, though, is in the brief glimpses of hope and happiness fighting to reach the surface. It will leave you broken. No other film has stuck with me as strongly.

Rob is the Chief Film Critic of Film School Rejects. He doesn't eat cheese on weekdays.

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