Year In Review: The 11 Best Foreign Films of 2011

The title of this post is pretty self explanatory, so no introduction is really needed here. But… I do feel compelled to point out the same thing I point out every year. Nailing foreign releases down to a particular year isn’t an exact science. Obviously every film has an actual date of initial release, but most foreign titles don’t hit our shores until the following year, if at all. I try to go by original release date whenever possible though which means some of my choices have yet to be screened in the US outside of film festivals and import DVDs.

That said, here’s a list of my eleven favorite foreign films for 2011 in alphabetical order. (Be sure to check out my lists from 2010, 2009 and 2008 too.)

And because I know someone will ask, yes, I did see Certified Copy.

The Artist (France)

A silent movie star (Jean Dujardin) meets and falls for a young starlet just as her talkies start making his silent films obsolete. Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has crafted a loving homage to the early days of cinema with wit, creativity and charm to spare. The story is a simple one and while it’s far from the best film of the year (that some people are touting) it’s still a sweet and fun piece of entertainment made with dedication and love. Hazanavicius commits to his subject so The Artist is almost exclusively dialogue free and instead is accompanied by a lush and lively score from Ludovic Bource.

The Flowers of War (China)

The city of Nanking, China has fallen to the Japanese, and a morally bankrupt American (Christian Bale) is all that stands between the barbarian invaders and a group of Chinese schoolgirls. Zhang Yimou moves his eye for action and art a bit closer to the present day with this powerful look at what happens when mankind’s most vile nature comes face to face with its kindest. The film is visually stunning as it moves between intense battles, emotionally devastating scenes that wrench the heart and moments of true beauty found in faces, fabrics and architecture.

Haunters (South Korea)

A young man with the ability to control other people’s minds uses it for malicious and selfish purposes, but when he finally meets the only person capable of resisting his control the two enter into a psychic battle that leaves carnage and destruction in their wake. I count myself as a fan of Unbreakable, but folks who loved that film’s plot while hating the pacing should seek out this Korean gem. It’s a a dark and twisted battle of wills filled with solid action and suspense as well as some deliciously wicked laughs and visually exciting set pieces.

Headhunters (Norway)

Roger Brown is a successful corporate headhunter with a beautiful wife, house and life, but he also moonlights as an art thief. His double life catches up to him though when he’s caught red handed, and winds up neck deep in murder, deceit and fecal matter. This adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s novel is fantastically entertaining in regard to its suspense, action and dark comedy, but the main draw is Aksel Hennie’s lead performance. Brown is a cocky and smug son of a bitch early on, but as he falls further and further into the rabbit hole he becomes a sympathetic character who viewers want to see succeed and survive the mess he’s gotten himself into.

The Kid With a Bike (Belgium)

Cyril’s (Thomas Doret) father gives up one day and leaves him at an orphanage, but the boy refuses to accept this hard truth and instead makes efforts to find him. A local hairdresser (Cécile de France) begins to foster Cyril on weekends, but unresolved issues with his dad and the influence of a local thug threaten to permanently derail his adolescence. There’s no way to make this synopsis exciting, but I promise you the film is an emotionally suspenseful must-see that warms and wrenches your heart in equal measure. Doret gives an award-worthy performance as a boy determined to keep standing no matter what. His enthusiasm and excitement are infectious, and you can’t help but fall for him even as his actions tempt fate.

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

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