Features and Columns · Lists · Movies

The Best Non-English Language Films of 2019

Not a single one of the year’s best non-English films comes from the US. Do better Hollywood.
Rewind Best Non English Films
By  · Published on December 28th, 2019

15. The Sharks (Uruguay)

The Sharks

It makes no difference which language you speak or what country you call home, it’s just not easy navigating the bloody waters of your teenage years. Uruguayan teens are no different, and one of their stories enters the fray with writer/director Lucia Garibaldi‘s sharp, darkly funny, and hypnotic feature debut. The Sharks is something low-key extraordinary as both it and its lead move hypnotically to the beat of their own drum (and to a hypnotic and rhythmic sync score). Writer/director Lucia Garibaldi’s script is funny but never in a laugh out loud or cheap kind of way as it chooses instead to explore the humor in this young teenager’s observations and efforts. There’s an undercurrent of danger and suspense, too, as her choices — and she makes some real odd ones — leave viewers unsure which direction she’ll choose and how far she’ll take it while always feeling true to the character. It turns out the line between frustrated teenager and budding sociopath is a very fine one. (Rob Hunter)

14. Monos (Colombia)


Brazilian writer-director Alejandro Landes only made one film back in 2011 (Porfirio), and it in no way, shape, or form led us to believe that he could create something like Monos, the story of a troupe of young, militant, and familial mercenaries holding an American woman hostage atop a mountain somewhere in Latin America upon the order of an unknown and unseen power called The Organization. That isn’t a slight toward Porfirio; rather, praise for the bewildering nature of Monos, a film whose style and tone is unlike that of any film I’ve seen before — disciplined yet unhinged, beautiful yet horrifying, unified yet fragmentary. Comparisons to Apocalypse Now, Lord of the Flies, and Platoon have abounded — and there’s certainly something worth noting in each of them — but, ultimately, Monos will be a film that we refer back to in awe when nothing else satisfies in comparison, much the way the aforementioned all-time films are serving in this context despite having little in common with Monos outside of setting, age, and questionable moral barometers. Mica Levi’s score is phenomenal, a rarified aural experience the likes of which we’ve only heard thrice before (Under the Skin, Jackie, Marjorie Prime), and Jasper Wolf’s cinematography will flat out break you. (Luke Hicks)

13. The Incredible Shrinking Wknd (Spain)

The Incredible Shrinking Wknd

A woman and her friends head out to a cabin in the woods, but rather than turn into the expected horror scenario she instead finds herself reliving the days and her choices. What starts as a fun, mysterious time-loop story, though, grows into an increasingly affecting human tale that packs quite a punch. Credit goes in big part to the lead performance by Iria del Rio, but the film’s shifting aspect ratio — the walls of the visible screen move slowly inward as her time loop grows shorter — brings a gnawing tension as well. The film is a genre effort to be sure, but it manages to overcome those expectations to deliver real emotion. It’s a small movie and an intimate character piece, but its effect is enormous for viewers who’ve found themselves previously lost in life and/or love. (Rob Hunter)

12. Atlantics (France)


A strange and haunting tale of phantom justice and the specter of love, Mati Diop’s debut feature is an absolute triumph. It premiered at Cannes to positive reviews but experienced another life once more people got eyeballs on it during the fall festival circuit. Outside of shattered glass ceilings (Atlantics was the first feature written and directed by a black woman to play in competition for the coveted Palme d’Or), the film gives us some of the year’s most stunning cinematography (thanks to Claire Mathon, whose banner year is tied to two films on this list), original storytelling, and unexpected transformations. What begins as a slow, dry film about clashing classes and girlhood converts magically into a romance oozing with passion and devotion, grounded in a mystical possession of sorts that brings about ethereal, lingering threats in the name of ethical pay. If that sounds odd, it’s because it’s supposed to be. Diop is a fresh filmmaking powerhouse. She isn’t interested in telling stories that have already been told. (Luke Hicks)

11. Birds of Passage (Colombia)

Almost every nation has its own epic tales about the crime, corruption, and criminal capitalism that’s unfolded within their borders, and many of them feature drugs as a main component. Many think of Colombia as the cocaine capital, but they had their own struggles with the drug trade starting with the marijuana boom in the 60s. The directors of 2015’s Embrace of the Serpent return with a beautifully shot story about the rise and fall of one man’s ambition. What starts as an effort to afford a dowry to marry a local woman grows into a thriving drug business shipping weed out of the country. Their success grows beyond them, though, and soon it leads to violence threatening not just their lives but their culture too. Like a more localized and devastating Scarface (1983), the film captures the highs and lows in detail and with vibrant cinematography. It’s a story destined to turn out poorly for all involved, but it’s made all the more affecting seeing indigenous clans fall prey to the same vices seen by many as Western temptations but through their own specific lens. We watch as their traditions, beliefs, and very lives crumble before the greed and violence, and it’s devastating. (Rob Hunter)

Next Page

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Related Topics: ,

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.