7. Let The Bullets Fly (Jiang Wen, 2010, China)
Respected actor Jiang Wen broke China’s all time box-office records with his fourth film as a director but his first in the mainstream, Let The Bullets Fly. A beautiful blend of classic Howard Hawks adventure films and Spaghetti westerns, the film, set in China during the age of local bandits in the warring 1920s, tells the tale of a notorious bandit who comes head to head with a local gentry as he tries to pose as a mayor in a small town, hoping to make a quick buck by doing so.
Fast and furious both in terms of its many awesome action set-pieces and its Hawks-ian delivery of speedy and very funny lines of dialogue and put-downs, it’s one of the best examples of smart mainstream filmmaking out there, anywhere in the world.
6. Big Bad Wolves (Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado, 2013, Israel)
Hailed by Quentin Tarantino as the best film of the year, this blackly comic Israeli crime thriller really should have registered more widely in the mainstream consciousness as it is just as thrilling and quotable as most of Tarantino’s hits.
Cleverly making a virtue out of its presumably low budget, the film is mostly set in the basement of a house somewhere in the Israeli countryside in which the father of the latest victim of a series of brutal murders holds both the murder suspect, who is a religious studies teacher who was arrested but then released due to some sort of police blunder, and a police officer hostage.
What then plays out is by turns gripping, hilarious, nasty, and never less than clever as directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado expertly balance nastiness with scenes of blackly comic hilarity.
5. Lion’s Den (Pablo Trapero, 2008, Argentina)
Pablo Trapero’s steady ascent from being one of the leading lights of New Argentine Cinema with his neorealist debut Crane World to current maker of socially conscious but slick international co-productions like Carancho, White Elephant and the emotionally involving Lion’s Den is a fascinating case study on how to make the films you want to make in the treacherous waters of commercial cinema.
Using genre to tell politically relevant stories in a big film setting, Lion’s Den would’ve been a cracking Hollywood film were it made in English and starring big name actors as its tale of Julia, a pregnant woman who gives birth to a son while serving time in prison offers some emotionally potent stuff, especially when Julia’s mother comes into the picture and attempts to take her son away from her in prison.
Trapero’s wife Martina Gusman, in a truly star making performance, gives Julia a magnetic presence that is hard to shake, even days after watching the film.
4. Point Blank (Fred Cavaye, 2010, France)
Fred Cavaye has proven his pop thriller mettle with Anything For Her, which was remade in Hollywood as the Russell Crowe vehicle The Next Three Days. But Point Blank not only outdoes everything else in his ouvre so far, it also puts to shame most Hollywood thrillers nowadays.
It’s your classic ‘wrong man’ story, as male nurse Samuel witnesses his pregnant wife being kidnapped and is forced to do things that suddenly makes him a wanted criminal, getting pursued not only by the police but also by rival gangsters. Basically almost 90 minutes of nothing but one breathless chase scene after another, each and every one executed with nail-biting perfection, Fred Cavaye has produced something so lean, so mean, that it nearly approaches thriller perfection.
3. Tell No One (Guillaume Canet, 2006, France)
For some reason it took the French to turn Harlan Coben’s bestselling novel Tell No One into a movie, but Hollywood’s loss is France’s gain as the resulting film is nothing short of a breathtaking ride through a slick, twisty and polished chase thriller that will put mainstream Hollywood classics like The Fugitive to shame. It begins with a once happy pediatrician Alex now grieving the loss of his wife Margot because of a murder that happened 8 years earlier.
Finally two bodies were uncovered near where Margot’s body was found and the case is reopened with Alex becoming a suspect again. Shades of Vertigo comes in when Alex receives an anonymous email which seems to suggest that Margot is somehow still alive. Filled with lots of exciting chases and unbearable tension, this is a mainstream thriller of the highest order.
2. The Chaser (Na Hong Jin, 2008, South Korea)
South Korea is famous for its violent and hard boiled thrillers, most of which made with the kind of slick polish that wouldn’t seem out of place in Hollywood. With so many of them being at least above average, some even very good, to be able to make something as excellent as The Chaser is quite an achievement indeed. In fact, so good is Na Hong-Jin at ratcheting up thrills that even his follow up The Yellow Sea is an awesome piece of chase thriller that it’s a wonder why he’s not working in Hollywood yet.
The Chaser, though, is the real deal. A simple setup, involving an ex-detective turned pimp who already has two of his girls missing getting into more headache as another girl goes missing, is milked to thrilling effect as Na Hong-Jin stages one heart stopping chase after another in an endless game of cat and mouse between the pimp, the killer and the final missing girl. Violent, kinetic and ultimately emotionally shattering in the best way possible, The Chaser is sensational entertainment.
1. Headhunters (Morten Tyldum, 2011, Norway)
Thanks to The Imitation Game, Morten Tyldum has entered the ranks of the Hollywood elite with its multiple Oscar nominations and box office success. His Norwegian thriller Headhunters is probably the reason why he was headhunted by Hollywood in the first place.
An adaptation of the European bestseller by Jo Nesbo, Tyldum made this movie his own by injecting an unholy amount of black comedy, including literally dipping the hero in shit, into its very slick and very effective thriller surface. A Hollywood remake will probably tone down a lot of its dark humor, but the story alone, about a corporate headhunter cum art thief at night who finally met his match in a totally different kind of headhunter, is simply too good and too entertaining to be missed out on by so many people.