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The 10 Best Foreign Films of 2014

17 March 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Ian Cahoon

best foreign films 2014

2014 saw a large number of foreign films invade the Western film market whether it be through the prolific film festivals of Toronto, SXSW, New York, along with many others, or the boom on the home video market, as well as many who had a harder time seeping into the limelight due to any number of reasons.

With more films being made today than ever before and more accessibility to many different styles of films, the exploration of international and experimental filmmaking is essential to the understanding of modern film technique and history.

Featured below are 10 of the author’s favorite foreign films from last year that range from more high-profile, even commercial fare to more experimental and highly political, contextual, and intellectual works by some of the greatest filmmakers working in the medium today. Please note that these films are ranked in no particular order.

 

1. The Clouds of Sils Maria by Olivier Assayas – Germany/France/Switzerland

The Clouds of Sils Maria

French stalwart Olivier Assayas’s new film The Clouds of Sils Maria is a story that blurs the lines between theater and life, the impression of the stage and the tactility of real settings, and acting and reacting through powerhouse performances by Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart as well as a screenplay penned by Assayas himself.

The framing revolves around an established middle-age actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) who was made famous by starring in a play and film called Maloja Snake when she was 18 about the relationship between a young and middle aged woman and how it eventually drove the older woman to suicide. She is now approached to star in the play once more, this time as the elder, which she accepts.

What follows is a rumination on death, love, and the blending of fact and fiction in the theater as Maria prepares for her role with her assistant Valentine (Kristin Stewart) that ultimately questions their own relationship through the defining work of Maria’s career.

 

2. Force Majeure by Ruben Ostlund – Sweden

Force Majeure

Force Majeure is not only one of the most nuanced and ambiguous critiques of the modern family to come out last year, it’s also a revolutionary force (majeure) in the use of CGI special effects in an age where many would argue the techniques overuse.

As the young family of husband Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and daughter and son Harry and Vera (Vincent Wettergren and Clara Wettergren respectively) are having a leisurely lunch outside at the ski resort they are vacationing at, an avalanche starts barreling towards them off in the distance.

As the avalanche reaches the deck where they are dining Ebba grabs Harry and Vera to protect them while Tomas grabs his phone and runs off inside, effectively abandoning his family. As the white snow engulfs the entire frame it marks a catalyst in the structure of the film as well as the aesthetics of the particular scene.

A truly insightful and ambiguous work not help to a two-sided argument but rather opening up the many possible interpretations to the viewer themselves, Force Majeure is one of the most challenging and rewarding films of the year.

 

3. Goodbye to Language by Jean-Luc Godard – France/Switzerland

Goodbye to Language

In this writers’ opinion, Goodbye to Language is not only one of Godard’s best works in some time but also one of his very best aesthetic experiments (films in which his own playful experimentation of various techniques such as the use of video technology in King Lear outweigh the cinematic pretense of story driven narrative).

A piece of spectacularly framed and shot 3D cinematography coupled with some of the directors most passionately composed exposes on love and French life (this time in a specific French speaking region of Switzerland) coupled with his trademark inclusion of philosophical and theoretical rhetoric and techniques to further expand upon the viewers perception of film and cinematic storytelling tendencies.

Also, while officially called Goodbye to Language in the west, adieu means both goodbye and hello in French.

 

4. Hard to Be A God by Alexei German – Russia

Hard to Be A God

Hard to Be A God is the posthumous swan song of Russian director Alexei German, a name prolific in his native country but unfortunately far more obscure overseas here in America. Based on a Russian novel of the same name by authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, the film follows a group of scientists sent to the planet Arkanar in order to help them advance as a society out of their own medieval times.

The stark black and white photography coupled with what might be the most viscerally queasy and down right disgusting mis-en-scene and set design make Hard to Be A God one of the most visually unsettling movies I have seen in a long time, maybe ever. It is also a life-affirming movie of monumental measure and one that saw German spending most of his adult life attempting to realize.

 

5. Horse Money by Pedro Costa – Portugal

Horse Money

IMDb has Horse Money listed as a documentary (as of March 2015), an interesting and often fairly true representation of Pedro Costa’s work examining the marginalized people of Portugal, specifically those that are residents of the Fontainhas ghetto in Lisbon.

In fact, Horse Money is not a documentary but an examination of a recurring character from Costa’s last film Colossal Youth, Ventura. A mid-70’s Cape Verdean immigrant, Ventura serves as the polemical basis of the films free floating narrative, focusing more on flashbacks and a detailed series of vignettes the ultimately examine how the military of Portuguese government are viewed in the eyes of those living in the slums rather than a traditional three-act structure.

Horse Money is one of the most irreverent films of the past five years (one could effectively make the argument that it is based more in the ideology and narrative structure of still photography rather than the cinema at times) but is also a truly confounding and exploratory work of cinema.

 

 

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  • Unkle Amon

    What about Leviathan and Ida? Force Majeure is my pick of these 10.

    • Charles Barnes

      Possibly, he is classifying Ida as a 2013 film. (I mean, that’s the only reasonable justification I can think of).

      • Rui

        Maybe Ida is from 2013, but what about mommy, leviathan, tangerines, wild tales, winter sleep, la isla minima…

    • Kevin Wang

      Leviathan is phenomenal! Crushed me pretty hard.

    • MDS

      Ida wasnt that good (flies away)

  • Marwan Saad

    What about Xavier Dolan’s Mommy? This movie is powerful

  • Isaac

    Winter Sleep missing.

    • Charles Barnes

      I wasn’t a particular fan of Winter Sleep, myself. Maybe the author felt the same.

  • Marta

    Two Days, One Night wasn’t even that good as I see it. Anyways, everyone should check out the spanish film La Isla Mínima.

    • Zheng J

      I watched that one the other day. Didn’t really feel it’s that outstanding. Maybe because I was comparing it to the similar feeling Memories of Murder (South Korea, 2003)

      • Marta

        I’ll check out that one 🙂 Maybe I liked it a lot because as a spanish we don’t get a lot of good national movies

        • Zheng J

          Haha in fact I really like Spanish horror or thrillers, a little soapy but fun

    • Afrikoka

      key word: as you see it. Can’t wait to see your suggestion though. I’ve heard good things about it.

      • Marta

        Exacly, I’m aware that just because I didn’t like it that much it doesn’t mean it is not a good film.

  • Seif

    Princess Kaguya and Wild Tales should be here in my opinion.

  • Erick García

    Wild tales should be regarded as one of the best movies in 2014.

  • Dimitrije Stojanovic

    Mommy
    White God
    Black Coal, Thin Ice
    Frank
    those films should be on my list. Anyway, interesting list.

    • asalways

      Black Coal, Thin Ice is good. Liao Fan was brilliant.

  • marcel

    Hard to pick only 10 isn’t it?

  • Samantha Bryans

    Mommy?? Your list is invalid.

    • Afrikoka

      Opinions. But I’m from Quebec and it’s everywhere so I didn’t mind seeing other titles since it’s not that foreign to me.

      It’s refreshing not having the same titles on every list and curious people will see that you mention this and check it too.

  • Afrikoka

    Since when those «adieu» means both goodbye and hello in French? It’s just goodbye or farewell. Maybe you meant «salut!» which can be used in both case but that doesn’t bring much in this context.

  • Jiian Cruz Francisco

    Congratulations, NORTE made it!

  • Derek Handelong

    Wild Tales, Snowpiercer, Ida, Calvary, The Babadook, What we do in Shadows, Raid 2, The Trip to Italy

  • Aggelo Gjeorgi

    leviathan ?

  • Kud Ret

    Winter Sleep 2014 (Turkey)

  • Susan F

    No Gett: The Trial of Viviane Aslam. Oh, that is right, its an Israeli film and this is a European publican. Jews are the enemy. I’m American so I forget your European antisemitism, hatred of Jews, Football/Soccer antisemetic chants and the fact that Jew hatred imbues all decisions.

  • booass

    This is a horrible list. Where is A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night? Ida? Leviathan? Do you watch films or just pretend to?

  • asalways

    Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home.

  • John Davidsson

    Wild tales is a work of genius and should have ranked number one

  • Filippo Schiaffino

    Mommy, by Xavier Dolan !!

  • Bik

    I really enjoyed Wild Tales.

  • Requiem

    I didnt find two days one night that good.
    Other films could fill that 10 spot