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The 23 Best Scandinavian Movies of The 21st Century

06 November 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Evan Davies

8. Slim Susie (2003)

Slim Susie

Slim Susie is a punk rock crime comedy set in small town Sweden. When his sister Susie goes missing, Erik hitchhikes from Stockholm to his hometown to find her. Along the way he rediscovers some of his childhood friends and learns that his sister may not be as innocent as she seems.

Outrageous and quirky in a distinctly Scandinavian way, this film hilariously captures the routines of rural life and the small-time criminals that inhabit the countryside. The outfits, cinematography, and soundtrack of this film may remind you of the many American teen comedies of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. However, the dialogue in Slim Susie is much more intelligent and humorous.

The film is jam-packed full of zany characters and bizarre situations which compliment the frantic tone. Though the film certainly has dark elements, like most Scandinavian comedies, it adoringly pokes fun at rural Swedish culture and the gradual globalization of these previously isolated communities.

Though unlike most films, Slim Susie is often compared to Repo Man for its punk sensibilities, bizarre characters, and uniquely dark sense of humor. There are also clear influences from Tarantino throughout the film as well.

 

9. Together (2000)

Together (2000)

Another dark comedy, Together is a bizarrely heart-warming film directed by Scandinavian great Lukas Moodysson. In 1970’s Stockholm, Elizabeth, a mother of two, leaves her abusive husband. She, her teenage daughter Eva and young son Stefan, move in with Goran, Elizabeth’s brother. Goran lives in a leftist commune called Together. Their arrival to this new community requires some adjustment, as it is inhabited by a cast of idealistic and self-centered individuals.

Among these are Lena, Goran’s polyamorous wife, Klas, a dogmatic Communist, Anna, a recent lesbian, and her husband Lasse. The film depicts the challenges of communal living when everyone has different self-interests.

Though Together certainly does not shy away from difficult topics such as abuse and rejection, the tone is not heavy and the surprisingly positive ending creates a bittersweet tone. The aesthetic quality of Together, both the camera work and quality of image, makes it look as if it was actually shot in the 70’s.

This look, combined with the realism of the dialogue, creates a natural quality almost like that of a documentary. Intellectual, satirical, and reassuring, Together is a spectacular character study of Leftists and lovers.

 

10. Brothers (2004)

Susanne Bier

Written and directed by the excellent Susanne Bier, Brothers depicts the relationship of two brothers and their shifting dynamics when one goes to war. Polar opposites, brothers Michael, a successful soldier and family man, and Jannik, a reckless drifter, lead drastically different lives.

After being sent on a mission to Afghanistan, news travels to his family that Michael has died in combat. Jannik steps in for Michael and provides support for Sarah, Michael’s wife, and her children. However, Michael is not dead, and is instead being held captive. When he returns home with PTSD, he discovers his home life has changed.

Remade in 2009 with Natalie Portman, Jake Gylenhaal, and Tobey Maguire, the original Brothers packs a more powerful punch. The immense strain on Michael throughout the film speaks to the limited endurance of the human spirit; a man can only take so much. When he suspects that he has been betrayed, Michael completely loses it, attacking his home and family. Intensely gripping, this psychological drama is not one to miss.

 

11. Valhalla Rising (2009)

valhalla-rising

Directed by one of Scandinavia’s most exciting contemporary filmmakers, Nicolas Winding Refn (of Drive fame), Valhalla Rising is a psychedelic Norse drama. After killing his captors, One Eye (played by Mads Mikkelsen) and a young boy come across a group of Crusaders. They invite the duo to travel with them to the Holy Land. After enduring a nightmarish mist, they land ashore in the New World. The group descends into turmoil as they try to make sense of their new surroundings and conquer the environment.

Much like Drive, Valhalla Rising features extreme gore, little dialogue, and breathtaking cinematography. However, many elements of this film are exceptional to Refn’s filmography. Somewhat reminiscent of von Trier’s Medea, Valhalla Rising is slow-paced with flashes of violence or hallucination.

The spiritual themes at play contrast well with brutal fighting scenes to accurately depict the harsh reality of those living in the days of the Crusaders. Due to the pacing and lack of traditional dialogue, this film is fairly divisive. However, many will admire Refn’s bold risks with cinematography, plot structure, and special effects throughout Valhalla Rising.

 

12. The Ambassador (2011)

The Ambassador

The Ambassador is a fearless look into the blood diamond underworld in Africa. Posing as a Liberian ambassador, Danish journalist Mads Brugger attempts to uncover the dangerous and illegal diamond trade. Despite the gravity of the material, Brugger manages to lighten the film through his humorous parody of neo-colonials.

Rather than denouncing the trade of blood diamonds, Brugger instead eschews moral judgment and opts to focus on the hunt. The film poses important questions about the trade and globalization in general.

 

13. After the Wedding (2006)

After the Wedding

Another masterpiece by Susanne Bier, After the Wedding was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006. Jacob (played by Mads Mikkelsen) is the manager of an orphanage in Bombay. A donation is sent to the orphanage, contingent on Jacob’s visit to the donor in Copenhagen. However, when Jacob arrives in Copenhagen he realizes not is all it seems, and that the offer comes with quite a few strings attached.

Though the plot seems simple, maybe even predictable at first, many twists in the film not only complicate the story but humanize it. Like other Scandinavian films such as The Celebration and Together the plot is relatively simple, but relies on the exploration of characters’ troubled psyches and bizarre plot twists.

 

14. Elling (2001)

ELLING, Per christian Ellefsen, Sven Nordin, Jorgen Langhelle, 2001

When his sheltering mother passes away, Elling, an anxious and neurotic middle-aged man is sent to live in a state-run institution. While there he meets and befriends the large, sex-obsessed Kjell Bjarne. After being released from the institution, the two must adjust to their new life in Oslo. For the two unusual men, every day is a challenge. Their social worker, Frank, and a cast of new friends help them adapt to their “normal” lives.

Nominated for the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film, Elling is a hilarious and heartwarming comedy about the myth of normalcy. Charming and moving, this film depicts the struggle of outsiders trying to fit into society, with mixed and hilarious results. Elling is one of those rare comedies that pokes fun at and celebrates life.

 

15. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo

One the most well-known and acclaimed contemporary Scandinavian films, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is praised by audiences worldwide. Suspecting foul play in the disappearance of his niece, Henrik Vanger enlists the help of Mikael Blomqvist, a journalist, and hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate.

With superb cinematography and exceptional performances by Michael Nyquist and Naomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a gritty and disturbing crime drama. Like many other Scandinavian dramas, the film depicts dark, haunting family secrets. Remade satisfactorily (if unnecessarily) in 2011 by David Fincher with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is certainly worth watching.

 

 

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  • Unkle Amon

    Melancholia before Antichrist. With blood on my hands and I am the angel of death. Also, Du Levande could fit here.

  • Paul Steventon

    I don’t think there is any ambiguity about the truth in The Hunt, one of the things that makes the film so torturous and difficult to watch is the fact that you as the viewer know the truth quite clearly

    • Gines Velazquez

      That´s the point… there is no ambiguity from the spectator view

  • Georgia Papakwn

    Not a fan of Headhunters

  • Marco Aurelio Miranda

    open hearts
    festen

  • Fabienne McCallister

    Flickering Lights & The Green Butchers

    • Jeroen Ledderhof

      And Adams Apple (the best of the three) 😉

  • Fabienne McCallister

    Festen, as perfect as it is, was made in the 20st century 😉

  • Marie-Eve

    My favorite scandinavian movie is not in this list: I Am Dina, featuring Maria Bonnevie, Gerard Depardieu and Mads Mikkelsen. The acting was intense, the music and cinematography were marvelous and I really liked the story. Worth watching.

  • Santiago Zerpa

    Great list.

  • Alexis Roussos

    Songs from the second floor, After the wedding, The Hunt and Let the right one in

  • Guy Guérin

    Ingmar Bergman movies… maybe!

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000005/

    • Bergman doesn’t have great movies after 2001. But magnificent director, indeed.

  • Norman Fernandes

    I have seen “The Hunt”. I could relate to it because something very similar had happened to me.

  • ladyofargonne

    The English language version of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was necessary because Rooney Mara gave the performance of a life time. She was unrecognizable.

  • Lars Sundgot Slagsvold

    Not a bad list! I`ve liked to see Oslo 31.august by Joachim Trier on it, but hey…. What about Villmark? BTW tasteofcinema, you got something wrong on this list you should fix. Nr 19.Bridgend has a picture from another film, thats not on the list, but is this Years Norwegian Oscar contender “The Wave”

  • I must add the movie ‘The hour of the lynx’ (2013,Sweden, Denmark). Here is my review: http://www.vessiana.com/2015/11/top-5-scandinavian-movies-4the-hour-of.html

  • Rudi

    Jagten is such a terrible movie in so many ways, I really don’t understand why it always ranks so high. The acting is dreadful by more or less the whole cast, the whole community reacts in a highly unlogical way but most of all, the movie just looks so extemely boring. Like they didn’t even try to come up with good shots.

    3/10

    Antichrist and The Girl… are great though.

    • Abhishek

      Not a hater of the film but yeah its ranked too damn high. Just because it had a linear story line and no surprise ending with a real twist does not mean that its a gem of story telling IMO. That is the reason I think Hunt is just an average film.

  • Miguel Valdez-Lopez

    Great list. I get the feeling I might have seen something that should be added to it, but the titles you already have are fun ones.

  • Mladen Terlevic

    Anyone know the name of the movie which takes place in 15th century and they somehow get through some kind of portal into today world?I think is Norway film.And danish or swedish one where people that don’t contribute to society get in some kind of concentration camps?

  • Sebastian Haas

    I think “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” should be there, maybe instead of Trollhunter.

    • Arild Johansen

      It’s not scandinavian

      • Sebastian Haas

        Ah, weird, I always thought Finland was also Scandinavia… well, TIL…

  • Dimitrije Stojanovic

    Couple of suggestions:
    – Pushers 2 and 3 missing
    – Roy Anderson is far more important filmmaker than Susane Bier, for example. Probably all of his 3 movies should be here
    – Vinterberg’s Submarino, surely missing.
    – Direktoren for det hele is quite overlooked, but very original and inovative Von Trier’s movie.
    – No Kaurismaki at all? Seems strange.
    – 101 Reykiavik is the best Islandian movie I watched.
    – Den brysomme mannen is hidden gem which in my opinion should be here.
    Anyway – not a bad list.

    • KingaA

      Finland and Iceland are not considered a part of Scandinavia. They are included in what is called the Nordic countries.

  • FornavnEtternavn

    Oslo, August 31st and Kitchen Stories are the best two Norwegian movies of this century by quite a margin. Both missing here.

  • Nicole Coffield

    Number 19’s photo is from the film Bølgen (The Wave).

  • Geisha de Rhin

    KON-TIKI from Norway, is breathtaking and beautiful.

    And this might be a little mainstream, but I really enjoy A ROYAL AFFAIR from Denmark with Alicia Vikander.

  • Troy Clavell

    Lilya 4 Ever? Moodysson’s other work is included so why not his best work?
    Also I agree with a previous poster that Melancholia should be on here since other international works by Scandinavian filmmakes are listed.

  • Loved Troll Hunter.

  • Bergur Árnason

    No icelandic films and Vinterberg’s “Submarino” missing. Wrong spelling on Noomi Rapace’s name and wrong picture for #19. Truly poorly made list, sorry.

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  • Marlon Georgiades

    Not a single Ruben Östlund film?!

  • Jean-Baptiste

    What about Ondskan (Evil). I think it should definitely be on the list.