Every year it seems like someone complains that this year’s movies weren’t as good as last’s. While we believe there are still plenty of films worthy of our time, it’s always good to revisit the classics, especially ones we’ve not yet seen. And while only a few foreign films, like 8 ½, The Seventh Seal and The Seven Samurai have gotten plenty of attention, there are still many films that have been mostly ignored by the public that are just as great. Here are 10 classic foreign films you might have missed to give you something great to watch:
1. 1902 – A Trip to the Moon (France)
George Melies’ short may be well known for its image of a face in the moon, but few have seen the spectacle that is A Trip to the Moon. The film is groundbreaking for being one of the first science-fiction films and for its groundbreaking special effects. Melies, who started as a magician, created short masterpieces whose influence can be seen in everything from the work of James Cameron to Michel Gondry, and he will soon be the focus of Martin Scorsese’s film Hugo.
2. 1928 – The Passion of Joan of Arc (France)
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc is essentially an emotional horror film. The audience is forced to watch as Joan of Arc (in one of the greatest performances of all time by Maria Falconetti) is put on trial for her beliefs, suffers and (spoiler alert) ultimately is put to death. Dreyer’s camerawork is haunting and claustrophobic, often making the viewer watch the suffering happening on screen. It’s a beautiful look at faith, even if you may only want to watch it once.
3. 1931 – M (Germany)
Fritz Lang is probably most well known for his sci-fi epic Metropolis, but his film M is just as great, if not better. Peter Lorre plays a child murder that an entire town is attempting to find. Lorre’s tortured performance culminates in a scene where the town confronts him, where he states that it is possible that they are the true monsters. Lang’s masterpiece influenced film noir, thriller and even horror films for years after.
4. 1935 – The 39 Steps (UK)
Before Alfred Hitchcock came to America and made some of the greatest thrillers ever, he had a lucrative filmmaking career in England, including many films American audiences still haven’t seen. One of his finest was The 39 Steps, where a man attempts to help a secret agent, but once the agent dies, the man is suspected of murder and goes on the run. While it may sound similar to other Hitchcock films, like North By Northwest, The 39 Steps is one of the most perfect combinations of Hitchcock’s shocks and bitingly witty scripts.
5. 1939 – The Rules of the Game (France)
In less capable hands, The Rules of the Game’s large ensemble cast and intertwining story lines would be a jumbled mess. But Jean Renoir creates a multilayered look at a group of the rich and the poor who come together for a dinner party. Throughout, the characters lie, cheat and deceive each other in a masterpiece that is always intriguing.
6. 1945 – Brief Encounter (UK)
Later in David Lean’s career, the director would go on to make some of the greatest epics of all time, including Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia. Yet one of his greatest films is a simple story of a married man and woman falling in love with each other at a train station. The result is a heartbreaking tragic romance as epic as any film that Lean would ever make.
7. 1945 – Children of Paradise (France)
Children of Paradise is the tale of a mime who falls in love with an actress, and the suitors that also love her. Baptiste is phenomenal as the lovelorn mime and the sprawling story and twisting romantic entanglements make this film great enough. But even more shocking are the lengths the filmmakers had to go to, including hiding copies in several locations, for it to survive the Nazi occupation, which almost caused this classic from ever being seen.
8. 1946 – A Matter of Life and Death (UK)
When a British pilot’s plane is damaged as he returns home, he falls in love with a radio control operator in his last minutes before falling to his death. Once the pilot gets to the afterlife, he must argue his way back to earth to return to the woman he fell for. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s film is gorgeously shot and features one of the greatest opening sequences ever.
9. 1949 – Late Spring (Japan)
Late Spring is a beautiful love story between a daughter and the father that she doesn’t want to leave alone. The 27-year-old Noriko is told by everyone she knows that she must marry and move away from her father, who is a widower. But Noriko follows her heart instead and sticks with her father, even through everyone tells her what she’s doing is wrong. This sweet film from Yasujiro Ozu shows that even if everyone says that you’re wrong, you may still be right.
10. 1963 – High & Low (Japan)
Akira Kurosawa has been remembered for his samurai films like The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Throne of Blood, but the mystery of High & Low is worthy to stand amongst these other greats. High & Low follows a wealthy businessman who believes his son has been kidnapped and agrees to pay the ransom. When he finds out that it was actually his son’s friend who got kidnapped, he must decide whether or not to pay the ransom and attempt to find the child. High & Low is tense, ahead of its time with its real-time mystery and the ending is a starting revelation that makes it a Kurosawa great.