The 40 Best Foreign-Language Films on Netflix

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The 40 Best Foreign-Language Films on Netflix

Movies have the wonderful ability to shift perception and help you to see and understand the other. Nowhere is this more apparent than in foreign-language films. For a century, cinema has helped us glimpse life in countries where we may never set foot. While Hollywood still dominates the box office, art houses and services like Netflix have given us easy access to films from around the globe. We scoured Netflix’s foreign movie offerings for our favorites. the list includes movies from 20 different nations and nearly that many languages. From traditional cinema powerhouses like France, Italy, Iran and Japan to more recent centers of creativity like Brazil, Indonesia and even Palestine, we give you the 40 Best Foreign-Language Films Streaming on Netflix.

troll-hunter.jpg 40. Troll Hunter
Year: 2010
Director: André Øvredal
Country: Norway
Language: Norwegian
There’s no denying that at its beginning, Troll Hunter seems like another Blair Witch Project knock-off. The first 20 minutes show us a young camera crew investigating some unexplained bear deaths and a suspicious man who may be poaching them. But rather than drawing out the mystery, it takes a sharp turn and tells us matter-of-factly that of course it was trolls killing the bears, and not only that, here’s one of them ready to bonk you on the head. The titular Troll Hunter extraordinaire is played by the affable comedian Otto Jespersen, who brings the entire monster premise to an entirely different level through his nonchalant attitude. In every sense, Troll Hunter lives up to its ridiculous name and premise. —Sean Gandert


omar.jpg 39. Omar
Year: 2014
Director:Hany Abu-Assad
Country: Palestine
Language: Arabic
More trenchant as a political allegory than a character drama, Omar is more interested in the ideas within this slow-burn thriller than in plot machinations. To writer-director Hany Abu-Assad, maniacal twists and cunning action set pieces would simply get in the way—better that we spend our time thinking about why the characters find themselves in this situation at all. Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Omar stars Adam Bakri as the titular young Palestinian, who must daily scale the imposingly tall security wall that separates him from his girlfriend, Nadia (Leem Lubany). Though very much in love, they haven’t yet revealed their relationship to her brother (and Omar’s good friend) Tarek (Eyad Hourani), who is planning with Omar and another close pal, Amjad (Samer Bisharat), to kill an Israeli soldier. The three friends’ mission is a success—it’s Amjad who pulls the trigger—but soon after, Omar is snagged by Israeli forces, led by Agent Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter). Threatening Omar with imprisonment, Rami promises him freedom if he’ll deliver Tarek, the group’s leader, to them in exchange. What’s most resonant in Omar is that, just as we can’t always gauge the characters, they’re, too, concealing parts of themselves from each other, a byproduct of living in a part of the world where distrust is commonplace and secrecy a necessity. Which is why Omar’s startling ending is both somewhat mystifying and also oddly perfect—we don’t see it coming, and yet deep down, we’re not surprised at all that it happened. —Tim Grierson


nightwatch.jpg 38. Night Watch
Year: 2004
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Country: Russia
Language: Russian
A huge hit in its native Russia, Night Watch is a preposterous celluloid Rorschach blot, the backstory and main narratives of which are too feverishly convoluted to summarize. But it works. As an epic about Good and Evil warriors scrapping on the streets of modern Moscow, the film is blissfully free of faux history lessons from the Obi-Wan and Elrond School of Film Exposition. The audience is tossed into a 1,000-year conflict involving witches, curses, vampires, shapeshifters and hypersonic public-utility vehicles and told to sink or swim. Thus, Night Watch feels like Harry Potter’s first week at Hogwarts—crammed with the giddy culture shock of constant discovery. —Michael Marano


daywatch.jpg 37. Day Watch
Year: 2006
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Country: Russia
Language: Russian
Day Watch is the sequel to Night Watch in which we learn that the world is in balance because of a centuries-old truce between the dark-siders and the light-siders who live amongst we clueless mortals.The truce is strained when one of the light guys, Anton, is suspected of murdering a couple of dark side vampires while searching for the mystical “Chalk of Fate.” He’s also looking for his son who has gone to the dark side. And he’s dealing with temporarily inhabiting the body of a woman who used to be an owl. Needless to say, Day Watch can be a tad confusing despite the fact that we are quickly updated on what happened in the first film. But the acting is superb, the dialogue is incredibly sharp and humorous, and the effects are amazing. Even the subtitles are entertaining as the words change color, bounce and crash into pieces. —Tim Basham


ip-man.jpg 36. Ip Man
Year: 2008
Director: Wilson Yip
Country: China
Language: Cantonese
2008’s Ip Man was finally the moment when the truly excellent but never fairly regarded Donnie Yen came into his own, playing a loosely biographical version of the legendary grandmaster of Wing Chung and teacher of a number of future martial arts masters, one of whom was Bruce Lee. The film takes place in 1930s Foshan (a city famous for martial arts in southern/central China), where the unassuming wing chung master tries to weather the 1937 Japanese invasion and occupation of China peacefully, but is eventually forced into action. Crazy, limb-breaking, face-pulverizing action. This semi-historical film succeeds gloriously both as cinema and as martial arts fan-bait. —K. Alexander Smith

he-even-has-your-eyes.jpg 35. He Even Has Your Eyes
Year: 2017
Director: Lucien Jean-Baptiste
Country: France
Language: French
Few films have been able to capture the inherent absurdity at the core of racism, but He Even Has Your Eyes achieves just this,a ll while providing an entertaining look at young coupledom and those early, terrifying stages of motherhood. From director Lucien Jean-Baptiste (who co-stars in the movie), the French-language comedy centers on a young black couple in Paris who decide to adopt a blue-eyed, blonde-haired, very white baby boy. Transracial adoption has been an acceptable aspect of society for so long, and it’s fascinating how, well, absurd things get when the adoptive parents are not white. Jean-Baptiste plays Paul Aloka, but the film is carried by Aïssa Maïga’s performance as his wife, Salimata. Both must navigate a meddling, racist adoption agent and the shock, awe and disappointment of their family members, all while they venture into parenthood for the first time—and yet, somehow the film never feels heavy or depressing, despite the seriousness of the topics. Unlike many other similar works concerned with race and racism, He Even Has Your Eyes is written in a way that doesn’t attempt to overly explain the black characters’ perspective, or (thank heavens) center any of the white characters either. Some of the cultural humor specific to Sali’s Senegalese family will only be funny to those of us who grew up in fear of our mothers hearing us suck our teeth. But like all stories concerned with a specific narrative and spoken with a distinctive voice, the film has a universal quality that makes it a heartwarming delight from beginning to end.—Shannon M. Houston


red-cliff.jpg 34. Red Cliff
Year: 2008
Director: John Woo
Country: China
Language: Mandarin
When we think of John Woo, we tend to think of gun ballads and Chow Yun-Fat. We’re not wired to think of large-scale portrayals of warfare, much less period dramas set during the end of the Han Dynasty. Magnolia split the film more or less in twain for its US release; you won’t find the full 288 version on Netflix Instant, but Red Cliff feels complete even with roughly half its content rotting on the cutting floor. This is a towering film, one that’s filled with allusion and metaphor, stratagem and scheming, sentimentality and philosophy, and eye-popping battle sequences that afford Woo plenty of room to harmonize historical accuracy with the signature flourishes that make him an action maestro. —Andy Crump


adele-blanc-sec.jpg 38. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec
Director:   Luc Besson  
Year: 2010
Country: France
Language: French
From the director of The Fifth Element and Léon: The Professional comes an adventure with all the whimsical flair of Terry Gilliam or Michel Gondry. Adèle Blanc-Sec has a wit as dry as her name, a fearlessness that would do Indiana Jones proud and a temper to match. A woman in early-1900s Paris, the boys club that surrounds her is just one more obstacle to casually brush aside. Her story involves an Egyptian tomb, a reanimated pterodactyl and an unstoppable resolve to help her sister. French with English subtitles, it’s the type of hidden gem that’s waiting on Netflix Instant to be discovered. —Josh Jackson


35.13assassins.NetflixList.jpg 32. 13 Assassins
Year: 2011
Director: Takashi Miike
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
An adaptation of Seven Samurai more in spirit than in tone and plot, Miike’s 13 Assassins is a sprawling blood bath of mythic proportions—so, in other words, nothing new for the Japanese auteur. What Miike later expounded upon with his faithful adaptation of Masaki Kobayashi’s Hara-kiri he began here, translating classic chambara films into neo-realistic accounts of a gritty, painful time for Japanese culture, making historical epics literally eviscerating experiences. Seemingly long and definitely gruesome, 13 Assassins could easily be Miike’s best film—a high honor coming from such a multifaceted and unsettling filmmaker—but the film is worth watching if only for the moment when the phrase “TOTAL MASSACRE” makes its reappearance. Just… goosebumps. —Dom Sinacola


the-host.jpg 31. The Host
Year: 2006
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
Before he was breaking out internationally with tight action films such as Snowpiercer, this South Korean monster movie was Bong Joon-ho’s big work and calling card. Astoundingly successful at the box office in his home country, it straddles several genre lines between sci-fi, family drama and horror, but there’s plenty of scary stuff with the monster menacing little kids in particular. Props to the designers on one of the more unique movie monsters of the last few decades—the creature in this film looks sort of like a giant tadpole with teeth and legs, which is way more awesome than it sounds. The real heart of the film is a superb performance by Song Kang-ho (also in Snowpiercer) as a seemingly slow-witted father trying to hold his family together during the disaster. That’s a pretty common role to be playing in a horror film, but the performances and family dynamic in general truly are the key factor that help elevate The Host far above most of its ilk. It’s not a coincidence that it became one of the most successful Korean films of all time. —Jim Vorel


i-am-love.jpg 30. I Am Love
Year: 2010
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Country: Italy
Language: Italian
The Recchi family, the powerful Italian clan at the core of Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love, is exclusive. Its wealth is nearly immeasurable, if not incomprehensible, and even marrying into it doesn’t warrant an invitation to its inner circle. Although Emma (Tilda Swinton) gave up her life in Russia—with the exception of her Russian accent, which she just can’t keep from tainting her Italian—in order to become a Recchi, she orbits the rest of the family in the Recchi villa, where the sense of propriety is nearly as tangible and cloying as its thick tapestries. I Am Love is a beautiful film, and a lesson in storytelling. It unfolds at a leisurely but lovely pace, taking time to revel in the details of the setting but never shifting focus from its many rich, complex characters. Swinton becomes Emma, her every pore and follicle embodying passion, guilt and grief with equal conviction. Even in its most tense moments, I Am Love is like the many dishes Antonio shows off in the film—painstakingly created and never overdone. —Ani Vrabel


33.Oldboy.NetflixList.jpg 29. Oldboy
Year: 2005
Director: Park Chan-wook
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy is a mind-trip like no other, not to mention so violent it puts Quentin Tarantino’s flicks to shame. The film’s setup: a man thirsts for revenge and answers after he is held prisoner in a hotel room for 15 years, without ever knowing why. As the story movies from one bloody rampage to another, the film’s daring audacity gives away to a beating heart behind the madness. Packing a potent psychological punch, Oldboy is in a category all its own. —Jeremy Medina


hard-to-be-a-god.jpg 28. Hard to Be a God
Year: 2015
Director: Aleksei German
Country: Russia
Language: Russian
Aleksei German’s final film is a stark, wild journey through medieval sci-fi filth. Like the drunken bastard child of a dreamy Andrei Tarkovsky epic and a Terry Gilliam yarn, in Hard to Be a God we see hints of Tarkovsky’s pensive takes, as well as his predilection toward existential speculative fiction (he adapted his 1979 film Stalker from a novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, the same Russian brothers who wrote Hard to Be a God in 1964), coupled with a sort of sensory overload as German’s frames wander through countless intricate details that call to mind Gilliam, another director attracted to obsessive, timeless dystopia. Tarkovsky may have a penchant for surreal confusion, but he anchors his oneiric sensibilities in characters’ motivations, desires, and souls. Here, there’s no real motivation, no real desire, and no real soul, just a crawl through depravity. But if that’s all you’re after, then here you go: This shit is executed majestically. —Jeremy Mathews


tai-chi-master.jpg 27. Tai Chi Master
Year: 1993
Director: Yuen Woo-ping
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese
Leave it to Jet Li to invent Tai Chi. Another potboiler plot filmed with epic scale and impeccable grace, Yuen Woo-ping’s Tai Chi Master pits the mild-mannered Junbao (Li) against childhood friend and wildcard Tienbo (Chin Siu Ho) in a rapidly escalating yarn about what happens when great power is grabbed without responsibility. See also: Michelle Yeoh transubstantiating table legs into stilts, upon which she balances while attempting to brain an opponent with a lute; an extended high-wire act dappling the side of an executioner’s tower, alternately kept up and torn apart mid-brawl by Junbao and a furious Tienbo, respectively; and a final battle atop precariously bouncy netting, Tienbo literally getting his come-uppance. Also? Junbao handles a ball of wind-bonded leaves as a raver would a pair of glowsticks. Every set-piece Yuen sets his eye to is a dead-serious lark, halfway between hilarity and awe, so that by the time Junbao’s kung fu is an equal match to Tienbo’s, their showdown is settling nothing less than an ultimate power struggle between good and evil. —Dom Sinacola


pigeon.jpg 26. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Year: 2014
Director: Roy Andersson
Country: Sweden
Language: Swedish
Swedish writer-director Roy Andersson’s film avoids easy categorization. Through a series of vignettes—some connected, some not—we see snippets of life. Andersson fixes his camera in one spot and the action plays out in front of us: a group of older siblings tries to convince their dying sister not to take her handbag with her to Heaven, a bar of anonymous drinkers suddenly becomes a chorus, a woman in a dance troupe longs for her disinterested male cohort. And there are two stories that have subsequent episodes, including one featuring a couple of salesmen (Holger Andersson and Nils Westblom) who specialize in novelty joke items like fake vampire teeth. The specifics of what happens in these vignettes is less important than precisely how they’re constructed. Because of Andersson’s locked-down camera, each scene is comically static, like little skits of human behavior in which all the actors (most of them non-professionals) barely show any expression at all. (Adding to the theatricality and surreal oddness of the characters, Andersson puts white makeup on his performers, making them look like they’ve been drained of their vital fluids.) With no cuts and often incorporating exceptionally understated choreography within the frame, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is a wonder to behold on formal terms: Andersson creates deceptively low-key movies that are actually quite visually and thematically sophisticated. —Tim Grierson


jp-taxi.jpg 25. Jafar Panahi’s Taxi
Year: 2015
Director: Jafar Panahi
Country: Iran
Language: Persian
In the five years since Iranian director Jafar Panahi was sentenced by government authorities to a 20-year ban from filmmaking in his homeland, the acclaimed auteur has turned inward—and kept making movies. Jafar Panahi’s Taxi carries itself like a documentary but is actually scripted. Taxi’s surface is casual, even impish, but underneath the movie are serious questions about filmmaking and individual freedom. If This Is Not a Film was defiant and Closed Curtain despairing, this new film is assured, composed, determined. And it stays with you, its larger implications asserting themselves in the hours after an initial viewing. The film lays out its conceit in its opening moments. Panahi is driving around Tehran in a cab, having installed small cameras onto the dashboard, and he’s picking up random passengers. Taking place over the course of a day, Taxi consists of his interactions with these different people, some of whom recognize him. Episodic and off-the-cuff, the 82-minute film initially feels like a lark, a renowned filmmaker spending a little time with everyday folks. But around the time that a married couple gets into the cab, the husband bloody and badly needing medical attention, it becomes clear that Panahi’s setup is actually a ruse, the whole project a work of fiction. The minutiae of the everyday is Taxi’s secret subject—ultimately, the movie argues, even during a seemingly normal day, the most jarring things can happen. It’s a poignant metaphor for a filmmaker living in his own unpredictable private prison. —Tim Grierson


train-to-busan.jpg 24. Train to Busan
Year: 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
Love them or hate them, zombies are still a constant of the horror genre in 2016, dependable enough to set your conductor’s watch by. And although I’ve probably seen enough indie zombie films at this point to eschew them from my viewing habits for the rest of my life, there is still usually at least one great zombie movie every other year. In 2016, that was Train to Busan, a film that I sadly hadn’t yet seen when I wrote the 50 Best Zombie Movies of All Time. There’s no need for speculation: Train to Busan would undoubtedly have made the list. This South Korean story of a career-minded father attempting to protect his young daughter on a train full of rampaging zombies is equal parts suspenseful popcorn entertainment and genuinely affecting family drama. It concludes with several action elements that I’ve never seen before, or even considered for a zombie film, and any time you can add something truly novel to the genre of the walking dead, then you’re definitely doing something right. With a few memorable, empathetic supporting characters and some top-notch makeup FX, you’ve got one of the best zombie movies of the past half-decade. —Jim Vorel


the-square.jpg 23. The Square
Year: 2013
Director: Jehane Noujaim
Country: Egypt
Language: Arabic/English
Bringing calm insight to an impassioned, still-developing historic event, the documentary The Square looks at the 2011 Egyptian Revolution from the perspective of those who were on the frontlines from the very beginning, personalizing the dramatic developments without losing a sense of the greater stakes. Director Jehane Noujaim, who previously helmed Control Room and co-directed Startup.com, has delivered a snapshot of a grassroots political movement over its bumpy two-year history, embracing the emotional complexity and logistical obstacles that have made Egyptians’ road to democracy so difficult. —Tim Grierson


the-wailing.jpg 22. The Wailing
Year: 2016
Director: Na Hong-jin
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
The U.S. title of Na Hong-jin’s new film, The Wailing, suggests tone more than it does sound. There is wailing to be heard here, and plenty of it, but in two words Na coyly predicts his audience’s reaction to the movie’s grim tableaus of a county in spiritual strife. Though The Wailing ostensibly falls in the “horror” bin, Na trades in doubt and especially despair more than in what we think of as representing the genre. He isn’t out to terrify us—he’s out to corrode our souls, much in the same way that his protagonist’s faith is corroded after being subject to both divine and infernal tests over the course of the film. You may not leave the film scared, but you will leave it scarred, which is by far a more substantive response than naked fear. —Andy Crump


blue-warmest.jpg 21. Blue is the Warmest Color
Year: 2013
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Country: France
Language: French
Three-hour movies usually are the terrain of Westerns, period epics or sweeping, tragic romances. They don’t tend to be intimate character pieces, but Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie D’Adèle Chapitres 1 et 2) more than justifies its length. A beautiful, wise, erotic, devastating love story, this tale of a young lesbian couple’s beginning, middle and possible end utilizes its running time to give us a full sense of two individuals growing together and apart over the course of years. It hurts like real life, yet leaves you enraptured by its power. —Tim Grierson


breatheposter.jpg 20. Breathe
Year: 2014
Director: Mélanie Laurent
Country: France
Language: French
Nothing’s more effective at shaking a teen out of their monotonous high school routine than the arrival of a new student. That’s the stuff actress/director Mélanie Laurent’s sophomore film, Breathe, is made of: mystery and allure, with generous dollops of adolescent rivalry, sexual awakening and verbal abuse spooned on top. Think of Breatheas a distant European cousin to the fraught teen movies of Larry Clark as well as Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen, stories of imperiled youth, loneliness and volatile sentiment. —Andy Crump


phoenix_ver2.jpg 19. Phoenix
Year: 2014
Director: Christian Petzold
Country: Germany
Language: German
Rarely in recent memory has the insoluble mystery of other people been so potent a driving force as it is in Phoenix. Here’s a drama that starts off with a seemingly simple conceit but eventually grows more and more troubling—and fascinating—into a critique of collective moral blindness and an up-close examination of marriage. The latest from German filmmaker Christian Petzold, Phoenix works best for all the answers it doesn’t provide, honoring the mysteries of everyday life rather than explaining them away. —Tim Grierson


aquarius.jpg 18. Aquarius
Year: 2016
Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho
Country: Brazil
Language: Portuguese
Clara (Sonia Braga) is one of the great heroines in contemporary cinema, and her story is one that will endure. By the movie’s climax, one woman’s struggle to hold on to her apartment takes on a dramatic weight found in the most ambitious, large-scale epics—yet Filho’s touch couldn’t be lighter. His direction is elegant and restrained, because he has the confidence not to force his effects. He believes in his ideas, and knows they’ll deepen and expand in the viewer’s mind if he just presents them unadorned. Undoubtedly, part of his confidence comes from the gift he got from Braga, who gives the performance of her career, doing the same thing with her voice, face and body that Filho does with his camera, finding economical gestures that express infinite emotions and ideas. I can’t think of many other roles that so fully encapsulate the human condition in all its humor, tragedy, loss, triumph, eroticism, weariness, fear and hope. —Jim Hemphill


look-of-silence.jpg 17. The Look of Silence
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Year: 2015
Country: Indonesia
Language: Indonesian
Like The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion film—the syntactically similar The Look of Silence—asks you to contemplate the literal meaning behind its title. Again returning to Indonesia, a country languishing in the anti-communist genocides of the 1960s, Oppenheimer this time sets his eye on Adi, a middle-aged optician whose brother was murdered by the men who were the focus of the first film, people today treated as local celebrities. Without question, the film is an interrogation of what it means to watch—as those who led the genocides; as those who are loved ones of those who led the genocides; as those who must repress the anger and humiliation of living beside such people every day; and, most palpably of all, as those of us who are distant observers, left with little choice but to witness such horror in the abstract. As in its predecessor, Oppenheimer’s patience and ability to acquaint himself intimately with the film’s subjects make for one gut-scraping scene after another—the sight of Adi’s 100+ year-old father, especially, is harrowing: blind and senile, the man is abjectly terrified as he scoots around on the floor, flailing and screaming that he’s trapped, having no idea where, or when, he is. Yet, moreso than in The Act of Killing, Oppenheimer here demands our undivided attention, forcing us to confront his quiet, sad documentary with the notion that seeing is more than believing—to see is to bear responsibility for the lives we watch. —Dom Sinacola


girlhood.jpg 16. Girlhood
Year: 2014
Director: Céline Sciamma
Country: France
Language: French
The closeness of girl friendships are oft-remarked on, and they are beautifully articulated in this impressionistic French film. Kajida Toure stars as a teen coming of age in the Parisian banlieue, where feminine but hyper-tough girls rule the roost—and know there’s strength in numbers. They shoplift their bodycon dresses and have street scraps with other girl gangs, but are still slut-shamed and dominated by the local boys. Celine Sciamma lenses her unknown actors with gorgeously diffused blue filters, and captures the way they dance, revel in their physical intimacy, and fiercely defend one another. It’s a truthful and compelling portrait of female solidarity. —Christina Newland


hero.jpg 15. Hero
Year: 2002
Director: Julian Schnabel
Country: China
Language: Mandarin
Zhang Yimou’s elegant, star-studded action epic Hero ambitiously attempts to elevate the sword-fighting genre in both style and substance. It begins with a king who’s attempting to conquer a divided land to become the first emperor of China. A nameless assassin (Jet Li) approaches the king and reports he has killed the three assassins the king fears most—Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Sky (Donnie Yen). The nameless assassin has come to claim his reward. In a flashback, “Nameless” recounts how he defeated each warrior, and the king listens to his tale, but he suspects Nameless may not be telling the truth. So the king retells the story as he thinks it really happened, changing one detail that shifts the loyalties of each of the characters and changes the outcome entirely. But Nameless then changes yet another detail and tells the story again, like it’s a move in a game of storytelling chess. Magnificently shot by cinematographer Christopher Doyle, he and Zhang take full advantage of digital effects to make people float and spin, their use of color takes a more painterly approach than Crouching Tiger or The Matrix. The characters spend much of their time fighting, but the violence is muted by a torrent of orange leaves or a shower of arrows so thick it looks like a cloud of locusts. The theme of pacifism holds fast, developed through escalating violence and loyalties that change so easily we’re encouraged not to take sides but instead to rise above them. From one flashback to the next, the colors of the assassins’ clothing change—red, blue, shimmering white—and similarly each of the flashbacks features a tear running down Flying Snow’s face, but the reason for the tear is different each time, a tear of anger, of jealousy, of loss and finally, tragically, it’s the tear of a warrior who cannot lay down her sword. —Robert Davis


diving-bell-butterfly.jpg 14. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Year: 2007
Director: Julian Schnabel
Country: France
Language: French
In 1995, French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a horrific stroke that left his entire body paralyzed in what doctors call the “locked-in syndrome.” In a remarkable testament to the human spirit, Bauby was able to dictate a 132-page memoir by blinking his left eye. Incredibly, ace-auteur Julian Schnabel adapted that memoir into a breathtaking, lyrical, haunting film that is as much his creation as Bauby’s. (Kudos to the Academy for recognizing Schnabel’s brilliance with a Best Director nomination.) The Diving Bell is not only a testament to the human spirit, but to the power of cinema as well. —Jeremy Medina


36th-chamber.jpg 13. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
Year: 1978
Director: Lau Kar-leung
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Mandarin
And this is why any kung fu fan will always love Gordon Liu. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is as classic as it gets—the definitive Shaolin movie, without a doubt, and the source of Liu’s nickname, “Master Killer.” He plays a young student who is wounded when his school is culled by the Manchu government, so he flees to the refuge of the Shaolin temple. After toiling as a laborer, he is finally granted the right to learn kung fu, which begins the film’s famous training sequences. It’s the rare film where those training sequences actually outshine the traditional fights, because they’re just so beautiful, fluid and inventive. In each of the 36 chambers, San Te must toil to discipline his body, mind, reflexes and will. They make up the whole center of the film, and are unforgettable. The film just has a gravitas—it imbues kung fu with a great dignity, because true kung fu can only be attained through the greatest of sacrifice. —Jim Vorel


things-to-come.jpg 12. Things to Come
Year: 2016
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Country: France
Language: French
In French director Mia Hansen-Løve’s films, nothing lasts. Life’s irritating fleetingness dominates the proceedings, and her latest, Things to Come, takes this theme to its logical conclusion, looking at the travails of an older woman (Isabelle Huppert) who watches one element of her life after another get stripped away. The film’s power is its recognition that, no matter how hard life gets, though, it just keeps going. (In fact, that’s what makes existence oddly beautiful.) Huppert is marvelous in the role: Between this performance and the one in the far spikier Elle, she’s made a compelling case for Actress of the Year, blending vulnerability and defiance in inspiring ways. —Tim Grierson


gomorrah.jpg 11. Gomorrah
Year: 2008
Director: Matteo Garrone
Country: Italy
Language: Italian
Gritty like The Godfather or the work of Martin Scorsese, Gomorrah depicts five microcosmic stories of the brutal underground mafia scene in Naples. The cast of largely untrained actors only enhances the film’s grim authenticity, and that authenticity is bolstered by the fact that the film’s source material, the bestselling book of same name, required author Roberto Saviano to get a permanent police escort. Harrowing in its matter-of-factness, the Academy criminally overlooked one of 2008’s best by not nominating it for Best Foreign Film. —Jeremy Medina


cemetery-of-splendor.jpg 10. Cemetery of Splendour
Year: 2016
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Country: Thailand
Language: Thai
Deep into the enchanting Cemetery of Splendor, an assortment of fit-looking bodies get up, sit down, join one another, walk away, split apart, ride bikes and trade seats, all without reason but obviously with rhyme, as if, as a viewer, you’ve stumbled upon a reel of background footage with the film’s main action cut out. Soon after, a sparkling shot of blue sky is calmly violated by a giant amoeba—or not, because maybe the amoeba is normal size, because the perspective isn’t clarified. And soon after that, a woman (Jenjira Pongpas) rises from an unperturbed nap, unsure if she’s found her way out of the labyrinth of her dreams, or if she’s only woken into another level of subconscious surreality. Meanwhile, a hospital of soldiers afflicted with a mysterious sleeping sickness, who rest indefinitely under glass tubes used as part of an ill-defined light therapy, rests indefinitely upon a sacred burial ground. At least that’s what the modern manifestation of god-like princesses, come to life resembling the statues at the woman’s favorite shrine, tell her. Such is the stuff of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s typical filmmaking fodder, the Thai director not so much doing something radically different with Cemetery of Splendor as just laying one more layer of fantasy upon his oeuvre, waiting with clairvoyant patience to see if his characters, and by extension his viewers, will ever wake up—or if they even want to. —Dom Sinacola


the-sacrifice.jpg 9. The Sacrifice
Year: 1986
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Country: Sweden
Language: Swedish
Tarkovsky’s last film before he succumbed to lung cancer at 54, The Sacrifice, like pretty much every one of his films to come before it, is a gradually building meditation on contentment, happiness and the lengths to which we’ll go as human animals to guarantee our survival. Which is only skimming the surface of every existential quandary pumping through this piece—because for all it has in mind, for all that’s been said about it, for all it contemplates with the fine-tuned patience of a monk-like master, The Sacrifice is, above all, a sweet and gorgeously sad testament to the impossible questions great films necessarily ask of us. The story of an artist living an idyllic life by the sea, whose philosophies are shaken to the core by the (implied) onset of World War III, the film winds its way to a grand conclusion, an image of humble apocalypse that, more than glimpses of the tragedies of war or the destruction of a nuclear holocaust, will stay with you for a lifetime. —Dom Sinacola


mustang.jpg 8. Mustang
Year: 2016
Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Country: Turkey
Language: Turkish
Imagine the unimaginable: One moment you’re out enjoying a beautiful, sunny day with your friends and your sisters, and the next, your grandmother is slapping you silly for having inappropriate contact with boys. Everything else snowballs from there: You’re whisked off to the doctor for a virginity test, your personal possessions are shut up in a cupboard (along with the telephones), the doors are kept locked and contractors come to reinforce the house you live in with your family, turning it into an improvised prison-cum-wife factory for you and your untamed siblings. Such is the stuff of Mustang, the debut film of Turkish-French filmmaker Deniz Gamze Ergüven. Mustang is her neorealist chronicle of femininity bound against its will to draconian gender politics. From start to finish, the film crackles with gelid fury. Ergüven doesn’t tip the outrage scale into histrionics, but she doesn’t need to. We can sense exactly how pissed off she is behind the lens. —Andy Crump


two-days-one-night.jpg 7. Two Days, One Night
Year: 2014
Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Country: Belgium 
Language: French
Sandra takes time off from her job for health reasons; in her absence, she’s made redundant, and her coworkers reap a not-insignificant bonus as a result of her firing. The latest work from the brothers Dardenne is a work of compassion, but Two Days, One Night is as much about our sympathy for Sandra (played with heartbreaking brilliance by Marion Cotillard) as it is about posing questions of ethics. As Sandra drives all over town in an effort to convince her coworkers to give up the bonus pay in exchange for her reinstatement, we wonder how we would respond to her pleas. It’s an easy thing to judge the people we meet throughout the film for their reluctance, but in telling of Sandra’s plight, the Dardennes invite us to examine our own convictions. —Andy Crump


jiro-sushi.jpg 6. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Year: 2012
Director: David Gelb
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary about one of the greatest masters of the culinary world, one whom casual foodies have never even heard of. Although Jiro’s work is ostensibly the focus of the documentary, the film is really propelled by the story of his relationship with his two sons; the youngest of whom has started his own restaurant, and the oldest of whom, at the age of 50, continues to work with his father, training to one day take over his restaurant. Devoid of the typical familial jealousy you may expect, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is instead a beautifully filmed documentary about a father and his sons who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of the perfect piece of sushi. —Emily Kirkpatrick


the-tribe-210.jpg 5. The Tribe
Year: 2015
Director: Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi
Country: Ukraine
Language: Ukrainian Sign Language
Somewhere between a silent film and a staging of the Stations of the Cross as if masterminded by Jacques Tati, The Tribe feels like the primordial beginnings of something spectacular. This isn’t to say that it comes off as unfinished, or the work of an amateur finding his footing—instead, Ukrainian writer and director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy has crafted a debut that breathes with preternatural beauty. Assuming that 99% of the audience doesn’t communicate as the characters here do, operating on a nearly subconscious level, with a mind for something unspeakably visceral, The Tribe is, in other words, an indelible film. Full of sadness and stubbornness and a kind of cosmic anger, it seeks abandon through destruction, starting with humanity’s first and best crutch: language. —Dom Sinacola


kagemusha.jpg 4. Kagemusha
Year: 1980
Director: Akira Kurosawa 
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Like Rashomon before it, Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha proves the director is as much a master of story plotting as he is perfectionist over the smallest technical nuances in his films—though here, he’s painting on a far grander canvas. Not long after the peak of their relevance, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola helped secure financing for Kurosawa to finally film this extraordinary, sweeping epic, with both admitting to owing the filmmaker a huge debt as an influence. That alone is excuses an Ewok (and Jack) or two. —Scott Wold


y-tu-mama.jpg 3. Y Tu Mama Tambien
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Year: 2001
Country: Mexico
Language: Spanish
A road trip along the coast of Mexico turns out to be one of sexual discovery for two punk teenagers (Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna). Meanwhile, the trip turns out to be the bittersweet final adventure for their older female companion (Maribel Verdu), as she struggles with a life full of regret and roads not yet traveled. Y Tu Mama Tambien is at times playful and seductive, but slowly reveals itself to be a substantive dual story involving both coming-of-age and coming-to-terms. —Jeremy Medina


white-god-movie.jpg 2. White God
Year: 2015
Director: Kornél Mundruczó
Country: Hungary
Language: Hungarian
In the first five minutes of White God, viewers are greeted by two striking images. In the first, a teenage girl pedals vigorously through the middle of an empty city street, a fleet of dogs furiously chasing after her. In the other, a cow carcass is dispassionately stripped and gutted in preparation to be examined by a meat inspector. More indelible moments await in Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó’s social parable, but these early scenes hint at everything that’s to come. White God isn’t the first film to suggest that humanity’s cruel treatment of others will one day come back to haunt us—but it certainly makes its point with potent force. —Tim Grierson


amelie.jpg 1. Amélie
Year: 2001
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Country: France
Language: French
A delicate, delicious little French trifle, Amélie is easily one of the most romantic films on Netflix. The adorable Audrey Tautou launched herself into the American consciousness as the quirky do-gooder waitress who sends her secret crush photos and riddles masking her identity in order to make their first encounter—and first kiss—the most romantic moment of her life. Endlessly imaginative and beautifully photographed, Amélie is a film to be treasured. —Jeremy Medina

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