411 Movies Top 5 6.26.14: Top 5 Foreign FIlms
Posted by Shawn S. Lealos on 06.27.2014
From Mad Max and Hot Fuzz to Monty Python's The Life of Brian, The Raid: Redemption, Pan's Labyrinth and more, the 411 staff count down their Top 5 foreign-made films of all-time!
Welcome to Week 432 of the Movie Zone Top 5. My name is Shawn S. Lealos and you have entered my world.
The 411mania writers were given the following instructions: Foreign Films - This DOES include foreign language films but also consider British made films (like Shaun of the Dead and stuff like that as well).
Honorable Mentions: 1990 Bronx Warriors (1982), Warrior of the Lost World (1983), Split Second (1992), Shaun of the Dead (2003), Suspira (1977), Akira (1988), Hard Boiled (1992), The Warrior (2001)
5. Mad Max (1979)
Directed by George Miller and starring Mel Gibson, this is the movie that started the whole post-apocalyptic action movie thing in a big way (A Boy and His Dog came out in 1975 but that wasn't as big as Mad Max). Gibson is Max Rockatansky, a badass cop out for revenge on the evil motorcycle gang that killed his partner and family. He's got a cool as hell car, a bad attitude, and the seemingly unquenchable need to stop the bad guys. Because, hey, it's essentially the end of the world. What better way to go out than find the guys who make the end of the world an even bigger pain in the ass? Still holds up.
4. Five Fingers of Death (1972)
Originally known as King Boxer, Five Fingers of Death is the movie that essentially started the kung fu movie craze in the United States back in the 1970's. It goes on a bit too long and the big tournament at the heart of the plot doesn't come off as that big of a deal, but when it comes to non-stop martial arts fights and weird kung fu magic hooey (glowing hands) Five Fingers of Death is nothing short of a classic. You'll even dig the music that the movie stole from the American TV show Ironside. I certainly dug it. A movie that needs to be seen multiple times to truly understand and appreciate. I've seen it three times now and I still think I'm missing stuff.
3. Nuns on the Run (1990)
Nuns on the Run stars Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane as two old school thieves who, after deciding to quit their new school/brutal boss Mr. Case (Robert Patterson), end up hiding out in a nunnery posing as nuns. For me, the premise and the jokes never get old and Idle and Coltrane are just so spot on as the sort of nice guy criminals you want to root for. I can watch them in this movie over and over again and never get tired of it. And the gorgeous Camille Coduri does a great job as Faith, Idle's girlfriend who has no idea that her boyfriend is a criminal. I love this movie. I quote the bit about "the Trinity" all of the time. "God is like a shamrock. Small, green, and split three ways!"
2. Zombie (1979)
Known around the world as Zombi 2, the "sequel-in-name-only" to the Dario Argento cut of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (Zombi), Zombie is a disgusting, gore filled romp featuring voodoo, nasty special effects make-up, a zombie fighting a shark, and the classic "big splinter through the eye" scene that feels like it goes on forever. Director Lucio Fulci knew how to gross the audience out and make the most of the money given to him to make a movie. I don't know if Zombie is Fulci's best movie (lots of people really like The Beyond) but it's one that I enjoy coming back to every now and then. Remember when every video store had this movie in its horror section? Were you ever freaked out by the video box cover?
1. Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of the greatest movie comedies of all time. It's hard to believe that the comedy group responsible for that movie could top it in any way. It's timeless. But then Python went and made Life of Brian and rocketed past Holy Grail. Life of Brian is a well-oiled machine of a movie. It's funny and witty and whatnot, but it also cuts together better than Holy Grail and feels less like a series of sketches and more like a full on movie story. It also looks beautiful, something people usually don't say about comedies. It's also still incredibly controversial as people still think the movie attacks Jesus and Christianity (it doesn't, despite the last sequence featuring people being crucified). It attacks people who believe in things without thinking about them first. Check out the scene below:
Honorable Mentions: As a Brit writing for an American based pop culture site, maybe I should write all about your fancy Tom Cruise films yes? Since they're the most foreign to me, No? Ah well. Without going into a big write-up of other mentions, there is so many I could recommend, it could be worth your time googling some lists and going from there.
But I definitely recommend you go out of your way to catch these at least. Skyfall is not only the best James Bond film ever made, it's perhaps the best British made straight action film ever too. Tonnes of character evolution and hot setpieces in a celebration of the franchise so far, even throwing in some origin background on Bond in one of the rare occasions where it works for once. Whilst it's not perfect, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't impressed with District 9. For a film entirely made in developing cinematically South Africa, it's a triumph.
Similarly, the second big screen conversion of Judge Dredd is a superb "Day In The Life Of..." our favourite fascist futuristic law enforcer tale with a terrific Brit/S.A. tag team production. Also, keeping an action theme, discover the joys of parkour/freerunning with the creator of the extreme sport in a neat little French film called District 13. It has been remade as Brick Mansions but the original is MILES better. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior & Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert are the pinnacle of Australian action and comedy movies, but they do hold up massive candles on the world stage too.
Lastly, I've plummed for something all you 'Blood & Cornetto' Trilogy fans may enjoy - incoming Dr. Who director Ben Wheatley wrote and directed Sightseers, a hilarious black comedy about a serial killing couple who go on a caravanning holiday around the North of England. You haven't lived until you've seen the idea of a middle aged woman with mother issues knitting her own lingerie on screen. So hysterical!
A curious oddity - I picked this up on a whim and was pleasantly surprised by this. A whole-y Russian production, the adaptation of a set of urban fantasy book which sees a continuing power struggle between good and evil superpowered humans, or the Light & Dark Others in this interpretation. At a stalemate, both sides take one half of day and night and keep at it with each side having a clean up crew to deal with the other's discrepancies. What's the most engaging thing is how damn Russian this is. I mean, I know this sounds obvious but until you see the setting in full flow, crap clapped out soviet vehicles and the like on screen, you don't appreciate it. For a moment in time, you can see how quite visionary Timur Bekmambetov was, given the incredibly small budget he had, yet makes a terrific looking little fantasy film. Despite not living up to expectations, you can see why he was given assignments like Wanted & Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter after the unexpected international success of Nightwatch. Whilst the follow up was a disappointment, the fact that an all Russian production like this exists and is a creative success deserves a good seeing to and praise.
My Film Of The Year in 2013. The clash of Formula 1 legends James Hunt and Nikki Lauder is the stuff of legend that race fans still enjoy discussing today and the film adaptation is superb in honor of both men. Ron Howard's baby, a nice looking dramatization between British & German studios to cover both men's lifestyles and motivations in the sport is a joy to behold as the noticeable differences in studios actually bleeds through effectively on screen. Strong performances from Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl on top of stylish race sequences make this one of the best sports films ever. To do it away from an American studio considering how attractive Rush is, is an achievement.
3. Hot Fuzz
I've written many times before about the joys of the middle chapter of Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg's 'Blood & Cornetto' Trilogy but it's so damn good, it always deserves a look. Hot Fuzz is a pastiche and wonderfully funny yet loving send up of the American buddy cop genre of film. Pegg plays Sgt. Nicholas Angel, a big city cop from London thats transferred to the rural countryside of England. He struggles to adapt to the quiet lifestyle until the body count starts to rise and so teams up with bumbling local lad PC Danny (Nick Frost) to solve the multiple murders. A love letter to US action films, it's surprising how comparable this British production is packed with quality action segments based in a little old quaint village and the great mocking of the more ridiculous side of big action flicks is hilarious. Angel's humanisation after being a committed cop for so long & over policing plays off bumbling Danny's continual adoration of him with constant, delusional questioning of OTT action he thinks Nicholas has done ("Have you ever fired two guns off whilst jumping through the air?!") is the winning formula out of the whole film and it's endlessly rewatchable. Quite possibly one of the best British films ever made.
1 and 2. The Raid: Redemption / The Raid 2: Berandal
A two-for-one for my top 2 foreign made movies and what a two they are. Welsh director Gareth Evans could not make any headway into western cinema after graduating from University, yet after a gig making a documentary on Indonesian martial arts, he fell in love with the combat styles and country. Spurred on by his new friends made in the Indonesian film industry, he set out and made one of the best action films in the last twenty years in The Raid: Redemption. The martial arts driven action fest was a breath of fresh air compared to the stale offerings to the west. He went one better this year with The Raid 2: Berandal with a gritty, crime drama on par at least to the Dredd-esque plot of the original. What I simply love is for how relatively cheap the two admittedly niche films are to make, they look and feel so much better. Every hit, every blow, every punch, every kick, every stunt, every jump - they all look like kill whoever's taking it and it's a real skill to translate impact as a mental feeling from a film. Evans delivers that with abomb. To be honest, I don't really want to go into a massive spoilery explanation of key scenes and moments because they have to be seen to be believed, but simply put Rama's (our hero protagonist of both movies) final showdown with the Assassin in the second is the best fight ever committed to cinema. Yes, no specifics, it is the best one. Such an emotional and chaotic battle between two heated rivals which builds to a crescendo and a super emotional climax for the audience. Must see.
SHAWN S. LEALOS
Honorable Mention - The Seventh Seal, Rashomon, Seven Samurai, The Fire Within, Godzilla, Wings of Desire, Amelie, Shaun of the Dead, Infernal Affairs, Hard Boiled
5. Le Samurai
Jean-Pierre Melville was one of the best French New Wave directors working and Le Samurai might be his masterpiece. The movie is about an assassin who is sent on a hit and then learns that the people who hired him betrayed him. He then sets out to find out who was behind the betrayal and get revenge. It is a fantastic crime movie and is maybe one of the best French movies I have ever seen.
Made in Germany by Fritz Lang, M tells the story of a child murderer who is on the run. Because the police are so desperate to stop the killer, they start cracking down on all crime, which causes the criminals to band together to try to search out the killer themselves. The movie actually takes into account what is a worse crime, a child killer who claims he can't help himself or criminals who can help themselves and commit crimes anyway. Honestly, the final hangman's jury and Peter Lorre's speech is brilliant.
3. The Devil's Backbone
This is the first of two Guillermo Del Toro movies on my list. This movie takes place during the Spanish Civil War where a father drops off his son at an orphanage as he heads off to war. The boy then meets a group of kids who make his life tough before suddenly coming across a ghostly child. The movie then sees the young boy trying to figure out what the boy wants, which happens to be the killer to be brought to light.
2. Hot Fuzz
Produced by Working Title, based out of the U.K., Hot Fuzz is – in my opinion – Edgar Wright's greatest film. The movie pays homage to classic buddy cop films, with mentions of Bad Boys 2 and Point Break, as well as signs of Lethal Weapon as well. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are at the top of their game and Timothy Dalton is fantastic in his role as the slimy grocery store owner. Honestly, it doesn't get much better than Hot Fuzz if you like comedies or buddy cop movies. It is just about perfect and the final battle at the end is perfectly executed.
1. Pan's Labyrinth
I have to list Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth as not only my favorite non-American film but also one of my favorite films regardless of genre as well. The movie is a fairy tale film that sees a young girl move in with her mother's new husband, who also happens to be fighting for Franco's troops in the Spanish Civil War. The movie then offsets the horrors of war with the horrors of a magical world that the little girl is swept into. The visuals are amazing, the music is awe-inspiring and the entire story is amazing. It is the best fairy tale movie ever made.