Movieline Magazine
100 G

(in two parts)

by Movieline Magazine

100 Greatest Foreign Films: Movieline Magazine selected The 100 Greatest Foreign Films - 100 of the all-time greatest non English-language films in the magazine's article of July 1996 written by Michael Atkinson, Stephen Rebello and David Thomson. They wrote: "Take a video vacation of the spirit and rent or buy these films of rare greatness. Some are austere and challenging. Many are intensely entertaining. All are rewarding respites from the familiar fare of our own culture."

Facts and Commentary about This List:

  • There are a number of obvious, major masterpieces of international cinema that are missing from the magazine's selections:
    • Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925) and Ivan the Terrible, Parts 1 and 2 (1945, 1946)
    • Satyajit Ray's Panther Panchali (1955)
    • Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers (1965)
    • Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937)
    • Federico Fellini's La Strada (1954) and Amarcord (1973)
    • Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (1969)
    • Lina Wertmuller's Swept Away...(1975)
    • Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries (1957) and The Seventh Seal (1957)
    • Luchino Visconti's La Terra Trema (1948)
    • Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso (1988)

However, the list does contain a substantial number of cinematic masterpieces that serve as a solid introduction to the best non-English language films.

100 Greatest Foreign Films
by Movieline Magazine
(part 1, in alphabetical order)

Part 1 | Part 2

1. L'Age d'Or/Un Chien Andalou (1929/30), aka The Age of Gold or The Golden Age, France, directed by Luis Bunuel
Luis Bunuel's two semishort surrealist hand grenades (cowritten in varying degrees with Salvador Dali) make a double bill that can restore your faith in the subversions of youth. Pure Spanish-Parisian piss and vinegar.

2. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), aka Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes, Peru/W. Germany, directed by Werner Herzog
Gonzo German director Werner Herzog goes to the Amazon with the conquistadors in the early 16th century and returns with an unforgettable hallucination of the New World-rusted armor, deadly whirlpools, dying aristocrats and 10,000 monkeys.

3. The American Friend (1977), aka Der Amerikanische Freund, US/W. Ger./France, directed by Wim Wenders
Wim Wenders doesn't film Patricia Highsmith's splendid Ripley's Game so much as lance the boil to release its rancid inner life. A picture-framer, convinced he's dying and in need of money to leave his wife and child, agrees to assassinate a Mafia man. Steely German skies menace. Everyone lies. Directors Nicolas Ray and Sam Fuller make cameo appearances.

4. A Nous la Liberte (1931), aka Freedom for Us, France, directed by Rene Clair
The carefree French hoboes meet the modern fortress of industry, searching all the while for freedom and romance. A perfect summer-afternoon movie; afterwards, get a bottle of wine and make love in a field. Chaplin stole from it and got sued for his trouble.

5. Ashes and Diamonds (1958), aka Popiol i Diament, Poland, directed by Andrzej Wajda
Andrzej Wajda's vivid gut-wrencher about postwar Poland made an Eastern European James Dean out of Zbigniew Cybulski, whose red-hot, rebel-with-a-cause -so-big-his-head-might-explode resistance fighter refuses to let the war end. Cybulski died under a train nine years later, and a generation of Polish war babies mourn to this day.

6. L'Avventura (1960), aka The Adventure, France/Italy, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Ever found sex wanting as your only means of reaching out? Ever wandered into a dead, aimless calm where nothing ever happens? Michelangelo Antonioni knows where you live. After the inexplicable vanishing of her friend on an island, mesmerizingly vacant Monica Vitti attempts a search, gets distracted, and takes up with her friend's old lover instead. How like our lives.

7. L'Atalante (1934), aka Le Chaland Qui Passe, France, directed by Jean Vigo
Just a couple of awkward newlyweds on a river barge, but Jean Vigo's dreamy movie-poem has the lilt and surreal force of a modern myth.

8. Belle de Jour (1967), aka Beauty of the Day, France/Italy, directed by Luis Bunuel
Marnie Turns a Trick, someone once called this elegantly shocking comedy directed by Luis Bunuel. Catherine Deneuve, in peak form, glides like Hitchcock's coolest blonde through a bizarre series of sex tableaux, scratching her itch for humiliation by servicing bourgeois whorehouse patrons while her blandly hunky husband is off doing surgery. Sadomasochistic role-playing, dressed by Chanel, never looked so radically chic.

9. La Belle et la Bete (1946), aka Beauty and the Beast, France, directed by Jean Cocteau
Part fairy tale, part Gothic horror, Jean Cocteau's poetry on celluloid is also one of the screen's great erotic tales. As the Beast, the ravishing Jean Marais imprisons porcelain Josette Day's Beauty in his enchanted castle. No wonder she learns to sing in her chains. If you've never seen this unfussily magical movie, you'll be surprised how much of it you recognize -- not just because it's been remade by Disney in animated form, but because it's been borrowed and stolen from so extensively.

10. The Bicycle Thief (1948), aka Ladri di Biciclette, Italy, directed by Vittorio De Sica
A poor slob searches for his stolen bike. You can go to other great Vittorio De Sica movies (Miracle in Milan, Shoeshine) for soaring, ragged lyricism and poetry. This one, set among Rome's poor people, losers and crooks, fish-eyes the world with ruthless dispassion and virtually defines Italian neorealism.

11. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), aka Die Bitteren Traenen der Petra von Kant, W. Germany, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
German writer/director Rainer Werner Fassbinder's sourest, funniest and most glamorous film is a remake of an American melodrama. It is decadently beautiful, humorously corrupt, claustrophobically intimate, and so acidic it can bring tears to your eyes.

12. The Blue Angel (1930), aka Der Blaue Engel, Germany, directed by Josef von Sternberg
Josef von Sternberg went to Berlin to do a story of a pompous teacher who is seduced and humiliated by a cabaret singer. The great actor Emil Jannings was the teacher, and for the woman, Lola-Lola, Sternberg "discovered" and fell in love with a strapping blonde singer who could look at a man as if his clothes were feathers--it was Marlene Dietrich, who was a genius for von Sternberg and rather ordinary for anyone else.

13. Le Boucher (1969), aka The Butcher, France/Italy, directed by Claude Chabrol
First you figure that Claude Chabrol's muted movie will set its sights on a nice enough-seeming guy who, when he isn't butchering animals, butchers women. Things grow richer and stranger when the murderer becomes involved with, and transformed by, a sexually repressed village schoolteacher. A two-hander brilliantly played by Jean Yanne and the essential Stephane Audran.

14. Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932), aka Boudu Sauve des Eaux, France, directed by Jean Renoir
Jean Renoir's acidly humane comedy about an ungrateful bum taken up as a charity case by a bourgeois family is enough to make you sucker punch the next panhandler who bums change from you. Some of the movie's glories found their way into the inspired 1936 screwball comedy My Man Godfrey. Many years later Paul Mazursky hopelessly muddled the same raw material in Down and Out in Beverly Hills.

15. Breathless (1960), aka A Bout de Souffle, France, directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard's first feature has much to account for. Its breezy amorality, its fusion of Keystone Kops with film noir, its made-it-up-as-we-went-along zing, and its simultaneous deconstruction/worshiping of Hollywood genres have infected an extraordinary number of key movies, from A Hard Day's Night to Bonnie and Clyde to Pulp Fiction. Don't let the movie's lofty reputation scare you off; it's amiably cheesy, likable, innovative and, with smashing-looking Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in the leads, fatally glamorous.

16. The Burmese Harp (1956), aka Harp of Burma or Birumano Tategoto, Japan, directed by Kon Ichikawa
Masquerading as a Buddhist monk in order to return to his unit, a Japanese soldier travels through the WWII killing fields and eventually commits himself to burying the uncountable dead. A decade after WWII ended, the Japanese made the most heartbreaking antiwar film ever.

17. Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), France, directed by Jacques Rivette
Celine and Julie are a pair of madcap Alices looking for Wonderland. Their friendship leads first to a house, and then to the drama that is forever occurring, or playing, there. Can they rescue the little girl who seems to be trapped in this story? Hilarious, profound, a metaphor for filmgoing and fiction as a whole--this is a sublime film. But in this best of all possible worlds, our America, it is both unavailable and hardly ever heard of. Perhaps we have made it up?

18. La Chienne (1931), aka The Bitch or Isn't Life a Bitch?, France/US, directed by Jean Renoir
Early sound film by Jean Renoir about a timid, married clerk (the unique Michel Simon) who takes up with a cheap whore and finds himself a murderer. It's as if, all at once, poetic realism and tragicomic anecdote had been invented for the first time. Renoir's vision is still as fresh and startling as a cut lemon.

19. The Children of Paradise (1945), aka Les Enfants du Paradis, France, directed by Marcel Carne
How great is Marcel Carne's once-in-a-lifetime epic set among a ragtag 19th-century theatrical troupe? Put it this way: its hero is a lovestruck mime and we still love it. Heart-piercing performances by Jean-Louis Barrault and Arletty, playing mismatched lovers. Sumptuous and sublime, top to bottom.

20. The Conformist (1970), aka Il Conformista, Italy/France/W. Ger., directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
A tale that identifies ordinary guilt and sexual shame as the roots of fascism. The best work of director Bernardo Bertolucci, cameraman Vittorio Storaro, designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti and actor Jean-Louis Trintignant. And that is saying something. Beautiful, sinister and hugely influential.

21. Contempt (1963), aka Le Mepris or Il Disprezzo, France/Italy, directed by Jean-Luc Godard
One of cinema's snarkier in-jokes, Jean-Luc Godard's bleakly funny movie about trashy movie people making a hash out of The Odyssey in Europe was aimed at the time at cigar-chomping vularian types like producer Joseph E. Levine, but it could just as well have been Joel Silver and company making Hudson Hawk. As, respectively, the producer and bubble-headed star, Jack Palance and Brigitte Bardot turn in perfect accounts of themselves.

22. Cria! (1975), aka Cria Cuervos or Raise Ravens, Spain, directed by Carlos Saura
Geraldine Chaplin and young Anna Torrent play the same woman, at different ages, barraged and self-imprisoned in a miserable, shadowy past. Chaplin's performance is overwhelming; director Carlos Saura's movie is magnificent. Saura and Chaplin were lovers at the time, and neither was ever better than here when they were together.

23. The Decalogue (1988), aka Dekalog, Poland, directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Some movies provoke people to alter haircuts, attitudes or musical tastes. This one will change the way you look at movies. Each segment of Krzysztof Kieslowski's 10-hour film (made to be shown in installments on Polish TV) presents a moral dilemma based on one of the Ten Commandments. A random murder, a diagnosis of cancer, the death of a dog--all are interwoven, all given equal weight. Considerably more uplifting than William Bennett's The Book of Virtues.

24. Les Diabolique (1955), aka Diabolique, France, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Henri-Georges Clouzot's pitiless, icily enthralling shocker is famed for its bathtub murder, dankly perverse atmosphere (water, water, everywhere), irredeemable characters and much-imitated surprise ending. Simone Signoret's sangfroid and sunglasses nearly steal the whole show in this obvious forerunner of Psycho. The American remakes--two for TV, a third one on the big screen--were travesties.

25. Diary of a Country Priest (1950), aka Le Journal d'un Cure de Campagne, France, directed by Robert Bresson
A young priest suffers and sickens when his parishioners neither trust nor accept his piety. Rigorous austerity, scalpel-precise imagery, and sparsity of spoken word give Robert Bresson's film the searing purity of a brilliant silent film.

26. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), aka Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie, Italy/Spain/France, directed by Luis Bunuel
Bunuel's riotous late-career masterpiece about a gaggle of self-infatuated Parisians whose attempts at having dinner together are forever frustrated by terrorist attacks, army invasions, sexual liaisons, dream sequences, etc. For a perfect bad-dream double-bill, rent it with Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel, where the dinner guests never get to leave the dining room.

27. Dr. Mabuse, Parts 1 and 2 (1922), aka Doktor Mabuse der Spieler, directed by Fritz Lang
An evil genius, heroes and innocents, cops and crooks, rival gangs, mind readers, mesmerists, spies, femmes fatales, car chases--no, not Die Hard, but a silent masterwork, so full of action that modern audiences would be exhausted. Director Fritz Lang has never had an equal for inventing and framing lethal situations. Among the first amazed audiences were Hitler and Goebbels. Don't say movies can't influence people.

28. La Dolce Vita (1960), aka The Sweet Life, France/Italy, directed by Federico Fellini
Brilliant and caustic for nearly all of its three hours of glamorous moral rot and cynicism, Federico Fellini's seminal epic is never more inspired than when a helicopter flies over Rome dangling a statue of Christ, or when Amazonian Anita Ekberg, dancing through the night streets with a white kitten in her arms, hoists up her gown to wade through the Trevi Fountain. That's Italian.

29. The Double Life of Veronique (1991), aka La Double Vie de Veronique, directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Many people tout Kieslowski's Red/White/Blue trilogy, but his greatest movie came before those three. The Double Life of Veronique is the real thing, a deeply mysterious essay on self, fate and Irene Jacob squared. The music alone gives you the shivers.

30. The Earrings of Madame de. . . (1953), aka Diamond Earrings or Madame de..., directed by Max Ophuls
19th-century France. A marriage (Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer); a lover (Vittorio De Sica). It starts as comic intrigue, moves through high romance, and turns to tragedy. No one ever moved the camera better than Max Ophuls, or took so ambivalent a view of beauty. One wonders why succeeding generations have bothered to try to match this glory.

31. Earth (1930), aka Soil or Zemlya, Ukraine/USSR, directed by Alexander Dovzhenko
The soil, the ground, its growth, the sunlight--and the human society from the grassy plains of the Ukraine. Alexander Dovzhenko was less a communist or a Soviet than a poet of the seasons and human renewal. This is the cinema of Vivaldi and Van Gogh.

32. L'Eclisse (1962), aka The Eclipse, France/Italy, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
The third part of Antonioni's extraordinary trilogy on the chance for feeling in modern times (the first two parts are L'Avventura and La Notte). This one concerns the struggle between idealism and materialism. Monica Vitti and Alain Delon are the protagonists. He's a dealer on the exchange, and there are astonishing scenes of financial activity. But nothing matches the conclusion, when the characters fail to make a rendezvous and the camera helplessly notes the patience and perpetuity of life.

33. 8 1/2 (1963), aka Eight and a Half, Federico Fellini's 8 1/2, or Otto e Mezzo, France/Italy, directed by Federico Fellini
The narrative of Fellini's prescient, all-over-the-map phantasmagoria deals with the perils of giving carte blanche to a successful director. Mandatory viewing for everyone, not to mention any director blindsided by fame. Three "inspired by" remakes--Tommy Tune's Broadway musical Nine, Bob Fosse's movie musical All That Jazz and Woody Allen's Stardust Memories--were all fine but, shall we say, not quite in Fellini's league.

34. Europa '51 (1952), aka Greatest Love, Italy, directed by Roberto Rossellini
When Ingrid Bergman gave up on Hollywood, she married Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Their films together are a meeting of old-fashioned romance and modern skepticism. In this one, Ingrid is a society wife whose child dies. She goes mad (or is it sane?) and begins to work among the poor and the afflicted. She becomes a saint and an outcast.

35. The Eyes Without a Face (1960), aka Les Yeux Sans Visage or The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus or Occhi Senza Volto, France/Italy, directed by Georges Franju
No, not the Michael Jackson story, but, in its fixation on better living through plastic surgery, pretty close. A young woman, horribly disfigured in a car crash, becomes the obsession of her plastic surgeon father, who begins "borrowing" the faces off other young women and grafting them onto her. The face-peeling scene packs a visceral punch akin to the razor-slitting-the-eye image in Un Chien Andalou. Georges Franju's waking nightmare finds terrible beauty in unexpected places: caged animals awaiting vivisection, the wraithlike heroine sleepwalking in a featureless mask.

36. Fanny and Alexander (1982), aka Fanny och Alexander, W. Ger./Sweden/France, directed by Ingmar Bergman
Childhood, family, life, death, art, love, ghosts--the Bergman movie as Christmas feast for 30, all the way from the stuffed goose to the plum pudding. This luxuriously upholstered, three-hour-plus tour de force, Bergman's next-to-last, is both a summation of a career and the most user friendly film he ever made.

37. Floating Weeds (1959), aka Ukigusa or Drifting Weeds, directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Director Yasujiro Ozu had one subject--people, or family (which is to say, people seen through time). He had one way of watching--at a distance, detached, attentive, respectful. There has never been a truer style, or one capable of seeing so much. Take a trip into Japanese cinema and you will never go back to the American with your old complacency and confidence.

38. Forbidden Games (1951), aka Les Jeux Interdits or The Secret Game, France, directed by Rene Clement
Rene Clement's flat-out exquisite movie about how children create a fantasy bulwark against reality. While Europe is hammered by the Second World War and grown-ups all around them seem petty and small, a newly orphaned, homeless young girl and a peasant boy find grace, beauty and solace in burying dead animals.

39. The Four Hundred (400) Blows (1959), aka Les Quatre Cents Coups, France, directed by Francois Truffaut
Raw, unpolished, shot on the run and true to the bone, Francois Truffaut's autobio directorial debut is still the most desperate movie ever made about childhood.

40. Gertrud (1965), Denmark, directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
In Carl Dreyer's last film, a married woman gives up her husband and a life of order for a younger man, a musician. It seems like just a small story, a women's picture of the sort that Joan Crawford made. But Dreyer sees the situation as a model for every drama of liberty and happiness. In the end, as in the beginning, the great subject in movies is the human face as it begins to think and feel.

41. The Golden Coach (1952), aka Le Carrosse d'Or, France/Italy, directed by Jean Renoir
Jean Renoir loved actors and the notion that acting was just a metaphor for life. He was also drawn to the subject of whether an artist or an actor can lead a real life--as opposed to following his calling. This is the enactment of those thoughts, with Anna Magnani as the woman in a troupe of traveling players, loved by so many, yet, finally, incapable of loving people as much as she loves her work.

42. The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), aka Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo or L'Evangile Selon Saint-Matthieu, France/Italy, directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Pier Paolo Pasolini's cinema verite-style life of Christ features a cranky Jesus, the ferocious beauty of Southern Italy and a freaked-out, eclectic musical score with a little Prokofiev, a little Bach. A nifty, iconoclastic antidote to the cheeseball, velvet Jesus piety of The Greatest Story Ever Told.

43. Ikiru (1952), aka Doomed or To Live or Living, Japan, directed by Akira Kurosawa
The word means "to live," but a petty bureaucrat discovers he is dying of cancer. He searches for company and meaning. This is somber, plain and everyday, but the realism is lit up by the performance of Takashi Shimura and the sympathy of director Akira Kurosawa. A movie to be seen after any one of those American epics involving massive, spectacular and inhuman slaughter.

44. Le Jour Se Leve (1939), aka Daybreak, France, directed by Marcel Carne
Why is Jean Gabin holed up in a room with a gun? He has done a murder. Why? Because the world is rotten and hopeless. Director Marcel Carne's 1939 film (all made in the studio) is different from Renoir's 1939 flick The Rules of the Game, shot mostly on location. Starring two epitomes of worldliness, Arletty and Jules Berry.

45. Jules and Jim (1962), aka Jules et Jim, France, directed by Francois Truffaut
Boys meet girl. Boys love girl. One boy gets girl, then loses her. Other boy tries for girl. And so on, and so on. There's rarely been a wiser movie about unspoken love among messy, self-indulgent bohemians, or about love, period. Jeanne Moreau's Catherine is extraordinary: captivating, crackers, inspiring, tyrannical. Francois Truffaut's romantic masterpiece lives a universe apart from Paul Mazursky's Americanized version, Willie and Phil.

46. The Kingdom (1994), aka Riget, Denmark, directed by Lars von Trier
Lars von Trier's gruesome, poetic four-and-a-half hour movie (it was a miniseries in Denmark) about a haunted Danish hospital is a stinging rejoinder to anyone who says long foreign films are no fun.

47. Lamerica (1994), France/Italy, directed by Gianni Amelio
Neo-neorealist Gianni Amelio takes an irascible Italian yuppie and strands him in Albania, one of the most fabulously desolate and fearsome countries in the world and home to three-and-a-half million people who seem to want nothing more than to get the hell out. A political movie with a throbbing, panicky, bloody human heart.

48. Landscape in the Mist (1988), aka Topio Stin Omichli or Paysage Dans Le Brouillard, Greece/France/Italy, directed by Theo Angelopoulos
Two children wander across the Greek industrial wastelands to find an irrevocably lost father. Theo Angelopoulos's awesome, devastating movies make you hold your breath for fear of missing a frame; this one could change your life.

49. Last Year at Marienbad (1961), aka L'Anee Derniere a Marienbad, France/Italy, directed by Alain Resnais
Or was it Friedrichsbad? In Alain Resnais's enigma wrapped in an enigma, the visuals are like a 93-minute Calvin Klein commercial where no one's trying to sell you anything--gorgeous, ghostly sleepwalkers float through the hallways, lounges and restaurants of the grandest of grand hotels. Giorgio Albertazzi, for instance, can't remember whether, or even where, he and sleek Delphine Seyrig had an affair. Silly boy, with a face and trendsetting haircut like Seyrig's, who could possibly forget?

50. Lola (1961), aka Donna di Vita, France/Italy, directed by Jacques Demy
A fairy-tale romance, but filmed in the gritty realism of the seaport where director Jacques Demy grew up. It's a tribute to Max Ophuls, and a hymn to Anouk Aimee, as well as to comic irony, coincidence, wide screen, black and white and the sheer radiance of cinema.

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