The 30 Best Foreign-Language Movies on Netflix

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The 30 Best Foreign-Language Movies 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 international movie offerings for our favorites. The list includes movies from a dozen different languages from a dozen or more different countries—from traditional cinema powerhouses like France, Italy and Japan to more recent centers of creativity like Brazil, Indonesia and even the former Soviet Republic of Georgia.

Here are the 30 Best Foreign-Language Films on Netflix:

1. Roma

roma-movie-poster.jpg Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Stars: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta
Genre: Drama
Language: Spanish, Mixtec
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: R
Runtime: 135 minutes

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Alfonso Cuarón’s most intimate film is also his most distancing. The camera sits back, black-and-white, focused not on the bourgeois children that represent the cinematographer-writer-director and his siblings growing up in Mexico City several decades ago, but moreso on the indigenous woman (Yalitza Aparicio) that cares for them and the household. Not even entirely focused on her, perhaps more focused on its classicist compositions of a place that no longer exists in the way Cuarón remembers it. The camera gazes and moves in trans-plane sequencing, giving us foreground, mid-ground and background elements in stark digital clarity. The sound mix is Dolby Atmos and enveloping. But the base aesthetic and narrative is Fellini, or long-lost Mexican neorealism, or Tati’s Playtime but with sight gags replaced by social concern and personal reverie. Reserved and immersive, introspective and outward-looking, old and new—some have accused Roma of being too calculated in what it tries to do, the balancing act it tries to pull off. Perhaps they’re not wrong, but it is to Cuarón’s immense credit as a thoughtful technician and storyteller that he does, in fact, pull it off. The result is a singular film experience, one that recreates something that was lost and then navigates it in such a way as to find the emergent story, then from that to find the emotional impact. So that when we come to that point late in Roma, we don’t even realize the slow, organic process by which we’ve been invested fully into the film; we’re not ready to be hit as hard as we are when the wallops come and the waves crash. It’s almost unbearable, but we bear it because we care about these people we’ve become involved with. And such is life. —Chad Betz


2. Pan’s Labyrinth

pans-labyrinth.jpg Year: 2006
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Ivana Baquero, Sergí Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Alex Angulo, Doug Jones
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Language: Spanish
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: R
Runtime: 115 minutes

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One of the most imaginative films of the 21st century, Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish fable is a triumph of storytelling and nothing short of a work of art. Simultaneously a war saga and a fairy tale, it traces the journey of a young girl and her scavenger hunt through another world to save her mother’s life, set in the midst of the Spanish civil war. Pan’s Labyrinth oozes atmosphere with its stunning cinematography and production values, all guided by del Toro’s keen artistic vision. With this out-and-out masterpiece, del Toro cemented his position as one of this generation’s most exciting and talented visionaries. —Jeremy Medina


3. Burning

burning-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Lee Chang-dong
Stars: Ah-in Yoo, Jong-seo Jeon, Steven Yeun
Genre: Drama
Language: Korean
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 148 minutes

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Eight years after critical hit Poetry, Korean director Lee Chang-dong translates a very brief and quarter-century old story by Japanese master novelist Haruki Murakami into something distinctly Korean, distinctly contemporary (spoiler warning: there’s a news clip of Trump) and distinctly Lee Chang-dong. But also: into something that utterly captures the essence of Murakami. Lee Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo) is an aspiring young writer who quits his menial job to tend to his incarcerated father’s farm (a storyline the film takes from William Faulkner’s short story “Barn Burning,” after which Murakami—as referential as ever—named his own story). Jong-su encounters a childhood acquaintance, Shin Hae-mi (Jong-seo Joon), who apparently he interacted with just once as a kid by calling her “ugly.” Anyways, Hae-mi’s all grown up and claims to have had plastic surgery; she and Jong-su strike up a relationship. It’s unusual and unnerving: Hae-mi is erratic and inscrutable, possibly a compulsive liar, while Jong-su can barely do more than gape and breathe. Nonetheless, Lee couches this set-up in exquisite details and rich observation. Spontaneously (as is her wont), Hae-mi asks Jong-su to watch her perhaps imaginary cat while she takes a trip to Africa. When Hae-mi returns to Korea, she—to Jong-su’s suppressed chagrin—has a rich new boyfriend in tow. His name is Ben, and he’s played as a bored but semi-cheerful sociopath by Steven Yeun (who has never been better). The way the film’s story flows into uncharted terrain is part of its spell. Something of a love triangle develops, some disturbing idiosyncrasies are revealed (not just about Ben) and some bad stuff happens. Murakami writes about that which he cannot grasp; he embraces the ineffable, inhaling and exhaling a cloud of unknowing. So, too, does Burning, while also managing to give us Lee Chang-dong’s signatures: visual lucidity and artful morality. It’s the rare symbiotic triumph between singular source material and singular cinematic vision. And while the film is a slow-burn, it expands the meaning of the term: You might never quench the flames it sparks within you, flames that send fumes up and away to a thundering, obscuring cloud. —Chad Betz


4. Atlantics

atlantics-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Mati Diop
Stars: Mame Bineta Sane, Amadou Mbow, Nicole Sougou, Aminate Kane
Genre: Drama, Romance
Language: Wolof, French
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 104 minutes

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Atlantics is quite the announcement for writer-drector Mati Diop. She takes the magic realism of a peer like Alice Rohrwacher and carries it to the world’s margins, examining class struggle in a Senegalese city by the Atlantic. Through the gritty, blustery opening images shot as artful document of the Dakar shore (outstanding work by cinematographer Claire Mathon) and the hypnotic electronic score by Fatima Al Qadiri, Diop is able to evoke an incomparable mood and sense of place. That it might look and sound so alien to an American watching this film on Netflix is perhaps a sharp enough indictment of the ways in which we intellectually seclude ourselves from realities beyond our own. Atlantics is about that and it’s about the breaking of that. It’s about the mystery of identity and how one can find identity by taking on the identity of something other, or can find it when looking in a mirror—not for the physical self but for the spirit. Congruously, it’s also about losing the identities that are culturally prescribed, that we may have been born with, nurtured and/or limited by. Love, the film posits, is a catalyst; love helps reform identities in transgressive and transcendent ways. And the film is at its best when it avoids being programmatic, lets its visuals pulse before you. It is yet another sad ghost story amongst many, but where it differs is finely drawing the distinction that sometimes the things that haunt the living most are not the things that were but the things that should have been. The film’s protagonist embraces that haunting as a form of hope; she loses something important and fills the hole by expanding her own self with the self that was touched by others. Though Atlantics feels elliptical in many ways, Diop has the bravery to end her film with a pretty resounding period. It’s a statement, both for itself and for its creator, and it’s a convincing one. —Chad Betz


5. Lagaan

lagaan.jpg Year: 2001
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Stars: Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh, Rachel Shelley, Paul Blackthorne, Kulbhushan Kharbanda
Genre: Bollywood, Comedy
Language: Hindi
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 225 minutes

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For newcomers, Lagaan may be one of the most easy entryways into Bollywood. (The film famously received India’s third-ever Academy Award nomination in 2001.) Rooted in a rich entanglement of high-stakes sports gaming and forbidden romance, Lagaan is an epic drama based in colonial India, the story of a group of Indian villagers who challenge their British colonizers to a game of cricket in exchange for the removal of their increasingly burdensome taxes. We get recruiting and training montages, conflict amongst teammates, an intercultural flirtation and a bangin’ soundtrack from the legend A.R. Rahman. Lagaan has been rightfully hailed as one of India’s most entertaining and thoughtful productions, and it seems to only get better with age. —Radhika Menon


6. Y Tu Mama Tambien

y-tu-mama.jpg Year: 2001
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Stars: Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Maribel Verdu
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Romance
Language: Spanish
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes

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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), as well as a bittersweet final adventure for their older female companion (Maribel Verdu) struggling 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 story following on parallel grooves: both coming-of-age and coming-to-terms. —Jeremy Medina


7. Happy as Lazzaro

happy-as-lazzaro-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Stars: Adriano Tardiolo, Alba Rohrwacher, Luca Chikovani
Genre: Drama
Language: Italian
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 137 minutes

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It’s very difficult to get into too many details about Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro without spoiling it—which seems a ridiculous thing to say about a film that starts off as a rural Italian take on Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, but you’ve got no idea until you’re watching it. Rohrwacher’s The Wonders was a more intimate, personal film that had moments of magic realism peeking through, just barely. Happy as Lazzaro similarly keeps the magic in check (though a scene with whispers in a field will start to invoke Fellini) until it no longer can—and then the magic explodes, blowing up the narrative and sending what’s left in an insanely bold direction. We can only be applaud its daring. If Dostoevsky was re-framing the Christ narrative, Happy as Lazzaro re-frames the very idea of a Christ narrative until it is something else entirely. Here, Christ is a mythic wolf and our kind idiot Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) is a touched Lazarus; the difference between them is a matter of substance, time and place. Lazzaro’s goodness, like all earthly goodness, is simultaneously transcendent and doomed, but the wolf continues on beyond any mortal coil, against the flow of humanity. Lazzaro tries to follow, perhaps foolishly, perhaps blindly…but happily, nonetheless. —Chad Betz


8. The Five Venoms

five-venoms-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1978
Director: Chang Cheh
Stars: Chang Cheh, Chien Sun, Pai Wei, Sheng Chiang, Philip Kwok, Kuo Chue
Genre: Action & Adventure, Martial Arts
Language: Mandarin
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

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This is what vintage kung fu—and martial arts cinema—is all about. The mythology alone is exquisite: The Five Venoms (aka Five Deadly Venoms) is the first Venom Mob film, and gave each of them a name for the rest of their careers. There’s the blinding speed of the Centipede (Lu Feng), the trickery and guile of the Snake (Wei Pei), the stinging kicks of the Scorpion (Sun Chien), the wall-climbing and gravity-defying acrobatics of the Lizard Kuo Chui), and the nigh-invincibility of the Toad (Lo Mang), along with the so-called “hybrid venom” protagonist, Yang Tieh (Chiang Sheng), who is a novice in all of the styles. It’s a film typical of both Chang Cheh and the Shaw Brothers: high budget, great costumes, beautiful sets and stylish action. Is it on the cheesy side? Sure, but how many great martial arts films are completely dour? It’s emblematic of an entire era of Hong Kong cinema and the joy taken in delivering beautiful choreography and timeless stories of good vs. evil. —Jim Vorel


9. Aquarius

aquarius.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho
Stars: Sonia Braga, Maeve Jinkings, Humberto Carrao, Irandhir Santos, Julia Bernat
Genre: Drama
Language: Portuguese
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 142 minutes

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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 despite crooked developers’ schemes 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


10. Shadow

shadow-yimou-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Zhang Yimou
Stars: Chao Deng, Sun Li, Ryan Zheng, Qianyuan Wang, Xiaotong Guan, Wang Jingchung
Genre: Martial Arts, Action & Adventure, Fantasy
Language: Mandarin
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 115 minutes

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Zhang Yimou’s latest is Shadow, a wuxia film based on the Chinese “Three Kingdoms” legend. Where Yimou’s recent filmography either favors substance over dazzle (Coming Home) or dazzle over substance (The Great Wall), Shadow does what the best of his movies do by sewing them together into one seamless package. As in Hero, as in House of Flying Daggers, the anti-gravity fight scenes are stunning to behold, but those movies put performance and action on the same plane, and Shadow deliberately separates them with a gorgeous monochrome palette, backgrounded by gray scale that lets the actors, and the copious amount of blood they spill throughout, hold its forefront. Here, in this tale of palace intrigue, Commander Yu (Deng Chao) employs a double to act in his stead (also Deng Chao)—his shadow, if you will—to seize control of a city of strategic value from invading forces against orders from his king (Zheng Kai). The film twists and turns, but through Zhang’s devoted stylization, the intricacies never overwhelm. Instead, the stylization does. —Andy Crump


11. My Happy Family

my-happy-family-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Directors: Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Groß
Stars: Ia Shugliashvili, Merab Ninidze, Berta Khapava
Language: Georgian
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 119 minutes

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It’s a shame Netflix felt like Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß’s My Happy Family deserved a burial, that the company didn’t bother pushing the film for awards season and neglected to give it a boost in visibility for the average consumer. Because Ekvtimishvili and Groß’s latest collaboration in a long line of collaborations is superb, timely and altogether unexpected in its unwavering grace. Compared to the year’s other films centered on dysfunctional families, whether hammy (I, Tonya) or naturalist (Lady Bird), My Happy Family is a gentle tribute to dignity: Manana (Ia Shugliashvili) is never less than noble in her constant dedication to her family, even as she determines that to preserve her sanity she must move out of the apartment she shares with them and lay down roots in a pad of her own. My Happy Family doesn’t judge Manana—it validates her. It illustrates a woman’s liberation from social and familial expectations, allowing Manana to discover who she is, what she wants and where she’s going without looking down on her. But My Happy Family is a small film with grand artistic ambitions, and both Ekvtimishvili and Groß know that Manana’s bliss has its limit. They know that eventually the matters of her husband and children, plus their extended family, must be reconciled. Still, My Happy Family shows a benevolent kind of restraint by ending on a note of uncertainty, sparing us the lion’s share of that work, its ultimate lingering ambiguity a thing of honorable beauty. —Andy Crump


12. Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro

cagliostro.jpg Year: 1979
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: Yasuo Yamada, Eiko Masuyama, Kiyoshi Kobayashi, Makio Inoue, Goro Naya
Genre: Animation, Acton & Adventure
Language: Japanese
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 100 minutes

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The nature of Miyazaki’s oeuvre is such that it brims with an embarrassment of riches, each film in its own part situated indelibly into the continuum that is the anime canon. His films garner so much acclaim for their visual storytelling and emotional virtuosity that even those few that could be considered his “worst” movies still rank leagues above those animators who only aspire to his status. Case in point: Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. Miyazaki’s take on Kazuhiko Kato’s notorious master criminal is at once a rip-roaring heist film with heart and what might arguably be Miyazaki’s lesser films. Chalk it up to Miyazaki’s nascent efforts as a director; Castle of Cagliostro suffers from a plodding middle half and a disappointingly simplistic antagonist while still somehow managing to sparkle with his signature charm peeking through the baggage of a preexisting work. Fans of the series passionately criticized the film for relieving Lupin of his anarchic predilections and instead casting him in the mold of a true gentleman thief, stealing only when his nebulous sense of honor permits it. In any case, The Castle of Cagliostro remains an important and essential artifact of Miyazaki’s proto-Ghibli work. A flawed Miyazaki film is a triumph all the same. —Toussaint Egan


13. Kung Fu Hustle

KungFuHustleHKposter.jpg Year: 2004
Director: Stephen Chow
Stars: Stephen Chow, Wah Yuen, Shengyi Huang, Kwok-Kwan Chan
Genre: Action & Adventure, Martial Arts
Language: Cantonese
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Stephen Chow is probably the biggest name in martial arts comedy since the days of Sammo Hung, and Kung Fu Hustle will likely remain one of his most well-regarded films—both as director and performer. Gleefully kooky, the film combines occasional song and dance with expectedly extremely exaggerated kung fu parody in telling the tale of a young man who ends up overthrowing a large criminal organization, the “Deadly Axe Gang.” This is nothing complex—rather, Kung Fu Hustle is unadulterated absurdity: The action has no basis in reality, reveling in Looney Tunes physics, while characters are broad pastiches and/or references to famous actors from the genre’s history. With gags teetering decidedly on the juvenile (or inscrutable, for Americans at least) side, the film is a testament to Chow’s style—entertain first, make sense later. That’s what he does, and he does it better than anyone else. —Jim Vorel


14. Blue is the Warmest Color

blue-warmest.jpg Year: 2013
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Stars: Léa Sydoux, Adéle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche
Genre: Drama
Language: French
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: NC17
Runtime: 187 minutes

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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


15. The Night Comes for Us

night-comes-for-us-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Timo Tjahjanto
Stars: Joe Taslim, Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Sonny Pang
Genre: Martial Arts, Thriller
Language: Indonesian, English, Mandarin, Cantonese, French
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 121 minutes

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While Gareth Evans confounded fans of The Raid movies by giving them a British folk horror film (but a darn good one) this year, Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes for Us scratches that Indonesian ultra-violent action itch. Furiously. Then stabs a shard of cow femur through it. Come for the violence, The Night Comes for Us bids you—and, also, stay for the violence. Finally, leave because of the violence. If that sounds grueling, don’t worry, it is. You could say it’s part of the point, but that might be projecting good intentions on a film that seems to care little for what’s paving the highway to hell. It’s got pedal to metal and headed right down the gullet of the abyss. It’s also got the best choreographed and constructed combat sequences of the year, and plenty of them, and they actually get better as the film goes along. There’s a scene where Joe Taslim’s anti-hero protagonist takes on a team inside a van, the film using the confines to compress the bone-crushing, like an action compactor. Other scenes are expansive in their controlled chaos and cartoonish blood-letting, like Streets of Rage levels, come to all-too-vivid life: the butcher shop level, the car garage level and a really cool later level where you play as a dope alternate character and take on a deadly sub-boss duo who have specialized weapons and styles and—no, seriously, this movie is a videogame. You’ll forget you weren’t playing it, so intensely will you feel a part of its brutality and so tapped out you’ll feel once you beat the final boss, who happens to be The Raid-star Iko Uwais with a box-cutter. It’s exceptionally painful and it goes on forever. Despite a storyline that’s basically just an excuse for emotional involvement (Taslim’s character is trying to protect a cute little girl from the Triad and has a lost-brotherhood bit with Uwais’s character) and, more than that, an easy way to set up action scenes on top of action scenes, there’s something about the conclusion of The Night Comes For Us that still strikes some sort of nerve of pathos, despite being mostly unearned in any traditional dramatic sense. Take it as a testament to the raw power of the visceral: A certain breed of cinematic action—as if by laws of physics—demands a reaction. —Chad Betz


16. Okja

okja-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, An Seo Hyun, Byun Heebong, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Yoon Je Moon, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Woo Shik Choi, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Language: Korean, English
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 118 minutes

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Okja takes more creative risks in its first five minutes than most films take over their entire span, and it doesn’t let up from there. What appears to be a sticking point for some critics and audiences, particularly Western ones, is the seemingly erratic tone, from sentiment to suspense to giddy action to whimsy to horror to whatever it is Jake Gyllenhaal is doing. But this is part and parcel with what makes Bong Joon-ho movies, well, Bong Joon-ho movies: They’re nuanced and complex, but they aren’t exactly subtle or restrained. They have attention to detail, but they are not delicate in their handling. They have multiple intentions, and they bring those intentions together to jam. They are imaginative works that craft momentum through part-counterpart alternations, and Okja is perhaps the finest example yet of the wild pendulum swing of a Bong film’s rhythmic tonality. Okja is also not a film about veganism, but it is a film that asks how we can find integrity and, above all, how we can act humanely towards other creatures, humans included. The answers Okja reaches are simple and vital, and without really speaking them it helps you hear those answers for yourself because it has asked all the right questions, and it has asked them in a way that is intensely engaging. —Chad Betz


17. Mirai

mirai.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Stars: Haru Kuroki, Moka Kamishiraishi, Gen Hoshino
Genre: Anime
Language: Japanese
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Most, if not all, of Mamoru Hosoda’s original films produced in the past decade function, to some degree or another, as exercises in autobiography. Summer War, apart from a premise more or less recycled from Hosoda’s 2000 directorial debut Digimon Adventure: Our War Game!, was the many-times-removed story of Hosoda meeting his wife’s family for the first time. 2012’s Wolf Children was inspired by the passing of Hosoda’s mother, animated in part by the anxieties and aspirations at the prospect of his own impending parenthood. 2015’s The Boy and the Beast was completed just after the birth of Hosoda’s first child, the product of his own questions as to what role a father should play in the life of his son. Mirai, the director’s seventh film, is not from Hosoda’s own experience, but filtered through the experiences of his first-born son meeting his baby sibling for the first time. Told care of the perspective of Kun (Moka Kamishiraishi), a toddler who feels displaced and insecure in the wake of his sister Mirai’s birth, Mirai is a beautiful adventure fantasy drama that whisks the viewer on a dazzling odyssey across Kun’s entire family tree, culminating in a poignant conclusion that emphasizes the beauty of what it means to love and to be loved. Mirai is Hosoda’s most accomplished film, the recipient of the first Academy Award nomination for an anime film not produced by Studio Ghibli, and an experience as edifying as it is a joy to behold. —Toussaint Egan


18. Train to Busan

train-to-busan.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Starring: Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Su-an, Kim Eui-sung, Choi Woo-shik, Ahn So-hee
Genre: Action, Horror
Language: Korean
Rating: NR
Runtime: 118 minutes

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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


19. April and the Extraordinary World

april-extraordinary-world-poster.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Christian Desmares, Franck Ekinci
Stars: Marion Cotillard, Philippe Katerine, Jean Rochefort, Olivier Gourmet
Genre: Animation, Adventure
Language: French
Rating: PG
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Runtime: 105 minutes

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Keeping real life global history straight in narratives that leapfrog across decades and centuries is tough enough—making sense of alternate history when it’s articulated at breakneck speed throughout multiple eras of European cultural advancement is just downright strenuous. Think of April and the Extraordinary World as an intense workout for your brain, during which the film shapes a surrogate Earth in the span of mere minutes and fires off salvos of detail, visual and aural alike, in the pursuit of recalibrating the past. The inattentive and unimaginative need not apply. Good news for diligent viewing types, though: April and the Extraordinary World is pretty great, a compact exercise in world building without handholding that rewards a patient, observant audience. If you can keep pace with the film’s plot deployment, you’ll be in for a wonderful ride littered with talking cats, fabulous steampunk backdrops, rollercoaster excitement and terrific characters, all drawn through the fundamental beauty of cel animation. April and the Extraordinary World reminds us of the aesthetic value of traditional animation and the necessity of human ingenuity, all without treating its audience like idiots. —Andy Crump


20. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

36th-chamber-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1978
Director: Lau Kar-leung
Stars: Gordon Liu, Lo Lieh, Norman Chu, Lau Kar-wing
Genre: Martial Arts
Language: Mandarin
Rating: R
Runtime: 109 minutes

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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 San Te, a young student 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 finally earns the right to learn kung fu, which begins the film’s famous training sequences. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is the rare film where those training sequences actually outshine its 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, bearing an iconic gravitas, imbuing kung fu with a great dignity. Because true kung fu can only be attained through the greatest of sacrifice. —Jim Vorel


21. The Square

the-square.jpg Year: 2013
Director: Jehane Noujaim
Genre: Documentary
Language: Egyptian Arabic
Rating: NR
Runtime: 104 minutes

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Bringing calm insight to an impassioned, still-developing historic event, 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 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. Using no voiceover narration and only a handful of intertitles that inform the viewer about the exact time period of events, The Square seeks to create an urgent, immediate experience that tells its story through the reactions of its main participants. In the West, the scenes of peaceful, joyous protest at Tahrir Square were warmly greeted as hopeful signs of a new Middle East. The Square doesn’t throw cold water on those hopes as much as it meticulously demonstrates that systemic change does not come easily. That’s why you care so deeply about the people you see in this movie—it’s not that their quest is easy but that it’s so very hard. —Tim Grierson


22. Man of Tai Chi

man-of-tai-chi-poster.jpg Year: 2013
Director: Keanu Reeves
Stars: Tiger Chen, Keanu Reeves, Karen Mok, Iko Uwais, Simon Yam
Genre: Martial Arts
Language: Mandarin, English, Cantonese
Rating: R
Runtime: 105 minutes

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Even today, our doubts fully behind us that the man is an all-time, absolutely singular movie star, it’s still a phrase that lodges in the throat: “Director: Keanu Reeves.” But for anyone who left the John Wick flicks loose-limbed and exhausted due to the sheer grace of Reeves’ action chops, it should come as absolutely no surprise that the man—the one and only Neo—can direct the fuck out of a martial arts movie. With little frills, barely a plot, a Tai Chi phenom in Tiger Chen (who also served as Reeves’ teacher and, for Kill Bill, Uma Thurman’s stunt double), a woman who seems smarter and serves more of a purpose in the plot than all the dudes beating each other senseless surrounding her, and Reeves’ ever-present, weird sonic repurporsing of the English language, Man of Tai Chi delivers pretty much what the title suggests: an exhilarating, inertial obsession both with movement as art as power and with those who wield it so well. Testament to Reeves’s intelligence as a self-didact who just wants to do right by those folks who put their trust in him over the course of his many-decade career, Man of Tai Chi represents all that anyone should rightly hope for when seeing who directed it. —Dom Sinacola


23. My Life as a Zucchini

my-life-zucchini-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Claude Barras
Stars: Will Forte, Nick Offerman, Ellen Page, Amy Sedaris
Genre: Animation
Language: French
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 66 minutes

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My Life as a Zucchini begins bleakly. Our nine-year-old, blue-haired protagonist (voiced by Gaspard Schlatter) is called Icare—translated in English as “Icarus,” though the allusion hardly seems to matter—but he insists on going by Courgette (“Zucchini”), not because he looks like a vegetable or because a zucchini has any metaphorical relevance, but because it’s a nickname his mother gave him. And within those opening minutes, Zucchini has every reason to cling to a small gift from his mom: The boy, completely by accident, kills her. Nowadays, this is just how Oscar nominated kids movies do. From there, the film lightens considerably, even though Zucchini, orphaned post-accident, meets a cadre of broken children at the orphanage to which he’s assigned. After winning the begrudging respect of Simon (Paulin Jaccoud), the self-appointed leader of the small group of castaways, Zucchini learns of the plights of his fellow children: abuse, pedophilia, severe mental illness, alcoholism—all of this Simon relates with little understanding, besides that for each child an unthinkable tragedy means there is no one left to love them, and thus they end up there, bound by their foster-less-ness. Director Barras’s most impressive feat—besides keeping this animated film under 70 minutes—is how effortlessly he gives the film to Zucchini, never once letting the corruption of the adult world stain My Life as a Zucchini’s lively hues and livelier magnanimity. Tonally, Barras struggles in almost every scene, especially when the heaviness of his characters’ lives aren’t given the seriousness such heaviness demands, and optimism threatens to obfuscate the crimes of the adults whose choices led to these kids’ situations so directly. Still, if all Barras is trying to say is that human beings are essentially good—contrary to popular opinion at the moment—then that should be enough. One can’t fault a film too harshly for loving its characters too much to watch them suffer needlessly, or fault an artist too adamantly for adopting the indefatigable idealism of a prepubescent with a pointless nickname. —Dom Sinacola


24. He Even Has Your Eyes

he-even-has-your-eyes.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Lucien Jean-Baptiste
Stars: Lucien Jean-Baptiste, Aïssa Maïga, Zabou Breitman
Genre: Comedy
Language: French
Rotten Tomatoes Score: NA
Rating: TV-MA
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Few films have been able to capture the inherent absurdity at the core of racism, but He Even Has Your Eyes achieves just this, all 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 as 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


25. Mary and the Witch’s Flower

mary-witchs-flower.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Stars: Hana Sugisaki, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Yuki Amami, Fumiyo Kohinata
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure
Language: Japanese
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Runtime: 102 minutes

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There’s something heartbreaking about the idea of a child who’s eager to help around the house but creates more of a mess than they end up cleaning. That’s Mary, the title character of Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s new film Mary and the Witch’s Flower. She wants to be useful to her great-aunt Charlotte (Lynda Baron), and to Charlotte’s housekeeper, Miss Banks (Morwenna Banks), but she can’t relieve Charlotte of an empty teacup without dropping it on the floor. The kid’s a walking disaster. It’s practically tragic. She’s a good kid, she just has nothing to do, until she meets a couple of outdoor cats who lead her to a clutch of glowing blue flowers which capture her curiosity on sight. Not knowing exactly what they are (hint: they’re witch’s flowers), Mary takes them back to Charlotte’s and quickly discovers that the flowers bestow temporary magical abilities on whoever touches them. Mary and the Witch’s Flower’s plot—and, boy, there’s a lot of plot—kicks off from there: Mary is whisked away by a flying sentient broom to an academy for witches, led by Madame Mumblechook (Kate Winslet) and Doctor Dee (Jim Broadbent), who put on a kindly front that disguises unsavory intentions. There’s a familiarity to Mary and the Witch’s Flower as narrative: Harry Potter-lite by way of Studio Ghibli-lite with a dash of Yonebayashi’s past thematic interests. The whole thing is spirited, gentle and unfailingly lovely. We all look for magic in the world around us, and when we do the world routinely lets us down. Movies like this remind us that there’s magic, and life, in art—and perhaps especially in animation. —Andy Crump


26. Ip Man

ip-man.jpg Year: 2008
Director: Wilson Yip
Stars: Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung, Dennis To, Syun-Wong Fen, Simon Yam, Gordon Lam
Genre: Martial Arts
Language: Cantonese
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes

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2008’s Ip Man marked, 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). In Foshan (a city famous for martial arts in southern/central China), an unassuming practitioner of Wing Chung tries to weather the 1937 Japanese invasion and occupation of China peacefully, but is eventually forced into action. Limb-breaking, face-pulverizing action fills this semi-historical film, which succeeds gloriously both as compelling drama and martial arts fan-bait. —K. Alexander Smith


27. The Edge of Democracy

edge-of-democracy-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Petra Costa
Genre: Documentary
Language: Portuguese
Rating: NR
Runtime: 113 minutes

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Though her take is sweeping, her drone shots a tad too obligatory, director Petra Costa draws as many parallels as she’s able to line up the political roots of her family tree with those of her home country. The Edge of Democracy, then, is likely most compelling for viewers unfamiliar with Briazilian politics in pretty much any capacity. Costa intuits this reality—its Oscar nomination signals some Netflixian prestige for this kind of exceptionally well made documentary—and, without being explicit, makes a clear argument that Brazil is, at least, as deserving of its doom as those of us under Trump. Whether you feel that way or not—that everything is sad and fucked—as an American it’s difficult to not see the stories of these two relatively young world powers align with almost monomythical certainty. And yet, Costa allows her sadness to permeate the film, narrating frequently about her grandfather’s construction business, which flourished during the dictatorship while her mother and father put their lives on the line as revolutionaries, in between a wealth of footage and melancholy tracking shots. The moral poetry of it all tips every once in a while into the obvious, but Costa’s handle on the breadth of what she’s covering, aided by some intimate access to key political figures and Brazilian icons like Lula and Dilma Rousseff, bears impressive responsibility for all the personal connections, and self-serious gestures, she makes. —Dom Sinacola


28. MFKZ

mfkz.jpg Year: 2018
Directors: Shojiro Nishimi (as Shoujirou Nishimi), Guillaume Renard
Starring: Giancarlo Esposito, Vince Staples, RZA, Dascha Polanco
Genre: Animated, Action
Language: French
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 41%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 105 minutes

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France and Japan have always had something of a cross-continental love affair when it comes to art. From the impact of ukiyo-e prints on the rise of impressionism to the influence of Jean “Moebius” Giraud’s bandes dessinée comics on artists like Hayao Miyazaki and Katsuhiro Otomo, the aesthetic trajectories of these two countries have been in constant conversation with one another throughout history. MFKZ is only the latest link in this chain of cultural exchange, an international work whose origins stress the fault lines what can be known as “anime” or “world animation.” Co-directed by Studio 4°C’s Shojiro Nishimi and comic author Guillaume “Run” Renard, MFKZ is adapted from Renard’s original comic Mutafukaz and follows Angelino, a onyx-skinned young man eking out a life of minimum wage survival in Dark Meat City, a funhouse mirror depiction of South Central Los Angeles by way of Brazilian Favelas. Angelino’s meek and unassuming life is upended when he crosses paths with a mysterious young woman and subsequently gets into an moped accident. Waking up with a splitting headache and suddenly ensnared in a centuries-old conspiracy by shadowy government agents, Angelino and his friends Vinz and Willy must find a way to escape the city alive, all the while uncovering the secrets of Angelino’s own forgotten past. MFKZ is a labor of perseverance, and it shows. While it flares up before fizzling out in its final moments, the view is admittedly entertaining and worth witnessing if only to relish in the thrill of its visual excess. Whether MFKZ is an end in of itself or the entry in a larger series to come, it’s a marvel to see such an avowed international effort stake its claim to legitimacy amidst the medium’s global transformation. —Toussaint Egan


28. Everybody Knows

everybody-knows.jpg
Year: 2018
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Stars: Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darîn
Genre: Drama
Language: Spanish
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%
Rating: R
Runtime: 132 minutes

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The mixture of plot twists and moral shading, the focus on flawed characters and irresolvable pasts: Fans of writer-director Asghar Farhadi have come to cherish these trademark elements in his films. Everybody Knows is the Iranian filmmaker’s first work in Spanish. It stars Penelope Cruz as Laura, a wife and mother who returns to the village where she grew up after years of living in Argentina with her husband, Alejandro (Ricardo Darin). The reason for the reunion is her sister’s wedding, which brings joy but also anxiety for Laura. While she’s happy to see her family after being gone for so long, there’s an overriding tension: Why has she been so absent? Also making things complicated is that this is the first time in a decade that she’s seen Paco (Javier Bardem), who owns a vineyard and was once Laura’s lover. But that’s seemingly all in the past since he’s now happily married to Bea (Barbara Lennie). Of course, anyone who’s seen a Farhadi film—including A Separation, The Past and The Salesman—knows that old lovers and complicated families don’t go quietly. Those ingredients are the basic building blocks of Farhadi’s dramas, and once Everybody Knows gets rolling, we raise our antennae, preparing for the shockwaves to come. Amidst a superb cast, Bardem and Cruz are both strong playing characters who haven’t let go of the past—a familiar affliction in Farhadi’s films. Which is maybe why Lennie is Everybody Knows’ true knockout. Sexy and smart, Bea is a vital life force who’s captured Paco’s heart. But once Laura returns—and Irene goes missing—she starts to understand that there are whole lifetimes of her husband’s existence that she’s never fully appreciated. Her tragedy may be that, suddenly, it could be too late to do anything about it, and Lennie displays the flurry of anger, sadness and panic that accompany such a profound test of her marriage. As Farhadi skillfully moves his protagonists around the chessboard, only Lennie feels fully untethered, her wild card of a character refusing to be reined in by her husband—or even Farhadi’s narrative maneuvering. —Tim Grierson


29. West Coast

west-coast.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Benjamin Weill
Stars: Devi Couzigou, Mathis Crusson, Victor Le Blond
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Language: French
Rotten Tomatoes Score: NA
Rating: TV-MA
Runtime: 80 minutes

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In this one hour and 20-minute film, a band of French teens—Delete, King Kong, Flé O, and Copkiller—obsessed with West Coast American rap culture set out on a journey to retrieve a dangerous lost (originally stolen) item. As is often the case, this journey shows the deep friendship of four boys navigating their own identities while trying to impress the girls of their dreams. Their trip takes them outside of their small French town, via hitchhiking, a bike, and a stolen car. Epic water gun battles ensue and internet relationships are brought to light, all while these four boys travel western France to find a way out of the tangled web they’ve woven for themselves. —Grace Williamson


30. Psychokinesis

psychokinesis-movie-poster.jpg
Year: 2018
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Stars: Ryu Seung-ryong, Shim Eun-kyung, Park Jung-min
Genre: Superhero, Action
Language: Korean
Rotten Tomatoes Score: NA
Rating: NR
Runtime: 101 minutes

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Following up Train to Busan, his adroit add-on to the endlessly alive zombie genre, Yeon Sang-ho offers another interpretation of the zeitgeist with Psychokinesis, building a deft, vaguely political room of South Korea’s own in the cinematic superhero universe. Ryu Seung-ryong plays everyman nobody Shin Seok-heon, a dopey security guard estranged from his family, brought back into daughter Roo-mi’s (Shim Eun-kyung) life after a gang of unionized construction workers accidentally kill her mother while attempting to evict the young fried chicken entrepreneur from their small storefront. Also: Seok-heon has burgeoning superpowers of the titular variety, contracted when he drinks from a public spring polluted with an alien substance recently released into the earth via crashed space rock. Though Yeon (who also wrote the film) typically confuses comic book sensibility with a total lack of deeply written characters struggling under actually interesting motivations and backstories, Yeon isn’t particularly driven by the same forces as the MCU or the DCEU: Psychokinesis has an unfettered heart, an unfussy melodrama, in ways films of those brands don’t, not burdened by the same economic pressure—while also declaring very clearly that the police are bad. It’s all pretty refreshing in the wake of an Infinity War. —Dom Sinacola

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