January 02, 2017

Cinema 2016: Top Modern Foreign-Language Films

I could only watch 150 movies in 2016, my lowest score since 2007. But I did watch about 40 foreign-language films that were released in the last five years. Considering this span of five years to be my criteria for defining a 'modern' film, like every year, I am back with the list of my favorites. And no, it does not include 'Son of Saul'.

Also, as on date I have watched the official entries of 19 countries for the upcoming Oscar Awards, five of which feature in this list. I would also like to mention 'Sairat' and 'Visaranai' - two Indian films that completely bowled me over and became worthy role-models for the struggling Hindi film industry with their critical and commercial success.
  • 'Death in Sarajevo' (Bosnia-Herzegovina) by Danis Tanovic: If you love history, if you love movies with multiple protagonists, if you love movies set over a few hours, this is for you. I was thoroughly engaged, impressed and entertained. It almost does everything that movies can do.
  • 'Desierto' (Mexico) by Jonas Cuaron: This movie appears in my list of top movies this year because of its remarkable direction and for its wonderful use of location. Stunning. Thrilling. A very well-done genre piece. Do not expect much and you will find it unforgettably entertaining.
  • 'Endless Poetry' (Chile-France) by Alejandro Jodorowsky: This is a tough watch. But if you are willing to indulge an artist, this can be the one of the best experience of brilliance for you. Was definitely a highlight of the year for me, this self-indulgent, autobiographical extravaganza.
  • 'The Handmaiden' (South Korea) by Park Chan-wook: Not many movies on this list can boast of a brilliant story-line. This erotic crime drama was stunning in every way, including its shocking plot-twists. I'd suggest you watch it without watching its trailer or reading about it. And, corny as it may seem, we can expect an unofficial Bollywood remake of the same by Abbas-Mastan!
  • 'My Life as a Courgette' (Switzerland) by Claude Barras: An extremely sweet animation film that most endearingly reminds you about the importance of friendship and love, it is among the top 9 movies fighting for the foreign-language Oscar this year. It might be nominated for the Best Animated Feature as well. What a delight!
  • 'Paradise' (Russia) by Andrei Konchalovsky: Another film on the Holocaust! In Black & White, 4:3 Aspect Ratio and with a lot of talking to the camera. I would have never watched it if I knew just all this. But thank God I watched it. What a heartbreaking film! And so, so beautiful. I strongly feel it will make it to the top five at Oscars.
  • 'The Red Turtle' (France-Belgium-Japan) by Michael Dudok de Wit: It is 75 minutes of meditative beauty. Not a word spoken and still says so much about life and beyond. I have watched this animation film twice, including deciding to end the year with a re-watch in my Mom's company. I wish I could have found time to write about it in detail, perhaps one must-watch-before-you-die of the year.
  • 'The Salesman' (Iran) by Asghar Farhadi: This will be one of the biggest bets at the Oscars, another well-crafted and universally appealing story by Farhadi. It is a deceptively simple drama concerning a married a couple and one incident that threatens to change everything for them. I am confident more layers will be revealed on subsequent re-watches.
  • 'The Untamed' (Mexico) by Amat Escalante: How do you describe this? A sci-fi drama on infidelity? It may not make too much sense. It may try your patience. But in the end, it is a rewarding experience on so many levels, including some guilty pleasures for those who love graphic sex and violence on screen. Escalante has become the director to watch out for.
  • 'The Wailing' (South Korea) by Na Hong-jin: This is what horror films should do - haunt you forever. I have said this before that to me this is World Cinema's answer to Polanski's 'Rosemary's Baby'. To do something new in this overly abused genre is so tough and this dark and bleak fable not only does that, it teaches a thing or two about how to evolve the genre from here. Do not watch it if you have a weak heart. I am serious!

Special Mention: 'White God' (from Hungary by Kornel Mundruczo) for the most brilliant use of dogs in movie history, 'The Woman Who Left' (from Philippines by Lav Diaz) for challenging and rewarding me at the same time, and 'Jauja' (from Denmark-Argentina-France by Lisandro Alonso) for its every-frame-a-painting beauty.


  1. Thank you for such a great breakdown.

  2. Saw all of them last week. I specially liked The Handmaiden, The Red Turtle and The Salesman

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