My Favorite Films (Foreign Edition)

Although it’s undeniable from a recent post that my reading has waned to the vanishing point over the years, I’ve always been a fan of the silver screen.

Growing up in Manila, I always heard that everything in the U.S. was “bigger and better.”  I found that to be true in highways (I’d never seen an Interstate) and malls (none of those either); but Manila was far superior in the number and size of movie screens.  Since I go the movies more than I drive on an Interstate or shop (although it’s close on shopping but Manila has bigger malls than we do now), my quality of life has definitely diminished!

Although there was a small (by my standards) theater in a shopping center in the suburb where I lived, the place for the “full big screen theater experience” was downtown Manila.  Most of the theaters were lined up side by side along both sides of a major street.  These theaters were so cavernous that I can’t recall ever seeing them completely full.  And in  a country where most had very little, and even less hope of getting out of that situation, a few hours of escape in an air-conditioned theater was a big attraction.

These theaters had three seating sections.  Cheapest was the orchestra, which was on the ground floor and also had the most seats. In a form of economic segregation, this was where the “poor” folks sat.  Then there was the balcony, which was second largest and extended from the second floor’s back wall to the middle.  The lodge occupied the center and contained only a couple of rows of prime “front and center” seats before the balcony.  I usually sat in the balcony, which cost about 60 cents in the late ‘60s.  (I may be confused on which was the balcony and lodge but there were two sections up there.)

On a Saturday, I could go downtown and easily catch two movies.  I’d hit the first one around 11 AM, get a bite to eat at one of the many places on the street and then just walk to the next theater for the second movie.

I still remember when the newest technology – a Cinerama theater – arrived.  I eagerly attended the grand opening film: “How the West Was Won.”  At the theater, I also encountered another technological marvel: an escalator.  Very cool!

For decades, I’ve been seeing a movie almost week.  I’m not one for waiting for a film to come out on DVD or TV.  I want that “big screen” experience! (I will buy the DVD for “exceptional” films I may want to see again, but I have a good half-dozen still in the shrink wrap after a few years….)

As ticket prices have increased, my attendance routine has changed.  Now, I normally wait until a movie comes to our “second run” theater where I can see it for $1.25.  If it’s a foreign or “art film” that I think won’t come to the second run theater, I’ll catch it at a matinee or “senior” rate admission.

OK, it’s time for the part that enquiring minds have probably been awaiting: my favorite films.  This week, I’ll list my favorite foreign films, which I prefer; next week, it’ll be my favorite American films.

So in no particular order, here we go…..

Akiro Kurosawa has many “samurai” films to his credit, including “Seven Samurai” which was ripped off into “Magnificent Seven.” But this 1980-Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language  film is my favorite because it explores the psychological aspect of what happens when a petty criminal condemned to death is selected to be a stand-in for a warlord who is critically wounded.

Although he looks like the warlord, can he convince the enemy warlords that he is indeed “The Mountain” by behaving like a leader when all his life he has been low status? Imagine a psychological “My Fair Lady” set in feudal Japan and the wager is the clan’s survival.

Check out this trailer.

Bertrolucci covers the history of Italy, principally the rise and fall of fascism, over the first half of the twentieth century by following the intertwined lives of two boys born on the same day of the same year in the same town.  One is born to a wealthy family; the other is born to poverty.  Starring Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu, with  Donald Sutherland and Burt Lancaster.  This is a “two popcorn tub” film; it runs about four hours.

Farewell My Concubine
This 1993 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language film is a Chinese version of 1900. It’s the story of two boys who meet in the mid-1920s at Peking Opera school and we follow them adn their relationship as it twists and turns as they experience 50 years of critical Chinese history: the occupation by Japan, the Chinese civil war, and China under communism.

Seven Beauties
This Italian film is a harrowing tale of survival after two Italian soldiers trying to return home following Mussolini’s overthrow are captured by the Germans and sent to a Nazi death camp .  The title is a reference to the principal character’s sisters.

Nominated for 1976 Oscars as Best Foreign Film, Best Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Director.  The Best Director nomination for Lina Wertmuller was the Acadamy’s first nomination for a woman director.

The five minute opening “dedication” featuring WW2 black and white film clips while a narrator intones variations of: “The ones who….. Oh yeah” is the best I’ve seen. You can see that intro online at YouTube.

Letters From Iwo Jima
Technically, this is a foreign language film even though it was directed by Clint Eastwood.  I enjoyed the Japanese perspective of this battle and this is much more of a “war” movie than “Flags of Our Fathers.  It “humanizes” war by showing that the “enemy” is like us, although government propaganda demonizes any “enemy” as subhuman and evil.

Watch the trailer.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Winner of four 2000 Oscars, including Best Foreign Film, and starring Yun-Fat Chow and the exquisite Zhang Ziyi (who then appeared in many other Chinese martial arts films such as Hero, nominated for 2002‘s Best Foreign Language film, and with Pierce Bronson in a James Bond movie).

This is really a love story punctuated with some fine sword fighting. The Crazy 88’s bar fight scene in Kill Bill was lifted from a similar bar fight scene in this movie. (And in both, a woman takes out all the men.) That bar scene fight was also memorialized in a Visa commercial.  And a Coke commerical.

Watch the great sword fight scene between the two lead female stars.

I don’t know how much of this story of Genghis Khan’s rise to power is fact but I don’t really care. Beautiful fight scenes and stunning Mongolian landscape scenes make this a must see. Nominated for 2007 Best Foreign Film by both the Academy and National Board of Review. The Oscar went to The Counterfeiters but it did win the NBR award.  I’ll get the DVD.  (Most Best Foreign language film Oscars go to European films which I think is a “cultural thang.”)  See the trailer.

City of God
A “no holds barred” look at life and crime in a Brazilian slum as it follows a boy over 20 years.  It could just as easily been a Manila slum…  This is a violent trailer.  (Music by Peter Tosh.)

Pan’s Labyrinth
This 2006 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language film is a tearjerker tale of a young girl’s fantasy world to escape the harsh aftermath of the Spanish civil war.  Her nasty stepfather is hunting down guerillas in the boonies and is just what you’d expect a fascist to be.  His young daughter inadvertently becomes involved with the rebels. If you don’t get misty-eyed at the end, then you just might be a fascist…  😉

Here’s the trailer.

Tell No One
This 2008 French mystery film has one of the most twisting plots I’ve ever seen, right through the last minute.  A man’s wife is murdered while they are at a secluded lake.  He is suspected of the crime but released for lack of evidence.  The case is reopened years later when a body is found near the site of the wife’s murder. The husband is again suspected of the wife’s murder and it doesn’t look good for him because his alibi is very weak.  Like an onion, layer after layer of complexity is peeled away before the shocking ending. is having a great DVD sale with prices as low as $6 and free shipping on orders of at least $25. Some of the films I’ll mention next week are part of the sale.   Check the sale out here.


10 responses to “My Favorite Films (Foreign Edition)

  1. Well, I’ve at least heard of 6 of the 10, but have never seen a single one! I’m not sure I can say I’ve ever actually seen a foreign film at all. Except, I saw Last Tango in Paris…in Paris, in 1973. It was dubbed in French, with English subtitles. That was surreal! I found myself trying to read the lips of the actors to try to make out what they were saying in English, which made the whole thing twice as distracting! I hate subtitles. But still…I think this ought to count as a “foreign” film for me!

  2. Wow is all I can say. I am not much into foreign films as I do not like the subtitles it takes me out of the movie. Now if it is foreign and in English I am fine with that.

    As far as going to the movies I agree with prices going up, up and up and pay checks going down, down and down you have to figure out what to do. With ticket prices 10 bucks and 12 bucks in many places just for one ticket you can just about buy the DVD and you have it for a long time. Watch it two times you paid for it.

    I use to go to the movies all the time as well at least one per per it was the thing to do. Dinner and a movie as they say.

    Now I am advocate of large screens as well. So my choice was to invest about 10 years ago into a 55 inch TV wow very nice. Granted not as nice as going to the theater but it will do. Now they have 70 inch TV’s yea man I want me one of those.

    So I agree it is better to watch on the big screen I agree the foreign flicks are good as long as they are in English and I agree ticket prices for me are two high these days.

    So we agree WOW that is really scary.

  3. Ah Libertine…some of us cannot afford a big screen… 😉 But even I could, it’d still be no match for a real theater.

  4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was the bomb. Probably the most realistic sword fighting I’ve ever seen. But no kung-fu movie comes close to Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee.

  5. Yes Nick, Bruce Lee was Mr. Kung-Fu. But that genre is pretty dead in the U.S. I suspect it is still big in Asia though.

  6. My Home Theater was the best investment I made in a luxury entertainment category. But I waited a long time to do it. I gave up some of the trips you take Anarchist to have this and we use the shit out of it. I will look in Netflix for tell no one looks good , big thriller fan. Thanks

  7. well I ordered it but not available till March

  8. Not available until March? Maybe it’s not out on DVD yet? Because if it is out and that’s the “line”….. it sure is popular. Deservedly so.

    Be sure you’re “alert” when you see it; you have to be, to catch all the plot twists. At the end, I had to really think about how it ended and what the ‘truth” was.

    Someday, I may have to go to at least a “big screen” to replace my 25-inch Sony Wega. But not today… 😉

  9. “Be sure you’re “alert” when you see it”


    I think it is not in stock yet is all. Pretty sure it’s not because of popularity. This has happened before with foreign releases. Might be some royalty issues or something.

    I watched crouching tiger and enjoyed the special effects but the story line was over my head, or perhpas it was the martini?

  10. One martini should be OK….

    As for Crouching Tiger…. it may have been the martini! 😉

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