10 Best foreign films of 2010

In an ideal world, trembling fawns would nibble fearlessly from our open palms and ‘foreign films’ would not be penned into their own category but at liberty to graze with the giant sleek cattle of UK/US films. The genre and content of a film would count for more than the tongue in which it was presented. Foreign films would be free to be just… films. If John Lennon was alive I’d probably sit him down in a builder’s cafe and suggest he write a song about it, he liked writing songs about beautiful things unlikely to happen.

In the real world, people lump foreign films together because they’re pioneer territory… tucked into the graveyard slot at cinema chains and promoted by independent cinemas / word of mouth. To get into the foreign films club, you need to know the address (unmarked door in a warehouse district), the right people and the password. So… here’s the password. In no particular order, here are the 10 best foreign films of 2010 (based on UK release).

1. Gainsbourg (Vie Héroique)

Gainsbourg poster - foreign films

As a biopic, Gainsbourg utterly fails to deliver. Fortunately, a biopic is exactly what this isn’t. Offering a stylised and stylish insight into one of France’s great cultural icons, the singing and womanising Gallic legend Serge Gainsbourg, this french film is unmissable.


2. A Prophet

A prophet poster - foreign films

A young Arab is sent to a French prison after a life in detention centres. Prison is a violent manly hell and the only way to survive is to climb to the top of a dark underworld hierarchy. Not only a Cannes favourite but also stunningly good, A Prophet, the latest french film from The Beat That My Heart Skipped director Jacques Auidiard grabs you from the start, pulls a burlap sack over your head and doesn’t let up with its intensity and drive for any one of its 155 minutes. A gruelling masterclass in taut, engaging and wholly believable cinema, A Prophet is essential viewing for those who take their cinema seriously.


3. Cell 211

Cell 211 poster - foreign films

What would you do if you awoke in a cell surrounded by violent riots on your first day as a prison official? This is the terrifying premise behind Daniel Monzón’s prison drama, Cell 211. With fine perfomances from Alberto Ammann as the quick thinking official, and Luis Tosar as the menacing ‘Malamadre’, or ‘Badass’, it’s little wonder that this Spanish thriller picked up eight Goya awards.


4. The Illusionist

The Illusionist poster - foreign films

If you thrilled to the charming bumblings of M Hulot and gazed spellbound at the sumptuous visual feast of Belleville Rendez-vous, then brace yourself. Based on a Jacques Tati script adapted by director Sylvain Chomet, The Illusionist has the best of both directors’ vision. Originally set in Prague but moved to Edinburgh, The Illusionist is a finely-crafted traditional animation brought to life with all the elegance of Chomet’s previous idiosyncratic work and more emotional depth than any of Tati’s live-action performances.


5. Love Like Poison

Love Like Poison poster - foreign films

The directorial debut from Ivorian film-maker Katell Quillévéré, Un Poison Violent (Love Like Poison) is a classic coming-of-age tale which shows the conflict between human nature at its freest and most rigidly controlled extents. As its teenage protagonist struggles to make choices which will define the course of her life, the audience is forced to make its own decision between the extremes of passion and piety.


6. Mother (Madeo)

Mother poster - foreign films

Mother is a South Korean film by director Joon-ho Bong (best known for his superior monster movie The Host). A thriller full of more twists, turns and genuflections than a promenade in an underwater maze, Mother follows a woman’s implacable, unstoppable efforts to clear the name of her son who stands accused of murder. The South Korean film industry is so good at the moment. The Government is hurling money at it – and the film makers know exactly what to do with all that money. Namely, to make fresh, deft, eye-seducingly good films.


7. Dogtooth (Kynodontas)

Dogtooth poster - foreign films

Three teenagers are confined to an isolated country estate that could very well be on another planet. The trio spend their days listening to endless homemade tapes that teach them a whole new vocabulary. Having invented a brother whom they claim to have ostracized for his disobedience, the uber-controlling parents terrorize their offspring into submission and refuse them to leave the house grounds – ever. In this unnatural cloistered imprisonment, sex spreads through the household like fire. Next stop? Rebellion. Miss this awesome Greek film at your peril.


8. Secret in their eyes (El secreto de sus ojos)

Secret In Their Eyes poster - foreign films

A retired legal counselor writes a novel in the hope of finding closure for an unresolved homicide case from his past and for his unreciprocated love with his superior – both of which still haunt him decades later. This is what movies should be like. An Argentinian film, Secret in their Eyes won an Oscar and everyone who’s ever watched it in the whole wide world, even the people who rate things on IMDB (and they’re a hard bunch to please) has said TWO THUMBS UP YES.


9.The White Ribbon

The White Ribbon poster - foreign films

German film The White Ribbon deservedly won “Best Foreign Language Film” at the 2010 Golden Globes. A compelling drama directed by Michael Haneke (Hidden), The White Ribbon is shot in monochrome and set in a German village before the outbreak of World War One. A series of strange and disturbing events appear to be about ritual punishment and possibly foreshadow the coming of war. The abused and suppressed children of the villagers seem to be at the heart of this mystery. Mystery? Politics? The weakness of ordinary souls gearing themselves to do unspeakable things, one tiny step into darkness at a time…


10. Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom poster - foreign films

Australian film Animal Kingdom may not be foreign language to us Englishers but it would be heart-rending not to include it. In spite of the Disney-esque title, director David Michôd brings us an exquisitely brooding drama about an Australian youngster thrust into a precarious gangster world of guns, drugs and broken excess. Guy Pearce makes a belated appearance as Detective Nathan Leckie, sporting one of those rather impressive moustaches. Let’s face it – he ain’t been in a bad film yet.


We could have mentioned a million other foreign films that came out in 2010. They were good. Really good. Like the wonderful Japanese film Goemon (Robin Hood wiht a slant), or the moving Japanese Still Walking, or the quality French rom-com Heartbreaker, or the autobiographical Baaria brought to you by the Italian director of Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore)…

But this is a top ten. Not 13, not 67. Ten. That’s your lot. If only John Lennon were still around to write a song about the injustice of it. Merde, scheisse, vavanculo…

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