Bong Joon Ho's ParasiteBoon Joon Ho‘s PARASITE is the most-talked-about foreign-language film in Hollywood this year since Ang Lee’s CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON nearly 20 years ago. And despite its historical success at the 2020 Academy Awards, it is a damn shame that Hollywood and, therefore, the greater viewing public in America actively denies itself the pleasure of watching films from outside of America because they stumble at the 2-inch letters at the bottom of the screen (the subtitles).

The AFI put out several lists of the Top 100 films and Top 100 of various genres. However, there is a large and very ugly conceit about the AFI lists… it’s all American films and that’s leaving out a tremendous wealth of film. World cinema, much like world music, stretches the boundaries of cinematic narrative far greater than 90% of cinema because the raison d’étre of a film produced outside of the US isn’t strictly to make money, strictly to feed the coffers of the studios/investors; there is a cultural component to many of the films (as that’s how they are partially financed).

Below is a list of 100 foreign-language films, in NO PARTICULAR ORDER, that were of influence to me, these are films that made an impact on my work and how I appreciate cinema, global cinema.

It’s by no means exhaustive, and it lacks a great deal of Latin American, Central Asian, and African films (primarily because those films had been harder to source in the US, even in the height of the DVD era and became even more so difficult to see in the streaming age).

Many of these films are the old, reliables that populate film studies/film-as-art-books (400 Blows, 8 1/2, Hidden Fortress) and are part of any staple of a well-rounded cinema education. That’s how I became familiar with them and decided to seek them out. Many, if not all, lived up to their accolades.

Yet outside of the so-called art-house classics, in the past 25 or 30 years, there have been some startling films that have reshaped my love for cinema; cinema that isn’t a slave to commercial diktats (although, these films did find audiences and made lots of money).

  1. 400 Blows (France)
  2. Seven Samurai (Japan)
  3. High and Low (Japan)
  4. Run Lola Run (Germany)
  5. The Lives of Others (Germany)
  6. Downfall (Germany)
  7. 8 1/2 (Italy)
  8. Nights of Cabiria (Italy)
  9. La Dolce Vita (Italy)
  10. In The Mood For Love (Hong Kong)
  11. Chunking Express (Hong Kong)
  12. 2046 (Hong Kong)
  13. A Time For Drunken Horses (Turkey)
  14. Memories of Murder (South Korea)
  15. Diva (France)
  16. All About My Mother (Spain)
  17. Y Tu Mama También (Mexico)
  18. Amores Perros (Mexico)
  19. Pixote (Brazil)
  20. City of God (Brazil)
  21. Hidden Fortress (Japan)
  22. Alphaville (France)
  23. Gomorrah (Italy)
  24. Battle of Algiers (Italy)
  25. Blue (France)
  26. Red (France)
  27. Double Life of Veronique (France/Poland)
  28. Aguirre, The Wrath of God (Germany)
  29. Last Year at Marienbad (France)
  30. Biutiful (Spain)
  31. Burnt By The Sun (Russia)
  32. Solaris (Russia)
  33. Suspiria (1977) (Italy)
  34. Tsotsi (South Africa)
  35. Come and See (Russia)
  36. Amelie (France)
  37. Spirit of the Beehive (Spain)
  38. Ridicule (France)
  39. The Piano Teacher (Swiss)
  40. Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (Germany)
  41. Fitzcarraldo (Germany)
  42. Le Samourai (France)
  43. Mephisto (Czech)
  44. Lady Snowbird (Japan)
  45. A Prophet (France)
  46. Day For Night (France)
  47. Jean de Florette (France)
  48. Das Boot (Germany)
  49. Fast Runner (Canada)
  50. World on a Wire (Germany)
  51. Cleo from 5 to 7 (France)
  52. Bad Education (Spain)
  53. My Night at Maud’s (France)
  54. Hiroshima, Mon Amour (France/Japan)
  55. Le Cercle Rouge (France)
  56. Bicycle Thief (Italy)
  57. Girl on the Bridge (France)
  58. Celebration (Denmark)
  59. Andrei Rublev (Russia)
  60. Hard Boiled (Hong Kong)
  61. The Killer (Hong Kong)
  62. The Harder They Come (Jamaica)
  63. The Secret In Their Eyes (Argentina)
  64. Xala (Senegal)
  65. Turkish Delight (The Netherlands)
  66. Zentropa/Europa (Denmark)
  67. Seventh Seal (Sweden)
  68. Infernal Affairs (Hong Kong)
  69. House of Flying Daggers (Hong Kong)
  70. Hero (Hong Kong)
  71. Peking Opera Blues (Hong Kong)
  72. I Am Cuba (Cuba/Russia)
  73. City on Fire (Hong Kong)
  74. Come Drink With Me (Hong Kong)
  75. Live Flesh (Spain)
  76. The Exterminating Angel (Spain)
  77. Cold War (Poland)
  78. Belle de Jour (France)
  79. La Femme Nikita (France)
  80. Ashes & Diamonds (Poland)
  81. Wings of Desire (Germany)
  82. A Touch of Sin (China)
  83. Raise the Red Lantern (China)
  84. Pather Panchali (India)
  85. Ida (Poland)
  86. The Salesman (Iran)
  87. The Past (France/Iran)
  88. A Separation (Iran)
  89. Embrace the Serpent (Brazil)
  90. Hard To Be A God (Russia)
  91. Siege (Israel)
  92. Uncle Boonmee (Indonesia)
  93. In The Realm of the Senses (Japan)
  94. Ivan’s Childhood (Russia)
  95. Sawdust and Tinsel (Sweden)
  96. Hour of the Wolf (Sweden)
  97. Cache (France)
  98. Through a Glass Darkly (Sweden)
  99. Persona (Sweden)
  100. Millennium Trilogy (Sweden)

I could list 100 more (like all of Studio Ghibli’s work or Akira; and I might in another installment), however, my point is we can’t limit our cinematic experiences to Hollywood films and American indies and expect to have any revelations about what cinema can do, how films create empathy for those who don’t share our experience (especially the American or English-language experience).