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August 18, 2007

The Favorite Foreign Film List: The Sometimes Sweet Sixteen


Due to the lack of foreign language films that made the final list of the Online Film Critics, Edward Copeland decided to initiate a list made of only foreign language films to be selected by those wishing to their respective choices. The list I created is different based on both Edward's criteria and my own. Does the world need yet another list? Of course not. But considering how many IMDb voters had not seen even one listed title and could not name a favorite film by Bergman or Antonioni, maybe the foreign film poll will help nudge a few more people into checking out some of these filmmakers.

Instead of listing what we thought were the greatest films made, we were asked to list favorite films and to keep out lists to no more than twenty-five titles of films made before 2002 but after sound was introduced. To keep my own list severely down to size, my criteria was that I needed to limit myself to films I have seen at least three times, and that are available on Region 1 DVD, with one exception that is available in the U.S. in a letterboxed VHS tape. This is to explain at least partially why films by Renoir, Bresson, Ozu and a whole bunch of other people are not on this list - I have seen their films, but usually only once, or in some cases twice. Conversely, because it was an art house staple when I lived in NYC in the early Seventies, I managed to see Georges Franju's Judex three times, but that film has yet to see a DVD release and I can not vouch for the tape version currently available. I saw no point in listing favorite films that are not currently available for viewing. Italian productions may be the most controversial, as well into the Sixties and Seventies it was common practice to film without sound and dub the film into several languages in post-production for different markets. One of the films on my first list to Edward was 1900 which was deemed too international a co-production to qualify. Not only did I see the original US theatrical version three times, but I once saw Bertolucci's epic twice on two consecutive days. What constitutes a favorite film is not always the same as what may be a great film. Sometimes, but not always.

My list may strike some as being mostly conservative, reflecting on my living in New York City in the early Seventies when many of these films played the art house circuit in theaters like the New Yorker, the Elgin, the Bleeker, the Thalia and Carneigie Hall Cinema. There is only one film on the list that I have never seen theatrically. That film, An Actor's Revenge, is available as a wide screen film on tape in the U.S., so that it is a reasonable copy of what Kon Ichikawa had in mind. There are some films I have seen multiple times theatrically or on video and like quite a bit, but do not love which is why they are not one my list. What I suspect is that the different lists submitted to Mr. Copeland will reveal is that while there may be some disagreement on the individual titles, there will be a consensus on certain filmmakers. The following is my list of foreign language films that I have not only seen at least three times each, but that I would not have any problem wanting to see again if I weren't busy trying to catch up with the many unseen films in the world. The list is in the order of the year of original theatrical release.

1. Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa - 1952)
2. Hidden Fortress (Akira Kurosawa - 1958)
3. Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati - 1958)
4. Black Sunday (Mario Bava - 1960)
5. L'Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni - 1962)
6. Jules and Jim (Francois Truffaut - 1962)
7. Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard - 1963)
8. Eight and a half (Federico Fellini - 1963)
9. An Actor's Revenge (Kon Ichikawa - 1963)
10. The Soft Skin (Francois Truffaut - 1964)
11. Band of Outsiders (Jean-Luc Godard - 1964)
12. Persona (Ingmar Bergman - 1966)
13. My Night at Maud's (Eric Rohmer - 1969)
14. Suspiria (Dario Argento - 1977)
15. The Chinese Feast (Tsui Hark - 1995)
16. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai - 2000)

in the mood for love.jpg

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 18, 2007 01:31 PM


It will be interesting to see the results. I sent in a list today of 25 titles myself and I share 3 favorites from your own list of 16 Peter (L'Eclisse, Jules et Jim and Contempt). But we have 6 similar directors listed so I suspect that you're right about the list when you mention:

What I suspect is that the different lists submitted to Mr. Copeland will reveal is that while there may be some disagreement on the individual titles, there will be a consensus on certain filmmakers.

Posted by: Kimberly at August 18, 2007 05:45 PM

I agree with both of you. It will be a mixed bag but still be more interesting I think then that "other" list. But you're right - my list has (if I'm remembering correctly, I sent my in about two weeks ago) seven of the same directors and yet only one match.

Now I'm hope I wasn't wrong in thinking that a foreign film was any dvd you put in your player and switch the language option to "French." Cause that's really gonna screw things up. I guess I should have known from the accents that "Smokey and the Bandit" wasn't French.

But seriously I look forward to seeing the results and hope my list isn't too a)embarrassing or b)boring compared with others. Your list is excellent, by the way. I did put a couple of favorites on mine (that's what I was told to do, really) that I would not consider among the greatest ever but I do love them. I hope everyone will remember that and be kind.

Posted by: Jonathan Lapper at August 19, 2007 02:49 PM

I agree regarding the film/director issue and wonder very much how that'll sort itself out. Looking at your list with something like half the movies on it being by directors on my list but not a single film... although frankly, I'm surprised with myself for not having given more serious consideration to 8 1/2, with which I have a peculiar fascination.

Posted by: Neil at August 19, 2007 04:50 PM