40. “Summer Hours” (2008)
Olivier Assayas is one of the most restless, mutable filmmakers we have, but his best film is quite a distance away from something like “Irma Vep” or “Demonlover” — it’s “Summer Hours,” his low-key Chekhovian drama about a family’s last gathering in the country estate of their mother (Edith Scob). Gentle, quiet and talk-heavy, but totally beautifully observed, and immaculately played by a cast including Juliette Binoche and Jérémie Renier, it’s one of the best-ever meditations on the way that things and places can hold a sentimental power over us.
39. “Leviathan” (2014)
Everything that Andrey Zvyagintsev, maybe Russia’s best director working today, has made so far is worth checking out, but his most major work to date is his epic “Leviathan,” loosely inspired by the Book of Job and following a mechanic (Aleksei Serebryakov) involved in a property dispute with his town’s corrupt mayor (Roman Madyanov). Scabrous in its criticism of Putin’s Russia and the Orthodox Church, and feeling mammoth in its scope while telling an intimate story, it’s a beautiful, darkly hilarious, utterly distinctive film.
38. “Irreversible” (2002)
It’s not a film you particularly want to rewatch — it’s a famously horrifying and extreme picture — but while Gaspar Noé’s “Irreversible” has its flaws (principally a queasily homophobic streak), it’s immaculately crafted and packs a gigantic gut-punch. The film’s an almost Jacobean story of revenge, as Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel) attempt to avenge the beyond-brutal rape of Marcus’ partner Alex (Monica Bellucci), but told backwards in a way that proves utterly haunting. For all its queasy, juvenile impulses, it’s a film that doesn’t let audience, or men in general, off the hook even for a second.
37. “Tabu” (2012)
His recent “Arabian Nights” trilogy might have been his magnum opus, but to us, Portuguese helmer Miguel Gomes’ masterpiece is “Tabu,” a black-and-white tribute to/pastiche of F.W. Murnau’s film of the same name that tells the story of an elderly woman in Lisbon, and then her romance in Africa 50 years earlier. The first half is principally set-up, but the second is something truly gorgeous: a swooning, sexy postcolonial Romantic tragedy with a sly sense of humor and a great soundtrack.
36. “Millennium Mambo” (2001)
On first glance, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s “Millennium Mambo” seems a world away from his recent, much-acclaimed “The Assassin” — it’s a film lit by neon and street light and haunted by the thud of a techno beat from the night before. But even aside from Shu Qi’s lead performances, the film, which follows young Vicky and her tumultuous romance with Hao-Hao (Tuan Chun-hao), is united by sheer beauty, the tactility with which he films the environments, and a soulfulness that sneaks up on you. Dismissed as slight by some at the time, it now feels anything but.
35. “Ida” (2013)
2015 Best Foreign Language film Oscar-winner, the ravishing beautiful black-and-white photography of Pawel Pawlikowski‘s “Ida” is the first thing that strikes you, but its mood of quiet, deep-rooted introspection is even more memorable. The slim story, set in 1960s Poland, of an orphaned Catholic novice visiting her worldly aunt only to discover that her parents were Jewish, it is a film of deceptive simplicity but tremendous power: the very definition of still waters running fathomlessly deep.
34. “Mommy” (2014)
Canadian director Xavier Dolan is a divisive presence on the international cinema scene — there are those who find his high-anxiety, Almodóvar-esque melodramas just too rich to stomach. But “Mommy” represents the most overwhelmingly generous and accessible version of his recurring themes. Set off by revelatory performances from Anne Dorval and Antoine-Olivier Pilon, the story of a troubled youth’s combative relationship with his tigerish mother, it’s a film overflowing with tough love, tragedy and transcendently trashy tunes.
33. “Girlhood” (2014)
A coming-of-age tale that’s been shaken by the shoulders and given a hard, unsentimental edge, Céline Sciamma‘s “Girlhood” definitely made good on the promise of her debut, “Water Lilies.” A gruffly lyrical evocation of the struggles of a young black woman (Karidja Touré) growing up in the literally marginalized suburbs of Paris, it’s a beautiful, profoundly moving evocation of the desire to belong and the dawning realization that sometimes the cost of that belonging is too high.
32.”A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” (2014)
It’s a mark of the assurance and flair of Ana Lily Amirpour‘s debut that it immediately snaps you round from wondering how an Iranian vampire movie could possibly work to wondering why on earth it took us so long to get an Iranian vampire movie. Doomy, deliberate and delicious, and shot in toothsome black and white, it also features a terrific soundtrack in which a song literally called “Death” becomes the most swooningly romantic ballad you’ve ever heard.
31. “Two Days, One Night” (2014)
It was a coin toss as to which Jean-Luc and Pierre Dardenne film would slot in here as representing one of the most consistent corpuses of work the 21st century has to offer. But we’ve gone with their Marion Cotillard-starrer partly because it features such a stunning performance from the actress, and partly because, in its structure as a ticking-clock thriller, it’s maybe their most accessible film, yet still makes a powerful, complex social statement.