pans-labyrinth-guillermo-del-toro20. “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)
Part historical drama, part fantasy, part adventure story and part heartbreaking evocation of the terrors and trials of lonely, misunderstood childhood, Guillermo del Toro‘s “Pan’s Labyrinth” is undoubtedly the beloved, impish Mexican director’s masterpiece — the high watermark for his lovely, sad and strange sensibilities. In the immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Ofelia (an outstanding Ivana Baquero) moves to her new forested home with her pregnant mother to live with her stepfather, a sadistic Captain tasked with tracking down anti-Franco rebels. In parallel, or perhaps only in isolated Ofelia’s imagination, a fairy story unfurls in the magical realm beneath the forest, before the two strands intertwine toward tragedy and transcendence. It would be a winning, intoxicating story even if it didn’t build to its high-wire balancing-act finale. But poised with a dancer’s grace between opposing forces of good and evil, between soaring joy and plunging despair, we get the perfectly miraculous ending to a miraculous film.

4-months-3-weeks-and-2-days_1130_430_90_s_c119. “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days” (2007)
The Romanian New Wave is one of the most exciting things to happen to cinema in the 21st century, and its greatest triumph is the raw, unsparing Palme d’Or winner “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” from director Cristian Mungiu. Set in the dying years of Communist Romania, it sees college student Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) fall pregnant, and enlisting her friend Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) in obtaining an abortion. Virtually a procedural in the level of patient detail in which it tells the story, it’s less a pro-choice polemic than a portrait of life under Ceausescu, a bleak and bruising movie showing the indignities suffered by young women in a society that doesn’t value them (a recurring theme for the director, as he’d show with follow-up “Beyond The Hills”). Anchored by two phenomenal central performances (plus a chilling one by Vlad Ivanov as the abortionist), it’s a film, like all of Mungiu’s so far, that’s very hard to shake.

reprise-joachim-trier18. “Reprise” (2006)
Within seconds of his debut “Reprise,” it was clear that Norwegian director Joachim Trier was going to be a shot in the arm for cinema. And while his follow-ups “Oslo August 31st” and “Louder Than Bombs” were both stunning, he’s yet to top his incredibly rich, highly distinctive debut. The film tracks the friendship between twentysomethings Erik (Espen Klouman Høiner) and Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie), both aspiring authors who submit their novels simultaneously, only to see Philip’s be accepted, and he himself going on to great success, but also a nervous breakdown. Appropriately for the subject matter, it’s a thrillingly novelistic, literary kind of movie, one that comes across as if a Dave Eggers or a Jonathan Safran Foer had gone into filmmaking rather than literature, feeling dizzy with the possibility of the form and the swagger of youth. But for all the restless bells and whistles, it’s a highly soulful and substantial film at its heart, too.

eden-mia-hansen-love17. “Eden” (2014)
Mia Hansen-Løve‘s brilliantly bittersweet and insightful story of nearly-but-not-quite making it is set against the backdrop of the Paris-based EDM scene that spawned Daft Punk, but if it’s similar to any film, it’s to the Coen Brothers‘ similarly lovely anthem for the also-rans “Inside Llewyn Davis,” which may be set far away in place and time, but also deals in the consolations and disappointments of stopping just one tier below the top. Told with truth and thrumming sense of the vibrancy of youth, but also with a clear-eyed idea of just how transient, short-sighted and self-centered youth can be, it unsurprisingly uses music to pulsating effect, but it’s about much more than that: The Parisian electronica scene becomes emblematic of any tribe that gives you a sense of belonging, a way to define yourself, and to which you give your whole loyalty unthinkingly, without realizing that it most likely won’t ever be able to quite return it.

certified-copy-abbas-kiarostami16. “Certified Copy” (2010)
Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami is so consistently interesting we really could have chosen any of his post-2000 titles, but while his minimalist “Ten” is a remarkably powerful and contained mini-masterwork and “Like Someone In Love” a fascinating culture clash of Iran-meets-Japan, it’s “Certified Copy” that we simply love the most. Partly it’s for its sparkly Juliette Binoche turn — as so often the actress seems even more surefooted and magnetic in a role that is inherently mysterious, and she won Best Actress in Cannes for her trouble — but mostly the film displays a mischievous intellectual playfulness: a two hour-long twinkle in the eye. An elegant puzzle wherein we’re never quite sure of the relationship between the protagonists (Binoche and opera singer turned occasional actor William Shimell) somehow from this shifting-sands footing, Kiarostami delivers profound insights into the ephemeral nature of interaction and how the observer influences what is observed.

  • Daniel

    i like everything of this list except the number one. volver is not even top 10, I think that Like Someone In Love is the best movie of this century, and is not debatable. period.

    • Matt

      I’ll take Certified Copy over Like Someone In Love any day.

  • Jim

    Did I miss something? Is Almodovar’s ‘Talk To Her’ not on this list? You’re nuts.

    • Amateurcinephile

      Only one film per director, which winds up excluding a lot of great films. But I do appreciate that they spread the love and gave a lot of films and filmmakers some more exposure and recognition.

    • Katya Meyer

      Head On, Wild Tales, Talk to Her, Carlos, The Great Beauty, The Best of Youth.

    • D Isaacs

      Maybe it’s finally catching up to people that it’s a film about a guy who rapes a woman who’s in a coma/unconscious, one that never condemns the act, indeed one that suggests, in the end, it was all for the best–she comes out of her coma! gets a miracle rape baby to raise! This wouldn’t be a good week for that film to be on a list like this.

    • xxxgreta

      It’s not on the list when it’s much better than Volver (no. 1 on the list).

  • filmaboutlove

    Pleasently surprised to see “Volver” as the number one film on here but I’m kind of liking the idea. As one of my favorite directors ever, Pedro can do no wrong. Also as spanish being my first language “I’m So Excited” was absolutely hilarious. Maybe the subtitles didn’t translate well for you guys.

  • Mike Donnelly

    Did “Pheonix” not make it on there?

    • Levi

      Yes I agree that Phoenix should definitely be here, as should The Turin Horse, The Tribe, House of Tolerance, La Sapienza, Humanité (released here in 2000), Touch of Sin, Child’s Pose, Les chansons d’amour, Mysteries of Lisbon, The Milk of Sorrow, Crimson Gold, The Day He Arrives, Import/Export, Les amants réguliers,The Barbarian Invasions, Audition, Stray Dogs, Police Adjective, The Strange Little Cat, Post Tenebras Lux, Gomorrah, Eureka (Yurîka), etc. I also would switch out Volver for Talk to Her. In fact any of Almodovar’s films from this century (other than I’m So Excited, obviously), I find myself rewatching. Especially Talk to Her, The Skin I’m In and Bad Education. I have never returned to Volver. Maybe I will.

  • MAL

    I kept waiting for Werckmeister Harmonies to appear on the list. It is utterly mesmerizing (if you have the patience for it) and I would personally have it in the top 10. I think Cache is the perfect choice for a Haneke film and I might have put it in the number one spot. Also glad you recognized Kurasawa’s Pulse, a chilling and haunting film that doesn’t go away. Great list overall with excellent choices for any serious film-goer but a futile endeavour trying to rank them in any order.

  • JJ

    Volver is deservedly number one.

  • Oscar Carlos Jalife

    And what about Okuribito (Departures)?

  • GilbranoS

    Loved the list. I screamed at my screen with the number 3 ’cause I thought you forgot that film. But no Entre Les Murs (The Class)? Wow, that’s heavy

  • Allan

    Honestly can’t really disagree with the list a lot of great films but I was a bit disappointed that “A Prophet” didn’t make the cut or wasn’t even included in the honorable mentions, it has to be considered one of the best crime films ever made

  • thenystateofmind

    Not sure if I missed it but Audiard’s “A Prophet” is without question one of the best. Very surprised to see this excluded. Even his newest Dheepan is worthy of a lower spot. Besides that, Certified Copy is Top 10 and Let The Right One In is much deserving of a higher spot on this list, IMO.

  • a_digital_index

    I would be tempted to rank Tabu by Gomes higher. I would have Castaing-Taylor’s and Paravel’s Leviathan somewhere high on this list. And perhaps Godard’s Adieu au Langage

  • ahnmin

    Love Exposure!

  • fable jay scorcher

    You had Edgo of Heaven in your also rans, but Head-On towers over most of this. Also sorry not to see any mention of The Best of Youth. Otherwise, you guys are pretty good with the subtitled stuff.

  • jammamon

    No Amelie (2001)???

  • Benutty

    is this list a joke

  • Amateurcinephile

    A Prophet (or Rust and Bone for director Jacques Audiard), The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Oslo August 31st, The Broken Circle Breakdown, & The Secret In Their Eyes were all films I was hoping to see on the list, also surprised to see Amelie missing. I would have had Amour on there too, but the “only one film per director” kept it from the list. Overall though, I tip my hat to the list, it’s a nice starting point for film fans looking to enter the world of international cinema.

  • Brett

    I would argue “A Prophet” definitely deserved to be on the list. So did “The White Ribbon”. Also think a case could be made for the original version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Secret in their Eyes.” “Persepolis” deserved to make the main list.

    I would have moved “Incendies” much higher on the list. I was blown away by that film.

  • Username too long

    Not bereft until the fall at all. Right Now, Wrong Then is released on the 24th of June.

  • Howard Carson

    Amélie should have been on there somewhere…

  • lauramoreaux

    Interesting list, really.

  • Jacob Gehman

    Not bad!
    I would have liked to see Martyrs make the cut, especially since the list doesn’t shy away from controversial films.

  • mike

    Tell no one? Or did I miss it. Brilliant film I though no?

  • James

    Great list, terribly our of order. I would have put Embrace Of The Serpent right near the top.

  • Sam Hamilton

    pls do a list of the best scores of the 21st century so far
    thank u very much, goodbye
    ly playlist xo

  • cababanga

    There should have been at least a movie from Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Winter Sleep, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Three Monkeys…

    • Guestbusters

      Distant is his masterpiece, with Once Upon a Time in Anatolia a close second–a virtual tie.

  • D Isaacs

    Post Tenebras Lux

  • A man with a knife

    Response to this list: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/a-response-to-the-50-best-foreign-language-movies-of-the-21st-century-so-far?intcid=mod-latest

    – Terrible list by NY-guy. Typical smug + self-indulgence; focus on ‘relevant mediocrity’ that no one will remember after three months. This list with all its faults is still incomparably better, most people will find something here that they like – films that inspire and films that will be remembered. But anyway, that kind of cultural racism is representative considering who published it.

  • Sophie

    I liked the list, especially to see Two Days One Night and Volver in it.

  • shashibiya

    A list that doesn’t include Jia Zhang Ke can’t be taken seriously.

  • newcolour

    A notable title missing form this: Spirited Away, by Hayao Miyazaki.

    • Paulo A. Bueno

      Agreed! It’s Top 10 and so many people agree with that!

  • JT

    Honestly can’t take this list seriously with no mention of Amelie or Departures. And no Intouchables either.

    • Levi

      Three of the most rubbish foreign films of the new century. Clearly, you like treacle.

      • JT

        Ok professor.

  • Amy Harris

    I love this list and agree wholeheartedly with pretty much all of it. If there was room for more I would add The Piano Teacher, Girlhood, Pure, A Wolf At The Door and Lust Caution.

    • buddy

      Girlhood is #33.

  • sotiris

    Though ‘White Material’ seems to perfectly suit the ‘characteristic post-colonial film’ identity, M Haneke’s ‘Cache’ still is the most typical example of the burden, a post-colonial democracy bears.

  • sotiris

    Moreover, Srdan Golubovic ‘Klopka’ is a very clear film about the prospects in a post-communist serbian society, for the likes of Cristi Puiu and Cristian Mungiu.

  • No list of 21st century foreign language films is complete without the Tabárez classic, Merchants of the Undead Sea. Or how about Cogan’s Arugula? This list is gibberish.

  • ladyday

    The man without the past by Aki Kaurismäki

  • Richard Feilden

    I’d love to see at least an ‘also ran’ for Or: My Treasure. Hard to watch, but wonderful central performances.

  • Cristina

    I want to add two Hungarian movies, Taxidermia (2006) and Kontroll (2003), and a French one Une nouvelle amie (2014)

  • Mark Sartor

    I found it laughable that ‘Like someone In Love” was the 3rd best film on the list. I just watched it, and it’s at best Average.. wow.. what a let down..

    • xxxgreta

      Are you referring to this list? No. 3 on this list is a Korean film.

  • THX11384EB

    Laughable having ‘Volver’ at number 1. Around 25 films on this list are better than it.

  • Philip Heard

    No anime? That’s a problem.

  • vladdy

    Being a person who doesn’t expect (or even really want) someone else’s list to look exactly like mine, I absolutely loved this list. It led me to a few things I wasn’t familiar with, doubled my desire to see quite a few I haven’t gotten to yet, and reminded me of the pleasure I found when watching the ones I had already seen. What else could you want from a list like this? I love Volver at number one. I’ve been expecting this film to eventually receive the acclaim it deserves–nice way to start! I also loved the one director-one film rule, since it allowed you to spread the wealth a little more. It seems silly to complain that A Prophet and Lust, Caution are not on here (although I would have put them both) when their directors are mentioned for other films and those films are at least considered. All in all, thanks for a great afternoon’s activity!

  • Mr. Project

    Too many notable missing pieces to be taken 100% serious:

    – Rust and Bone
    – A Prophet
    – Amelie
    – The Intouchables
    – A Secret in Their Eyes
    – Battle Royale

    …..but with that being said, I appreciate having some unseen foreign films to add to the list.

  • JackN

    La Haine (1995)
    Home (2008)
    The great beauty (2013)
    A prophet (2009)

    My fav foreign films.

  • daniel23

    Yeah, as many have mentioned here, `A Prophet’ is the most baffling omission – it’s probably my favorite foreign language film of this new century. (Rust & Bone, Read my Lips, also great). It seems animation didn’t make the cut, but `Spirited Away’ feels like it should be here. And `Hero’ – for all the debate on its politics – is one of the most visually beautiful films in existence. I also think more recent films `Embrace of the Serpent’, `Theeb’, `Force Majeure’ are worthy, but maybe they need more time to sink in. Fantastic list overall, love the article.

  • jintsyboy

    Any Top 50 list that does not include “Secret In Their Eyes”, “Mustang” or “Lady Vengeance” (or fails to even mention “The Club” as an Honorable Mention), but puts “Dogtooth” in the top ten, is someone’s idea of a joke.

  • xxxgreta

    Tangerines (aka Mandariniid).
    I don’t agree with Volver being number 1; Talk To Her is much better.
    And yes, Spirited Away is much better than half of the films on the list.
    Farhadi’s About Elly is also deserving.

  • Dying_in_this_Crap_World

    Only 1 scifi fantasty or horror? WHAT THE FUCK!@!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Po Tater

    No mention anywhere of Gegen die Wand (Head-On) from Fatih Akin. Birol Unel’s performance is amazing.