Dogtooth10. “Dogtooth” (2009)
A portrait of family life so fundamentally fucked up it would be terrifying were it not also pitch-black funny and inventive, Yorgos Lanthimos‘ “Dogtooth,” like most of our top 15 or 20 titles here, could on another day occupy the top spot. Utterly singular, when it came along it really felt like there was suddenly something new under the sun, and indeed in aesthetic (courtesy of DP Thimios Bakatatakis) as well as approach, it more or less defined the so-called Greek Weird Wave, in which the social chaos of post-collapse Greece yielded a crop of films and filmmakers unafraid of using surreality and lacerating irony to reflect societal disarray. But “Dogtooth” remains, well, top dog in the category, with its almost Shyamalan-ic premise of a family of children kept utterly ignorant of the world outside their house and garden by their parents, even to the point of developing their own social codes and odd argot.

city-of-god9. “City Of God” (2002)
If we entered the 21st century thinking that there was little new to say about the crime movie, post-Tarantino, we were swiftly proven wrong by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund’s “City Of God,” a vibrant, rich epic of visceral, assured beauty. Adapting a book by Paulo Lins (and it feels highly novelistic), the film essentially tells the stories of the favelas of Rio De Janeiro, through the eyes of Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), a sweet, honest boy who’s always done his best to stay away from the gangs that virtually rule the place. Influenced by, but not beholden to, Scorsese (it finds its own frantic, sun-kissed style), it breaks out of genre conventions to paint a socio-political portrait of a place, while still telling an utterly compelling story (or really, a whole miniseries worth of them). It’s funny, exciting, terrifying, sad and thought-provoking: basically everything a movie should be.

white-material-claire-denis-juliette-binoche8. “White Material” (2009)
As with all the best of French filmmaker Claire Denis‘ work, a terrible, blighted, mighty beauty pumps through the veins of “White Material,” the most excoriating and direct exploration of her recurrent theme of the legacy of colonialism. Featuring a typically fearless performance from Isabelle Huppert as the French coffee planter whose wilful decision to stay on her plantation despite the civil war erupting on her doorstep proves devastatingly fateful, Denis’ rigorously unsentimental approach takes no prisoners in how sweepingly it condemns whole attitudes, ideologies and whole swathes of society, without ever seeming preachy. In fact it becomes less the study of a particular political situation or set of historical injustices (the African country is left deliberately unnamed) than it does a kind of cri de coeur against the folly of any individual trying to hold back an advancing tide: simple physics teaches us that chaos, not order –especially that which is unnaturally imposed — is the more fundamental state.

holy-motors-leos-carax7. “Holy Motors” (2012)
The weirdest film on this list by some distance, really Leos Carax‘s 2012 mindfuck is actually about twelve films each one more beguiling/disgusting/hilarious/depressing/uncanny than the last. Starring Denis Lavant as Mr Oscar, who may or may not be the same man who plays all other parts — a mo-cap actor; a beggar; a red-headed kidnapper; an accordionist; a killer; a dying man; and so on — the film is a breathtakingly audacious odyssey through the wildest frontiers of Carax’s imagination, and a breathlessly entertaining series of a madcap escapades. And that’s before it even gets to the bizarrely amazing scenes featuring “Eyes Without A Face” star Edith Scob and the fleet of limousines that talk to one another. And most cathartically, after the bonkers rollercoaster ride preceding, Oscar’s final assignation as an apparently ordinary family man leads to what has to be simply one of the greatest arthouse sight gags of all time, to leave you scrambled but smiling.

The-Headless-Woman-lucrecia-martel6. “The Headless Woman” (2008)
If it was a major disappointment that Lucretia Martel’s long-awaited “Zama” was apparently not ready for Cannes, it was mainly for those of us who had seen her astonishing, unforgettable last film, “The Headless Woman.” A shimmeringly ambiguous, deeply unsettling evocation of mental dissolution, set against the a brilliantly drawn, socially divided bourgeois Argentinian backdrop, it follows Vero (Maria Onetto) who is involved early on in a seemingly minor car accident. Physically unharmed, but psychologically fraying in the aftermath, Vero goes about her normal life but becomes increasingly detached from it, from her family, husband, lover, friends. Teasing out gender, class and economic divisions simply through her icily precise camera placement and framing, perhaps the most disquieting aspect of Martel’s uncompromisingly intelligent approach is the sense that while Vero is undoubtedly going at least a little insane, there something oddly satisfying in watching her also becoming more herself, without reference to the people and forces around her.

  • 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.