in-the-mood-for-love5. “In The Mood For Love” (2000)
Tussling over the top 50 for this list was hard enough, let alone the top 5 or the very top spot, but a list of “the most beautiful films ever made” would have been a lot easier. Because that way, no one could have argued that Wong Kar-Wai‘s astonishingly gorgeous and deeply sexy “In The Mood For Love” shouldn’t be number 1. Simply the most astoundingly gorgeous love story, draped in the slippery silks and satins of Christopher Doyle‘s most romantic photography, there are many films that are a feast for the eyes, but this is a banquet. Its heavily eroticized mood and sensual imagery — all stolen moments in passageways and passionate clinches glimpsed through doors left ajar — overtakes the plot as the primary driver of the narrative; indeed, story-wise, it’s very slight. But the stunning mise-en-scène, from Maggie Cheung‘s high-necked costumes to the smoke that curls above Tony Leung‘s head beneath directional lamps in alleyways, lingers long after, like an intoxicating incense.

a-separation-asghar-farhadi4. “A Separation” (2011)
The word melodrama has too often become a derogatory one, but the great Asghar Farhadi has been reclaiming it over the last few years, most notably with his Golden Bear and Oscar-winning masterpiece “A Separation.” It’s focused on Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami), a married couple looking to divorce, as she wants to leave the country and he wants to stay with his ailing father. Nader hires a carer (Sareh Bayat) for the latter, which sets into motion a tragic course of events that lead to further legal action. Made at a time when Iran was cracking down on its filmmakers, it’s a fearless and complex piece of work without heroes or villains, where you feel for every one of the characters even at their worst. It’s utterly specific and yet utterly universal, made with a command of craft that finally revealed Farhadi to the world as one of the best we have, and the global profile he’s found in the last five years is one of the best things to happen to film in a long time.

memories_of_murder013. “Memories Of Murder” (2003)
From “The Host” to “Snowpiercer” and the upcoming “Okja,” Bong Joon-Ho has proven himself to be one of the most exciting filmmakers alive, mashing up genres and tones with a willful disregard to convention. This entry should serve as a joint one for all his films, really, but at a push we’d pick “Memories Of Murder,” a procedural police drama like few others. It’s based on the true story of the hunt for Korea’s first serial killer, and the three detectives (Kim Sang-kyung, Song Kang-ho and Kim Rwe-ha) in charge of investigating the case. Bong’s ever light touch finds levity even in such dark subject matter, but his genius (aside from that that he has for framing and camera movement, which can compete with anyone in the world’s) is that he can play so much of the film for comedy and yet still find such a rich vein of melancholy and loss to the film.

cache-juliette-binoche-haneke2. “Caché” (2005)
Of all the directors to whom our “one film per filmmaker” rule does scant justice, perhaps Michael Haneke is the most obviously underrepresented. With ‘The Piano Teacher,” “Time of the Wolf,” “The White Ribbon” and “Amour” (the last two of which won him his two Palmes d’Or) he dominates the 21st century arthouse more than any other single filmmaker. So it’s slightly perverse that with his entire 2000s output bar his puzzling remake of his own “Funny Games” to choose from we’re going for the most opaque title — contrary to popular belief we’re not masochists, yet we’re choosing a viewing experience that was among the most unpleasant in memory. But that’s the point: it’s a film that itches away at you for weeks afterwards exactly because it refuses to answer any of the million questions it poses or to calm any of the deeply uneasy emotions it provokes — slow-acting, long-lasting brilliance.

volver-penelope-cruz-almodovar1. “Volver” (2006)
Excluding a once-every-three-decades misfire like “I’m So Excited,” we can all agree that Pedro Almodovar is the best, right? And “Volver” makes an argument to be his best. So “Volver” is pretty much the best too. Reteaming him with his most recent muse Penelope Cruz, and for the first time in years with his original muse Carmen Maura, the film is a rambunctious drama that sees Raimunda (Cruz) murdering her husband when he tries to rape their daughter, stumbling accidentally into the restaurant business, while the ‘ghost’ of her mother (Maura) emerges on the scene. Seemingly inspired to new heights by the double-bill of his favorite actresses (and Almodovar is cinema’s great lover of actresses), Almodovar makes a film that no one else could make, and that sums up what’s best about his work — the tonal shifts, the humanism and comedy, the gorgeousness of the color, the unpredictability of the plotting. We’d forgive him a thousand “I’m So Excited”s for just one of these.

Obviously, there’s a ton of films we could have included that didn’t quite make the cut of a list of 50, but are pretty extraordinary nonetheless. To ensure a level of variety, we decided on a one-film-per-director rule, and so that meant that films like Claire Denis’ “35 Shots Of Rum” or “The Intruder,” the Dardennes’ “The Son,” “L’Enfant” and “The Kid With The Bike,” Almodovar’s “Talk To Her,” Haneke’s “Amour,” “Code Unknown,” “The Piano Teacher” and “The White Ribbon,” Hou’s “Three Times” and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Tropical Malady” or “Uncle Boonmee.”

Oh, and also no room for Kechiche’s “Secret Of The Grain,” Bong’s “The Host” and “Mother,” Zvagintsev’s “The Return” and “Elena,” Farhadi’s “The Past,” Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution,” Park’s “Sympathy For Mr. Vengance,” Kore-eda’s “Still Walking,” Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Father OF My Children,” Kurosawa’s “Tokyo Sonata” or Lucrecia Martel’s “The Holy Girl,” plus a few dozen other by filmmakers represented above.

And to name a few by filmmakers not mentioned above at all, there’s “The Motorcycle Diaries,” “Caramel,” “The Taste Of Others,” “Amores Perros,” “Together,” “Sin Nombre,” “Werckmeister Harmonies,” “Persepolis,” “Force Majeure,” “Once Upon A Time In Anatolia,” “Silent Light,” “A Christmas Tale,” “The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu,” “Russian Ark,” “Amelie,” “The Orphanage,” “Attenberg,” “Revanche,” “Neighbouring Sounds,” “Twilight Samurai,” “Devdas,” “Exiled,” “Police, Adjective,” “Lebanon,” “Time Out,” “The Edge Of Heaven,” “Gomorrah,” “Waltz With Bashir,” “Embrace Of The Serpent,” “Mustang,” “A Simple Life,” “Son Of Saul” and countless more.

Did we fail to mention your favorite at all? Sing its praises in the comments below.

  • 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:

    – 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.

  • Phil Surtees

    Ah … contrary to your claim, the Second World War did NOT end when Hitler died. Remember those pesky Japanese? You know … those guys who kept fighting even after copping the first atomic bomb? Yeah … them…

  • Obedaea

    The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

  • Erick Aguilar

    After the Wedding (2006)

  • Derek

    This writer got “The Lives of Others” wrong. Sebastian Koch plays a well-known PLAYWRIGHT. He does not play a composer in the film.

  • yeildoo .

    El Orfanato…. Great movie, scary but not a slasher movie at all. Love it.