List Making

Favorite Foreign Language Films
Pictured Above: High and Low (1963), Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Rocco and His Brothers (1960), Cleo From 5 to 7 (1961)

I was invited to participate in putting together a list of Favorite Foreign Language Films at Edward Copeland’s blog recently which is now open to online voting and I hope my blog readers will cast their vote for their 25 favorites from the films that are now eligible.

The criteria was: 1) No film more recent than 2002 was eligible; 2) They had to be feature length; 3) They had to have been made either mostly or entirely in a language other than English and 4) Documentaries and silent films were ineligible.

I also made a rule for myself. I only allowed myself to pick one film per director.

Out of the 25 films I suggested only 13 managed to make it onto the final list of nominations linked above. I was mostly disappointed that out of the six Japanese directors I included in my own list of 25 favorite films, only one (Akira Kurosawa) made the final cut. I refuse to believe that I’m the only person who likes Teshigahara, Suzuki and Imamura’s films*. I’m also dissappointed that the work of some of my favorite directors such as Mario Bava, Jess Franco and Alejandro Jodorowsky was not found eligible. Many of my other favorite directors such as Fellini, Godard and Wong Kar-Wai have multiple films on the list, but some of my favorite work from them such as Satyricon (1969), Weekend (1967) and Happy Together (1997) are nowhere to be found.

But enough complaining! On the bright side, here are the 13 films I submitted that managed to make it onto the final list (in alphabetical order):

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972, Werner Herzog)
Beauty and the Beast (1946, Jean Cocteau)
Cleo From 5 to 7 (1961, Agnès Varda)
Contempt (1963, Jean-Luc Godard)
Eyes Without a Face (1960, Georges Franju)
High and Low (1963, Akira Kurosawa)
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959, Alain Resnais)
The 400 Blows (1962, Francois Truffaut)
La Dolce Vita (1960, Frederico Fellini)
L’Eclisse (1962, Michelangelo Antonioni)
Le Samourai (1967, Jean-Pierre Melville)
M (1931, Fritz Lang)
Rocco and His Brothers (1960, Luchino Visconti)

I was especially happy to see that my three favorite Alain Delon films made the final list of nominations. You can never get enough Delon!

So what were the 12 films I voted for that did not make the final list? You can read my thoughts on them here.

If you haven’t seen any of the 13 movies I listed above I highly recommend giving them a look. They are all deeply loved films that I enjoy without reservation and they are easily available on DVD (most from Criterion). If you plan on voting I hope you will consider my nominations. I will try and do some more serious campaigning for them before the Sept. 16th voting deadline arrives.

* It looks like one of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s films made the final cut after all which is great news!


  1. I’ve only seen 5 of these. A few of the others I’m planning on seeing.

    I didn’t really like Jules et Jim when I saw it a few years back. Just seemed really flat and didn’t engage me at all. Jeanne Moreau was the only aspect that wasn’t ho-hum. It’s much clearer to see what made The 400 Blows a classic.

  2. I notice that a lot of people who have seen Jules et Jim for the first time in recent years have similar opinions of it AR. I happen to love it, but I know part of my affection for it is nostalgia, but I really love Truffaut’s editing in Jules et Jim and the use of techniques such as freeze-frames, the hand-held camera style, etc. which were (believe it or not) very new in 1962. I also really like the very adult story and complicated love triangle that it deals with. I love The 400 Blows equally but since I forced myself to pick one film from each director on my list Jules et Jim made the final cut.

    In all honesty I also thought it had less of a chance to make the list so that was the final reason for me to choose it over The 400 Blows. Thankfully both films (as well as numerous other Truffaut movies) made it on to the final list of nominees.

  3. Damn, I wanted to be the first to comment on your list. Late to the game again. What an excellent list, not staid and stodgy like mine. Just a few trademark longwinded comments on our identical choices:

    When I first saw Aguirre, the Wrath of God around twenty or so years ago I remember being baffled by the long take of the water in the beginning, then thinking to myself “a severed head can’t speak because there would be no air from any lungs and the vocal chords would be cut”, and finally, I remember being irritated at the motor boat wake being clearly visible in the final shot. But everything else in the movie intrigued me. I saw it again and then again and of course got older and wiser and stopped critiquing talking severed heads like an idiot. What a great film! “Who’s with me?” is burned onto my brain.

    I was so glad to see M make the list. I was worried that the older ones would be overlooked in favor of the wealth of foreign films available from the fifties, sixties and seventies. Since Peter Lorre wasn’t nominated (of course) I’ve been considering profiling his performance for one of my “Acting Ups” but just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Lang’s direction is incredibly mobile for an early sound production and his use of voiceover in the first act was revolutionary.

    Beauty and the Beast What can I say? I remembered being absolutely appalled when I bought (I’m a sucker) the Entertainment Weekly list of the 100 greatest movies ever (all languages) and they had Disney’s version ranked, but not Cocteau’s. I thought I was going to be sick. Not because Disney’s version sucks but because Cocteau’s version is beautiful and beauty is something so few filmmakers achieve. Plus the special effects are endlessly inventive. My favorite is when she appears from within the wall after transporting from the castle.

    As for the rest, while we may not have had the same choices I can tell that for all but a handful I considered almost all of these for my list as well. I just recently watched Contempt and Weekend (my netflix queue is Godard heavy right now) and considered both but Breathless just seemed like the right pick at the time although Contempt is definitely making its way up the pantheon ladder.

    My Truffaut choice was weak I admit, but I was trying to stick to favorites and when I was a kid just getting into film Day for Night was one of my favorite foreign films (probably because for a kid it doesn’t feel that foreign).

    I like La Dolce Vita very much but the ending has always felt like being hit over the head with a hammer to me. I should watch it again though, it’s been a few years. But don’t get me wrong, on a scale of 1 to 10 I’d give it a solid 9. Or should I say 8 1/2?

    Sadly, and ironically, I have never seen Hiroshima, Mon Amour which is embarrassing to admit for a cinephile and a Hiroshimaphile. Of course you wouldn’t know that from my film blog but I have read everything from John Hersey’s classic Hiroshima to Peter Wyden’s Day One and read everything there is to read on Leo Szilard, Robert Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe, Robert Wilson, et. al. and seen every movie from Fat Man and Little Boy to Day One to Black Rain (the one directed by Shohei Imamura, not the Michael Douglass movie) but for whatever reason I have not seen Hiroshima, Mon Amour but I shall correct that soon. I have always found the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to be among the saddest moments in human history and perhaps it was my obsession to find out everything I could about them that I avoided any movie using it as backdrop rather than dealing with it directly. But I think I’ve covered everything I can with it at this point so it’s time to let Hiroshima, Mon Amour in.

    Well, this comment is clearly becoming a post so let me wrap it up (for now) and just say that I can hardly wait to see your other choices. Why couldn’t I have been that smart and trickle my list out?


  4. A couple more thoughts: I was glad to also see The Blue Angel get picked since it is another oldie. I even tried to get Blood of a Poet in there though it was too short and most people probably don’t care for it anyway. I admit it’s high on airs and pretension like most of the surrealists’ (especially Bunuel’s L’Age Dor) work in the thirties, but I always find it invigorating when artists try to take a new art form in a different direction and, like them or not, the surrealists were experimenting with film as a non-narrative form decades before Warhol came on the scene.

    And as for Belle du Jour it’s the perfect companion piece to The Blue Angel with two women exploring sexual control from different sides of the aisle.

    I knew Carmen and Babette’s Feast had no audience besides me (I guarantee you no one else cast a vote for them) so I wasn’t disappointed when they didn’t make the cut but I loved Fitzcarraldo and thought more would to. I think I just love how utterly insane Klaus Kinski the actor has always seemed to me so when I watch him in a film, any film, I’m usually transfixed. He just seems nuts so when you need to cast someone whom the audience will believe ordering the pulling of a massive river boat over a mountain, Kinski’s the guy you turn to.


  5. Hi cinebeats: I’m very happy to see we both included “Le Samourai”! But what I’d really hope you’d share with us are the film you chose that DIDN’T make the final list. Those, it seems to me, are the more idiosyncratic ones that make your list unique and personal. Let’s see those!

  6. Like, Jim, I’m anxious to learn which films you picked didn’t make the group list. Of those you did vote for, we shared a couple picks: CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 and L’ECLISSE. I was strongly considering picking AGUIRRE too, but figured it was a shoo-in for a nomination and named ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER instead. I was glad to see that both of these Herzogs made it to the next round.

    The only one of your listed choices that I currently have personal reservations about is LE SAMOURAI. So far I have never been able to really tune into Melville’s wavelength. Hopefully seeing LE DOULOS this week will help change that. If you have any suggestions for a guy who can see craft and intelligence behind BOB LE FLAMBEUR, LE SAMOURAI and ARMY OF SHADOWS, but nothing astonishing, please tell me what I should be looking for!

    One thing to note: it looks like Teshigahara has a new lease on life in this project. Upon comparing notes, it appears that three of us DID in fact cast votes for WOMAN IN THE DUNES, and Edward (whose task in compiling all this I don’t envy) has placed it on the ballot.

  7. Jonathan – Thanks so much for the terrific feedback! I truly appreciate that you took the time to share your thoughts on many of our shared favorites as well as others.

    Aguirre, the Wrath of God has remained a favorite since I first saw it in the mid-80s. I think it’s the best Herzog/Kinski production, but I also really love Fitzcarraldo, which would easily have been on a longer list of favorites. Kinski is fabulous in both! I also love him in Herzog’s Woyzeck and the Nosferatu remake as well.

    I tried to include at least one film from just about every decade (1930s-1990s) but a whopping 17 of my picks were sixties era films. It’s easily my favorite film decade, but I also think I ended up adding a lot of sixties era films because I personally think that era (besides the French New Wave) is often neglected a bit in various film list polls. I was really happy that my 30s era pick (M), 40s era pick (Beauty and the Beast) and 50s era pick (Hiroshima Mon Amour) all made the final list. I really hope you’ll write about Peter Lorre’s performance in M soon! He’s one of my all-time favorite actors.

    Breathless and Day for Night are both terrific and worthy inclusions in my opinion so you don’t need to apologize for that. I also love The Blue Angel and Blood of a Poet. Babette’s Feast is very good too but I’ve only seen it once when it was first released and I need to get familiar with it again. Carmen is one I have not seen.

    I had a really hard time choosing between 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita since I love them both equally (I’m nutty about Fellini in general) but La Dolce Vita won out. I didn’t know if it would make the final cut without my vote.

    Last but not least, I hope you’ll make the time to watch Hiroshima Mon Amour soon. I don’t know how you feel about Resnais’ films, but I think you’d really find the film worthwhile. It’s an incredibly intimate film about the effects of war on two individuals, but it also explores ideas that Resnais is clearly fascinated with such as human memory, the effects of time, etc. And I completely agree with you about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They are horrific events that should have never happened. I visited Hiroshima when I was child and it left a huge scar on me but I’m glad that I went there. I wish every human being could visit that place and get a taste of the horrors that happened there only because I naively think that it might stop future events like that occurring again.

  8. Jim – I’m working on it! I didn’t just want to list my other films that didn’t make the cut, so I’m trying to write some blurbs about them, but it’s taking me longer than I expected. I hope to post it tomorrow. And yay for Le Samourai! I must admit that I was really happy to see four films starring Delon on the final list. Besides the ones I picked, The Leopard made the final cut too. Yippee!

    Brian – I was really happy and surprised that Cleo made the final list! I only saw Varda’s Cleo for the first time about 18 months ago but I fell head-over-heels for it. I just love the way it’s shot and Godard’s cameo is so fantastic.

    I don’t know if I can help with the Melville since I think we might all love different stuff for personal reasons that are hard to explain but Ill give it a shot.

    I’ve always approached his work as a director who was deeply fascinated with Japanese culture and aesthetics and I personally see that element in a lot of his films, besides just Le Samourai. I also think he really understands how the underbelly of society (hired killers, professional thieves, ex-cons, etc.) live and function. There is a totally detached and cold feeling throughout many of his films that really works for me because I feel that it represents the true nature of the male characters he deals with in his films very well. I love the way he frames spaces and mixes natural environments and natural elements with man-made ones. I think his techniques work perfectly within the material he deals with and the ideas he explores about human nature. And most obviously, I just like the way he mixes elements of classic American gangster films with a very modern nihilist sensibility and style. I have no idea if anything I just wrote makes sense or might appeal to you, but that’s how I approach Melville’s work myself and that’s what I find fascinating about his films.

    For some reason I’ve always really loved crime films and mysteries/thrillers in general so that’s probably a simpler reason for why I personally enjoy Melville’s movies so much.

    Last but not least, I’m so happy that Hiroshi Teshigahara ended up on the final list of nominees!

  9. It seems I have some viewing to do! From your list I’ve only seen Jules et Jim (one of my all time favourites), La Belle et La Bete , Contempt, Aguirre: The Wrath of God, La Dolce Vita and M. I can’t say I dislike any of your selections, and most of them are among my favourites.

    I’ve actually just rented Cleo 5 a 7 and look forward to seeing it! I’ll try and prioritize some of the others as well.

  10. Thanks for taking the time to spell out some of what you love about Melville! I’ll keep it in mind next time I see one of his films (soon, hopefully!)

  11. Hey Kimberly,
    Looking over your fine list makes me regret I wasn’t able to get mine together in time. I love all of these films and I am also glad to see Delon’s greatest getting so much attention.
    I love that the Franju is on there. It was going to be on mine and I didn’t know if anyone else would include it so I am glad to see it getting some love.
    My Resnais film is “Last Year At Marienbad” but your choice is equally deserving. You know I favor “Two English Girls” over “Jules and Jim” but as far as influence goes your choice is definately the better of the two.
    Herzog and Godard are tricky for me because I love their films so much that it is hard to choose one over the other. Herzog’s “Stroszek” and Godard’s “Slow Motion” are currently on my list but I adore your picks for them as well.
    The Melville is really tough too…”Red Circle” is finally the film I chose even though I know it isn’t as perfect as “L’Samourai”. It just really gets me emotionally a bit more.
    Antonioni was another tricky one as I found myself juggling “The Eclipse”, “Red Desert” and “The Passenger”.
    Oh well…fantastic list, these are all wonderful and deserving films and I too am looking forward to seeing your other choices…
    thanks for sharing…Jeremy

  12. I was especially pleased to see “Eyes Without a Face” appear on the list; the first time I saw the film was in a theatre in Paris a few years ago, one of those rare times when you emerge from a film and can’t come up with an apt “well, it was like…” because it wasn’t “like”, while Franju’s shooting style left a deep imprint. “Rocco and His Brothers” is on another list, the ever-expanding “films I want to see”, though it’s been there too long already.

  13. Justine – Thanks for the comment! I hope you’ll enjoy Cleo From 5 to 7 when you see it. It has some wonderful imagery in it and I just love the way it’s shot. I also have a soft spot for Godard’s cameo.

    Brian – I will happily defend Melville anytime!

    Jeremy – Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I was surprised and very happy that Franju made the list. I wish you would have had the free time to participate, but I hope you’ll vote in the final round. Some of the films you mentioned are on the final list of nominees. I really love Two English Girls too and it would make a longer list. My longtime affection for Jules et Jim won out though. I’ve never seen Godard’s Slow Motion so you’ve got me super curious about that film now.

    Gareth – I agree! How wonderful that you got to see Franju’s film in Paris!!! That must have been an amazing experience. It’s probably one of the most influential films ever made and such a beautiful and haunting movie. I really love it. I hope you’ll get the chance to see Rocco and His Brothers soon. It’s a powerful film, but it’s another beautiful looking movie as well. It’s influence on American directors like Coppola and Scorsese is pretty amazing.

  14. Cleo From 5 to 7 and Hiroshima Mon Amour almost made my list, so I will be voting for them in the final round (crosses fingers!).

    I don’t know how I’ve managed not to see Contempt yet! Must rectify that…

  15. Thanks for that Top 13 list, Kimberly. I’m going to watch L’Eclisse this weekend as part of my Antonioni fest. I’m adding the rest onto my Netflix queue, and am really interested in Beauty and the Beast especially. That’s the one with the talking teacup, right?

    Fantastic article. As always, Cinebeats is one of my favorite sites.

  16. Derelict – I hope you’ll check out Contempt soon! It’s ana amazing film.

    Joe – I hope you’ll enjoy L’Eclisse. It’s not easy viewing and seems to be a required taste but I really love the film. Then again, I love every Antonioni film I’ve seen. Cheers!

  17. I hope I get a chance to catch up on as many of these films as possible.

    Obviously your non-english language film knowledge is far greater than mine. If you feel like there are a few “must sees on the list” before voting time, let me know and I’ll try to secure them.

    I did just finish the beauty and the beast which was on your original list. i have a good handful i’m working on knocking out.

  18. Thanks for the comment RC! I’m 38 so I’m sure my age probably has a lot to do with how many foreign films I’ve managed to see. I was also lucky to get introduced to foreign films really early in life after I visited Japan when I was only 8 years.

    As for suggestions, it really depends on what kinds of films you enjoy. If you like horror/fantasy/thrillers I would suggest watching Eyes Without a Face and M from the list above (I would also suggest Beauty and the Beast, but I noticed you had seen that already). If you like crime/film noir/thrillers I would suggest Le Samourai and High and Low. If you like Martin Scorsese and Coppola’s films you will probably really enjoy Rocco and His Brothers. Those are a just few examples and suggestions, but I hope they were helpful!

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