I didn’t want to just list the 12 films I sent in for inclusion that didn’t make the final list of nominees for the Foreign Language Films List without writing a bit about them and why I love them so much. My entire list is filled to the brim with Japanese, Italian and French films and that’s not just because they’re easily available. It means that I really love Japanese, Italian and French cinema. In all honesty, I didn’t expect a lot of the following films to make the final list because they’re personal favorites and some are not easily available on DVD, but that wasn’t one of the requirements. We were asked to list favorites and that’s what I did. If someone wanted me to teach a class on world cinema using my list I would have probably selected some different films.
I think the best part about creating these lists is discovering stuff out about yourself. While creating my list it I learned the following:
–The sixties is far and away my favorite film decade.
– I love Japanese crime films and the more surreal the better. At least five films in a similar vein made my list.
– I love horror/science fiction films with a Frankenstein theme. At least three films with variations of this theme made my list.
– I love films with great opening sequences. If a movie can make my jaw hit the floor within the first 10-15 minutes, it gains my instant affection. Many of the films on my list contain amazing opening sequences that grab you by the throat and never let go.
– Alain Delon is still my favorite actor. I could watch him stare out a window for 4 hours and never get bored.
So without further delay – Here is a list of 12 of my Favorite Foreign Language Films that didn’t make the final list of nominees. They’re listed in alphabetical order:
The 10th Victim a.k.a. La Decima Vittima (1965, Elio Petri)
Italian director Elio Petri won the Golden Palm at Cannes in 1971 for his film The Working Class Goes to Heaven and a Jury Prize in 1970 for his film Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, which was also nominated for an Oscar. Sadly, none of Petri’s films made the nominee list but I hoped that his stylish sixties science fiction film the The 10th Victim would. Part social satire, part dark sex comedy and all style, The 10th Victim is truly one of the sixties greatest looking films. It stars the lovely Ursula Andress and handsome Marcello Mastroianni in two of their most unforgettable roles as hunter and victim playing a televised survival game. It undoubtedly inspired many other lesser films such as The Running Man (1987) and Fukasaku’s Battle Royal (2000), but The 10th Victim is far and away one of the smartest and most adult science fiction films ever made. The fantastic cinematography by Gianni Di Venanzo and fabulous score by Piero Piccioni are tops.
Black Lizard a.k.a. Kurotokage (1968, Kinji Fukasaku)
Kinji Fukasaku made a lot of great movies in Japan before his untimely death in 2003, but this truly surreal 1968 crime thriller is a personal favorite. It combines the best elements found in sixties era James Bond films and Film Noir with an erotic mystery that is guaranteed to leave first time viewers stunned. The film’s avant-garde “pop art” sensibility and dark humor really appeal to me. The lovely female lead is played by the reigning queen of Japanese drag performers, Akihiro Miwa, and his real-life lover (famed Japanese author Yukio Mishima who helped write the screenplay) even makes an appearance in the film. I hope to write a more in-depth review of Black Lizard very soon, but I will add that I’ve rarely had a better time at the movies than when I first saw this film back in the early 1990s.
Blood & Black Lace a.k.a. Sei Donne per l’assassino (1964, Mario Bava)
Selecting one Mario Bava film for my list was nearly impossible since he’s one of my favorite filmmakers, but I finally decided to include his original giallo film that managed to forge an entire genre, Blood and Black Lace. This amazing looking film really showcases everything that I love about Bava’s filmmaking and giallo films in general. It features some of Bava’s best and most brilliant color photography and impressive special effects that still make my eyes pop. Blood and Black Lace has inspired countless imitators, but this truly original piece of work remains bold and exciting some 40 years after it was first made.
The Diabolical Doctor Z a.k.a. Miss Muerte (1966, Jess Franco)
I love a lot of Jess Franco films, but I also have my favorites and The Diabolical Doctor Z was the first film that made me a Franco fan for life. This incredible looking Spanish/French production features a terrific international cast and boasts some of Franco’s most impressive directing. It was the film that really cemented Franco’s name in the world of international cinema and it contains many of the director’s favorite themes that are perfectly executed here (it’s also co-written by Bunuel collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere). The film finds inspiration in Georges Franju’s classic Eyes Without a Face as well as old Universal monster films, but somehow Franco still manages to give the film a very original and modern feel that is all his own.
The Face of Another a.k.a. Tanin no Kao (1966, Hiroshi Teshigahara)
I’ve already written about Teshigahara’s film in great detail so I won’t bother saying much more, but you can find my previous thoughts about this amazing film here.
Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion: Beast Stable (1973, Shunya Ito)
I’ve loved the Japanese Female Prisoner Scorpion films since I first discovered them being released on DVD in the states in 2002. They’re on unusual blend of two genres (Pinky Violence and Women in Prison films) that somehow manage to take what could be considered very trashy and exploitive themes and turn them into truly great avant-garde filmmaking. Beast Stable is the third and last film in the series directed by Shunya Ito and he brings everything I love about his earlier films into this last movie in the series and turns it up to volume 10. He also manages to define his previous ideas and develop his directing style in ways that really impress me and that’s why this film is my favorite in the series. I wrote another tiny blurb about Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable earlier this year, which you can find here.
Gonin a.k.a. Five (1995, Takashi Ishi)
The 1990s was an amazing decade for Japanese cinema and I wanted to include films made by many great directors from this period on my list such as Takeshi Kitano, Takeshi Miike, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Hirokazu Koreeda, but after I started slowly chipping away at my long list of Favorite Foreign Language films to select a mere 25 for inclusion on my list, Gonin was the one film from the decade that remained (I also assumed those other directors would make the list without my vote). Takashi Ishi has only made a few worthwhile films and Gonin is far and away his greatest achievement, but its influence on modern Japanese cinema shouldn’t be underestimated. This incredible crime film involves a gang of misfits who come together and try to rob the local yakuza, but things don’t exactly go as planned and as the film unfolds in a thunderous wave of unparalleled violence and mind-blowing action, it also takes on a dark, surreal and horrific tone that raises it far above most typical Asian crime films. Underneath Gonin’s slick and stylish exterior you’ll find the first film – in my moving going experience – that dared to openly exploit the gay subtext found in thousands of buddy action movies made in previous decades. It also contains some terrific performances by great Japanese actors such as the amazing Takeshi Kitano who is guaranteed to impress and give you nightmares as a bloodthirsty one-eyed hitman. I first saw Gonin when it debuted in the US in San Francisco and half the audience left before the film finished. The rest of us that remained sat in stunned silence until the very end. We all watched the credits roll until the darkened theater turned on the house lights and then we all looked at each other – half of us with tears in our eyes and the other half with our jaws still on the ground – fully aware that we had just experienced a stunning and groundbreaking film. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Jean De Florette / Manon of the Spring (1986, Claude Berri)
It’s hard to explain why we enjoy some films more than others, but ever since I first sat through the entire 4-hour sweeping epic that is Claude Berri’s Jean De Florette and Manon of the Spring back in the late 1980s when I was in college studying film, I’ve been in love with these two movies. Together they make up a powerful drama of great beauty that manages to invoke the magic of cinema classics while telling a timeless story that can still deeply affect modern audiences. Has the French countryside ever looked so beautiful? These are films that I’ve come back to again and again when the world doesn’t seem right and I need a “pick me up” as well as a confirmation of humanity in all it’s loveliness and ugliness. The great French actor Yves Montand also delivers an incredibly moving performance in these films that always leaves me impressed.
Pale Flower a.k.a. Kawaita Hana (1964, Masahiro Shinoda)
If you haven’t noticed by now, I really love Japanese crime films and many of my favorites ended up making my list because I couldn’t bare to leave them off. Shinoda’s brilliant Pale Flower manages to be both an erotic and highly subversive bit of filmmaking that perfectly represents the Japanese New Wave while keeping one foot firmly planted in the violent underworld of Japanese crime cinema. Shinoda takes what could be a simple yakuza tale and love story and turns it into cinematic art. This gorgeous film showcases why he’s one of Japan’s greatest modern filmmakers. I naively assumed Shinoda’s amazing film Double Suicide would make the final list of nominees so I voted for Pale Flower instead, but I love both films a lot. In the end though, Pale Flower is the Shinoda film that I like to return to again and again. It’s complex themes and incredible aesthetic appeal to me in many ways.
Santa Sangre (1989, Alejandro Jodorowsky)
With the recent release of the Jodorowsky DVD Box set in America this year I assumed that at least one of his films would make it onto the list of nominees. Obviously I assumed wrong. I expect that Jodorowsky’s brand of surrealism is still just a bit too extreme for most film audiences. That’s really a shame, because he’s made some fascinating films and my favorite Jodorowsky film is Santa Sangre. Santa Sangre is probably Jodorwsky’s darkest effort and it’s also his most fully realized film in my opinion. It’s brimming with unforgettable imagery and startling storytelling techniques that recall an earlier time in European horror cinema. Like many of the films on my list, Santa Sangre is not easy viewing. It demands a lot from potential viewers, but it’s a film that constantly comes to mind when I think about foreign language films that have deeply affected me. It changed the way that I view cinema and shaped my appreciation of the art form.
Teorema (1968, Pier Paolo Pasolini)
I’m not really sure that Pasolini’s Teorema counts 100% as a foreign language film, but I included it in my list anyway. Teorema is a film that seems to divide audiences and many critics find it incomprehensible or just plain trashy. I think it’s a bit of both and that’s why I love it so much. It also features some of Pasolini’s most impressive imagery and manages to mix eroticism with political and social issues in an extremely creative way. Terence Stamp is unforgettable here as the mysterious sexy stranger who enters into the life of a bourgeois family and changes their lives forever. It’s the film that introduced to me to Passolini’s work and it remains a favorite since I first saw it some 18 years ago.
Youth of the Beast – Criterion Collection a.k.a. Yaju no Seishun (1963, Seijun Suzuki)
Sejiun Suzuki’s Youth of the Beast is the final film on my list of favorites and it’s undoubtedly one of the best looking films of the bunch. I was astonished that none of Suzuki’s films made the list of final nominees because his work has been available on DVD for many years and is supported by Criterion but the Criterion crowd often dismisses Suzuki. His films are still widely unseen and under-appreciated which is a terrible shame. He’s one of Japan’s greatest living directors, hell, he’s one of the world’s greatest living directors, and he makes some of the most entertaining, provocative and beautiful films that I’ve ever seen. I had an extremely hard time trying to decide which Suzuki film I would select for inclusion on my list. He is the only director that I almost broke my own rule for because I couldn’t pick between the dark WWII drama Gate of Flesh (which I raved about here) and this mind-blowing crime film. Youth of the Beast was the first film that gained Suzuki a reputation in Japan for making unbelievably stylish and over-the-top crime films that left audiences reeling and confused his critics. It was also the first film that brought Suzuki and his longtime star Jo Shishido together, and the two men truly make movie magic on screen that has to be seen to be believed. Youth of the Beast was made only a year after the first James Bond film and yet in many ways it’s light years ahead of any adult action films shot during that decade and it was made on a minuscule budget. Besides mind-blowing action sequences, jaw-dropping photography and an amazingly effective score, the film is also infused with Suzuki’s own brand of erotic violence and showcases his incredibly modern storytelling abilities that have inspired countless imitators. If you rent Suzuki’s Youth of the Beast you are guaranteed a knockout night at the movies that you’ll never forget so if you’re unfamiliar with the director’s work, do yourself a favor and discover it NOW.
While I was compiling this list of 25 favorites I came up with over 100 films that I wanted to add to make mention of so maybe someday I’ll share my entire list since I regret not including many films – in particular horror films. Lists are tricky things and limited by what we have seen. I don’t like sharing them since my list of favorites could change at any given day depending on my mood and whatever new films I’m exposed to, but I can honestly say that all 25 films on this list will always be personal favorites.