The Best of the Best Foreign Language Films

The editor of the Curzon Magazine, Ian Haydn Smith, takes a good look through BBC Culture’s list of the 100 best foreign language films and compiles his own top ten of the very best selections.


BBC Culture has unveiled its critics list of the top 100 foreign language films. With a spread across continents and countries, it’s a who’s who of the greatest films of the last century. And amongst it are 21 titles appearing on Curzon Home Cinema.

BBC Culture’s film lists, accrued from film critics’ polls across 43 countries, is the first of the four lists published so far (previous entries include best American, best 21st century and best comedy films) not to feature a US film at the top. Pride of place here is taken up by Akira Kurosawa’s Jidai-geki classic Seven Samurai (1954).

  Seven Samurai  (1954)

Seven Samurai (1954)

  Rashomon  (1950)

Rashomon (1950)

The Japanese director has another film, 1950’s Rashomon in the top ten and they are joined by two other films (1952’s Ikiru and 1985’s Ran) later on, making Kurosawa one of the most popular directors. Japanese cinema is also well represented, with films by Mikio Naruse, Hayao Miyazaki, Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujirô Ozu, the latter two appearing more than once. Sadly, Takeshi Kitano’s masterful Hana-Bi (1997) did not make the list.

One of the most refreshing aspects of the list is its lack of Eurocentrism. It really is a world list, although African cinema deserves more attention than it gets. Djibril Diop Mambéty is present with Touki Bouki (1973) at number 62.

  Touki Bouki  (1973)

Touki Bouki (1973)

But Bamako (2006) and Timbuktu, directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, are each worthy of a place. As are films by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, such as Abouna (2002) and Darrat (2006). But arguably the biggest omission is Ousmane Sembene, one of the pioneers of cinema. Black Girl (1966) and Xala (1975) could have been featured, while the director’s last work, the searing Moolaadé, which tackles FGM, remains one of the most potent films of the 2000s.

Likewise, a future list could include more female filmmakers. Out of 100 films, only three are directed by women and all – Agnès Varda, Claire Denis, Chatal Ackerman – are European. (Katia Lund is included as co-director of 2000’s City of God, but Fernando Miereilles received all the praise for that film.)

  Cl é o from 5 to 7  (1962)

Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)

  Beau Travail  (1999)

Beau Travail (1999)

Reservations aside, the list is nevertheless a roll call of the good, great and magnificent of world cinema over the course of the last 120 years. To look at the top 50 films, of which 10 appear on Curzon Home Cinema (see below for the full list of titles available), every one is indispensable. The earliest is Fritz lang’s M (1931), while the most recent is Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007). There are films you might have seen, from popular classics to critically acclaimed marvels, along with lesser known titles worth a look.

  M  (1931)

M (1931)

  4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days  (2007)

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2007)


The Curzon Home Cinema Top Ten

Curzon Magazine Editor Ian Haydn Smith’s Top Ten films from the BBC Culture list that you can watch right now on Curzon Home Cinema:

Umberto D (Vittorio de Sica, 1952)
The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970)
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1973)
Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai, 1994)
Eat Drink Man Woman (Ang Lee, 1994)
L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)
Cléo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962)
Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)
Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)
Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, 1987)

Watch all 10 of these films and more from BBC Culture’s list of the top 100 foreign language films, over on Curzon Home Cinema. Click the images below to jump straight to the film you want to see.