2011 is fast approaching it's final hour of glory that culminates with the glitz, events and celebrations, to bid farewell to a glorious year and hoping for a better one next. Before the eventful year is wrapped up, we’re looking back at the best cinematic achievements from the world of foreign cinemas in 2011.
The Raid (Indonesia)
Starting the countdown is, The Raid, a big-budget action epic from Indonesia starring the martial arts sensation Iko Uwais. The movie is about a SWAT team trapped in an apartment building situated amidst the slums of Jakarta, that is now home to the most dreaded criminals of Indonesia. Though one would expect a Top 10 Foreign Films list to largely contain movies about human sensibilities and intricate dramas, The Raid blew me away with it's intense and non-stop heart pounding action not often witnessed outside the world of big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. The folks at TIFF 2011 definitely agree as The Raid won the Cadillac People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award.
Written and directed by Michael R. Roskam, Rundskop (Bullhead) plays like a stylish noir-crime thriller that is in a league of it's own. The movie was premiered recently at the Austin Fantastic Film Festival and won the awards for Best Actor, Best Film and Best Director. Belgium also obliged as it's official submission to the Oscars, but it remains to be seen whether it will get the Oscar nod. Matthias Schoenaerts as Jacky Vanmarsenille gives a tour-de-force reminiscent of a tragic greek anti-hero, and Michael R. Roskam's remarkable direction makes it a masterful character study and a brilliant neo-noir cinematic experience, rarely seen from the land of Flanders. [Full Review]
An Israeli drama about the power struggle between a son and father, both teaching at the eccentric Talmud department of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, captured attention at the 2011 Cannes Film festival winning the Best Screenplay Award as well as a Palme d'or nomination for writer-director Joseph Cedar. At home, the movie won an impressive 9 Ophir awards (Israel's equivalent of the Academy Awards). Footnote is Israel's official submission to the 84th Academy Awards. Footnote, with its intricate and well-constructed plot, along with brilliant performances by the lead Shlomo Bar-Aba and Lior Ashkenazi might do the trick with the Oscar jury.
A hard-gripping French cop drama film written and directed by Maïwenn, who also stars as Melissa, a photo-journalist commissioned with Paris's Child Protection Unit at the request of the Interior ministry. Polisse presents an impressively detailed portrayal of officers serving in the unit as they deal with their personal issues, frustrating bureaucratic dictum, and tragic/comic tales of troubled children presented in all it's intensity and rawness. Rap-star Joey Starr is impressive in his performance as Fred, a tough wiry cop, also Melissa's romantic interest. Polisse has won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, as well as a encouraging Palme d'Or nomination for Maïwenn.
The Skin I Live In (Spain)
Pedro Almodóvar, the most internationally well known Spanish director of our times, has yet again managed to push the boundaries of conventional film making. His eagerly anticipated latest offering starring Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya, The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito) is a dark and intense suspense-thriller with the soul of art-house cinema, but with the visual candor of a mainstream presentation. The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito) earned a Palme d’Or nomination for Pedro Almodóvar at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and was recently announced as a nominee in 2012 Golden Globes in the Best Foreign Language Film Category. [Full Review]
The Kid with a Bike (Belgium/France)
A beautiful humanistic drama written and directed by the enormously gifted Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au vélo), is a heart-touching tale of a fiesty 11-year old boy abandoned by his father, who finds comfort in a friendship with a compassionate young hairdresser Samantha, in a brilliant performance by Cécile De France. The Dardenne brothers yet again showcase their brilliance by taking the most simple of thematic content and presenting a narrative abundant with endearing moments and heart-felt characters. Two time winners of Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, they couldn't convert their nomination to a win this time around, but walked away with a Grand Jury Prize.
Le Havre (Finland)
Written, Directed and produced by the Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki, Le Havre is a delightful comedy-drama about an aging and gruff shoe-shiner who tries to protect an African immigrant boy. Set in the French industrial harbor city of Le Havre, Aki Kaurismaki's film doesn't dwell on the harshness of realities but rather on the modest charms of a simple life, with an ethereal sense of self-awakening and deep rooted conscience. Finland's official submission for the 2012 Academy Awards - Best Foreign Language Film, the movie has won the FIPRESCI Prize for best film at the Cannes Film Festival as well as a Gold Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival.
Where do we go now ? (Lebanon)
Written, Directed and starring the acclaimed and popular Lebanese actress Nadine Labaki, this is a bittersweet comedy about a group of young women trying to prevent Muslim-Christian inter-religious conflict in a secluded and peaceful village in Lebanon and a church and a mosque stand in each others neighborhood. Where do we go now ? charmed the audiences with its clever wit, walking away with the People's Choice Award at the 2011 Toronto International Film Awards. One of the favorites for the Oscars as Lebanon's official submission, this charmer had struck a chord with the critics and audiences at the Cannes Film Festival where it won the François Chalais Prize.
Once upon a time in Anatolia (Turkey)
Turkey's official submission to the 84th Academy Awards, this is an intricate drama about a day in the life of a murder-investigation from the enormously gifted Nuri Bilge Ceylan. A group of men including a a prosecutor, police commissioner, a doctor and a murder suspect – drive through the Anatolian steppe, in search of a corpse, the vicim of a brutal murder. But nothing is what it seems. Though it might feel a a little too long at 150 mins, it adds to the depth of the human portrayal and the hidden secrets of all the characters will keep you engaged, as the film unravels. It won the Grand Jury prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival for Best Film as well as a Palme d'Or nomination for Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
Nader and Simin, A Separation (Iran)
From Iran, this is Asghar Farhadi's follow up to the brilliant 2009 mystery drama About Elly. A riveting drama primarily due to it's extremely busy narrative, it is already gathering a lot of steam as one of the top contenders at the forth-coming Academy Awards. A string of characters from middle and lower income class Iranians have interesting dimensions that delves in shades of grey driven by circumstances. For an outsider, it also provides an interesting insight to the class divide, aspects of social structure and legal proceedings in Iran. But, the movie has a wider appeal with it's universal themes of trust, values, honor, religion and family relationships. [Full Review]
*A Top 10 list always evokes disagreements, but these are purely based on my personal impressions and only include the ones I've had the pleasure to watch. If you find a glaring omission or any interesting observation you'd like to share, please feel free to drop a comment and let me know.