True to form, I’ve seen a lot of movies this year. However, I’ve never been a particularly contrarian sort, so were I to make a list of just my favorite films of the year, it would probably look a whole lot like other end of year lists you’ve already read. All the year’s usual suspects – your First Reformeds, your Spider-Verses, your Mission: Impossible – Fallouts– would definitely be accounted for. So I’ve decided to tackle this with a different approach: I’m gonna present to you my fifteen favourite films of 2018 that aren’t in the English language.
Bear with me; this isn’t meant as a way to gain hipster bragging rights. I just want to take this opportunity to spotlight some interesting films this year that might have flown under your radar, or just deserve all the praise they can get. Some of these might not be available in the United States yet, but are worth keeping an eye out for when they do. So without further ado, let’s go:
15. THE WORLD IS YOURS (Le Monde Est Á Toi)
A French gangster caper that feels like a cross between a Guy Ritchie film and your average seventies Alain Delon movie, Romain Gavras’ The World Is Yours isn’t exactly very original, nor does it have a lot of things to say. What it definitely is, though, is a whole lot of fun. The plot – a nebbishy drug dealer tries to leave the game by doing one last job, but has to contend with his kleptomaniac mother, a feisty ex, a group of bumbling associates and a very mean Scotsman – never stops moving and throws in enough twists to keep the momentum going, while Gavras’ relaxed directorial style contrasts nicely with the pretty high energy plot machinations. If there was any justice in the world, a late in the game scene involving Vincent Cassel – who absolutely shines as one of the aforementioned bumbling associates – and a bunch of crates adorned with a certain symbol would be one of the most memed and talked about scenes of the year, but alas.
14. THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD (Le Nuit A Dévoré Le Monde)
Another French film, but one of a very different order. The Night Eats The World is a zombie film, albeit a very relaxed one. 22 July star Anders Danielsen Lie stars as a man who accidentally locks himself in a room in his ex’s apartment during a party and wakes up when the place – and the rest of Paris – is crawling with zombies. This isn’t a Resident Evil style scarefest though. He gets the few remaining ones out easily enough – except the one he keeps locked up for company, played with scene-stealing gusto by Holy Motors’ Denis Levant – after which the film becomes a bona fide character piece. What happens to a man’s psyche in such extreme solitude? To what extent will he go to eventually find a way out? Does he even want to? The answers to those questions might not all be satisfactory, but that doesn’t keep The Night Eats The World from being a refreshingly low-key entry in a stale genre.
13. NO ONE IN THE CITY (Niemand In De Stad)
The only film from my home country in this list. I’ve never held Dutch cinema in particularly high regard – our main exports being mediocre romcoms and period pieces doesn’t help – but this pleasingly empathic portrait of a clique of frat boys proved a welcome exception to the rule. Veteran documentarian Michiel van Erp opens his feature length debut with a gross-out comedy setpiece so grotesque you’d be forgiven for thinking the whole remaining film would be an American Pie-style yukfest. Thankfully, No One In The City quickly lowers into a more tender register, chronicling the tumultuous relationship a new student in Amsterdam has with his fellow frat members, his family, and the rest of the outside world. While that might not sound groundbreaking, Van Erp and his talented young cast find enough grace notes – and the occasional dazzling cinematographical touch – to make the film a continually engaging, and eventually profoundly touching, watch.
12. TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (Vuelven)
My esteemed Lewton Bus colleague Shannon already shouted out Issa Lopez’ Tigers Are Not Afraid on his 2017 end of year list, but it didn’t hit my shores until this year, so on the list it goes. I do fully agree with his recommendation, as Tigers Are Not Afraid is a stunner. It is at first a gritty and down to earth drama about a young girl getting lost in Mexico’s gang culture after the sudden disappearance of her mother. Lopez folds supernatural and horror elements into the story gently, so the effect isn’t jarring at all when the film evolves into something of a full-blown genre mix during the go for broke – and often stunning, both emotionally and visually – finale.
11. GOOD MANNERS (As Boas Maneiras)
Another eclectic genre mix, though the Brazilian Good Manners is pretty far removed from Tigers Are Not Afraid in what genre it eventually turns into. That’s about all you should you know about that though, as this is a film that works best when seen with as little foreknowledge as possible. Just know that it absolutely goes for it in every respect and concerns a poor woman who becomes a house sitter for a pregnant woman who is significantly more well off than her, and also keeps suspicious amounts of raw meat in the fridge. Oh, and also there are multiple beautiful painterly shots of city skylines, at least one spontaneous musical interlude and a scene where a cat is donned with a fun party hat. What more do you need?
10. THE CAPTAIN (Der Hauptmann)
A vicious, dark and unrelenting WWII film about the corruption that power brings with it… from the director of such classics as RED 2, R.I.P.D. and the final two chapters in the prematurely ended Divergent Saga. Yes, I was as surprised as you are right now, but Robert Schwentke’s The Captain is an absolute beast of a war film. It follows Herold, a young German soldier who deserts during the fledgling days of the war, finds a dead Nazi general, steals his uniform and uses his self-appointed title of Captain Herold to quickly amass a loyal following of other wandering soldiers. The monochromatic journey into hell that follows is often as darkly funny as it is deeply unnerving, right down to the Brechtian bacchanal of its finale, making The Captain a film that is not for the faint of heart, but one you certainly won’t forget anytime soon.
Released in his native Italy as a two-parter, but unleashed onto the rest of the world as a cut down two and a half hour epic, Paolo Sorrentino’s ostensible Silvio Berlusconi biopic Loro is just as buoyant and propulsive as you’d expect from the director of The Great Beauty. An Italian The Darkest Hour, this very much isn’t. Instead, we spent the first hour of Loro very far removed from its theoretical subject1, following a struggling pimp2 who desperately craves an audience with Italy’s most infamous presidente. When we are finally formally introduced to him – as most characters in the film refer to Berlusconi, frequently in an awestruck whisper – he takes the form of Sorrentino mainstay Tony Servilo in ridiculous old woman drag. Loro does set into a more serious, political register after that, but it almost continually remains a total hoot, mostly thanks to Servilo’s Silvio bursting out a glorious arsenal of goofy facial expressions and Sorrentino’s fantastically exuberant direction.
8. THE GUILTY (Den Skyldige)
My colleague Kevin Kuhlman has already espoused the virtues of Gustav Möller’s excellent single location thriller on this website multiple times, so I’ll keep it brief. The Guilty is indeed a fantastic little thriller, which continually keeps you engaged and guessing as to what’s really going on with the phone call that emergency operator Asger is so obsessed with. And, with lead actor Jakob Cedergren, Möller has found the perfect anchor; a man with a face whose cheekbones alone are enough to keep you engaged in shots where you see nothing but his face.
7. NEVER LOOK AWAY (Werk Ohne Autor)
German filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (the excellent The Lives Of Others, the decidedly un-excellent The Tourist) has a very long name and now, he has made a film with a length to match it. Never Looks Away clocks in at a whopping 188 minutes and tells the story of artist Kurt, a young man with a tumultuous upbringing during WWII who falls in love with a fellow student at his art academy and slowly discovers he and her father are connected by a dark event in both men’s past. During the first half of the film, Henckel von Donnersmarck lays his message about the virtues of art and the threat it faces under fascist regimes on so thick and delivers it with so much sturm und drang that I almost felt morally obligated to like it. That forcefulness was a bit of a problem for me initially, but Never Look Away eventually becomes so sweeping and operatic that I couldn’t help but be swept away in the drama. And by the time it reaches its powerful conclusion, Henckel von Donnersmarck had thoroughly won me over, and more than convinced me my 188 minutes were well spent.
6. SHOPLIFTERS (Manbiki Kazoku)
I’m not hugely familiar with the works of Hirokazu Kore-eda, but I couldn’t pass up his Palme D’Or winner Shoplifters. While this kind of small-scale humanist drama isn’t really my favorite genre – hence me not having seen a lot of his previous films – it still won me over big time. Kore-eda isn’t the most visually exciting director and the way he kind of keeps a distance from his characters obviously isn’t going to be up to everyone’s speed, but there is a profound beauty within this story of a makeshift family, the bonds that hold them together and the circumstances that tear them apart. It floats along at a nice slow pace for the most part, but the eventual bombshell of an emotional reveal that kicks off the third act was enough to make me almost tear up in the theatre, which doesn’t happen often.
5. CUSTODY (Jusqu’á La Garde)
Speaking of small-scale humanist dramas, Xavier Legrand’s debut feature about a child struggling during the divorce of his kind mother and his bullish father might not sound that far removed from a Kore-eda film on paper, but Legrand has a far more visceral touch than the Japanese master. From frame one the tension in Custody slowly, steadily builds, eventually culminating in an almost unbearably intense finale. The excellent performances from Thomas Gioria, Leá Drucker and especially Denis Ménochet only adds to the heartache.
Once again, I find myself wanting to espouse the virtues of a film you really shouldn’t know anything about before watching it. So, just watch the glorious teaser trailer for this Lebanese drama, which I’ll embed below and know that that only shows a fraction of a dizzying absurdist setpiece in a film filled to the brim with those. It’s a stunner, just trust me on this one.
3. THE NIGHT COMES FOR US
I’m adding these two together not out of laziness, but both were prominent Netflix releases that have had a lot of (festival) buzz and have been widely covered, including on this site3, so I feel like writing full paragraphs about both isn’t really necessary. There’s a fair chance you’ve already seen them, moreso than any other film on this list. So the essentials: Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes For Us is pure ecstasy for action lovers; a relentless and brutal ballet of fight scenes where every object on screen can and most likely will be used as a weapon. Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma is an utterly gorgeous portrait of the life of a maid in Mexico city. You probably already knew that. Both are jaw-dropping, albeit in very different ways. If you haven’t seen either of them yet, make it your premiere new year’s resolution.
1. BURNING (Beoning)
Not just my foreign-language film of the year, but my film of the year period. Lee Chang-Dong’s Burning is an enigmatic, heart-stopping masterpiece, that, once again, you should go in as blind as possible if you haven’t seen it yet. It also possesses a deep emotional power that makes it very hard to write about. Fellow Lewton Bus contributor VyceVictus can attest to this and instead of writing a review conveyed his thoughts in a very beautiful poem. I’ll just leave it at this. If any film in 2019 can produce a scene half as beautiful and tearjerkingly emotional as the one where female protagonist Hae-Mi does a dance on a porch set to Miles Davis, it’s gonna be a hell of a year.