In the golden age of the so-called “art cinema”, college-aged cineastes and middle-aged professorial types needed only to congregate at the local repertory theatre for a fix of the latest and greatest in international film. They could catch a Bergman-Fellini double feature and wile away the evening in a coffee shop discussing the Christ-figure symbolism or whatever. “If only I had lived then”, laments the modern cinephile, “what films I could have seen.” Our young moviegoer, correct though they may be to bemoan the passing of Truffaut’s heyday, has forgotten one thing: a vast library of international movies are available to watch instantly with the stroke of a keyboard, granted they’re already paying for access to services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime. The same goes for you, Mr. Ignorant Summer Blockbuster. You too can become a film snob — with very little actual work.
But nothing’s ever that easy. The plight of the internet age is not access but selection. We’ve done some of the heavy popcorn lifting for you and picked out forty of the best foreign films available for instant streaming today. We even organized them into genres. Go forth and become a global movie connoisseur.
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Japanese auteur and controversialist Takashi Miike is best known for ultra-violent torture pictures like Audition and only slightly less violent yakuza gangster pictures. Even his most vehement detractors could never deny his keen eye for composition and detail, and these strengths are on full display in his classical (if still ultra-violent) samurai epic. Netflix
Now that the trailer has finally dropped for Spike Lee’s long-awaited remake of this Korean masterwork, it’s safe to say the original deserves a second look. Chan-wook Park’s harrowing tale of a man imprisoned for 15 years in a hotel room still holds on to a few coveted bragging rights: it has both the best fight scene and most shocking ending of any film in recent years. Netflix / Hulu
|Tell No One
This French adaptation of Harlan Coben’s bestselling thriller was universally lauded by critics and audiences alike on its release, earning director Guillaume Canet comparisons to Hitchcock. With an English-language remake lost in development hell, now’s as good a time as any to check out this thriller. Netflix / Amazon
It’s like a Norwegian Thomas Crown Affair, plus a hefty dose of originality and minus Rene Russo’s cardboard performance. Sure, there are over-the-top Shyamala-gotcha moments; but there is more than enough style to make this questionable substance palatable. Netflix / Amazon
This two-part schlock-filled crime epic chronicles the rise, fall and bitter end of French criminal Jaques Mesrine. The sprawling saga is held together by Vincent Cassel’s magnetic performance, which tops even his brilliant turn in Eastern Promises for both fearsomeness and vulnerability. Netflix: Part 1 / Netflix: Part 2
Although Rian Johnson is said to have begun work on the soon-to-be-classic Looper before Timecrimes was released, it’s hard not to feel that Nacho Vigalondo’s low-budget thriller was a substantial influence. Time travel remains a lurid, if overplayed, topic, and Vigalondo proves there is still much originality and surprise to be extracted from the all too common plot device. Netflix
|Let the Right One In
A film about young heartbreak and vampires that won’t have you jamming pencils in your eyes. Let the Right One In stands as one of the few foreign classics that was remade well, but that does not mean the original is any less worthy of your rapt attention. Note the patience and seeming passivity with which Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) builds to the film’s bloody, satisfactory conclusion, and the empathy with which he handles his young leads. Netflix
|The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
If you have any doubt that the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is compulsory viewing, consider that most audiences actually preferred it to the near impeccable David Fincher-helmed remake. Stieg Larsson’s source material remains as compelling as ever, and Noomi Rapace brings a captivating fierceness to Lisbeth Salander that was lost in Rooney Mara’s more damaged portrayal. Netflix / Amazon
Imagine The Godfather – or, perhaps, Once Upon a Time in America – in the modern era, shot with the gritty realism of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic. Mix in the character diversity of the entire Sopranos series and a hint of Oliver Stone-ish political conspiracy and you have Gommorah. A quintessential example of what has been called the New Italian Epic genre, this study of criminal hierarchy is intensely watchable and thought-provoking fare. Netflix / Amazon
|Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
This Turkish crime drama and Cannes Grand Prix winner has drawn comparisons to Tarantino in both its title (Leone-inspired) and the meandering, philosophical dialogue of its characters. In reality, it more closely resembles Rio Bravo, the Howard Hawks/John Wayne classic that Tarantino himself called “the greatest hangout picture of all time”. The film’s plot, concerning the search for a dead body on the Anatolian steppe, supplies sufficient tension, but like in Bravo, the dialogue and characterizations are the centerpieces. Netflix
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