Netflix may have a movie problem, but the Big Red Giant of streaming still has a ton of foreign flicks for you to burn through upon a weekend. Unfortunately, some of them are… eh….. Are All Men Pedophiles?. Spanish Fly. The FIFA movie. There’s a lot of shit to wade through, is what I’m saying. Here are ten that are worth your time. Honorable mention to Red Cliff, Queen Margot, and The Girl King, all of which I wrote about in my recent piece on Netflix period dramas.
British-Jordanian director Naji Abu Nowar’s Theeb was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at this year’s Oscars, and rightly so. Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat stars as Theeb, a young Bedouin boy living in WWI-era Hijaz (then part of the Ottoman Empire, now in Saudi Arabia). Together with his brother and another guide, Theeb must escort a British soldier to a nearby well, a task made difficult by the large number of bandits in the area. Things take a turn, as you might imagine. Elements of your classic Western—a shoot-out, a struggle for survival against a rugged desert backdrop, a morally grey rogue—are present here, if in a low-key, indie sort of way. (There’s only a small handful of characters.) But while Theeb is undoubtedly entertaining, it also provides thought-provoking commentary on the affects of colonialism on a society like Theeb’s, which is slowly being pushed to obsolescence by the modernizing effect of the railroad. Shot on film rather than digital, Theeb has a warm, classic look, and the final shot is breathtaking. It’s sort of like a little brother to Lawrence of Arabia, if Lawrence of Arabia weren’t about white people.
One of the best movies of 2015 that you’ve probably never heard of, Alonso Ruiz Palacios’ Güeros is a coming-of-age road movie about three modern-day pilgrims:
Roommates Sombra (Tenoch Huerta) and Santos (Leonardo Ortizgris), students during Mexico City’s 1999 university strike who spend their days stealing electricity from the apartment upstairs and listlessly wondering what to do their their lives, and Sombra’s prickly younger brother Tomás, sent away by his mother for being too much of a handful. Their mission, should they choose to accept it: Ride around Mexico City all day trying to find Epigmenio Cruz, a forgotten folk icon whose music is so beautiful that it’s said to have made Bob Dylan cry. It’s undeniably arty, shot in black and white and bearing some spiritual resemblance to “nothing much happens” films like Dazed and Confused or Fast Times at Ridgemont High. If it’s not as outright funny as those films, Palacios still has an appealingly light touch; there’s a moment where a character breaks the fourth wall and goes off on “Fucking Mexican movies! They grab a bunch of beggars and shoot it in black-and-white and say they are making art films!”
The Ip Man Trilogy
If the world is a just place, people unfamiliar with the work of Hong Kong action legend Donnie Yen will see the light once Rogue One hits theatres this December. (BLIND KINDAJEDI DONNIE YEN). When that happens, the Ip Man trilogy will be on Netflix, waiting for them. Yen stars as Ip Man/Yip Man, a real-life martial arts master perhaps best-known for one of his students being this guy named Bruce Lee. The Ip Man movies, though, are less about Ip Man training Lee than about him A) proving his style of fighting, Wing Chung, superior to all others, particularly styles hailing from other countries (Ip Man is a national hero, and the phrase “foreign devil” gets thrown around a lot), and B) punching the shit out of people. Look, Ip Man is a peaceful dude, but if called upon by circumstance to do so, he will fuck you up. If nothing else, watch the tabletop fight between Yen and fellow martial arts icon Sammo Hung from Ip Man 2. Ip Man 3 represents a sharp dip in quality, and… look, I’m just going to be upfront about it. Mike Tyson is in this movie. He speaks Mandarin sometimes. It’s odd. It’s also not as bad as you’d expect, because the director seems to have realized the key to casting Mike Tyson in a movie is to have him say as little as possible. The scene where he and Yen wail on each other is actually worth watching. (Skip to one hour and seven minutes and don’t watch the rest. I won’t judge.)
A group of talented Israeli actresses lead Talya Lavie’s Zero Motivation, a workplace comedy about a soldiers fulfilling their required military service at a remote desert base where nothing much happens. Sort of like a drier The Office, with machine guns.
A bona fide modern classic, Oldboy—about a man trapped in a room without explanation for 15 years, and the bloody vengeance he unleashes when he finally gets out—is as brilliant as it is not for the faint of heart. Don’t watch it with your parents.
Look, just watch the old-ass German movie. Metropolis is one of the first science fiction films (though by no means the first—Georges Méliès’ short film A Trip to the Moon is generally considered to have that honor. It’s also on Netflix and is more than worth a watch), and it’s still one of the best, even nearly 90 years after it first came out. Brigitte Helm does double duty as Maria, angelic member of the dystopian city of Metropolis’ impoverished working class, and Maria’s robot doppelgänger, created by the mad scientist Rotwang (heh, Rotwang) to incite rebellion. The ending’s a bit hammy ((“The mediator between head and hands must be the heart!”), and the nearly two and a half hour running time can be a challenge if you’re not used to silents, but Metropolis is still an incredibly powerful film, not to mention absolutely gorgeous; it both influenced and was influenced by the Art Deco movement.
The twee revolution may have come and gone, leaving a mangled pile of quirky girlfriends in its wake, but dammit, there is a reason we all loved Amélie back in the early oughts, and that reason is that it is fucking delightful. The world may have gotten a lot more cynical over the last 15 years, but dammit, sometimes you just need some whimsy.
I’ve written about this one before, so I’m just going to say it’s a it’s a gorgeous 1920s-set retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves where Snow White becomes a matador and let you come to your own conclusions about whether you should watch it. Watch it. Snow White is a matador.
Before Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was Jaime Lannister, he was CLAS GREVE (say it out loud—it’s one of the best fictional character names ever put to cinema. CLASGREVECLASGREVECLASGREVE), the sharp-dressed antagonist of Morten Tyldum’s Scandinavian action thriller Headhunters. Aksel Hennie stars as Roger, a corporate headhunter who funds his lavish lifestyle by indulging in a bit of art theft on the side. Through blessed with a good job and a tall blonde goddess as a wife, the somewhat weedy, nebbish Roger is beset with a niggling inferiority complex, which is only exacerbated when Clas Greve—suave, mysterious, and looking like Nikolaj Coster-Waldau—comes onto the scene looking for a job at the company Roger recruits for. Clas also, incidentally, owns a painting that Roger decides to steal; from there, things get bloodier, and the “headhunting” of the title goes from corporate hiring practices to something more literal.
Another Game of Thrones actor—there are so many of them from foreign countries!—pops up in Ruben Östlund’s dark comedy/drama Force Majeure, about a family ski vacation that takes a morbid turn when father Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) instinctively reacts to an oncoming avalanche by booking it, leaving his wife (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and young children behind. Everyone survives the avalanche, which turns out to be a false alarm, but Tomas and Ebba’s marriage might not be so lucky. Kristofer Hivju, aka Tormund Giantsbane, aka Blowout von Whisperbear, aka Baron J. Fuckfalling, aka Redd Chainz, plays Tomas’ more free-wheeling friend Mats, complete with resplendent ginger beard. (Of course.)
For more movie and television recommendations from Amazon and Netflix, check out our streaming guide.