In the past decade, foreign films became slightly less foreign as directors moved from country to country, funding came from all over the globe, and various international artists teamed up for the benefit of a single work. American Clint Eastwood made a film in Japanese, Taiwanese Hou Hsiao-hsien made a film in French, and Chinese Wong Kar-wai made a film in English. There was even a film with a writer from Poland, a director from Germany, lead actors from Australia and USA, dialogue in Italian and funding from France. So for my list, I'm not choosing "foreign" films so much as I am films whose primary language is not English. Following is my ten best in ranked order.
1. Yi Yi (2000)
This was the seventh feature film by Taiwanese filmmaker Edward Yang, and his first to be distributed in the United States. Sadly, it was also his last film, as he passed away in 2007 at the age of 59. Yi Yi -- subtitled "A One and a Two" -- struck me as a classic even as I watched it early in 2001. I watched it again a few weeks ago just to make sure, and it struck me the same way. Its most miraculous achievement is that it seems warmly humanistic and rigorously artistic at the same time. Usually directors fall in either one camp or the other. It's a bit like The Godfather (without the killings) or like Bergman's Fanny and Alexander (without the angst), a sprawling family epic, in which we observe several members of one very universal family, but we also view them through long hallways or door frames or windows; Yang constantly reminds us that we're just watching and we may never truly know them. The most revealing character is the little boy Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang), who likes to photograph the backs of people's heads so that they can see what they truly look like; that's a bit of poetry for the ages if I ever saw it.