5 foreign-language films you don’t want to miss

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes his favorite foreign flicks (Part 1)

Hollywood blockbusters like “Spider-Man: No Way Home” are dominating the box office, while American prestige pictures like “West Side Story” and “The Tragedy of Macbeth” are generating Oscar buzz.

However, not all great movies are made in America, which represents only a fraction of world cinema.

Australia’s “The Power of the Dog” and Britain’s “Belfast” are two major Oscar contenders from beyond our shores, but they are still presented in the English language for maximum accessibility.

What if you’re looking for something of the subtitle variety?

Here are my favorite international features of this awards season:

5. ‘A Hero’ (Iran)

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Winner of the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, “A Hero” released in U.S. theaters over the weekend before streaming on Amazon Prime starting Jan. 21. It follows a man (Amir Jadidi) on a two-day leave from prison who takes credit for returning a briefcase of money, enjoying the limelight of local TV stations until the truth unravels his good Samaritan deception. It ranks as my third favorite from Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, behind his Oscar-winning masterpieces “A Separation” (2011) and “The Salesman” (2016), but it’s still a master in top form.

4. ‘Petite Maman’ (France)

Director: Céline Sciamma

Marking a change of pace after her acclaimed “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019), Céline Sciamma’s “Petite Maman” is a genius concept told in just 72 minutes, but it somehow doesn’t feel rushed. The unique film follows a young girl (Joséphine Sanz) who grieves the death of her grandmother by helping her parents clean out her mother’s childhood home. While exploring the surrounding woods, she builds a treehouse with a girl her same age (played by real-life twin sister Gabrielle Sanz). To reveal any more would be a cinematic sin.

3. ‘Riders of Justice’ (Denmark)

Director: Anders Thomas Jensen

If you liked Mads Mikkelsen as the Bond villain in “Casino Royale” (2006) or as the drunk college professor in “Another Round” (2020), you’re going to love him in “Riders of Justice.” He plays a vengeful man whose wife dies in a tragic train accident that seems suspicious after mathematicians tie its probability to a vicious biker gang. I went in expecting a cool action flick, but I was surprised at how funny this was and, dare I say, even a little profound with the concept of coincidences and the butterfly effect of events.

2. ‘Drive My Car’ (Japan)

Director: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

“Drive My Car” is a brilliantly crafted journey by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, but the IMDB logline does it no favors: “Yusuke Kafuku is a stage actor and director happily married to his playwright wife. Then one day she disappears.” It makes it sound like a twisty mystery/thriller, when really it’s a slow-burn drama exploring themes of grief in a way that’s simultaneously epic and intimate, thanks to complex performances by Hidetoshi Nishijima as the mourning thespian and Tōko Miura as his young chauffeur. I doubt the three-hour dreamlike meditation will wow the Academy enough to win Oscar Best Picture like the gripping “Parasite” (2019), but it’s definitely the favorite to win Best International Feature.

1. ‘The Worst Person in the World’ (France)

Director: Joachim Trier

Winner of Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, “The Worst Person in the World” stars Renate Reinsve as a young woman navigating her complicated love life and career. The film boasts magical moments with “Amelie”-style narration and a time-freezing scene for the ages, but its real power remains its refreshingly realistic human relationships. I was personally wrecked by a scene in Act 3 where a character laments the loss of tangible media that used to exist at record stores, saying that he doesn’t even recognize the world anymore. There’s only one flaw to this powerful flick: You’ll have to wait until Feb. 4 to see it in U.S. theaters.

Honorable Mentions:

Here are five additional films for your consideration:

  • “Flee” — Jonas Poher Rasmussen (Denmark)
  • “The Hand of God” — Paolo Sorrentino (Italy)
  • “Lamb” — Valdimar Jóhannsson (Iceland)
  • “Memoria” — Apichatpong Weerasethaku (Colombia)
  • “Titane” — Julia Ducournau (France)

A few of the above films I still haven’t seen and one I saved for my list of documentary films.

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes his favorite foreign flicks (Part 2)

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