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Choosing the Best Non-English Foreign Language Films

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Choosing the Best Non-English Foreign Language Films

In a post over at his site, House contributor Edward Copeland writes:

“Over the past several weeks, I invited (or by extension invited) various people from critics to bloggers to professors and just plain movie fans to submit lists of their top 25 non-English language features so I could compose a list for a survey of all interested film fans to determine a Top 25 list similar to what the AFI does or what the Online Film Community recently did.

I now see how difficult list compiling can be. I set a few guidelines for eligibility: 1) No film more recent than 2002 was eligible; 2) They had to be feature length; 3) They had to have been made either mostly or entirely in a language other than English; 4) Documentaries and silent films were ineligible, though I made do lists for those in the future if this goes well. In all, 434 films received votes, not counting those that had to be disqualified for not meeting the criteria.

I see now why lists can sometimes cause such headaches. We had to decide things such as whether Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns were eligible (We decided no since most people are only familiar with the English dubbed version and the American actors didn’t speak in Italian.) Some people voted for Kieślowski’s Three Colors trilogy as a whole, while others nominated some of the films, but not the others. In the end, all three titles made the cut, though interestingly White failed to receive a single vote for it outside the trilogy votes. Then there were the differences in titles. Thanks for IMDb, which helped me avoid listing the same movie under different names. I also originally planned to have the eligible list consist of films that made at least 5% of all ballots, but soon realized that that would make pretty much every film that got at least one vote eligible, so I opted instead for films that appeared on at least three ballots.

So now the computing has been done.”

To read the list, visit Edward Copeland on Film. The ballot for House publisher Matt Zoller Seitz is after the jump.

MZS’ ballot: “The 20 Foreign Language Films I’ve Seen Most Often”

In back-and-forth emails with Ed during the creation of this poll, participants agreed to keep things as loose as possible during the early round, and define our own lists however we chose. I wanted to avoid a canonical, Greatest Films Ever Made By Human Hands type list—a strategy that usually ends up citing the same movies that always get cited in projects like this one; so I decided to list the 20 foreign language films I’ve seen most often, from high school through last week. I didn’t list the number of times I’ve seen each movie because I wasn’t sure how to count partial viewings toward the total, and on top of that, my memory isn’t what it used to be. Suffice to say that these movies are either endlessly inspirational works or else comfort food that I saw multiple times on first release and have never grown tired of re-watching.

You’ll notice that I’ve got a couple of titles that Ed definitely disqualified (two Sergio Leone westerns, shut out because the lead actors spoke English) and two classic Japanese animated features that might have gotten red-lined for the same reason (dubbing). I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to list a Chan-Wook Park film that was released in its home country in 2002 but didn’t play in the United States for another couple of years—but I did it anyway. And I went back and forth on a particular wild card—a 2004 international co-production that was not well-liked by U.S. critics and that’s not thought of, first and foremost, as a foreign language picture. But being a guy who’s willing to throw away perfectly good ballot slots to make a point, I listed them all, believing that a movie’s original release date should be considered its official release date (America doesn’t own the calendar), and that if dubbed foreign language films were ineligible, then a hell of a lot of foreign language classics (from early Fellini to late’90s Hong Kong action pictures) would be forbidden, because that’s how many U.S. viewers originally experienced them. Maybe one of these days, if Ed’s not suffering carpal tunnel syndrome from this project, he’ll tell me which of my picks made it through the net.


1. Wings of Desire
2. Yojimbo
3. I Vitelloni
3. Hard-Boiled
4. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
5. High and Low
6. For a Few Dollars More
7. La Strada
8 The Exterminating Angel
9. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
10. L’Eclisse
11. Akira
12. Mon Oncle
13. Breathless
14. City of Lost Children
15. The Passion of the Christ
16. The Best Intentions
17. My Life as a Dog
18. Belle de Jour
19. Seven Samurai
20. Princess Mononoke