Best Foreign Film – 1984

Official Nominations: Dangerous Moves. Beyond The Walls. Camila. Double Feature. Wartime Romance.

As ‘Eighties’ as the domestic categories (and particularly my choices) are this year, the same can’t be said for the Best Foreign Feature category. If Dangerous Moves had been a Hollywood film this year, it would have starred Rodney Dangerfield as the wise-cracking, alcoholic chess grandmaster and Matthew Broderick would have been the wise-cracking young up and comer. There would have been a scene in an arcade, and hot young twenty something actress would have appeared in a bikini at some point. Being a Swiss movie, it’s a tad more serious. It feels like the Chariots Of Fire of the Chess world.

Beyond The Walls is a bit grim, isn’t it? Set in a prison, it’s about the fighting and in-fighting and conspiracy between a group of Israeli and Palestinian prisoners. Camila feels like a Hollywood Biopic – taking a tragic cult figure and blowing up the most salacious and famous moments of their life. It’s done in a considered way, with Camila presented as something of a martyr, a woman who fell in love with the wrong person in the wrong place and time. Double Feature is one of those films about films which Hollywood loves to celebrate. It’s good, but rather than a celebration about the industry it’s about how people can be so dedicated to their craft that they lose sight of their families and struggle to re-connect as they age out of the business.

Finally, Wartime Romance is exactly that – a Russian Romantic Drama about a soldier who re-connects with the nurse he had been obsessed with a decade earlier, who he then has a hand in bringing back to her former confidence and beauty. It’s not great.

My Winner: Camila

Camila (1984) - Not Even Past

My Nominations: The Never Ending Story. 1984. The Company Of Wolves. The Element Of Crime. Greystroke. The Hit. The Killing Fields.

Can we get away with having The Never Ending Story here? I mean, they got away with giving the film that name, so I think we’re good. It was a joint production between Germany and the US… I’ll allow it, just this once. It’s another of those movies which was always on TV when I was young, and another which we watched in School when the teachers couldn’t be arsed. I’ve never been as big a fan of it as others, and I don’t think I’ve ever bothered with the sequels, but it’s fun.

The UK was putting out a fair few decent films in the 80s – not the dreary dramas and unfunny rom-coms we typically see. 1984 was inevitable, and should have received an official nomination while The Killing Fields was of course a huge critical success. The Hit saw Stephen Frears flexing his muscle, making one of the few London Gangster movies I enjoy. Story wise, it’s nothing out of the ordinary, beyond placing a lot of the tropes into a pseudo-road movie and bringing together a great cast – Terence Stamp, John Hurt, and Tim Roth. It follows an ex criminal tout enjoying his retirement thanks to ratting out his old mates, whose past catches up with him.

Greystroke is one of the more enjoyable adventure movies of the era, clearly inspired by the success of Indiana Jones but going its own way, taking the Tarzan stories and bringing them up to date. The Company Of Wolves is a movie I saw when I was very young and one whose images stayed with me for many years until I was able to watch it again. It’s certainly a film of images, given the fantastical, almost nonsensical and secondary nature of its story. It’s basically a re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood, but with a heavily erotic and violent slant, told with grim visual beaty by Neil Jordan. It’s a dense film with stories within stories, the aforementioned startling imagery, and a touch of blood and guts.

Finally, The Element Of Crime is Lars Von Trier’s debut. He’s far from full Von Trier here, but many of the elements (ahem) which would make up his later, more controversial work, is clear to see – the self-deprecating humour, the violence, the stretchy veil between tongue-in-cheek/satire/reality. It’s very strange, but full of ideas.

My Winner: The Company Of Wolves.

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Foreign Film – 1983

Official Nominations: Fanny & Alexander. The Ball. Carmen. Entre Nous. The Revolt Of Job.

Fanny & Alexander was this year’s winner, a 1982 Ingmar Bergman film. It’s one of Bergman’s best films but it’s not one I return to or think about much given its length and its retreading of many common Bergman themes including family and religion. It does look exquisite, but it’s a bit of a slog, especially if you’re not a fan of Bergman’s approach or tropes. In any case, it’s a 1982 movie so won’t be getting a vote from me.

Le Bal is one of the more unique, artistic, and bizarre movies to ever receive a main Academy nomination – it’s essentially a group of ballroom dances conveying various moments in 20th Century French history. It looks great, and as someone who generally avoids all things related to dance, it manages to work some charm upon even the most ‘could not give two shits’ viewer. It’s completely dialogue free, but for me it would have had a greater impact had it been around the 90 minute mark, max.

Carmen is in a similar vein, a film centred around dance, this time with dialogue, this time a retelling of both the story and Opera. It’s fine, but again if you’re like me and are not enchanted by dance in any way, it’s likely going to be a slog.

Entre Nous is more frustrating than anything as it has potential to be better but is limited by the usual tropes of ‘woman has affair’ and ‘woman is too fragile for this world’. The ending feels rushed, which is a shame because spending the film with Miou-Miou, Huppert, and Marchand is a good time, and it closes on a bit of a whimper rather than a yell.

Finally, The Revolt Of Job is something of a coming of age/childhood film, except its set in the Hungarian countryside during World War II. It’s likely only something for Cinephiles to check out given the pace and solitude and mood of the film, but it’s a film with such an air of tragedy surrounding it given its slow walk towards an inevitable ending. Beautifully photographed, it’s more a film about family, about learning and giving, with a stark bite in its final moments.

My Winner: Entre Nous

Entre nous (1983) | MUBI

My Nominations: The Ballad Of Narayama. The Fourth Man. Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence. Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life. Project A. Videodrome.

A great year for foreign film, so much so that I had to cut out at least four films from my original list. I cut the more obscure ones for the bigger names, and truthfully, I do enjoy these ones more. The Ballad Of Narayama is probably the least known film of the bunch, an interesting little film concerning something so culturally alien that anyone in the slightest bit curious should give it a go; Set in rural Japan in the 1800s, an aging woman decides to put her town, family, and friends in order knowing she has a year to live. She’s in perfect health, but there is a tradition that once any person reaches the age of 70, they leave the village, travel to a mountain, and die of starvation. It’s like a non-sci fi Logan’s Run where instead of fighting back the oldies willingly go to their death. Like all old people should.

Staying with Japan, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence features David Bowie in his second movie of the year along with Tom Conti, Takeshi Kitano, and Ryuichi Sakamoto as a group of soldiers in a Japanese PoW camp. It’s not a film which focuses on the harshness and brutality you may expect, but instead upon guilt, resilience, and the relationships between the men in the camp. It’s a great introduction to Japanese Cinema for the uninitiated as well as a surprisingly musical film.

Closing out our jaunt through Asia is one of Jackie Chan’s seminal movies, Project A, and one of the first films to truly introduce Western Audiences to Chan. Set in the late 1800s, Chan plays a cop who is trying to prevent and catch the bad guys on the Hong Kong coast who are raiding boats an markets and getting up to all manner of badness. The story, as you may expect from a martial arts movie, is secondary to the amazing action and stunts – not a shred of CG and seemingly zero fucks given to personal safety or health.

Project A has plenty of laughs and the same can be said for The Meaning Of Life. While not as memorable or groundbreaking or smart as their previous two films, this one is a series of deliberate vignettes meaning you never stick with one idea for long and there’s always something fresh to keep you on the hook even as other moments fall flat.

The Fourth Man is Paul Verhoeven in the horror realm for maybe the only time, even though all of his films contain some elements of the genre. It follows an alcoholic writer who becomes obsessed with a scientist he has sex with and one of the other men she is involved with. He begins having nightmares about them, which bleed into waking visions, which bleed into reality. There’s a load of sex and violence, it looks beautiful and the central trio of Jeroen Krabbe, Renee Soutendijk, and Thom Hoffman are excellent.

It’s between The Fourth Man and Videodrome for my winner, with Cronenberg’s film also being focused on obsession, sex, and violence. I think Videodrome edges it for me thanks to its imagery and ideas.

 My Winner: Videodrome.

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Foreign Film – 1982

Official Nominations: Begin The Beguine. Alsino And The Condor. Clean Slate. Flight Of The Eagle. Private Life.

Not the most thrilling line-up this year, although Spain picked up their first win with Begin The Beguine. It’s fine, you don’t need to ever see it, but it’s a story you’ve seen any number of times before following a man returning home to reconnect with his past. There’s a political background, there’s the added twist of the guy being sick, but it’s par for the course. Alsino And The Condor is the best of the bunch, a coming of age war story set in Nicuragua as the US becomes involved in the Sandanista/Contra conflict. Dean Stockwell stars as an American Military pilot while Alan Esquival is the titular Alsino, a boy who believes he can fly but who is increasingly horrified by the war and violence on all sides.

Clean Slate is a little longer than it needs to be, an adaptation of an American Hard-Boiled Crime novel, transposed to a small African town. It’s funny, violent, but ultimately bleak, emboldened by the great Philippe Noiret and Isabelle Huppert. Flight Of The Eagle similarly features a familiar face in Max Von Sydow, starring in the biographical tale of three men attempting to reach the North Pole in a hot air balloon. You can guess how that went. Finally, Private Life is your typical Soviet drama – a man forced to re-evaluate his life and position after being forced to retire.

My Winner: Alsino And The Condor

Alsino y el cóndor (1982) - Filmaffinity

My Nominations: Alsino And The Condor. Flight Of The Eagle. Gandhi. The Dark Crystal. The Wall. Passion. Tenebrae. The Year Of Living Dangerously.

I carry two over from the official list, and add a bunch of my own picks. Gandhi. It’s an English film. It won Best Picture. Of course it should be here. In fact, Great Britain makes up the bulk of my picks, with The Dark Crystal’s unique story and vision taking up a deserved spot and The Wall with its excellent music and iconic imagery grabbing another.

We hop over the Channel to France and Jean Luc Godard’s Passion, the story of a director’s struggles in creating an obscure Art film. That’s what Godard does. I’m not remotely the most qualified person to discuss Art, but I’m fairly literate when it comes to Film – while much of this was lost on me, the central themes of creation and the balancing of the love of creating versus physical human love with another person, are handled with Godard’s usual intense lens, and it’s bolstered a strong lead in Radziwilowicz and support from Isabelle Huppert. It’s pleasingly swift too.

Tenebrae is Argento’s follow up to Inferno, offering a more traditional Giallo but with plenty of his trademark artistry. It lacks the complexity of his previous couple of films, but his experiences in making those films honed his knife mystery story telling skills and could be called his best straight slasher. Of course, it’s clinical, garish, and super violent – but that’s what we expect from Argento.

Finally, Australia’s The Year Of Living Dangerously has a taste of neo-noir, a dashing of war intrigue, but is of course a taut romance. You don’t get many of those these days – it’s all Rom Coms or Tragedies. Weaver is great, Gibson is great, Hunt won the Oscar. Great film.

My Winner: The Wall

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Foreign Film – 1981

Official Nominations: Mephisto. The Boat Is Full. Man Of Iron. Muddy River. Three Brothers.

Some interesting picks this year, but no stand outs. Mephisto is the obvious winner, a successful twist on the Faust story and one of Hungary’s most famous films. Centered on an unnerving lead performance by Klaus Maria Brandauer as an actor who craves fame and validation – even at the cost of his friends, family, and immortal soul as the Nazi powers rise. It’s a great idea to set the ancient story of moral ambiguity and human thirst for power alongside the 20th Century’s greatest human evil.

Muddy River would bizarrely be Japan’s last Academy Nominee in this category until 2003, entirely overlooking one of the countries finest periods and some of their best movies. It’s a fairly traditional family drama from Japan, the sort of thing The Academy tends to fawn over, albeit with notions of class and tradition and neighbourly conventions being upended as we follow two boys who become friends but learn that some professions are not as respected as others.

Three Brothers is Italy’s required nomination, Francesco Rosi directing the great Philippe Noiret as one of (insert title) who look to both the past and future when they learn of their mother’s death. It’s fine, but an acquired taste. The Boat Is Full is a suitably tense, to a point, story of six strangers trying to flee Nazi Germany who are forced to hide out in a small Swiss town and pretend to be a family to evade capture and be granted asylum. Good idea, doesn’t always work for me. Finally, Man Of Iron is Andrzej Wajda’s third film to be nominated and another which deals with class and human struggles against political odds. It’s overlong and will pack more of a punch if you have a history or interest in the subject, but still one of Wajda’s crowning achievements.

My Winner: Mephisto

Mephisto (1981) - IMDb

My Nominations: Mephisto. The Road Warrior. Blind Chance. Das Boot. Christiane F. For Your Eyes Only. Gallipoli. Looks And Smiles. Marianne And Juliane. Scanners. Time Bandits.

Quite a few of my nominations I picked for Best Picture too, so we can skip over those. Mephisto is the only official film to come over to my list, joining The Road Warrior, Gallipoli, and For Your Eyes Only from my Best Picture choices. They join maybe the biggest omission from the Official category – Das Boot garnering 6 Academy Nominations including Best Director, but no wins. It’s one of the most famous Non Hollywood War movies ever made, and for a long time was one of the few European movies which those more fixated on Hollywood had seen. Perhaps surprising given that it focuses on the Germans in WWII, a group of ordinary Naval men on a submarine in the middle of a War they just want to survive. It’s still a tense watch today, and pleasingly unpatriotic and grim.

Staying in Germany (West Germany) which had a strong year, Christiane F is one of the more shocking Coming Of Age films you’ll ever see as it follows a bored teenage girl succumb to heroin addiction. Less stylized than the likes of Trainspotting and Requiem For A Dream, it’s a harrowing and gritty film which will stay with you if you’re (un)lucky enough to see it. Marianne & Juliane isn’t as harsh a watch, but is another little known and impactful film from West Germany, this time focusing on the true (ish) story of two sisters struggling to fight for Women’s Rights and how their decisions damage their own relationship. It’s a timely movie given current struggles and debate.

Blind Chance is often remembered by those who have seen it as the movie which Sliding Doors ripped off. It was one of the first movies with a dual (or in this case, triple) narrative depicting the potential directions the lead character’s life could take based on the simple outcome of their rush to make a train on time. I’m not usually a fan of these types of movies because they attempt a dedicated realism which never really mirrors how life works – you may make a thousand choices every day and none of them ever amount to much – and in the case of Sliding Doors it’s a cute excuse for a dull romance. Here it explores three genuinely different life paths, although given the shock ending you understand that each of the choices leads to disaster for someone.

I’m not a huge fan of Ken Loach and while the world of Cinema is better with him in it, I only feel the need to dip in and out of his work infrequently. Looks & Smiles is one of the more direct and translatable of his films, the anit-human, anti-working class politics of Thatcher something more familiar to me as a viewer. Still, it’s not exactly a heartwarming or exciting watch. Staying in the UK for an altogether more entertaining movie, Time Bandits is a grand work of imagination, pulling together several Pythons to craft the sort of dream-like world I feel like every child thinks of. I know when I was young – as a big fan of Myths and Legends, especially of the Greek variety, I often fantasized about travelling back in time or to some far flung land. Time Bandits captures this wonderfully. Finally, David Cronenberg treated us to some head-bursting ideas in Scanners, further pushing the body horror genre forwards while also being smart, well cast, and letting the world know that Canada was capable of making great movies too.

My Winner: The Road Warrior

Let us know your picks in the comments!

Best Foreign Film – 1980

Official Nominations: Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears. Confidence. Kagemusha. The Last Metro. The Nest.

Official Winner Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears also holds the title for most cliche Russian movie title ever. It’s also very Russian in its style and form – not impenetrable for other viewers but not 100% coherent. It feels to me like an overly long drama, centering on the lives of three women who want to succeed in Moscow. The film’s second half focuses on the later life of one of the women, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary here. Istvan Szabo’s Confidence is a gripping POW film while Kagemusha is one of Kurosawa’s later return to form movies. It’s about two brothers, ostensibly the rulers of a clan in trouble, who find a lowly thief who looks exactly like one of the brothers. They decide he could be a useful political decoy and lo and behold the brother is killed so the decoy takes over. There’s a lot of political intrigue and a multitude of characters and battles, but it’s all about the look – the way Kurosawa composes every shot in gorgeous colour.

The Last Metro is Truffaut again, his final film of any great success. Catherine Deneuve and Heinz Bennent star as a husband and wife who own and work in a small Parisian theatre during the Occupation in WWII. Deneuve must hide her husband while keeping the theatre running, avoiding Nazis, and dealing with the attentions of Gerard Depardieu. It flaunt’s several of Truffaut’s favoured styles and themes and may be a shade too long, but is otherwise great. The Nest makes for interesting and uncomfortable viewing, kind of like a reverse Lolita in which a lonely old widower and a lonely young teenage girl begin a relationship which becomes increasingly intense, the ‘twist’ being that the girl acts like the adult or force and the man becomes childlike and subservient. It’s good, but likely a hard sell for most.

My Winner: Kagemusha

Kagemusha, 40 Years Later: Akira Kurosawa's Overshadowed Epic

My Nominations: Kagemusha. The Last Metro. Cannibal Holocaust. The Changeling. City Of Women. Death Watch. The Gods Must Be Crazy. Inferno. The Long Good Friday. Out Of The Blue.

An abundance of foreign treats for a new decade, ranging in quality admittedly – some of these I’m adding more by their reputation or influence, others in the hope that others will go watch them. Nevertheless, they’re all good. Starting with The Changeling – it’s a film I came late to in horror though its one most in the genre have a lot of fondness for. It has a great look, a few chills, and a good lead performance by Scott – there are better films on the list though. Staying in Canada, we have the cult Dennis Hopper movie Out Of The Blue. It has two strong leads in Hopper and Linda Manz as a father and daughter – she is a precocious punk wannabe while he is a con stuck in prison as she runs wild – it’s gritty and rough and hard and interesting for punk fans.

Back to horror, and you can’t talk about the Foreign Films of 1980 without mentioning Cannibal Holocaust – possibly still the most notorious video nasty of all time. I can’t go so far as calling it tame by today’s standards as it remains one of those films that will leave an impression on anyone who watches – you may feel as if a little piece of yourself has been stolen, or you may feel as if your eyes have been opened to new cinematic possibilities. It’s gruesome, it has plenty of shocking moments and violence, and of course the real animal cruelty is enough to put anyone off – most viewers may want to watch the version which cuts that stuff out. Having said that, it has a gorgeous score, it’s well directed, and it’s incredibly influential. It’s gruelling in the same way as Texas Chainsaw Massacre is and speaks to the primitive and progressive in us all. Dario Argento provides a somewhat classier Italian horror offering with Inferno. As is generally the case with Argento movies, the story can be muddled and takes a back seat to the visuals. While not as immediately captivating as Suspiria there are sets dressed up in such grim lighting that individual moments will leave a lasting impact – whether it’s the haunting stare of a woman, or the sight of rats swarming a man.

Moving to Sci Fi – Death Watch from France features an appealing Western cast to suck in a wider audience – Harry Dean Stanton, Romy Schneider, Harvey Keitel, Max Von Sydow – and it is based on the British sci-fi classic The Unsleeping Eye. Set in a world where death by sickness or disease has essentially been wiped out, a woman named Katherine learns she has an incurable disease and becomes an overnight celebrity sensation. In a move which, I’m fairly certain has already been seen today, a TV company offers her a tonne of money if they can make a reality show out of her final days. It’s a little overlong and somewhat dated in look and tone now, but the cast and core conceit keep it relevant and watchable today. City Of Women takes a light approach to its alternate reality – a world where a womanizer finds himself trapped by a range of angry women. Once again this would be a great film to see realized in modern form today, but it’s doubtful we’d see a version as witty and provocative and certainly not as fantastical as Fellini’s version, and any version would be subjected to savage criticism by all sides.

It’s difficult to find anyone who has seen or heard of The Gods Must Be Crazy, but the South African film was a ridiculous success becoming a worldwide hit falling slightly behind The Empire Strikes Back. It’s an incredibly short-sighted movie in terms of racial and cultural issues, even for 1980, but alongside other riotous comedies of the period it fares very well. The Long Good Friday takes another cultural minefield – 1980s Northern Ireland and its relationship to the British gangster scene – and fares much better by taking the view that you’re probably going to get all sorts of fucked up if you become embroiled with any of the groups involved. It’s a taut, non-patronizing thriller which doesn’t need to be overtly stylish to entrap its viewer.

My Winner: Kagemusha

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Foreign Film – 1979

Official Nominations: The Tin Drum. The Maids Of Wilko. Mama Turns 100. A Simple Story. To Forget Venice

1979 continues the decade’s downturn in quality as the years progressed – like last year there isn’t a standout choice or one film which most people will be aware of. The Tin Drum was the winner this year, but I find it a little impenetrable and overlong, following a few generations of a Polish family from the late 19th Century into WWII. It also has some dubious scenes involving an underage performer. Similarly, Wajda’s The Maids Of Wilko doesn’t do much for me, the well acted story of a man returning to the home of some sisters he used to tutor, only to discover them changed. Mama Turns 100 is typical comedy crap, To Forget Venice is the same, except for romance. My Winner then is A Simple Story – Romy Schneider is a women who gets pregnant, has an abortion, then deals with the suicide of one of her co-worker’s husbands. Again it’s hardly exceptional, but well-acted and not as annoying as some of the others here.

My Winner: A Simple Story

A Simple Story (1978 film) - Alchetron, the free social encyclopedia

My Nominations: Love On The Run. Mad Max. The Marriage Of Maria Braun. Life Of Brian. Meatballs. Nosferatu The Vampire. Quadrophenia.

There isn’t a huge list of quality films to choose from this year, so we fall back on middling work from masters. Truffaut’s Love On The Run continues and concludes his Doinel series of films, this one being a montage movie as the character meets up with various past lovers as he tries to embark on his next relationship. The Marriage Of Maria Braun is Rainer Werner Fassbinder on better form following a woman’s perpetual on and off relationship with a soldier during and after WWII. Life Of Brian is more manic banter from the Monty Python lads, while Meatballs introduced the world to Ivan Reitman and Bill Murray who would both go on to better things.

Werner Herzog continued his partnership with Klaus Kinski in the memorably grim and beautiful Nosferatu remake while The Who would bring another album to life with the gritty, star-studded Quadrophenia. Keeping things British is the always controversial Scum, about a place where ‘bad boys went’ – there was one near my house when I was young and my parents were always threatening me with being dropped off there. I don’t think they ever saw Scum. Vengeance Is Mine is Japan bringing the US gangster movie style and maturity to their own shores with a twist, but my vote goes to one of the greatest Australian movies of them all – Mad Max. Australia had several notable films this year but Mel Gibson and George Miller’s apocalyptic road movie is an exercise in unease and roaring V8s.

My Winner: Mad Max

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Foreign Film – 1978

Official Nominations: Get Out Your Handkerchiefs. The Glass Cell. Hungarians. Viva Italia! White Bim Black Ear.

1978 is interesting in that it’s the first year in a while that doesn’t have an obvious ‘big’ movie – one that everyone recognises no matter if they’ve seen it or not. None of the films are standouts either, unfortunately. White Bim Black Ear is three hours worth of man and dog – it’s basically a Russian version of The Littlest Hobo. The Glass Cell is about a guy who has been wrongfully imprisoned for years and has heard rumours about his wife’s unfaithfulness. He leaves prison a more paranoid and dangerous man – his stay turning an innocent man guilty. Viva Italia! ranks among the most bizarre choices for an Oscar – an episodic Italian comedy with multiple directors and featuring short films about things like having sex with a monkey, corrupt cops letting a bunch of terrorists go free because they have rich families, and plenty of mini character studies about lies, sex, religion etc. It’s an Italian Monty Python film with at least twelve fewer laughs.

Hungarians is an average drama about a bunch of migrants who have fairly good conditions in Germany during World War II but find that when they go home they can’t escape a War which tarnishes and changes everyone. This year’s official winner – Get Out Your Handkerchiefs – is another Gerard Depardieu vehicle. He plays a man who decides his wife’s depression can only be cured by another man’s cock, so he picks one at random to have sex with her. The woman then has sex with a child and the men go to prison. France, eh?

My Winner: The Glass Cell

My Nominations: Watership Down. The Glass Cell. Drunken Master. The Demon. La Cage Aux Folles. The Green Room.

It says a lot that I’m having to include certain films here that wouldn’t normally make the cut. The Glass Cell is the only one which makes it over to my list, joining two from France, two from Asia, and one from Britain. Drunken Master isn’t one of the best Martial Arts movies, but it is certainly one of the most influential. Jackie Chan had been blending buffoonery with action for a while but it was in Drunken Master that both sides were honed and the audience ‘got it’. The Demon is maybe Yoshitaro Nomura’s most famous film, an uncharacteristically bleak drama which tears at the fabric of the traditional Japan family and examines the results of selfish, petty acts. La Cage Aux Folles is frequently funny yet more dated than most comedies of the time while Truffaut’s La Chambre Verte is a surprisingly touching and thought-provoking look at one man’s coping/obsession with death. My winner is the ever-young, ever-shocking Watership Down  – a film that I am not as enamoured with as most but one which remains more or less unique in its ability to scar and teach.

My Winner: Watership Down

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Foreign Film – 1977

Official Nominations: Madame Rosa. Iphigenia. Operation Thunderbolt. A Special Day. That Obscure Object Of Desire.

Simone Signoret brings another character to life in Madame Rose, this year’s winner, a film which focuses on her last days while also recounting in part her younger days in Auschwitz. She was forced into prostitution and now runs a home for the abandoned or lost children of other prostitutes, striking up a friendship with a Muslim boy. It’s a warm film, and a good character study, but I think there are better choices here. Michael Cacoyannis finishes his Greek Tragedy trilogy with Iphigenia, a fairly faithful though ambiguous retelling of the story. If you know me, then you’ll know I love anything related to Greek or Roman mythology, especially where Troy is concerned. If I was a director and became successful enough to make whatever sort of project I wanted, The Illiad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid would be top of my list. This film follows the innocent daughter of King Agamemnon – he is heading to Troy to kick off the war but on the way offends one of the Goddesses who says he must sacrifice his own daughter before his ships will be allowed to reach Troy. If you’re into this sort of thing, then you’ll enjoy the film, but I don’t think there’s much here for non-fans.

Cult figure Menahem Golan made his most (only?) acclaimed work with Operation Thunderbolt – a film based around a real life hostage crisis. It honestly isn’t as bad as it sounds, and this is coming from someone who loves even the crappiest Cannon movie. A Special Day is in many ways the perfect Academy movie – packed with issues like sexuality, gender, based in historical fact, and topped off by starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. All it really needs is to be a musical and it would have won 8 Oscars. It’s not well-remembered now, but thanks to its cast it still has some pulling power. Loren is a bored housewife who cares for her husband and many children – she’s at home doing the usual daily crap while the rest of her family are out in support of a parade for Hitler and Mussolini. Her pet bird escapes and she finds it with one of her neighbours, a gay guy and anti-fascist. They spend the movie chatting about their lives. Again, it’s better than it sounds but with any other lead actors I would struggle to see anyone wanting to see it, as funny and honest and interesting as it undoubtedly is.

Finally, a probably the most famous film on the list is Bunuel’s final film – That Obscure Object Of Desire – a film which doesn’t entirely deviate from his surrealist leanings but is nevertheless more approachable. It follows a stormy relationship between a wealthy French guy and a much younger Spanish dancer played by both Carole Bouquet and and Angela Molina. The key is that this isn’t a younger/older version of the character – the actresses interchange seemingly at random throughout the movie which is jarring at first, then becomes amusing, then becomes normal. It’s great, and one of Bunuel’s best.

My Winner: That Obscure Object Of Desire


My Nominations: That Obscure Object Of Desire. A Special Day. Iphigenia. Cross Of Iron. The Duellists. House. Soldier Of Orange. Suspiria.

Five films join three from the official list – Sam Peckinpah’s Cross Of Iron; an epic war movie with plenty of brutal action and some interesting casting and Hausu, a bizarre Japanese movie which should be experienced without knowing anything about it beforehand. Ridley Scott emerged with his epic The Duellists, a film about cinematography as much as its about its two feuding leads.

Paul Verhoeven continues his euro work with arguably his finest pre-Hollywood feature Soldier Of Orange, in which Rutger Hauer and his friends each split off at the beginning of WWII ending on different paths and even opposing sides. It’s one of the director’s straightest films and should appeal to anyone with a love of war movies. Finally, Dario Argento had been perfecting the Giallo form throughout the decade, crafting spellbinding set pieces of murder and mayhem and giving audiences unusual and unique visuals set against labyrinthine or nonsensical plots. Suspiria remains the most famous Italian horror movie ever, and one of the most popular non-US horror movies there is as a teenage girl goes to a ballet school and uncovers murder and witchcraft. Not many horror movies, not many movies period look like or sound like Suspiria, so it is a must for true film fans.

My Winner: Suspiria

Let us know your winners in the comments!

Best Foreign Film – 1976

Official Nominations: Black And White In Colour. Cousin Cousine. Jacob The Liar. Nights And Days. Seven Beauties.

In honour of me being in Menorca at the time of posting, drunk on cocktails and looking at bikinis through the perverted safety of my tinted sunglasses, here is my Foreign Film post for 1976. I wrote the actual post below, probably around this time last year, but thought I’d add this troubling introduction as a ‘ha ha, I’m getting nice weather for a change’ for anyone reading who isn’t getting nice weather. Of course most of my readers are in the US, so your weather is probably great now too, so the joke’s probably on me. Still… Pina Coladas. Maybe I’ll post some pics.

After last year’s mostly morose and dark selection, this year features some lighter films and comedies. Having said that, Jacob The Liar features a group of Polish Jews in a ghetto in World War II. One of them, Jacob, is always getting into trouble but one day overhears on radio that The Russians will arrive shortly and overthrow the Nazis. This leads to hope and his friends and neighbours ask him for updates which he fabricates entirely. Focusing on World War I is Nights And Days – a film which literally takes that long to watch. It’s a sprawling epic following various generations of the same family, and well worth a watch if you can find and stomach the running time. Seven Beauties is notable for earning Lina Wertmuller the first ever Best Director nomination for a woman. It’s also a superb film, but very dark, following one Italian guy’s journey over a few years, from a bit of a lad, to protector and murderer, to inmate at an asylum, to soldier, to a concentration camp and back home. It has some great performances too, but isn’t the most pleasant watch.

Our official winner – Black And White In Colour – is again a war based movie (WWI this time) but takes a lighter approach. Well, a satirical approach at least. It earned the Ivory Coast their only win but I think there are stronger films in the category. Cousin, Cousine finally is a romantic comedy which sounds seedy but is actually genuine, witty, and weirdly charming. It follows two cousins who meet for the first time and due to their spouses having multiple affairs they spark up a relationship of their own which slowly blossoms. I’m not generally a fan of the comedies which get Oscar nominations, but this one works.

My Winner: Seven Beauties


My Nominations: Jacob The Liar. Cousin Cousine. 1900. Fellini’s Cassanova. Kings Of The Road. The Man On The Roof. The Man Who Fell To Earth. Small Change.

Two make it over from the official list – I drop Seven Beauties due to it being a 1975 film and appearing on my list last year. 1900 is a film which so far has avoided reevaluation by critics, likely due to its Communist leanings. However, any film starring Robert De Niro, Gerard Depardieu, Burt Lancaster, Donald Sutherland, Dominique Sanda, and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci deserves another look. It’s an epic movie charting the lives of De Niro and Depardieu who come from different cultural and ideological backgrounds but stay friends. They grow, take over from their fathers or go off to war, get married etc, and eventually their two backgrounds collide. It’s a long watch, but worth it.

Cassanova sees Fellini take the famous figure and transform him from the traditional womanising icon into something more akin to a barren and soulless figure, with Donald Sutherland the unusual choice for the role. Kings Of The Road is one of the better non-US road movies and while overlong it looks wonderful and is a cult film waiting to be seen by people who love cult films. Sweden’s The Man On The Roof is a tightly wound thriller about the investigation into the murder of a high ranking cop – as the investigation continues we learn that the cop was a pretty shitty guy, leaving a trail of ruined lives and bodies in his wake. The killer is revealed fairly early and we follow his motivations and actions too. The Man Who Fell To Earth is of course now remembered for being a Nic Roeg and David Bowie vehicle, and it’s as bewildering as it is enticing while Small Change is Truffaut at his playful, vignette based best.

My Winner: 1900

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Foreign Film – 1975

Official Nominations: Dersu Uzala.  Letters From Marusia. The Promised Land. Sandakan No.8. Profuma di Donna.

Of all the Kurosawa films, you’d think Dersu Uzala would be pretty far down the list. It’s not an immediate masterpiece like Seven Samurai, but it’s still great. It’s based on the life of an educated Russian explorer and the nomadic hunter of the title – how these two men work and learn and get older together and come to a mutual respect in a harsh but beautiful wilderness. It you know anything about how Kurosawa directs and frames, then you think of a Russian wilderness you can imagine what how Kurosawa would film it. It’s a lovely, poignant, tragic story too which will remind viewers of something like Ikiru.  Letters From Marusia is pretty tragic too, a film based on a real life event when a town of miners decided to strike for better working conditions. Knowing that this could lead to military intervention from their government, they try to defend themselves. The Promised Land isn’t the most exciting film Wajda ever made, but it is stark and uncompromising, following the lives of three friends trying to set up a business and make loadsa money. Interestingly it has a similar ending to the previous film nominated. Sandakan No. 8 is another stark one, taking a damning look at the way women, or at least prostitutes can be treated in the country. It’s about a young girl sold into prostitution, and how she grows up in the business becoming disillusioned with life and people and how she can’t reintegrate into society once she comes home.  Finally, Profuma di donna is the original version of Scent Of A Woman. It’s actually pretty similar, except it’s in the 70s and in Italy. I’m not a huge fan of either film though.

My Winner: Dersu Uzala


My Nominations: Dersu Uzala. Deep Red. Furtivos. Graveyard Of Honour. Inserts. Katie Tippel. The Land That Time Forgot. The Man Who Would Be King. Monty Python And The Holy Grail. The Passenger. Picnic At Hanging Rock. Seven Beauties. The Story Of Adele H. Tommy.

Yikes, what a year. There’s a whole host of great films here, a few I didn’t include and a few I haven’t seen which would likely warrant inclusion. My list does of course include guilty pleasures, but if you enjoy them more than those genuinely nominated that’s good enough for me. Only Kurosawa’s film makes it to my list, but there’s no shortage of classics to accompany it. Staying in Japan we have Kinji Fukasaku’s seminal Yakuza thriller Graveyard Of Honour about the torrid life of one gangster, featuring a number of stunning stunts. Staying in the East we have Picnic At Hanging Rock, one of Australia’s finest films of the decade, haunting, ambiguous, beautiful.

The Land That Time Forgot is a bit of cheat given it’s a joint US/UK production, but I include it here anyway as it is one of the most entertaining films of the era and maybe the best example of the Lost World genre ever committed to screen. Dated now, and not exactly filled with acting greats, it’s nevertheless a personal favourite. Another exciting US/UK venture is The Man Who Would Be King in which John Huston makes a rollicking, if overlong epic while Monty Python And The Holy Grail sees the Python group unleashes their unique brand of insanity upon the world. Tommy is maybe the best, certainly the most regarded, movie based on an album.

Elsewhere in Europe, Antonioni shows off in his films about abandonment and escape – The Passenger features shots and camerawork which still power to wow in today’s world of digital trickery. Paul Verhoeven gives us the life of Katie Tippel in typically sexualized style while Inserts examines in humourous style the options available (porn) for silent actors when talkies became popular – two films which were fairly shocking for the time but never found a worldwide audience. Furtivos is one of Spain’s best films and is crying out to find a new audience – an uncomfortable, uncompromising drama about a deceptive hunter and his monstrous mother, while Seven Beauties is similarly controversial as we follow the life of an Italian scumbag who will do anything to survive – another film which deserves a look by modern viewers. Finally, The Story Of Adele H is Truffaut’s biography of one of Victor Hugo’s daughters as she becomes obsessed with a man, following him around the world in an entirely unrequited path of destruction.

My Winner: Monty Python And The Holy Grail

Let us know your winning pick in the comments!