Two days ago, as I watched the final frames of The Broken Circle Breakdown, an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film this year, I became transfixed by what I was watching. The final shot of that film contains so much power – it literally made me rethink everything else in the film, and left me in a state of stunned amazement. And that’s something all of the Oscar-winning films below share with The Broken Circle Breakdown – that notion of utter transcendence. I hope you enjoy my picks, and do feel free to share yours as well!
10. The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)
dir. Juan José Campanella
Sometimes the best compliment I can give an Academy Award winning film is by comparing it to its competition. Frankly, I hadn’t heard a thing about The Secret in Their Eyes when it beat The White Ribbon and A Prophet on Oscar night. A few days later, I watched Campanella’s ingenious maze of a film. I marveled at its deception, and I blissfully came to understand why it won.
9. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
dir. by Ang Lee
When I watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon today, it’s still as dazzling as the first time I saw it. I remain amazed by its stunts and visual imagery. It’s simply never lost its power.
8. All About My Mother (1999)
dir. by Pedro Almodóvar
If one thing is certain of All About My Mother, it’s that the film was born and bread solely from the unique mind of Pedro Almodóvar. It’s a comedy about tragedy, a drama that makes you laugh. After a nurse’s son is killed in an accident, she travels to Barcelona to find the father of her son, a transvestite named Lola, who himself was never aware he even had a son. All About My Mother is a hybrid of Almodóvar’s narrative strengths and stylistic flourishes. Easily one of the man’s finest films.
7. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
dir. by Luis Buñuel
Attempting to explain Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie proves to be an exercise in futility. It’s a surrealist, plotless movie about a series of dreams and the six people who inhabit them. It’s one of Buñuel’s best, most confounding films, and I adore the Academy for awarding it so highly.
6. 8 ½ (1963)
dir. by Federico Fellini
While stuck in his own unforgiving world of writer’s block and creative discouragement, Federico Fellini decided to make a movie about a film director who was attempting to make a new movie, despite being stuck in the unforgiving world of writer’s block and creative discouragement. 8 ½ is one of the very finest results of a director not knowing what to do next. One of the best examples of art imitating life ever captured on film.
5. Z (1969)
dir. by Costa-Gavras
With so many fictionalized “based on a true story” movies made today – films that manipulate their audience into thinking everything depicted in their film is real, when much of it is anything but – it is so wildly refreshing to watch an angry, searing, truthful movie like Z. In retelling the events surrounding the assassination of Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis, director Costa-Gavras wanted his audience to know who was responsible. He didn’t change names or worry about pleasing the demands of a movie studio. Instead, he told the story through the perspective of the common man’s outrage, resulting in one of the most searing political thrillers ever made.
4. Day for Night (1973)
dir. by François Truffaut
Day for Night is the greatest film ever made about the making of a film. It’s a pitch black comedy in which Truffaut casts himself as a film director trying his damndest to keep his current movie from falling apart. Whether it’s appeasing to the plight of his star actress or getting a stubborn cat to drink from a bowl, Day for Night captures how no matter the size of the problem, any problem on a film can potentially bury the film forever.
3. The Virgin Spring (1960)
dir. by Ingmar Bergman
We conclude with three Oscar-winning films from my favorite filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman. First is his unflinching tale of revenge, The Virgin Spring. Given the film’s deeply unsettling content, I cannot believe Bergman was able to get made. But if there was ever a director born to find insight out of a rape/revenge scenario, then Ingmar Bergman certainly was it. An unsettling and important masterpiece, one that inspired Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left, and many other lesser films like it.
2. Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
dir. by Ingmar Bergman
Through a Glass Darkly concerns itself with a young schizophrenic woman, Karin (Harriet Andersson), and the three men most important to her: her timid brother, her self-absorbed father, and her older husband. While vacationing at a secluded family home, we watch as Karin’s demons slowly take over her fragile body, while the men around her debate what to do about it. Karin’s struggle concludes with a scene of haunting power, as she proclaims with manic rage that she has seen the eyes of God. Through a Glass Darkly is one of the most personal films Bergman ever made, which itself is quite a grand compliment.
1. Fanny and Alexander (1982)
dir. by Ingmar Bergman
Released on Swedish television in 1982, but screened in America the following year, Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander is an expansive, fascinating telling of the Ekdahls family. The film tracks the Ekdahls through moments of great joy (an epic Christmas evening), to sequences of utter despair (in which our two young title characters are held in a dungeon-like room by their grim stepfather), to moments of tense horror. Fanny and Alexander is a film that constantly, seamlessly changes its perspective, yet always manages to stay the same. Its scope is large, but its sentiments are deeply personal. Fanny and Alexander is the true definition of a film masterpiece.
Ten More I Love
Cinema Paradiso (1988)
The Counterfeiters (2007)
In a Better World (2010)
La Strada (1956)
The Lives of Others (2006)
Nights of Cabiria (1957)
The Sea Inside (2004)
A Separation (2011)