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The top 50 foreign films of all time

Time Out New York ranks the gorgeous, brainy essentials you've always meant to catch up on

The top 50 foreign films of all time

There's no need to fear subtitles when so much of what Hollywood has come to love (pop-cultural patter, epic swordplay, urban ennui, etc.) has its original source in a distant land. But where to begin? Let us be your (extremely opinionated) guides. Our only ground rules for this foreign-language list: no silent films (sorry, Metropolis), and no movies from Britain, Australia or other English-speaking countries. We're bound to have forgotten a raft of classics—how could we not, with a whole globe to choose from? Please chime in.

The Killer (1989)

Whether you're an action fan or not, welcome to the most influential foreign film of the past 25 years. Hong Kong genius John Woo would go on to make even crazier cop sagas, but none with a more seismic impact on fully loaded cinema than this breakthrough, opening the door to a new school of kinetic mayhem. Suddenly, Woo's double-pistol showdowns were everywhere, inspiring the as-yet-to-break Quentin Tarantino and Hollywood at large.—Joshua Rothkopf

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The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)

All eyes turned to Romania after this two-and-a-half-hour black comedy premiered at Cannes. A new New Wave was born: Cristi Puiu's mesmerizing study of an elderly man shuttled among dispassionate health-care providers pulled back the curtain on an incredibly talented generation of filmmakers, raised during the oppressive Ceausescu regime and now making potent, politically charged art. The thrill, and lasting impact, of that discovery is still being felt.—Keith Uhlich

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The Power of Kangwon Province (1989)

South Korea's Hong Sang-soo wowed audiences with this woozy, Woody Allen–ish portrait of vacationing urbanites entangled in messy matters of the heart. A student hooks up with a local cop during a trip to the mountains. When the movie switches its focus to an adulterous college professor, you're left scratching your head—until Hong deftly reveals the connections. This was the movie that jump-started the modern South Korean New Wave, laying the groundwork for everything from Park Chan-wook's baroque thrillers (Oldboy) to Bong Joon-ho's subversive genre work (The Host).—David Fear

Flowers of Shanghai (1998)

Few contemporary filmmakers have been as praised by tastemakers as Taiwan's Hou Hsiao-hsien, and this elegant, elegiac costume drama justifies the fuss. Set in Shanghai's old-world brothel culture of rich layabouts and loose women, this tale uses a warhorse plot—Will Tony Leung's businessman dump his concubine for a younger model?—as a springboard for Hou's hazy, slow-and-low approach; you feel as if you've taken a few hits off the characters' opium pipes. Sorrow has rarely seemed so enveloping, or so incredibly sensual.—David Fear

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The Decalogue (1988)

Thou shalt not ignore the ethical toughness of Polish cinema. With this complex, modern-day take on the Ten Commandments, director Krzysztof Kieslowski (Three Colors: Blue) scored his most lasting achievement. Originally made for television, these ten short films found a global embrace as a stand-alone movie event, making gushing fans out of nobodies like Stanley Kubrick and introducing an audience to the rigors of perfectly plotted philosophical inquiries.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Russian Ark (2002)

Alexander Sokurov came up with a doozy of a concept for this era-spanning drama: 200 years of Russian history filmed in St. Petersburg's massive Winter Palace in a single, feature-length shot. Long-take lovers would be proud: There's not one cut during the movie's 96 minutes, which makes for an exhilarating sensory experience. Yet there's an equally profound feeling of melancholy, as if every ecstatic sight we're witnessing is fleeting.—Keith Uhlich

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When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960)

To the holy triumvirate of Japanese filmmakers—Ozu, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi—let's add Mikio Naruse. Although lesser known, his incisive dramas about the struggling working class never fail to move. In this recently rediscovered masterpiece, the great, gorgeous Hideko Takamine plays Keiko, a Tokyo hostess contemplating whether or not to marry. She puts on a dignified mask for her many problematic suitors, but a deep-rooted bitterness seeps through her every smile.—Keith Uhlich

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Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

The strife-ridden regime of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco has provided thematic fodder for numerous films, most recently Pan's Labyrinth. But the gold standard remains Victor Erice's astonishing fable about a troubled rural girl (Ana Torrent) whose first encounter with the movie Frankenstein opens up the floodgates of her imagination. It's impossible to shake many of the film's stunning images, none more so than Torrent's is-it-real-or-isn't-it? encounter with the lumbering monster itself.—Keith Uhlich

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Yi Yi (A One and a Two...) (2000)

Appearing on an avalanche of end-of-decade lists, Edward Yang's tender triumph, a portrait of a stressed-out, middle-class Taiwanese family, feels like the apex of domestic drama. The movie's beautiful modulations—from success to failure, blooming high-school love to surly alienation, birth to death—are presented with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of emotional impact. The universality was heartrending.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Wild Strawberries (1957)

Sweden's filmmaking paragon, Ingmar Bergman, paid homage to one of his heroes, actor-director Victor Sjöström, by casting the latter as an aging professor recalling his life during a road trip. His dreamy remembrances (of childhood, first love, an unhappy marriage) are stoked by the people he meets and the places he visits. As far as psychoanalytic cinema goes, there's none better. Woody Allen agreed: His Another Woman was a closely modeled, female-centered redo.—Keith Uhlich

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Shoah (1985)

For some, there can't ever be too many documentaries about the Holocaust. But if the trend feels slightly tired, it's because there's no improving on this definitive effort, a nine-and-a-half-hour grand statement that wrecks audiences. Daringly, French director Claude Lanzmann completely avoided archival footage and re-creations, instead boring fully into several first-person interviews with three types of subjects: survivors, bystanders and perpetrators. The cumulative effect is massive and central to an appreciation of evil.—Joshua Rothkopf

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A Touch of Zen (1969)

Most cine-snobs think of martial-arts movies as guilty pleasures fit only for grindhouses; they've obviously never seen King Hu's gorgeous chronicle of a Buddhist kung fu master in love. The undisputed poet laureate of wuxia films, Hu treats his genre material as if it were high art, balancing action and atmospherics in each battle. Ang Lee readily acknowledged borrowing liberally from this film's eerily quiet fight scenes and balletic bamboo standoffs for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Accept no substitutes.—David Fear

My Night at Maud's (1969)

Can two people talking be cinematic? France's Éric Rohmer thought so—his incredible body of work hinges on the pleasures and profundities of conversation. This incisive, quietly devastating feature is the one to see, centering on a spirited chat between a stiff-backed Catholic-Marxist (Jean-Louis Trintignant, brilliantly self-righteous) and the free-spirited woman (Françoise Fabian, enticing in both speech and shape) who tries to seduce him.—Keith Uhlich

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Close-Up (1990)

Abbas Kiarostami's astounding hall-of-mirrors docudrama was a watershed for the then-burgeoning Iranian cinema. Based on a true story, it tells the tale of a con artist who passed himself off as a locally famous filmmaker. Further blurring the lines between fiction and reality, the writer-director enlisted everyone involved in the actual scam to act as themselves. If that sounds like bad reality TV, know that there's not a single sensationalist moment.—Keith Uhlich

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Yojimbo (1961)

If film can be seen as a shared international language, then here's its most thrilling Rosetta stone. To make this Japanese tale of a wandering ronin, director Akira Kurosawa took inspiration from stately John Ford Westerns and Hollywood's seedy noirs of the 1940s. Having already revised the action landscape with 1954's The Seven Samurai, Kurosawa would now do so again: Yojimbo, a massive worldwide hit, was (illegally) remade into a little Italian picture called A Fistful of Dollars, thereby launching the careers of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood both.—Joshua Rothkopf

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La Jetée (1962)

In only 28 minutes, Chris Marker's dazzling sci-fi romance—set largely within the dreamscapes of a nuclear-war survivor—completely rewrites the rules. (Inception fans, get thee to a Netflix queue.) Almost completely composed of still photographs and narration, the French short begins with the destruction of Paris, then introduces a Vertigo-like bridge to a happier past through a vividly remembered tryst. Decades later, Terry Gilliam would remake this plot as the eerie Twelve Monkeys.—Joshua Rothkopf

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The Seventh Seal (1957)

Much of the prestige (and, to be fair, the intimidation) that accrues around foreign films can be attributed to this towering Swedish classic—but it's not as difficult as you might think. Yes, our medieval Crusader hero (a sapling-young Max von Sydow) squares off against Death in a chuckleworthy chess match. Yet the brilliance of Ingmar Bergman's psychodrama comes in the way it turns its beard-stroking symbology into a gripping experience for anyone with a little curiosity.—Joshua Rothkopf

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The 400 Blows (1959)

François Truffaut's indelible first feature helped put the French New Wave on the map. The film chronicles the troubled existence of cocky teenager Antoine Doinel, beautifully played by the precocious Jean-Pierre Léaud, who would revisit the character over four more movies. Truffaut also captures the profound somberness of postwar France, which is brought home in a heartbreaking final freeze-frame of Antoine alone by the seaside.—Keith Uhlich

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Pather Panchali (1955)

The poetic splendors of Indian cinema came to the world's attention when writer-director Satyajit Ray debuted his lyrical first feature, which follows the eventful childhood of a poor Bengali boy named Apu. A film of tremendous sympathy and imagination (the visuals are like children's-book illustrations come to breathtaking life), its success allowed Ray to make two follow-ups, Aparajito and The World of Apu, thus creating the formidable Apu Trilogy.—Keith Uhlich

Pierrot le Fou (1965)

A strong candidate for the '60s slyest piece of agitpop, Jean-Luc Godard's tribute to pulp fiction stars Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina as criminal lovers on the lam. But his pileup of quotations from Balzac and B movies isn't just suitable for a brain in a jar; this is the French provocateur at his most colorful (literally), contagiously jazzy and politically cacophonous. It's the key transitional work in a long career of engaged, enraged filmmaking.—David Fear

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Day of Wrath (1943)

Carl Theodor Dreyer's soul-shattering tale of a 17th-century witch hunt bears all the unsettling hallmarks of being filmed under Nazi occupation. An old woman in a small Danish village is accused of occultism, resulting in her fiery demise and some equally inflamed accusations among the survivors. The fervor is as much sexual as spiritual—it's impossible to shake the impassioned curse that the beautiful Anne (Lisbeth Movin) bestows on her pastor husband.—Keith Uhlich

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Viridiana (1961)

Luis Buñuel never met a sacred cow he didn't want to grill into a medium-rare steak, and the director's all-out assault on his bête noire—Catholicism—is a virtual buffet of blasphemy. Invited back to Spain after a professional exile, the filmmaker rewarded Franco's government with a scathing tale of a saintly woman whose piety brings her endless pain. The movie's parody of The Last Supper alone was enough to warrant the Vatican banning the satire—which made Buuel's subsequent career revival and win at Cannes that year all the sweeter.—David Fear

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Andrei Rublev (1966)

After pretty much inventing the idea of modern montage in silent classics like Battleship Potemkin, the filmmakers of the Soviet Union beat a sad retreat during the Stalinist era. Andrei Tarkovsky's colossal epic is about the nature of artistic freedom itself: The plot is loosely based on the life of a 15th-century Christian-icon painter whose work transcended politics. Naturally, Tarkovsky himself got into hot water, but his film—initially banned—was worth it.—Joshua Rothkopf

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The Seven Samurai (1954)

A quiet Japanese village is under siege by bandits. The rural residents hire a septet of warriors to defend them. Simple, right? Yet Akira Kurosawa's game-changing chanbara turns that basic concept into one of the greatest, grandest action films of all time. This sword-clashing spectacle not only gave future moviemakers a highly malleable plot (it's been used for everything from The Magnificent Seven to A Bug's Life). It also proved that Hollywood didn't have a lock on vast, visceral epics of courage under fire.—David Fear

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Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

The tradition-shattering innovations of the French New Wave don't belong to only Godard and Truffaut. Director Alain Resnais made his mark with this elegiac black-and-white masterpiece. Emmanuelle Riva plays a French woman in devastated present-day Hiroshima, whose affair with a Japanese man unlocks memories of her relationship with a German soldier. But that barely hints at the film's intoxicating aural-visual interplay, which collapses time and space with overwhelming virtuosity.—Keith Uhlich

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In the Mood for Love (2000)

Our highest-ranking film from the past three decades, Wong Kar-wai's tremulous near-romance should rightly take its place as one the signature works of atmospheric longing. At its core are two exquisitely beautiful people, rakish pulp writer Tony Leung and maritally alienated Maggie Cheung, who tentatively swirl around each other in a sweltering apartment complex in 1960s Hong Kong. Suffused with Christopher Doyle's lush color cinematography and the crooning voice of Nat King Cole, the movie celebrates style and passion in bloom.—Joshua Rothkopf

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The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)

Germany's Rainer Werner Fassbinder tore a feverish path through the world's art houses, making 40 films (and acting in nearly 40, too) before dying of a drug overdose at age 37. Such manic appetites led to a supremely uncompromising cinema, with more impact today than on its initial release. This movie, a tortured power game between a fashion designer and her younger, female model, has become a classic passive-aggressive text, a postmodern All About Eve.—Joshua Rothkopf

The Battle of Algiers (1966)

As explosive as ever, Gillo Pontecorvo's Italian-made thriller charts the guerrilla uprising against the colonial French in northern Africa, a war waged via rioting, street violence, assassinations and caf bombings. Technically, the movie is as gripping as any Hollywood blockbuster, putting its mark on everything from The French Connection to Michael Mann's The Insider. But it's a 2003 Pentagon screening of the film that spoke volumes to its undeniable authority.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Grand Illusion (1937)

Anyone can condemn war; it takes an artist to express that sentiment poetically rather than pedantically. That's exactly what Jean Renoir does with this brilliant plea for peace. His tale of French soldiers trying to escape from WWI prison camps set the standard for every POW movie that followed, but its true currency lies in the way "honorable" battle had became a casualty. Released between two global conflicts, the movie had a message that was immediately relevant—and is maybe more so today.—David Fear

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Open City (1945)

By the mid-'40s, Italian films had begun portraying everyday people in a more vrit fashion. But Roberto Rosselini's groundbreaking tale of life after wartime was the first to politicize a raw, you-are-there aesthetic—and thus became the template for every neorealist film to come. That famous shot of streetwalker Anna Magnani being gunned down is more than just an emotionally overwhelming moment; it's emblematic of a revolution that changed the art form.—David Fear

The Earrings of Madame de... (1953)

In Max Ophüls's exhilarating romance, Danielle Darrieux is a debt-ridden countess who sells the title earrings gifted to her by husband Charles Boyer. They end up in the hands of an Italian baron (Vittorio De Sica), who also pursues her affections. Ophüls's hypnotically tracking camera prepares us for an inevitably tragic outcome. The lengthy, head-spinning dance sequence that traces the baron and the countess's doomed courtship is particularly masterful.—Keith Uhlich

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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

Catherine Deneuve's perky umbrella-shop employee loves Nino Castelnuovo's strapping car mechanic. So far, so familiar, except for one thing: Every line of star-crossed dialogue in this heartbreaking French romance is sung. The duo's Technicolor paradise is slowly undone by war, hidden pregnancy, parental disapproval and a rival suitor. By the film's devastating finale, Michel Legrand's incredible, influential score will have crescendoed its way straight to your tear ducts.—Keith Uhlich

Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

In the hands of Belgium's Chantal Akerman, the drudgery of "women's work" and prostitution aren't that far removed from each other; each rigorous real-time chore and paid afternoon tryst that we see the title character perform moves viewers closer to an inevitable crack in Jeanne's facade. It's both a structuralist triumph and a stunning indictment of society's gender roles. Watching someone peeling potatoes has never seemed so compelling.—David Fear

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The Conformist (1970)

The Italian movie was received, first and foremost, as a visual masterpiece, the lushness of its 1930s Fascist decor captured by future Apocalypse Now cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. But far more subtly, director Bernardo Bertolucci smuggled in a daunting amount of psychology and intellectual heft to Alberto Moravia's tale of a high-ranking bureaucrat's secret decadence. Over the years, the film has come to represent the apotheosis of stylish political cinema.—Joshua Rothkopf

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)

The first tempestuous collaboration between impassioned filmmaker Werner Herzog and holy terror Klaus Kinski has a variety of nightmarish making-of anecdotes (Herzog supposedly directed his star at gunpoint). But nothing eclipses the mesmerizing power of the German film itself, which follows a 16th-century conquistador on an ill-fated quest to El Dorado. The further he goes, the madder things get, as when Kinski proclaims his omnipotence before a pack of monkeys.—Keith Uhlich

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Playtime (1967)

Tired of playing his bumbling alter ego, Monsieur Hulot, France's silent clown Jacques Tati decided to lose him in the big city. This gargantuan comedy was the result: Ostensibly following Hulot to a job interview, the film poetically drifts between characters, finding pockets of humor and humanity in every corner of the frame. You never quite know where the laughs will be, which makes successive viewings as rewarding as the first.—Keith Uhlich

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Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974)

Whether you've traveled this movie's Möbius-strip structure countless times or are stepping into its Nancy Drew–on-mescaline zone unaware of what joys await you, Jacques Rivette's breezy existential French comedy-mystery is a cinephile's wet dream. If we could take a lozenge and enter any movie, this would be it: roller-skating heroines! Cosmic punch lines about psychic cats! Boating! Few films have balanced intellectual musing about culture consumption and sheer, unadulterated fun with such playful panache.—David Fear

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Tokyo Story (1953)

Inarguably Yasujiro Ozu's crowning achievement, this Japanese family drama may seem, like the smiling geriatrics at its center, modest to a fault. But look past the deceptively simple camera setups and muted line readings, and you'll find one of the most emotionally devastating movies about old age and parenting ever made. Even more impressive is Ozu's complete exclusion of villainy—only flawed human beings, making the story that much more tragic.—David Fear

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The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

To think that a provocateur like Luis Buñuel once strode the earth, making his strange movies and even winning an Oscar for it, is to be endlessly comforted. As important a director as any on this list, Buñuel crafted silent-era Surrealist stunners, antireligious parables and witty modern satires with unsurpassed elegance. At the peak of his output is this savage comedy of manners, basically about a group of snobs trying to have an uninterrupted meal. They fail.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Rashomon (1950)

How does one describe Akira Kurosawa's multiperspective fable about an alleged crime? It depends on whom you ask: Fans will pinpoint this as the film that cemented the fertile relationship between the director and his favorite actor, Toshiro Mifune. Historians will praise it as the movie that almost single-handedly introduced Japanese cinema to Western audiences. And still others will glorify it as a piece of postmodern storytelling that proves truth exists solely in the mind of the beholder. We'll simply call it a tour de force that never ceases to amaze.—David Fear

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Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

Inspired by Douglas Sirk's great Hollywood melodrama All That Heaven Allows (1955), Rainer Werner Fassbinder adapted its central "forbidden love" conceit to the socially charged present. Emmi (Brigitte Mira), a German hausfrau, falls for a young Arab immigrant named Ali (El Hedi ben Salem), much to the chagrin of her friends and family. This is a devastatingly honest film: Fassbinder's portrayal of the relationship (which nonchalantly breaks taboos of age and race) is revolutionary. And Emmi and Ali's own flaws and foibles—her world-weary certitude, his youthful, exasperating impatience—come to the fore the longer they stay with each other.—Keith Uhlich

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La Dolce Vita (1960)

If merely for its introduction of a pushy photographer named Paparazzo (a small but crucial role), Federico Fellini's satire has had more cultural influence than even Jaws. Statements about modern celebrity begin here; the catty trashiness that dominates today's mediascape could really benefit from a glinting eye like that of the savage Italian humorist. Fellini, for all his tremendous influence, has been dogged by charges of shallowness. Let's refute that idea right now: Marcello Mastroianni's guilt-ridden gossip columnist, a journalist who back-burnered his literary aspirations, is a prophetic creation of enormous resonance, a self-deprecating sellout wandering the alleyways of civilization wondering what might have been. La Dolce Vita is the moment when cinema addresses its own decadence, relishing the "sweet life" while mourning the future.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Persona (1966)

Ingmar Bergman once called his mind-blowing tale of a catatonic actress (Liv Ullmann) and the young caretaker (Bibi Andersson) who becomes her confidante a "poem of imagery." But though the film's cutting-edge compositions wormed their way into the cultural lexicon (its famous perpendicular two-shot would be aped ad infinitum), this doppelgnger drama is less a photographic portfolio than a first-rate Rorschach test for viewers. Do Ullmann and Andersson fuse into one, as the climactic close-up suggests? Were they already two halves of one whole to begin with? Who, exactly, is filming cinematographer Sven Nykvist filming the movie?!? (Seriously, he appears in the film as a cameraman.) Debates over this moving-picture puzzle's metacommentary and meanings still rage on, though the fact that Bergman's brainteaser remains a defining moment of '60s art-house cinema is indisputable.—David Fear

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

Restraint had no finer champion than France's Robert Bresson, who, with quiet knockouts like A Man Escaped (1956) and Pickpocket (1959), introduced an entirely new grammar to movie screens. But instead, we're inclined to honor this heartbreaker, a religious parable whose reputation has grown hugely in just the past decade. Our main character is, in fact, a donkey—but don't feel like an ass for investigating. In keeping with Bresson's less-is-more philosophy (he called his actors "models"), this sweet animal becomes a potent symbol for the uncaring hearts of others, as Balthazar is shuttled from owner to owner. The plot is both Christ-like and Job-like, with a thematic richness that ennobles all viewers who submit to it.—Joshua Rothkopf

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8½ (1963)

Named after Federico Fellini's own filmographic progression—six features and three shorts—this semiautobiographical account of an auteur-cum-avatar stuck in a rut (Marcello Mastroianni, in prime Euro-suave mode) took interior cinema to a whole new level. Nightmarish dream sequences and sexed-up fantasies involving harems bump up against transcendental flights of fancy—especially a claustrophobic traffic jam that opens the movie—all rendered with the Mondo Italiano surrealism that would come to be described as Felliniesque. Directors had toured their thinly disguised inner selves onscreen before, but nobody had mapped the contours of their own confused psyche with such free-form abandon. The film's influence on every moviemaker with a yen to translate creative anxiety into art can't be overstated.—David Fear

Breathless (1960)

Recently back in theaters for its 50th anniversary, Jean-Luc Godard's breezy riff on bad romance today enchants a whole new generation. But don't call it a "revival"—if ever a film was immortally alive, it's this one. So much of the movie's language has become standard: Raoul Coutard's handheld, streetwise camerawork; a cast of gorgeous main characters riffing on pop-culture detritus (hello, Pulp Fiction); the sexy allure of cultures in clash. Yet in the context of this list, the deepest impact of Breathless is its introduction of a vibrant, youthful Paris tooting with car horns, its store lights glowing in the twilight. Breathless is a passport to this city and its dreamers—and for that alone, the movie is emblematic of all that foreign cinema has to offer.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Sansho the Bailiff (1954)

"Without mercy, man is like a beast," says a compassionate father in Kenji Mizoguchi's poignant tragedy. The Japanese director spent his career detailing how kindness must fight to survive in a harsh world, and here, the director takes a folkloric legend and turns it into a quietly epic struggle of against-all-odds endurance. A mother is separated from her son and daughter, who are sold to the title character—a government official whose cruelty is legendary. Years pass, and the now-grown offspring have given up on seeing their mom ever again...until an overheard ballad sparks hope. Every one of the filmmaker's signature camera movements and lyrical sequences sets the stage for a climax that's unbearably heart-wrenching and undeniably beautiful; the way that Mizoguchi wrings sobs from viewers without stooping to sentiment confirms his status as a peerless melodramatist.—David Fear

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L'Avventura (1960)

Making the case for Italy's Michelangelo Antonioni will never be easy—he's a director who, very deliberately, told stories about how modern life robs your soul. And when his breakthrough film screened for the cognoscenti at Cannes, it was both applauded and ferociously booed. The booers were wrong. Pinned to its rough scenario about a yachting group of friends were the stirrings of a new cinematic vibration, that of onscreen detachment, fashionable flirtation and spiritual ennui. One of the vacationers goes missing, then the movie itself loses curiosity in the mystery, heightening our own sense of alarm. Antonioni, a proud feminist, loved his women, and the glorious Monica Vitti, starring out of her sadness, became a Mad Men–worthy icon of 1960s loneliness. The movie is still an adventure.—Joshua Rothkopf

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The Rules of the Game (1939)

"This is not a comedy of manners," states a title card at the beginning of Jean Renoir's masterpiece—a declaration that's only half right. Though this tale of the idle rich in France is technically a country-estate farce, it's far more than a mere satire of upper-crust affectations. Under the guise of mocking the bourgeoisie as they negotiate romantic minefields, Renoir had also delivered a cunning commentary on old-world Europe; a cri de coeur at the hypocrisy of class pretensions; and finally, a rich, rewarding work of art that's equal parts irony and sympathy. Everybody has their reasons for loving this sublime skewering of the entitled, which rewrote the rules of cinema entirely.—David Fear

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M (1931)

Our number one choice is, appropriately, a film of firsts: the first serial-killer movie, the celebrated director Fritz Lang's first sound production—and the movie he personally prized above all his others. It marries the fanciful expressionist techniques of the filmmaker's epic silents like Metropolis to a frighteningly realistic tale of a child-murdering psychopath, and its influence can be felt all the way up to our own Sevens and Saws. But the monstrous Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) is no cheer-'em-on villain like Jigsaw: First shown abstractly as a threatening shadow on the wall, the character is brought slowly and precisely into focus, until he himself becomes a victim, hunted down and dragged before a kangaroo court, where the moral divide all but evaporates. This politically charged classic reflected the German audiences' adoration of the dawning Nazi party back on itself, and its enduring lessons (for both cinema and society) are as much global as local.—Keith Uhlich

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