The Criterion Collection offers film lovers a plethora of amazing films to discover and fall in love with. One of the biggest pleasures is to start working the collection and discovering classic foreign films and directors that can really open your eyes when it comes to world cinema. When looking at Criterion Collection foreign films, here are 10 essential titles that every movie lover should watch to introduce you to the best of cinema from all over the world.
“The 400 Blows” – François Truffaut remains one of the most influential filmmakers in cinema history and helped bring the French New Wave of filmmaking to the forefront. His debut film, “The 400 Blows,” remains one of his best, the story of a boy named Antoine Doinel, a young man who re-creates the trials of Truffaut’s own childhood. He also re-visited the character in his other movies over the years, an almost autobiographical feel.
“Bicycle Thieves” – Another classic film style that became popular was the Italian Neorealist Movement. In this style of filmmaking, non-actors would star in the movies, using very little technical assistance, and tell stories about the normal people from the streets. “Bicycle Thieves” to this day is one of the most tragic stories ever told, a man trying to support his family who has his bike stolen, which he needs for his job. When he does everything he can to get it back, he ends up shaming himself and his family.
“Breathless” – Jean-Luc Godard follows Truffaut as the Godfather of the French New Wave, and it was “Breathless” that helped catapult the new filmmaking style into the mainstream. Many filmmakers today owe Godard for the techniques he utilized in his movies, and this is the most influential of them all. The movie tells the story of a thief on the run and his lover.
“Grand Illusion” – Released in 1937, “Gran Illusion” holds the honor of being the first Criterion Collection movie ever released. It was one of the first prison escape movies ever made. Jean Renoir directs the film which follows two French soldiers in the German POW camp who plan a big escape.
“M” – Fritz Lang was one of Germany’s best filmmakers before Adolf Hitler scared him into fleeing the country rather than serve as a propaganda filmmaker. “M” remains his best work, the story of a child murderer who causes the police to crack down on crime to find him. This in turn causes the criminals to hunt him down themselves and then hold a kangaroo court hearing for the murderer.
“The Third Man” – “Citizen Kane” is Orson Welles masterpiece, but his greatest acting performance came in the Carol Reed directed “The Third Man.” This British movie has a pulp writer named Holly Martins travel to Vienna to visit his friend Harry Lime, only to learn he died before he arrived. Things turn upside down for Holly when he happens to look out his window and see Harry still alive and well. Welles turns in a masterful performance as the deceitful Harry Lime.
“The Rules of the Game” – Released in 1939, “The Rules of the Game” is another Jean Renoir movie, this one taking place in the lives of the bourgeois. The movie takes place before the start of World War II and contrasts the lives of the rich and poor at a country estate over the weekend. Many lists rank it as one of the best movies of all time.
“Le Samourai” – Jean-Pierre Melville is another originator of the French New Wave, although he went a little more with the Film Noir style of filmmaking as well. “Le Samourai” tells the story of a hitman who is set up by one of his bosses and left for dead. He then sets out to find out who set up his hit and gain revenge. It remains one of Alain Delon’s best roles.
“Seven Samurai” – Akira Kurosawa could take up all 10 spots on this list, but to limit it to only one movie by the director means to just list “Seven Samurai.” The film tells the story of seven samurai warriors who join forces in a town to protect the people there from invading bandits. The movie was remade later as the western “The Magnificent Seven” and it remains one of the masterpieces of Japanese cinema.
“The Seventh Seal” – Ingmar Bergman is the greatest filmmaker to cone from Sweden and has numerous movies available in the Criterion Collection. However, his greatest is “The Seventh Seal,” the story of a warrior returning home from the Crusades to find Death waiting for him. Because he wants to see his wife before he dies, he challenges Death to a game of chess, where if he wins he dies and if he loses he wins his life back.
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