In the 2010s, world cinema really started to gain the (arguably belated) attention it deserved in North America. While subtitled films seemed to be reserved only for film festivals like Cannes and Berlin, the rise of streaming platforms allowed these films to be accessible globally for the first time. Hollywood was no stranger to the crossover before that; Much of the martial arts craze of the 1970s came from Hong Kong, while an increase in South Asian diaspora communities in the West increased demand for Bollywood and South Asian films. Now Americans are consuming more global content more than ever.
Asghar Farhadi, who won the Oscar for best international feature twice during the decade, is one of the many examples of the globalization of cinema; his award-winning film Seller was funded and distributed by Amazon. Then, at the very end of the decade, Bong Joon-ho Parasite swept the Oscars and became the first non-English film to win the Best Picture award. Parasite may have been the first film to win, but it was its global predecessors that paved the way for its success. The 2010s have been filled with spectacular films, and Oscar winners are only a small fraction of those incredible films. Here are the Oscar winners for Best International Feature of the 2010s, ranked.
ten In a better world
In a better world follows a doctor (Mikael Persbrandt) who divides his time between his native Denmark and a Sudanese refugee camp. He had an affair, and his wife separated from him, taking their two sons with her. When her bullied son makes a new friend at school who suffers emotional trauma himself, the film becomes a story of revenge and core human emotions like sadness and rage. It’s a powerful movie that teaches lessons in cruelty and kindness.
9 The great beauty
A sixty-five-year-old journalist and theater critic (Toni Servillo) runs after the remnants of the creativity he had in his youth. The great beauty is to reflect on his life and on what he has not yet done, even though he has done it on the outside. Rome is the scene of this story, and it is eloquently filmed; the cinematography is beautiful but provocative as it asks how one can be so lonely and so sad in a place like this. He’s only getting older, and the movie wonders: has he done enough in this life?
Love won the 2012 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and its lead actress, Emmanuelle Riva, became the longest-running Oscar nominee for Best Actress. After having suffered a series of beatings, her character must be treated by her husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant). It’s a film about a relationship that ends with death. While this is a film that might seem too clean, too sanitized, and melodramatic for its subject, Love resonates with true authenticity. It doesn’t just cry for the sake of crying; he engages with the philosophical nature of what it means to love and be married to the end.
seven A fantastic woman
A fantastic woman is a Chilean film with a soul. Marina (Daniela Vega) is a transgender woman who is dating an older man. She has two jobs as a waitress and nightclub singer, but one night after her boyfriend suddenly dies of a brain aneurysm. But there is no way for her to grieve. Because she is a transgender woman, she is labeled a sex worker by the police. Her boyfriend’s family doesn’t accept her either because she’s a trans woman. There is a quiet strength in this movie, one where the main character refuses to give up despite the harshness and criticism that surrounds him.
Seller was a success at the Cannes Film Festival; he won the award for best screenplay and best actor. The film has a play within a play context; Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are a married couple who both work in the theater. When their production company begins rehearsals for Death of a seller, they move into a new house. One night, while Rana is home alone, an intruder breaks in and sexually assaults her in the shower, straining their relationship and the show. Seller is a human look at Iranian society and the ordinary people who live there. The inclusion of Miller’s play, its themes and connections only strengthens the narrative and the relationships between the characters.
Poland’s WWII past is brought to light in the magnificent Ida. A young woman (Agata Kulesza) prepares to take her vows to become a Catholic nun, but is asked to visit her aunt, a former Communist prosecutor. We are in 1962. Her aunt tells her that her parents were Jews murdered by the Germans during World War II and that their daughter ended up in the Catholic convent. This sets off a journey to find the bodies of her parents and where she came from. Ida is only eighty minutes long, but during that short span of time the black-and-white nature of the film becomes ubiquitous, a heavy blanket of sadness hanging over the characters. No matter how they try to run away and escape their past, that’s it.
4 Son of Saul
Son of Saul, also covers the topic of the Holocaust, except in Auschwitz. Saul (Géza Röhrig) is a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, the men responsible for burning the bodies of their fellow prisoners. Son of Saul is a tough film to watch, as many Holocaust films are, but it’s both courageous and daring, offering a glimpse of resistance and hope even in the darkest of times. Son of Saul won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in the year of its release and was the first Hungarian film to win the Oscar for Best International Feature Film.
Rome was Alfonso Cuarón’s first film in five years, but it was also one of his most intimate films. A maid (Yalitza Aparicio) lives in Mexico City with a middle-class family. Once the father leaves the family, the world becomes too difficult. She finds out that she is pregnant, but her boyfriend leaves and she has to live her pregnant life without him. Rome takes place in 1970s Mexico, a turbulent time in Mexican history, only adding fire and more conflict to the story. Rome swept away Oscar nominations that year, becoming the first film since Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon to have so many nominations.
2 A separation
Asghar Farhadi came flamboyant on the world stage with his 2011 film A separation. Simin (Leila Hatami) is married to Nader (Peyman Moaadi). They have a daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), but after Simin files for a divorce, Termeh chooses to stay with her father. Nader’s father has Alzheimer’s disease and a suburban Tehranian hired to care for him begins to run into Nader. A separation is a brilliant film, mixing drama and suspense to create a tense atmosphere. It also presents in a nuanced manner the gender, religious and family issues in contemporary Iran. This allows a foreign audience to understand the gravity of the situation rather than being left in the dark.
Parasite is a historical film; Not only was it the first Korean film to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, it also won the Oscars and was the first non-English-speaking film to win the award for best film. A family (Song Kang-ho, Choi Woo-sik, Pak So-dam and Jang Hye-jin) manage to find a job thanks to a wealthy family. Parasite is a dark comedy thriller, and it lives up to it. The film starts off lightly but begins to turn into something monstrous at the end, leaving viewers to wonder what happened to the cause of it all.
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