The 100 greatest foreign-language films revealed

Only four out of the top 100 films directed by women in BBC poll of critics

Over the last few years, BBC Culture has been asking the world's critics – including this writer and my colleague Tara Brady – to vote for their 100 favourite films in a particular category. Best American film, best comedy: those sorts of things. This year's brief could hardly be less restrictive: best foreign-language pictures. Let's put it another way; we have been asked to excise any films in English from our top 10. Some 209 critics obliged.

The first thing to say is that this is yet another critics poll that honours the usual suspects (no, not The Usual Suspects). Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, an epic that inspired whole generations of US cinema, secures the number one spot.

The top 10 comprises nine features that have, for 50 years or so, appeared in highbrow lists such as Sight & Sound's famous decadal poll: Vittorio de Sica's Bicycle Thieves, Yasujirô Ozu's Tokyo Story and so on. The one exception, Wong Kar-wai's romantic, hypnotic In the Name of Love (2000), is from this century, but only just (or not at all if you heed furious correspondents to broadsheet newspapers in 2000 and 2001).

Dig deeper and there are runes worth reading. BBC Culture made an effort at gender balance and invited as many female critics as male critics, but only four out of the top 100 films were directed by women (Tara Brady's top pick, Larisa Shepitko's The Ascent, was not among them). Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels, a picture whose reputation rises with every year, was the highest rated at number 14. There is much work to be done.


Only two films from the current decade make the 100: Asghar Farhadi's A Separation and Michael Haneke's Amour. That last film, winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2012, coming in at 69, is the most recent film named, but Iranian director Farhadi will be happy to have risen so far so fast. Little known outside his home country a decade ago, Farhadi secures the number 21 spot ahead of such copper-bottomed classics as Carl T Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal and Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker.

Students of waxing and waning reputations will find much of interest. One name conspicuous by its absence is that of Roberto Rossellini. That great director, among the founder of Italian neo-realism, got a few mentions for Rome, Open City but not enough to secure the final list. The rising Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, though he picked up a few votes for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Tropical Malady, didn't do enough to score an expected breakthrough.

Some directors undoubtedly suffered from a splitting of their vote. Ingmar Bergman scored 79 mentions from the critics across a wide array of titles, but still managed to register at number six with Persona (your Irish Times film writers both voted for the unmentioned The Virgin Spring). Bergman and Luis Buñuel, the great Spanish surrealist, with five finishers each, tie for most films in the 100.

Anybody who's been to an art-house cinema anywhere in these islands over the last century will be unsurprised to learn that there were more films in French than in any other language. The likes of Jean Renoir, Jacques Tati and Jean-Luc Godard clocked up 27 titles. There were 12 in Mandarin and 11 in Italian and Japanese. An unstoppable movement – perhaps heightened by the cosmopolitan nature of the electorate – looks to be the rise of East Asian cinema. A quarter of the 100 were from Japan, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong or South Korea.

One fact alone will, however, stand out for many film nerds. When Akira Kurosawa died in 1998 there was much debate about his controversial reputation in Japan. The argument was made that, unlike the universally acclaimed Yasujirô Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi, he was viewed as too "western" for domestic critics. His popularity with American contemporaries such as John Ford and his subsequent influence on George Lucas and Sergio Leone was said to have only confirmed those suspicions.

Others said this alleged antipathy was exaggerated. The BBC Culture Poll doesn’t offer anything like empirical evidence, but it gently suggests that the rumours had some foundation. Kurosawa had two films in the top 10. The Seven Samurai is at number one. Yet none of the six Japanese critics listed a single Kurosawa film in their top 10s. What was that cliché about prophets in their home country?


Donald Clarke - The Irish Times

1. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928)

2. Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)

3. Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985)

4. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964)

5. The Virgin Spring (Ingmar Bergman, 1960)

6. Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967)

7. Caché (Michael Haneke, 2005)

8. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)

9. L'Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)

10. Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)

Tara Brady - The Irish Times

1. The Ascent (Larisa Shepitko, 1977)

2. Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa, 1961)

3. Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966)

4. Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985)

5. The Virgin Spring (Ingmar Bergman, 1960)

6. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)

7. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1973)

8. Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)

9. Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau and René Clément, 1946)

10. Hard Boiled (John Woo, 1992)

The top 100

100. Landscape in the Mist (Theo Angelopoulos, 1988)

99. Ashes and Diamonds (Andrzej Wajda, 1958)

98. In the Heat of the Sun (Jiang Wen, 1994)

97. Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997)

96. Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)

95. Floating Clouds (Mikio Naruse, 1955)

94. Where Is the Friend’s Home? (Abbas Kiarostami, 1987)

93. Raise the Red Lantern (Zhang Yimou, 1991)

92. Scenes from a Marriage (Ingmar Bergman, 1973)

91. Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955)

90. Hiroshima Mon Amour (Alain Resnais, 1959)

89. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

88. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939)

87. The Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini, 1957)

86. La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962)

85. Umberto D (Vittorio de Sica, 1952)

84. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Buñuel, 1972)

83. La Strada (Federico Fellini, 1954)

82. Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)

81. Celine and Julie go Boating (Jacques Rivette, 1974)

80. The Young and the Damned (Luis Buñuel, 1950)

79. Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

78. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)

77. The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970)

76. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)

75. Belle de Jour (Luis Buñuel, 1967)

74. Pierrot Le Fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)

73. Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)

72. Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952)

71. Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai, 1997)

70. L'Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962)

69. Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)

68. Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)

67. The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)

66. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1973)

65. Ordet (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1955)

64. Three Colours: Blue (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1993)

63. Spring in a Small Town (Fei Mu, 1948)

62. Touki Bouki (Djibril Diop Mambéty, 1973)

61. Sansho the Bailiff (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954)

60. Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)

59. Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985)

58. The Earrings of Madame de… (Max Ophüls, 1953)

57. Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972)

56. Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai, 1994)

55. Jules and Jim (François Truffaut, 1962)

54. Eat Drink Man Woman (Ang Lee, 1994)

53. Late Spring (Yasujirô Ozu, 1949)

52. Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966)

51. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964)

50. L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)

49. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)

48. Viridiana (Luis Buñuel, 1961)

47. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)

46. Children of Paradise (Marcel Carné, 1945)

45. L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960)

44. Cleo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962)

43. Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)

42. City of God (Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund, 2002)

41. To Live (Zhang Yimou, 1994)

40. Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)

39. Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990)

38. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991)

37. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)

36. La Grande Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937)

35. The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, 1963)

34. Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, 1987)

33. Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967)

32. All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar, 1999)

31. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)

30. The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

29. Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)

28. Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982)

27. The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973)

26. Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988)

25. Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000)

24. Battleship Potemkin (Sergei M Eisenstein, 1925)

23. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928)

22. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

21. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)

20. The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1974)

19. The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)

18. A City of Sadness (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1989)

17. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)

16. Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)

15. Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955)

14. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (Chantal Akerman, 1975)

13. M (Fritz Lang, 1931)

12. Farewell My Concubine (Chen Kaige, 1993)

11. Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)

10. La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960)

9. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)

8. The 400 Blows (François Truffaut, 1959)

7. 8 1/2 (Federico Fellini, 1963)

6. Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)

5. The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939)

4. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)

3. Tokyo Story (Yasujirô Ozu, 1953)

2. Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio de Sica, 1948)

1. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)