1. Andjei Wajda-Three War Films
My top pick this year may seem rather unconventional for many in America but ever since Criterion embraced the DVD format I have been secretly praying that the marquee label would put together representative sets of Poland's Andjei Wajda and Serbia's Emir Kusturica. One of them is now a reality and I could not be any happier. Somewhat unknown in North America these are films that reveal a master director with a unique sense of composition. If never seen a Wajda film I urge you to do so as soon as possible. You will be richly rewarded!!!
2. L'Eclisse (Italy /Criterion)
The final installment of Michelangelo Antonioni's poetic trilogy the DVD release of L'eclisse was clearly an event for those interested in classic Italian cinema. Top label Criterion once again proved that when it comes down to restoration of classic films there are only few that can play ball with them. In addition to a digitally restored print this double DVD set offers plenty of extras that would meet the requirements on even the most demanding of film buffs. A must own!!
3. Downfall (Germany /Sony Pictures)
As far as I am concerned this is the film that should have won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Production this year. Absolutely, without a doubt, the most chillingly realistic portrait of Hitler I have ever seen captured on film. A film that did not shy away from being as honest and provocative as a film dealing with the subject should be. Those who do not recognize the brilliance of Bruno Gantz are blind hypocrites living in the past. Downfall is a film that years from now people will still talk about and admire the genius of a director who had the courage to put it all together. Congratulations Oliver Hirschbiegel you have created a masterpiece!!
4. Reconstruction (Denmark /Palm Pictures)
A fascinating portrait of a man who struggles to recollect his memories Reconstruction was the winner of the prestigious Camera d'Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Director Christoffer Boe has created an utterly stylish film which even after repeated viewings will still have you guessing "what if". Nothing is what it seems in Recontruction, nothing was, nothing will be. Presented in an excellent DVD package from indie-label Palm Pictures this film comes highly recommended.
5. Arven a.k.a The Inheritance (Norway /Home Vision)
A dark tale about money, power, and the things one must sacrifice for success Per Fly's gripping drama The Inheritance is without a doubt one of the best films to come out of Scandinavia in the last ten years. Winner of six awards from the Danish Film Academy The Inheritance clearly shows why Denmark is currently considered the hotbed of European cinema. The R1 DVD is one of the last to
6. Bad Education (Spain/ Columbia Pictures)
Can you imagine a Top 10 list of foreign language releases without Almodovar? Neither can I!! Once again the temperamental Spaniard got the audiences talking, arguing, and disagreeing whether or not this is Almodovar's best yet. Filled with plenty of controversy and forcing its US distributor to release a "safer" version Bad Education is a fascinating tale of two men and their passion for each other. Well, I am yet to figure out why Almodovar's latest had to be sanitized with a NC-17 rating but hey…you can't have those risky foreign films uncut at your local Blockbuster. Halleluiah!!
7. Kagemusha (Japan /Criterion)
If you need an introduction as to what Kagemusha is, who directed it, and "what's the fuzz all about" then you clearly have some catching up to do. Suffice to say Akira Kurosawa's fans are now sleeping better. The only American studio that could have done this epic film justice stepped up to the plate and delivered what everyone was hoping for-an all around solid release. There is hardly anything else left to say. See it, buy it, own it!!!
8. A Very Long Engagement (France/ Warner Brothers)Jean-Pierre Jeunet's lavish production certainly was treated right in North America. A film many film aficionados felt was too mainstream perhaps even too polished, resonated surprisingly well with the French critics. Not surprisingly the film did even better overseas. I wonder how much all of this success had to do with the fact that Audrey Tautou was selected to play the enigmatic Mathilde. Nevertheless, this beautiful story was well-worth the wait…what's next Monsieur Jeunet?
9. The Great Water (Macedonia/ Picture This)One of my personal favorites this year!! The Macedonian Oscar entry Golemata Voda gets a lavish North American treatment which it rightfully deserves. A remarkable epic story about survival set in a country which no longer exists Ivo Trajkov's Golemata Voda is a film of unparalleled visual beauty. Rivaling the finesse of Tarkovsky, the grandeur of Saura, and the poetic beauty of Manchevski this film certainly ranks among the best I saw during the last twelve months. Here's a production that undeniably exemplifies everything Hollywood strives to achieve-a remarkable story, breathtaking vistas, superb acting. This film has it all!!!
10. Haute Tension (France/ Lion's Gate)
If you thought the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series showed it all…think again!! Alexandre Aja's grindcore-spectacle clearly proved that extreme cinema is in a state of blissful Renaissance. Intense, graphic, audacious, begging for the UNCUT status Haute Tension quickly became a cult favorite outside of its native France. While I clearly disliked the graphic nature of this production there is indeed something to be said about Monsieur Aja's visual style. Fortunately for US fans Lions Gate delivered a great DVD package untouched by the hands of conservative censorship.
- Svet Atanasov