Other than the Best Picture Oscar nominee "Drive My Car" from Japan, there have been no other international films this year that have garnered as much buzz as Norway's "The Worst Person in the World." It's up for Best International Feature Film at this year's Academy Awards, and it also scored a surprise-but-well-deserved nomination for Best Original Screenplay. It's a wild and unpredictable romance-coming-of-age-story featuring an unforgettable performance from Norwegian actress Renate Reinsve.
Academy Award winning filmmaker Pedro Almodovar knows how to get touching, powerful and vulnerable performances out of his actors, especially when said actor is Penélope Cruz. "Parallel Mothers" ("Madres paralelas") is their SEVENTH film collaboration, and Cruz gives one of the year's best performances, helped tremendously by the fact that Almodovar's astute script is nothing short of enthralling. It might just land him his second Academy Award for screenwriting (he previously won in 2003 for "Talk to Her") as well as a fourth total nomination for Cruz.
Review: 'Drive My Car' a profound reminder of the importance of the journey rather than the destination
A surprising title has been popping up on more than one year-end "Best of" lists: "Drive My Car." It's only "surprising" because as a Japanese film, it isn't a film that many Americans have even heard of, but it stops becoming a surprise for any who have seen it.
That's because "Drive My Car" deserves all the hype it's been getting. A nearly three-hour long drama that speeds by and pulls you in, featuring some powerful performances and complexities not often found, quite frankly, in many domestic films. A year-end list that does not include "Drive My Car" can be taken as an admission that the film wasn't seen by that particular critic (which explains why it doesn't appear on my Best of 2021 list), because it's truly one of the best, most impactful films of the year (it's also Japan's selection and entry for Best International Feature at this year's Academy Awards).
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi is simply one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation. His 2011 film, "A Separation" stands out as one of the very best films of the past several decades...and that's no understatement. You can always count on tense, deeply personal moral conflicts in a Farhadi film, served without any judgment or bias. His latest effort, "A Hero," is no different, and is a deeply compelling film that offers no easy answers...just the way that Farhadi likes it.
American film audiences aren't exposed to as many foreign films as they perhaps should be, but if they do come across an Italian import in recent years, there's a good chance that it was made by Paolo Sorrentino. The highly-lauded writer/director is responsible for the gems "Il Divo" and "The Great Beauty," and is also the creator of the HBO series "The Young Pope." His last American-language film, "Youth," was one of the best films of that year.
His most recent film, "The Hand of God," (now available to stream on Netflix) may not be his best or most effective film, but it is definitely his most personal. It's an autobiographical tale about a young boy and his colorful upbringing in 1980s Tuscany, Italy, that leads him to a life of film...a fate that he may never have had a chance to escape from.
It's not exactly a "pick-me-upper," but "The Macaluso Sisters" is one of the most gripping dramas of the year.
"Identifying Features" was just named the Best International Feature by the Gotham Independent Film Awards, and it's available this Friday, January 22nd, 2021, as part of The Film Lab's Virtual Cinema locally.
There is a timeless quality to "Martin Eden," a film shot and produced in modern times but with a look and feel as if it might have been made several decades ago. The young actor at its center, Luca Marinelli, gives an amazing, lived-in performance that deserves all the praise it's been getting...its no wonder that Marinelli won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival, and that his name might be one that Americans will need to learn come Oscar season.
South Korea produced last year's Oscar-winner for Best Picture, "Parasite," against all odds. That film was the South Korea's first in history to garner any accolades from the Academy, so naturally in its wake, people have been awaiting the next gem to come out of the country. That gem has arrived with "Beasts Clawing at Straws," a black-comedy crime thriller that will be available on VOD Tuesday, December 15th, 2020, and is most-worthy of seeking out.
Marco Bellocchio might not be a household name in the United States, but he's been churning out films in Italy for over half a century. His latest film, "The Traitor" (Il traditore) is being billed as "the true story about the man who brought down the Mafia," and it's playing here in Michigan at the Detroit Film Theater this weekend.
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