When we think “foreign film,” we think Amour. We think Rashomon. We think City of God, Das Boot, and L’Avventura. In other words, films that are beautiful but grim. And as if these works of cinematic profundity weren’t difficult enough to digest on their own, there’s the added bonus of not speaking the language they were filmed in. Whoever wrote the self-proclaimed cinephile’s handbook seemed to make it perfectly clear that foreign films are required viewing, and it seems the convention for such movies is that they be A) filmed in either French, German, Japanese, or Italian, and B) hopelessly bleak. Fortunately, that’s not the case. The Anglophone world, still the largest linguistic community on Earth, has produced a veritable Alexandrian library of well-made, lighthearted films. From Canada to New Zealand, these filmmakers pose a much-needed diversion from the (exquisite) gloom-and-doom. Here is a round up of 20 such films, all viewable in the US.
Note: We’ve left Indian films out because, as I’m sure you’ll agree, Bollywood deserves a list all on its own.
This 2012 Australian comedy is delightful perversion of Mary Poppins. Toni Collette (of Muriel’s Wedding and United States of Tara fame) plays the charismatic and very angry Shaz, an “ocker” hitchhiker who is hired to step in to care for a quintet of precocious young hypochondriacs when their mother is institutionalized. Slapstick, Julie Andrews references, and even profound discussions of mental illness ensue.
You may recognize this 2007 British comedy for its 2010 (slightly lesser) American iteration. In the vein of Four Weddings and a Funeral, the Frank Oz dark comedy is an impassable ensemble work: Matthew Macfadyen, Rupert Graves, Keeley Hawes, Daisy Donovan, Kris Marshall, and Alan Tudyk play cousins attending a family funeral at which it is discovered the deceased was involved in a secret homosexual relationship… with Tyrion Lannister.
Goodbye Pork Pie (1981) is often considered to be the best film to come out of New Zealand, North Island or South. It centers on 19-year old petty thief Gerry and the romantically scorned John as they travel across their antipodean homeland in a vintage yellow Mini to win back the affections of John’s errant wife. Their raucous exploits gain unwanted attention from local authorities, and the result is a funny and endearing car chase in longform.
This 1976 Australian political comedy is based on an award-winning play by David Williamson. On the evening of the 1969 Australian federal election, suburban schoolteacher Don Henderson and his wife Kath invite their friends over to celebrate an anticipated Labor Party victory. As the night progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that Labor will lose—and things only get funnier from there. Don’s Party puts a comedic spin on everything from swinging to neo-conservatism. It’s an edgier, darker, Ozzie The Big Chill.
In the Loop (2010) is a political satire by famed Scottish filmmaker Armando Iannucci. Bedecked with an all-star, transatlantic cast (Tom Hollander, Steve Coogan, James Gandolfini, Mimi Kennedy, Gina McKee, Anna Chlumsky) In the Loop follows the hapless British Secretary of State for International Development as he sits in on pre-Iraq War meetings between the US and UK governments. Iannucci skillfully puts a jocular touch on one of the most series issues on the collective Anglo-American mind today.
Flight of the Conchords’s Jemaine Clement stars in this 2007 quirky Kiwi romantic comedy alongside the adorable Loren Horsley. They play a pair of socially awkward adults still recovering from the trauma of high school navigating the precarious complexities of modern (and weird) love.
This 1994 romantic dramedy was a breakout role for Grey’s Anatomy’s Sandra Oh. Oh plays Jade, a 22-year old Chinese-Canadian aspiring actress living with her traditional family in Vancouver. Double Happiness, directed by Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Mina Shum, follows Jade as she negotiates the line between modernity and tradition, always mindful of older brother Winston who was disowned for abandoning filial piety.
Red Dog is a 2011 feel-good based on the true story of an affable stray dog that brought together members of a fractured community in Australia’s remote outback. The film is so beloved by Australians that the country just about entered into a national state of mourning when its canine star, Koko, passed away in 2012.
Intermission (2003) is a farcical romantic comedy set in Dublin, Ireland. The Gaelic Love, Actually (a comparison I’m sure director John Crowley would not appreciate) is phenomenal not just for its multifaceted and intersecting storyline, but for its cast of Irish and Scottish dramatic heavyweights like the inimitable Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy, Kelly Macdonald, Colm Meaney, and Shirley Henderson.
The Infidel is described as a comedy of “ethnic proportions.” An odd declaration, until you consider the storyline. Mahmud Nasir is a Muslim Londoner who discovers he is adopted: a deeply troubling revelation in itself. After a hilarious consultation with an adoption agent played by the fantastic Miranda Hart (BBC’s Miranda), he learns that his biological parents are Jews. What follows is a rib-cracking but poignant critique of the state of modern Judeo-Muslim affairs.
This 2010 Canadian dramedy is positively star-studded: Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, even Dustin Hoffman. Based on the novel by the same name by Torontonian writer Mordecai Richer, Barney’s Version follows Barney on a madcap, quasi-psychotic adventure through three failed marriages in Rome, Montreal, and New York.
They’re a Weird Mob is a cult 1966 film based on the Australian novel of the same name by John O’Grady. Nino Culotta, a magazine writer, is an Italian immigrant in Australia. When Culotta arrives in Sydney, he realizes the magazine has folded and he’s forced to get work with a local construction company. They’re a Weird Mob takes a comical look at mid-century ethnic prejudices in Australia, and offers an even funnier perspective on the immigrant experience.
This 2012 independent Canadian film is a charming feminist masterpiece. When marketer extraordinaire Madelyn, played by Marcia Gay Harden, prevents her husband’s mistress from committing suicide, hilariously unforeseen consequences ensue. Not only do the two women become unlikely friends, but Lucy (the melodramatic Spanish mistress) encourages Madelyn to act in a production of King Lear, as Lear. If I Were You is a witty, fast-talking, and touching message of female empowerment.
The Gods Must Be Crazy is a 1989 anthropological comedy by South African Jamie Uys. Set in Botswana, South Africa’s neighbor to the north, it tells the story of Xi, a Sho tribesman who, like his fellow villagers, lives a life completely cut off from the modern world. When a Coke bottle mysteriously drops from the sky, they accept it as a gift from the gods. But when the god-given bottle causes jealousy and strife in the village, Xi travels far to get rid of it, encountering along the way a clumsy scientist and schoolteacher in the throes of a tumultuous romance, and a band of capricious guerillas.
Flirting is a 1991 boarding school comedy that provided breakout roles for actresses Thandie Newton, Nicole Kidman, and Naomi Watts. Newton plays Thandiwe, a the biracial daughter of a black Ugandan and a white Kenyan, who enrolls at the all-girls Cirencester Ladies’ College in Australia. Thandiwe is pursued by Danny, a handsome Australian boy from a neighboring school, much to the chagrin of closeted racist Nicola, the post school prefect played by Kidman. Flirting is a light-hearted coming-of-age take on some very adult topics: sex, racism, and even social class.
This 2010 British comedy treads in an intriguing line between fiction and reality. British comedic titans Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are on a culinary foray into the north of England, where fine restaurants abound—who knew? Aside from side-splitting Michael Caine impressions, The Trip offers a tender glimpse of the comedians’ personal lives, from Coogan’s struggles with his adult son to Brydon’s adorable relationship with his wife and newborn son.
About Adam (2003) follows the eponymous Dubliner who blandishes his way into the good graces of the tight-knit Owens family. Adam first seduces Lucy (Kate Hudson) at the restaurant where she waits tables, and follows up by wooing bookish and quiet older sister Laura. He then moves onto married sister Alice, before capping it off with brother David. Irish director Gerry Stembridge is a master of the chaotic absurd, and About Adam is just that—but we revel in the chaos.
This critically acclaimed musical dramedy is based on a 2004 Australian stage play by the same name. Refreshing and monumental for its nearly all-Aboriginal lead cast, The Sapphires follows Gail, Julie, Cynthia, and Kay as they form an R&B girls group that tours Vietnam during the war, managed by Irishman Dave Lovelace (Bridesmaids and Girls’ Chris O’Dowd).
Childstar is a 2005 independent Canadian comedy that centers on Taylor Brandon Burns, a fictional 12-year old American TV star who escapes from set while filming a big-budget movie in Canada. Rick, an aspiring filmmaker who has fell on hard times and subsequently taken a job as Taylor’s limo driver, is enlisted to find the child prodigy before anything befalls his multi-million dollar head. The film, which premiered at Sundance, has been well-received as an apt critique the ways show business treats its youngest megastars. Bieber should take notes.
I Give It a Year
I Give It a Year is the directorial debut of British screenwriter Dan Mazer, who penned the Sacha Baron Cohen films Borat and Brüno. The 2013 romantic comedy premiered at South By Southwest, and in the UK this past February. It features stellar performances by the hilarious Steven Merchant and the always formidable Minnie Driver, whose sex-crazed utterance of “I’d ruin Bieber,” has been praised as one of the funniest lines to grace the silver screen this year. BAFTA winner Olivia Coleman is priceless as the divorce-pushing marriage counselor, and, of course, Rose Byrne is always fun to look at. Magnolia only just secured a distribution deal for theatrical release this April, so be sure to mark your calendars because I Give It a Year is likely to be placed on the shelf alongside such British comedic greats as Four Weddings and Bridget Jones.