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Top 10 Essential World Films

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International cinema is such a wide field that it's impossible to do it justice with just ten films--but I guarantee that these won't disappoint. At the very least, it's a great place to start digging into the world of foreign film. So here they are: my ten favorite world films.

1. The 400 Blows/The Adventures of Antoine Doinel

The 400 Blows DVD
Beginning with "The 400 Blows" in 1959, Francois Truffaut made five movies about his alter ego hero, Antoine Doinel, always played by the magnificient Jean-Pierre Leaud. "The 400 Blows" still stands as one of the best movies ever made about childhood, and the sequels, in which we watch Doinel age, marry, and pass through a number of vocations, are all deliciously well observed. Truffaut's trademark wit and generous humanity shines from every frame of the series.

2. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg DVD
Jacques Demy's candy-colored love story is sung all the way through, but don't let that turn you off. Catherine Deneuve is so young, beautiful, and innocent, it's enough to make the toughest musical hater's heart melt. A heartbreaking romance for the ages.

3. Black Orpheus

Marcel Camus' Oscar-winning updating of the Orpheus myth, set during the carnival in Rio, is an intoxicating masterpiece that affects the head, heart, and feet in equal measure. Not to be missed.

4. Spirited Away

In master animator Hayao Miyazaki's spectacularly weird Alice-in-Wonderland story, a young girl works in a bathhouse for demons to free her parents, who have been turned into pigs by a witch. The ceaseless wonders and the moral complexity of "Spirited Away" make it Miyazaki's most mature film.

5. Yojimbo

Kurosawa at his best: "Yojimbo," Japanese for "bodyguard," is violent, witty, thrilling, and darkly comic. Toshiro Mifune gives an unforgettable performance as proto-Clint Eastwood with a samurai sword.

6. Wings of Desire

Every movie by Wim Wenders is worth seeing, but his elliptical 1987 film (the original title translates as "The Sky Above Berlin") wins over such fine films as "Alice in the Cities" and "Until the End of the World" because it seems to sum up everything the filmmaker has to say about life and the movies in one gorgeous, lyrical whole. With Bruno Ganz and Peter Falk.
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7. La Strada

Criterion Collection
The story of Gelsomina, a poor girl from the Italian coast who is taken away by the cruel strongman Zampano (Anthony Quinn) to become a circus performer is so well told, acted, and shot, that it's impossible to resist. Guillietta Masina is regularly compared to Charlie Chaplin, and in the role of the clowning but gentle Gelsomina, she proves that the comparison is earned.

8. Band of Outsiders

Stuffed with film in-jokes and self-conscious nods, Jean-Luc Godard's "Band of Outsiders" has a playful charm. It features the record for the quickest trip to the Louvre, an impromptu dance that is worth the price of admission by itself, and a reenactment of the death of Billy the Kid. None of the antics can quite disguise how serious Godard is about rejuvenating the movies, and thirty years later, the wild innovation he brought to this pulpy story is still refreshing.

9. The Seventh Seal

Death don't have no mercy: Ingmar Bergman's most famous film has been made a cliché by its parodists, but it's still fresh and gripping five decades later.

10. Solaris

Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 science-fiction film, based on the novel by Stanislav Lem, is full of the Russian director's trademark extended tracking shots. It is meditative cinema, to be watched half-asleep, cinema that makes you forget yourself and the movie - it just is.
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