The Satyajit Ray Memorial Anything-But-Definitive List of Non-English Language Films

Edward Copeland has posted the results of his poll, along with some great pictures and lots of comments, none of which are by me because I never got around to writing them. But you can find comments here at The End about almost all of the films I voted for, and for most of the films that made the final list of 122 nominees.

My ballot was:

1. Seven Samurai
2. Chungking Express
3. The Rules Of The Game
4. Pierrot le fou
5. Playtime
6. The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg
7. Au hasard Balthazar
8. Ugetsu
9. Ran
10. Andrei Rublev
11. Celine And Julie Go Boating
12. Satantango
13. 8 1/2
14. Three Colors: Blue
15. Hiroshima mon amour
16. Late Spring
17. The Double Life Of Veronique
18. Nights Of Cabiria
19. L’Eclisse
20. Rashomon
21. Day Of Wrath
22. Last Year At Marienbad
23. The Battle Of Algiers
24. The Seventh Seal
25. Sansho The Bailiff

All of the ones I voted for made the top 100, but they seemed to finish a lot lower that I thought they would have. Two of my top three ended up in the top two spots, so I can’t complain about that. Although the world has apparently still to realize the greatness that is Chungking Express (it finished only 63rd). Pierrot le fou, I imagine, will grow in estimation to the point that if you took this poll two years from now, after Criterion makes the film freely available on DVD, it would finish much higher (up from its current #87 to somewhere near Contempt and Breathless at numbers 20 and 21.

This raises an interesting point about the list, just how dominated it is by The Criterion Collection, Netflix and the several other fine companies that make foreign language films readily available to all of us. None of this would have been possible less than a decade ago.

I grew up in Spokane, a reasonably large town, but not by any means, a major league city. There were many fine video stores there (back in those VHS days) but none of them had any reasonable selection of foreign films. Kurosawa and Bergman were pretty much it, with a smattering of Fellini, Truffaut and a variety of other films that all seemed to star Gerard Depardieu. When I was in college, my friends and I literally went to every video store in Spokane looking for Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. We’d all heard what a great film it was, how it started the French New Wave, etc etc, but it wasn’t available: not a single store in town had a VHS copy of Breathless. I didn’t want to watch any other Godard film until I’d seen Breathless (since it was the first), not that that was a major issue because the only other one I remember being available was a t a Hollywood Video that had a copy of Godard’s King Lear starring Woody Allen and Norman Mailer.

Anyway, years went by and eventually a little jazz store opened in downtown Spokane, and they also rented films. They had a small selection of classic foreign films for rent at some outrageous price (I think it was $6 for a two-day rental, at a time when most of the films (the Kurosawas, for example) we were renting from the chain stores were 49¢ for five days). They had a copy of Breathless, I rented it, watched it. . . . and it was good, but not really worth the wait.

The point is, things aren’t like that any more. When I moved to Seattle nine years ago, I was smart enough to get an apartment a mere three blocks away from The Greatest Video Store On The Planet where I was finally able to rent all those films I’d heard and read about for years: Renoir, Ozu, Mizoguchi, Godard, Truffaut, Tati, Wong etc etc. Later DVD, Criterion, Amazon and Netflix came along and changed forever the opportunities for film fans outside all but the very largest cities. Thanks to this format and these companies, among others, if a film is on DVD anywhere in the world, it is remarkably easy for it to be playing in your home in a matter of days.

You could look at the flipside of this, and say how limited this list is by what Criterion’s decided to release, how films that aren’t readily available on DVD are underrated or simply missing from the group of nominees (Mizoguchi’s Chrysanthemums I think is underrated, along with Pierrot and Satantango, which needs to be seen in a theatre for full effect). There are any number of films that either aren’t on DVD or are only available in other countries (and thus not distributed by Netflix). Someone else would be better at creating a list of those omissions than me, but off the top of my head I’d name any number of Hou Hsiao-hsien films, especially A City of Sadness and The Puppetmaster (the only English subtitled DVD of which is horribly cropped but is available from Netflix), Chantal Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielmann, and King Hu’s Dragon Inn. The highest ranked film not available through Netflix is Max Ophuls great Madame de . . . at #49 (it is available in a very nice, and pretty cheap, DVD from England). Next is Celine and Julie in another instance of underrating at #66.

Regardless, everyone has to start somewhere, and this list is a great place for it. There are still 25 or so of the nominees I haven’t seen, yet more films to add to the queue.

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4 thoughts on “The Satyajit Ray Memorial Anything-But-Definitive List of Non-English Language Films

  1. The importance of DVDs, Netflix and Criterion cannot be denied. Growing up in the suburbs I had a very limited view of what films were available, based solely on the sleepy little store a block from my house. When I was young the only movie that excited me was STAR WARS. How many high school nights were spent prowling the store for something worthwhile, finally leaving with some hastily grabbed VHS after the owner said “we’re closing” for the umpteenth time? Over time I did discover a few things that tickled my fancy (Coen Brothers, Dead Man) but the winners were few and far between. As I grew older I thought that I just wasn’t a film fan. Then I moved to Seattle and started going to Scarecrow and signed up for Netflix and found a whole world of ideas that actually spoke to me.Each movie now inspires 5 more choices.

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  2. “Each movie now inspires 5 more choices.”Exactly. I saw _Out 1_ in June or whatever (my first Rivette) and then I made sure to see _Celine and Julie_ soon after and now I have _Secret Defense_ at home thanks to Netflix with _The Story of Marie and Julien_ in the Q along with _Gang of Four_. Plus, I want to re-watch _Weekend_ just to hunt out Juliet Berto. She’s that sexy.

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  3. I was inspired by Eddie on Film’s monumental list-making to conduct my own humble survey of the blog world with Shoot the Projectionist’s 31 GREATEST HORROR FILMS, to be published Halloween. If you or any other interested parties would like to contribute a nominating list, please visit the announcement at:http://shoottheprojectionist.blogspot.com/2007/09/31-greatest-horror-films-survey.htmlThanks

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