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The Best Foreign Language Movies of 2018

18 films from 13 different countries make up our list of the best foreign language movies of 2018.
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By  · Published on December 28th, 2018

9. Before We Vanish (Japan)

Before We Vanish

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

An alien invasion story like no other, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s latest sees three aliens arrive on Earth as an advance team before the actual attack begins. They take the form of the recently deceased and each must rely on a human guide to help them acclimate, but their respective experiences are far from uniform. Terrific action set-pieces punctuate this sci-fi drama about relationships, communication, and the argument for saving humanity or letting them perish. It’s great thought-provoking fun.

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8. Western (Germany)

Western Germany

Directed by Valeska Grisebach

The setup to this story sees German workers struggling to interact with residents of the small Bulgarian village near their site, and its a mix of attitude and an inability to understand each other that sees antagonism build between them. The film features multiple conversations between them despite neither side having a clue what the others are saying. The struggle to understand each other is worth it, though, and as the characters build towards a seemingly inevitable clash that struggle grows even more necessary. Meinhard, the one German who sees that, rests at the heart of both the effort and the conflict.

7. Burning (South Korea)


Directed by Lee Chang-dong

A young man’s affection for a young woman is interrupted and challenged by a suave motherfucker in director Lee Chang-dong’s slow-burn tale about class, sex, and the perceptions we have of others. The film is in no hurry plot-wise, and instead the focus here is on character and a growing mistrust that may or may not be warranted. It’s a beautiful, methodical piece of work.

6. Tigers Are Not Afraid (Mexico)

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Directed by Issa López

Orphans who’ve made a home in the streets of Mexico City face struggles every day, but their focus is on the cartel that threatens their livelihoods and lives. Like a magical realist take on City of God (2002), the film tackles a very real and heartbreaking situation with a slight twist to the reality around them. It’s an engrossing wonder that pulls you into these kids’ lives with beauty, honesty, and a desperate imagination.

5. Custody (France)


Directed by Xavier Legrand

A husband and wife meet with a judge to work out the details of their separation in regard to custody of their son. It’s something we’ve seen a thousand times before, but writer/director Xavier Legrand crafts it with the intensity with which its participants actually feel it. It’s a dramatic and suspenseful exchange as we hear both sides of their argument unsure who’s telling the truth, but as the film progresses the truth comes clear in terrifying fashion. Most genre efforts wish they were capable of this degree of tension, suspense, and terror, and its basis in a drama faced by millions of women around the world makes it hit that much harder.

4. Aniara (Sweden)


Directed by Pella Kagerman & Hugo Lilja

One of the best sci-fi movies of the year is also the quietest. This Swedish genre effort sees a ship head to Mars carrying thousands of passengers eager for a new life that’s no longer possible on a dying Earth, but a trip that should take weeks instead fumbles its way across years. Co-directors/writers Pella Kagerman & Hugo Lilja‘s film is adapted from an epic poem and the movie succeeds beautifully at bringing its themes of wonder and despair to a new medium. It’s thought-provoking science-fiction more interested in humanity’s inner struggles than our outward ones, and the result is a gut-punch of a slow-motion disaster film.

3. Zama (Argentina)


Directed by Lucretia Martel

A Spanish officer dutifully does his job in the sweaty Paraguayan city of Asunción waiting for a promotion and transfer that never seems to arrive, and his misery is our pleasure. It’s a sadistic joy to be sure, but the man’s behavior and attitude earn both our scorn and eventual pity. A historical drama by way of a farce, the film is an exquisitely shot attack on the myriad sins of colonization, and its effortlessly dark humor is simply icing on an already beautiful and tasty cake.

2. Happy as Lazzaro (Italy)

Happy As Lazzaro

Directed by Alice Rohrwacher

As beautifully hopeful a condemnation of humanity as you’ve ever seen, this Italian film places a young man into a community of laborers being taken advantage of by a greedy landowner and through him explores our willingness to abuse and be abused. Lazzaro is uninterested in saying no to any request for help, but is he a saint or a simpleton? The answer is both and neither, but his walk through life — especially after the film’s second act takes a surprising (and exciting) sharp turn — is one that layers its cruelty in warmth and sincere affection for the humanity it’s criticizing.

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1. Shoplifters (Japan)


Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda

Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda is as delicate a master manipulator as you’ve ever seen. His latest film introduces us to a ragtag “family” of discarded adults and a young boy as they steal from a store with abandon, but before we can judge them as mere thieves they pause to give shelter and food to a hungry little girl left out in the cold. Their actions keep our affection growing even as we’re wary about what’s coming next. Their journey is one of warmth, laughter, questionable choices, and heartbreak, and it will leave you in love with the whole lot of them. Oh, and crying. It will also leave you crying.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.