In recent years, there has been a growing trend among entertainment enthusiasts like me to explore alternative sources of cinematic enjoyment. There is a slow shift of people turning away from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood productions that have been disappointedly lowering the quality of storytelling and movie making. This and the establishment of streaming platforms have created the opportunity for foreign cinema to compete.
One of the primary reasons I’m interested in foreign cinema is the opportunity to experience stories told from diverse cultural perspectives. While undeniably influential, Hollywood often tends to present narratives rooted in Western values and perspectives that have been questioned over recent years.
On the other hand, foreign cinema provides a window into different cultures, traditions, and worldviews, offering a refreshing departure from the familiar tropes of Hollywood cinema. It isn’t just about entertainment, it’s also a journey of cultural enrichment. These films offer insights into the customs, traditions, and societal norms of different regions, fostering cross-cultural understanding. Viewers gain a more profound appreciation for the nuances of storytelling and filmmaking, broadening their worldview in the process.
FOREIGN CINEMA: A CINEMATIC FEAST
Foreign cinema offers a variety of genres and styles, providing a cinematic feast for those who seek alternatives beyond the typical Hollywood blockbuster. From the emotionally charged dramas of South Korea, the poetic storytelling of Iranian cinema, the musical, dramatic, and conflicting stories of Indian cinema, and the visually stunning works of European filmmakers, there is a wealth of cinematic gems waiting to be discovered.
This diversity allows viewers to explore genres and themes that may not be as prominently featured in mainstream Hollywood productions. It is an opportunity to explore the rich tapestry of storytelling they bring to the global audience.
BREAKING LANGUAGE BARRIERS
Language is often considered a barrier to watching foreign cinema, but with the rise of streaming platforms and the availability of subtitles, this hurdle is gradually diminishing. Audiences are now more willing to embrace films in languages they may not understand, realizing that the universal language of storytelling transcends linguistic boundaries.
Rather than being a hindrance, subtitles became the bridge that connects viewers to a world of captivating narratives. Especially with Indian cinema, you will find that they offer dubbing in multiple Indian languages but I prefer to choose the original language with the English subtitles as sometimes something might get lost in the translation of the translation.
The global recognition of foreign cinema at prestigious awards ceremonies reflects their impact and importance in the world of cinema. Movies like “Parasite” from South Korea, winner of Best Picture at the 2020 Oscars, and “RRR” from India, winner of Best Original Song at the 2023 Oscars, have proven that exceptional storytelling knows no geographical bounds.
While these awards are important for the filmmakers to break down doors, they are not as important for the general public which is reflected in the viewership. As more foreign cinema comes to the international stage through streaming platforms and theatrical releases, audiences will be drawn to watch them and expand their horizons.
MY TOP 8 MOVIES OF 2023
2023 has been a difficult year and I have not been able to watch everything that I wanted to watch. But if you ask me which movies I watched that I enjoyed, that made me sad, angry, and happy I’ll have to say that it is a combination of American and Indian Movies. My top 8 Movies of 2023 (in watching order) are the following:
Extraction 2 is an American action thriller film starring Chris Hemsworth and is a sequel to Extraction which was filmed with an international cast (American, Australian, and Indian) and had dialogues in Hindi and English. In Extraction 2 we see the same main cast. Now the film has dialogues in Arabic, Georgian, French, and English. It was an entertaining action movie and it was nice to see handsome Chris reprising his role and doing great with this franchise.
The film continues the story of Tyler Rake. After barely surviving his grievous wounds from his mission in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tyler, played by Chris, is back, and his team is ready to take on their next mission. Extraction 2 can be watched on Netflix.
The Super Mario Bros Movie
The Super Mario Bros Movie was a nice surprise. It was a very entertaining kids’ film that was appropriate for kids to watch. I liked to play Mario on the Game Boy (remember those?) when I was a kid. It is great to see that Mario continues to live on generation after generation.
In the Super Mario Bros Movie, we meet (again) a plumber named Mario who travels through an underground labyrinth with his brother Luigi, trying to save a captured princess. The film can be watched on Amazon Prime.
Sound of Freedom
Sound of Freedom was an unexpected action drama based on a true story that messed me up. I was sad, angry, happy, and left with a feeling to take action by finding a way to help. It showcases a problem that has always existed but now with the internet, it has escalated to the point that it becoming invincible and that needs to stop.
Starring Jim Caviezel (Passion of the Christ/ Person of Interest) Sound of Freedom is the incredible true story of a former government agent turned vigilante who embarks on a dangerous mission to rescue hundreds of children from traffickers. The film delivers a strong message:
“God’s Children are not for Sale”
Ponniyin Selvan: Part Two
Ponniyin Selvan: Part Two (PS-2) the continuation of Part 1 is a feast for the eyes. The scale of this epic Indian Tamil-language historical musical action drama reminds me of Bahubaali. It is the film adaptation of the novel Ponniyin Selvan which I haven’t read. The story was initially intended for a single movie but was later split into 2 parts similar to KGF. The story is engaging and many characters will grab your attention. The cast consists of many popular Indian actors from various Indian film industries.
Jailer is an Indian Tamil-language musical action comedy film that made me cry and laugh. It stars Rajinikanth who is an important Indian movie star accompanied by many other popular Indian actors. There are several films within the film. There is a story about the family’s life, and the police work, and there is a comedy part that doesn’t seem to fit. I failed to feel the connection between father and son. What kept me engaged were the villains and the unexpected twists.
The first half shows the life of a retired jailer, Muthuvel Pandian, living with his family consisting of his wife Viji, his son Arjun, his daughter-in-law Swetha, and his grandson Rithu. His son is a police officer investigating an eccentric gangster who smuggles idols of gods and sells them to buyers overseas. The son gets killed. Muthuvel goes on a manhunt to find his son’s killers but the road leads him to a familiar, albeit a bit darker place. Can he emerge from this complex situation successfully? Jailer can be watched on Amazon Prime.
Jigarthanda Double X
Jigarthanda Double X is an Indian Tamil-language musical action drama film. It showcases how things were in the 70s in Tamil Nadu including the music and clothing style. The protagonist, Allius Cesaer the gangster, wants to be the first dark-skinned hero of Tamil Cinema by imitating Clint Eastwood’s Western movies.
It tells the story of a filmmaker who agrees to collaborate on a film with Cesaer who wishes to become a famous actor in 1975. The catch is that Cesear doesn’t act in the shooting scenes and the filmmaker isn’t there to make the film. While it looks like an action entertainer in the beginning, the film turns into a sobering drama that delivers a strong message about the abuse of power in small rural communities. But we all can relate to corrupt politicians that the films refer to as demons and the final message from Cesaer is too important and must be shared:
“When you all watch this movie in theaters, none of us will be alive. Similarly many forests, the animals in them, and many tribes like us, for the sake of a few selfish jerks, have been buried all at once. The power to dig out the truth is only in your hands. Confront those few demons in power who betray our trust and suck our blood. and for our sake just ask them this one question: ‘Oh, Rulers! Why?’“
I did not expect to be so engaged with the story. Cesear’s character development took a turn from showing him as the villain to making him a hero to the animals and his people. Jigarthanda Double X can be watched on Netflix in Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi with English subtitles.
Jawan is an Indian Hindi-language musical action thriller that units talents from the north (Bollywood) and the south film industries (Tollywood, Kollywood, etc). The film stars Shahrukh Khan, the greatest Indian romantic hero. The first Bollywood film I ever watched was Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Ghum, since then I started watching most of his films.
In Jawan, playing a double role, he becomes a vigilante showcasing a new character I’ve never seen him play before. He is working alongside many popular South Indian actors Nayanthara (Imaikkaa Nodigal, Thani Oruvan) and Vijay Sethupathi (Master) that I’ve grown to like. The story outlines the emotional journey of a man who is set to rectify the wrongs in society. The film showcases valuable relationships and family values, the journey to find justice, and the desire for the best for society. Jawan (extended cut) can be watched on Netflix in Hindi and Tamil with English subtitles.
Leo is for me the most entertaining film of this year alongside Jawan. Full disclosure, I’m a little biased because I admire how Thalapathy Vijay is as a human being and watched many of his films. Leo is an Indian Tamil-language musical action thriller inspired by A History of Violence. It’s the third installment in the Lokesh Cinematic Universe, Lokiverse, that I didn’t know about.
Apparently, there are 2 previous popular films, Kaithi and Vikram, that I missed and still have to watch. There are connections to the previous films that I missed in the story but that did not prevent me from enjoying the film. There are many mannerisms from Vijay’s previous films and his title track is from his 2021 film Master which I wrote extensively about.
Leo tells the story of Parthiban, a mild-mannered family man and cafe owner in Kashmir, who fends off a gang of murderous thugs and gains attention from a drug cartel claiming he was once a part of them. One of the main themes in the movie that stuck with me is the importance of giving a second chance. In the story, a wild animal was given a second chance because the people didn’t believe in killing it, they sedated it instead. If it was a Western story the animal would have been killed on the spot. Leo is available to watch on Netflix in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Hindi with English subtitles and there is also an English dubbed version.
So, this is my list for 2023. While Leo and Jawan were my favorite entertainers, Sound of Freedom and Jigarthanda Double X moved me in a way I did not expect. I still have many other movies to watch and I’m pending to write proper notes on the ones I watched. It has been a busy year with many life challenges but I’m happy to see that more alternatives are being produced and that people are opening up to see more foreign films such as Godzilla Minus One.
There are many interesting and entertaining movies and series to watch and books to read. You’ll find them if you keep looking.
Embracing foreign cinema as an alternative to Hollywood offerings represents a shift towards a more real inclusive and diverse cinematic landscape, not the fake one Hollywood tries to portray. I see more people are opening up to try something different compared to a few years ago. The attractiveness of diverse perspectives, the richness of storytelling, and the breaking down of language barriers contribute to the growing popularity of foreign films.
As audiences let’s continue to explore the vast world of international cinema to not only find entertainment but also a deeper connection to the global tapestry of human experiences. Hollywood will probably always be there but let’s open up to other cinematic adventures.