best foreign movies and tv streaming

(Welcome to Pop Culture Imports, a column that compiles the best foreign movies and TV streaming right now.)

New year, new foreign movies and shows to add to your ever-growing queue! If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to become more cultured, then look no further than Pop Culture Imports, where I recommend all the best titles you can watch with subtitles. But it’s not all European arthouse films — this week we have an array of movie and TV shows of all genres, including Guillermo del Toro‘s masterful dark fairy tale Pan’s Labyrinth, a harrowing and human political drama about a former Uruguayan president’s years in prison, a wacky video game anime, a lavish K-drama set in Spain, and a quiet Estonian-Georgian anti-war film.

Now let’s fire up those subtitles and get streaming.

Best Foreign Movies and TV Streaming Now

Pan’s Labyrinth – Netflix

Country: Mexican/Spanish

Genre: Dark fantasy

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Ariadna Gil, Álex Angulo.

Guillermo del Toro’s haunting, twisted masterpiece is a dark fairy tale that will sear itself into your mind more than any of your childhood boogeymen. Gorgeously crafted and shockingly brutal, Pan’s Labyrinth is like taking a trip through the Mexican director’s weirdest nightmares — or maybe his most vivid dreams, considering del Toro’s love for the baroque. Set in 1944 Spain, the film follows 11-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) as she and her mother travel to a remote countryside home where her sadistic new stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi López) is leading a mission to hunt down republican rebels. Ofelia soon stumbles on a nearby stone labyrinth, where she meets the titular faun Pan who, believing Ofelia to be the reincarnation of an underworld princess, orders her to complete a trio of life-threatening tasks. The grim realities of its war-torn backdrop lend an extra layer of horror to Pan’s Labyrinth, which is as transporting as it is terrifyingly real.

Watch This If You LikeThe Shape of WaterLegend, Edward Scissorhands, The Black Cauldron, experiencing Guillermo del Toro’s lucid dreams.

A Twelve-Year Night (La Noche de 12 Años) – Netflix

Country: Uruguay

Genre: Political drama

Director: Álvaro Brechner

Cast: Antonio de la Torre, Chino Darín, Alfonso Tort, César Troncoso, Soledad Villamil.

Early life biopics of present-day political figures can often be a slog, or at the very list a laundry list of inspiring moments — not so with A Twelve-Year Night. Harrowing and deeply human, the film chronicles the imprisonment of former Uruguayan president Pepe Mujica during the military dictatorship that ruled the country through the 1970s and ’80s. A Twelve-Year Night maintains a very narrow field of vision, closely following Mujica and the other two Tupamaro (a left-wing urban guerrilla group) prisoners who were held as “hostages” between 1972 and 1985.As the three prisoners are hauled from one remote jail cell to another, they descend further into prisons of their own making, only saved by the knowledge that they are within each other’s reach. But the film isn’t only a grim prison drama — A Twelve-Year Night offers some tonal reprieve with occasional bits of humor and surreal, dreamlike sequences that get downright Malickian.

Watch This If You LikeThe Shawshank Redemption, A Prophet, Kiss of the Spider Woman, democracy.

Hi Score Girl – Netflix

Country: Japan

Genre: Anime comedy series

Director: Yoshiki Yamakawa

Cast: Kazuyuki Okitsu, Daiki Yamashita, Daria Mido, Satomi Arai, Shizuka Itou.

Anime is having its own nostalgia revival too, and nothing better represents that than Hi Score Girl, the latest Netflix original anime that is essentially a love letter to the fighter games of the ’90s. A very niche subject, I know, but Hi Score Girl revels in that specificity. Part sports anime, part romance, part offbeat I-don’t-know-what, Hi Score Girl feels like a throwback on multiple levels — in its wholly unlikable protagonist, in its wacky and nonsensical structure, and in its semi-satirical self-aware approach to the totally niche cult around the Street Fighter gamesHi Score Girl follows sixth grader Haruo Yaguchi, a slacker who pours all his energy and passion into video games, as he discovers that his wealthy, smart, and popular classmate Akira Ono is a fellow gamer. After she humiliates him in Street Fighter II, he sets out to beat her and put her in her place. Yeah, this kid is horrible, but the show is hilarious and completely off-the-wall in a way that’ll make you breeze through all 12 episodes.

Watch This If You LikeWreck-It Ralph, FLCL, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, watching your cousins play Street Fighter over their shoulder.

Tangerines – Hulu

Country: Estonia/Georgia

Genre: War drama

Director: Zaza Urushadze

Cast: Lembit Ulfsak, Elmo Nüganen, Mikheil Meskhi, Giorgi Nakashidze.

A morality drama with a strong anti-war message to tell, Tangerines rarely comes across as proselytizing or preachy — rather, its strengths are in the compassionate performances by its four leads. Set in 1992 during the growing conflict between Georgia and Abkhazian separatists in the wake of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, Tangerines follows two Estonian immigrant farmers who have decided to remain in Georgia to harvest their tangerine crop, despite being abandoned by their families long ago. But soon they find themselves in the crossfire of two groups of Georgian soldiers and Abkhazian separatists, whose clash kill all but two, who the dignified Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) take in and nurse back to health. But the two soldiers he’s taken in are a Georgian soldier and a Chechen mercenary, who vow to kill each other once they regain their strength. But under the watchful eye of Ivo, the two begin to respect and warm to each other, and all four men reach a level of touching camaraderie. While the film is a a little slow-moving and boasts messages we’ve seen before, the strong central performances and poignant ending makes this anti-war film worth the watch.

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Memories of the Alhambra – Netflix

Country: South Korea

Genre: Fantasy/sci-fi/romance series

Director: Gil Ho Ahn

Cast: Hyun Bin, Park Shin-hye, Park Hoon.

Netflix’s latest K-drama export is a lavish sci-fi/fantasy/romance series that follows a tech CEO (Hyun Bin) as he chases a deal for a groundbreaking AR game about medieval battles in Alhambra — which, naturally, leads to him striking up an unlikely romance with a spunky hostel owner (Park Shin-hye). The pair of them get entangled in a mysterious incident involving the immersive AR game, which blurs the line between reality and the fantasy world of the game. Set mostly in the sun-dappled Granada, Spain, Memories of Alhambra looks and acts like a high-budget series: focusing more on aesthetically-pleasing shots than story. But it sure does look pretty and the chemistry between CEO Yoo Jin-woo and hostel owner Jung Hee-joo is pretty cute, even if they fulfill well-worn K-drama archetypes. (The male lead is rich! And a jerk! And he’ll be reformed by the poor girl!) The K-drama industry keeps trying to find their next Goblin, and while Memories of the Alhambra may not quite reach the heights of that stunning fantasy-romance, it gets pretty close.

Watch This If You LikeGoblin, Ready Player OneFull House, playing Fortnite for way too long.

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