best foreign movies and tv streaming

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

One of the best movies of 2018 is streaming now, and it’s got good company in this week’s jam-packed Pop Culture Imports. I’ll admit that I occasionally struggle to populate this column, but not so this week. First, do yourself a favor and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s masterful Palme D’Or winner Shoplifters, then check out the other best foreign movies and TV streaming now, which include the Oscar-winning Iranian drama A Separation, the classic Stephen Chow martial arts comedy Kung Fu Hustle, the sensual Mexican fantasy Like Water for Chocolate, and the gripping German historical drama The Lives of Others.

Fire up those subtitles and let’s get streaming.

Best Foreign Movies and TV Streaming Now

Shoplifters (2018) – Hulu

Country: Japan

Genre: Drama

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Cast: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Kirin Kiki, Mayu Matsuoka.

Kore-eda Hirokazu‘s effortlessly empathetic film won the Cannes Palme D’Or for a reason —  Shoplifters is a vibrant, lived-in film that manages to keep its emotions at bay until they unwittingly sneak up on you and envelop you in their warmth. Shoplifters follows an unlikely family unit that revolves around the childless elderly woman, Hatsue Shibata (frequent Kore-eda collaborator Kirin Kiki in her final role), whose crowded house is home to day laborer Osamu (Lily Franky), his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), teen hostess club worker Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), and young runaway Shota (Jyo Kairi). Living off of Shibata’s pension and menial labor, the group subsidize the rest by shoplifting small items in a practice that becomes a perverse bonding ritual for Osamu and Shota in particular. But their odd family dynamic is thrown off balance when, on one of their shoplifting sprees, Osamu and Shota happen upon a young girl (Miyu Sasaki) left outside in the cold and decide to take her home. She easily folds into the flawed found family that Shoplifters both challenges you and invites you to love.

Watch This If You LikeThe Florida Project, Tokyo Godfathers, Beasts of the Southern Wild, crying on the beach so the salty waves can wash away your tears.

A Separation – Netflix

Country: Iran

Genre: Drama

Director: Asghar Farhad

Cast: Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi.

A series of bad decisions and misguided accusations snowball into a full-blown court case that exposes the deep rifts in Iranian class divisions in A Separation, which in 2012 became the first Iranian film to win a Foreign Language Oscar. There’s a kitchen-sink realism to Asghar Farhad’s Academy Award-winning film, which plays like an investigative thriller while offering an unflinchingly honest portrait of two families at odds. The events of A Separation begin to unravel when Simin (Leila Hatami) files for divorce with her husband Nader when he refuses to leave Iran to find a better life for their daughter due to his Alzheimer-suffering father. Though denied the divorce, Simin packs up and leaves the house, leaving Nader to seek out a caretaker for his father while he is at work, hiring a lower-class woman who finds herself unable to take care of the senile man due to her religion and her hidden pregnancy. Narratively complex and morally challenging, A Separation is a simmering boiler pot of a film waiting to explode, but when it does, it comes with little relief.

Watch This If You LikeDoubt, Kramer vs. Kramer, Ordinary PeopleAll or Nothing, the bitter cycle of class divisions and resentment.

Kung Fu Hustle – Netflix

Country: China

Genre: Wuxia gangster comedy

Director: Stephen Chow

Cast: Stephen Chow, Yuen Wah, Yuen Qiu, Danny Chan Kwok-kwan, Bruce Leung Siu-lung.

Only Stephen Chow can find that perfect cross-section between undeniably awesome and spectacularly stupid. Set in early 1940s China, Kung Fu Hustle is the martial arts comedy master’s magnum opus, the pinnacle of his weird signature stylings of cartoonish antics and operatic Chinese melodrama. Though not technically a satire of wuxia films, it effectively skewers the genre while paying homage to the sweeping, balletic martial films, all while pulling off antics only previously seen in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Kung Fu Hustle follows a bumbling thief named Sing (Chow) who wishes to join the powerful and dangerous Axe Gang, but must commit murder in order to do so. In the process, he finds himself in the middle of a conflict between the Axe Gang and the residents of the rundown Pig Sty Alley, where three kung fu masters secretly live. Chock full of crude slapstick and thrilling fight scenes, Kung Fu Hustle delivers the action and the jokes at a mile a minute. It’s dumb and bonkers, and one of the all-time great martial arts comedies.

Watch This If You LikeDrunken Master, Black Dynamite, Airplane, that part in a Looney Tunes cartoon where someone gets an anvil dropped on them.

Like Water for Chocolate (1992) – Hulu

Country: Mexico

Genre: Magical realism romance

Director: Alfonso Arau

Cast: Marco Leonardi, Lumi Cavazos, Regina Torné, Ada Carrasco, Mario Iván Martínez, Yareli Arizmendi.

Food and sex intertwine in Like Water for Chocolate, a Mexican fantasy film that is perhaps one of the truest realizations of the surreal literary genre. Based on the 1989 novel of the same name by Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate is a fable of a young woman named Tita (Lumi Cavazos) whose status as the youngest daughter in her family dictates that she must never marry to care for her mother. But a passionate, decades-long romance threatens to upend her family’s delicate balance. Probably one of the best food movies of all time, Like Water for Chocolate is not wanting for sumptuous food scenes, putting as much importance on the delicacies and spices of Mexican cuisine as it does on its rich characters and their tragic encounters. The movie is at its most magical realism when the talented cook Tita pours her emotions into her food, resulting in mass hysteria amongst the people who eat it, the surreal trappings of the genre invading this sensual, playful film.

Watch This If You Like: Amelie, Chocolat, Big Fish, pretending you’ve read the entirety of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The Lives of Others – Netflix

Country: Germany

Genre: Historical drama

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Cast: Ulrich Muhe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Tukur.

Voyeurism is a hell of a drug. In the case of The Lives of Others, it becomes a hell of a redemption vehicle for Ulrich Muhe‘s meticulous Captain Gerd Wiesler, an agent of the East German Secret Police known as the Stasi and a loyal and true believer of the socialist regime. The late Muhe gives a tour-de-force performance as the joyless bureaucrat tasked with spying on a celebrated East German playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his actress girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). But as he diligently reports on their every move, he finds himself beginning to grow sympathetic toward the couple, especially when he discovers that the surveillance was ordered by high-ranking official who lusts after Christa-Marie. Quietly chilling and exquisitely tense, The Lives of Others is a remarkable political thriller meets melodrama that stands apart from other Cold War spy movies for its compelling characters and fantastic performances.

Watch This If You LikeBridge of Spies, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Americans, all the sexy parts of The Americans.

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