Hollywood blockbusters are loads of fun, but sometimes we crave a film that goes against the grain, giving us less predictable characters, bolder premises and more intriguing conclusions.  A great way to experience that is to delve into the world of foreign films.

We're not talking the type that feature British ladies drinking tea and talking about the finer points of courtship and familial responsibility, though.

Today we focus on those flicks that are exciting, engaging and leave you wanting more.

'Time Crimes'

Country: Spain

Year: 2007

Why it's so good: The concentric-circle style of storytelling is confusing, sure, but it's also gripping. This ultra low-budget flick takes us through both the machinations and the implications of time travel, when a man is stuck in a loop of events and struggles to improve their outcome.  Over and over again we unravel the mystery along with him, as he attempts to save those he loves.  The result is an engrossing film that's well worth a repeat viewing.


Country: Belgium

Year: 2008

Why it's so good: 'JCVD' begins with an incredible, one-take action sequence that pretty much exceeds anything Jean Claude Van Damme has ever done. The scene is a highly meta, semi-fictionalized profile of the main character himself as he goes about his life in his home country of Belgium. Suddenly, he's kidnapped and held hostage during a bank robbery and must take out the bad guys and save the other hostages. He's not an action hero, he's just a regular man.  The movie is light-hearted at times, and dramatic at others.  JCVD's climax has nothing to do with judo chops or gunplay:  instead, it's a one-take, six-minute monologue that digs deep, showing a side that no one knew he had.

'Cell 211'

Country: Spain

Year: 2009

Why it's so good: This is the story of a prison guard who visits a prison he is scheduled to begin work at the next day when a riot breaks out, trapping him in a cell block and forcing him to pretend he's a fellow prisoner.  The deft storytelling, spot-on acting and tense situations make this a thrilling ride from start to finish.


Country: South Korea

Year: 2003

Why it's so good: 'Oldboy' is about a businessman who is held captive in a hotel room for 15 years with no human contact whatsoever, then left on a rooftop one day, a free man.  It's a great brain-teaser and that delivers the mother of all twists and one of the coolest fight sequences ever filmed in a single, lateral-moving shot.

'The Chaser'

Country: South Korea

Year:  2008

Why it's so good: How can you beat a plot about a pimp who goes out in search of his prostitute, after she's kidnapped by a serial killer?  'The Chase' has awesome, hand-to-hand combat, plenty of humor and of course, exciting chase scenes.  This is a multifaceted treat that will make you wonder if and when it will be adapted for American cinema.


Country: Germany

Year: 2004

Why it's so good: Not only has this movie spawned one of the best internet memes of all time, (remember this?) but it's also a well-acted, enthralling story about the end of WWII and Hitler's last days in his secret bunker, just before he committed suicide.  It's a oft-overlooked point of view that's both tense and intense.

'District 13'

Country: France

Year: 2004

Why it's so good: This action picture stars the inventor of Parkour (no, not that Parkour) and has incredible stunts, which are all completely CGI-free.  You really shouldn't need any other reason to see it.

'North Face'

Country: Germany

Year: 2008

Why it's so good: This harrowing thriller about two mountain climbers who attempt to climb the most dangerous rock face in the Alps in1936 is based on historical events. The film is done in a way that doesn't sensationalize any part of the story, giving it a gritty realism that really brings you into the story. The stakes are as high as the altitudes, and the vistas are as beautiful as the performances.

'The Guard'

Country: Ireland

Year: 2011

Why it's so good: Brendan Gleeson of '28 Days Later' and 'Gangs of New York' fame plays the protagonist: a loud-mouthed,racist cop who still manages to be worthy of our attention. The movie gallops along at a good clip toward a cool, somewhat ambiguous conclusion and despite its solid production values, The Guard has a definite indie feel to it.

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