Here’s a quick list of interesting smaller movies that I can recommend.
L’Auberge Espagnole: International students in Barcelona; Audrey Tatou has a small role.
To Rome with Love: Three separate stories of life in Rome, with mostly Italian actors and a few American ones (Alec Baldwin); directed by Woody Allen. (And, of course, there’s also Midnight in Paris, Allen’s ode to Paris which is wonderful.)
The Tourist: Sad sack American teacher (Johnny Depp) falls for Angelina Jolie in Paris, follows her to Venice; supposedly a thriller, but it’s so ridiculous it operates as a comedy; great photography. Full capsule review here.
Chocolat: Single mother with interesting talents opens a chocolate shop in small town in France; with Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin and Johnny Depp; obviously inspired by Like Water for Chocolate.
Bread and Tulips: Italian housewife gets abandoned in restroom on family trip, decides to hitchhike to Venice.
L’Ultimo Bacio (Last Kiss): Young Italian men go for one last fling before they settle down; the American remake with Zach Braff is not bad
Soul Kitchen: Young restaurant owner in Hamburg tries to revamp his restaurant. Full capsule here.
Mostly Martha: Hard-driving German chef suddenly finds herself responsible for her 9-year old niece when her sister, the girl’s mother, is killed in a car accident; don’t get the horrible American remake with Catherine Zeta-Jones, No Reservations.
Bride and Prejudice: Jane Austen meets Bollywood; better than it sounds.
Like Water for Chocolate: Mexican woman discovers her cooking can transmit the emotions she felt while making them
Love Actually: Ensemble comedy about love at Christmastime; has just about every British actor not otherwise occupied in a Harry Potter film (Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, …)
Possession: American literature professor discovers long-lost love letters of supposedly stuffy Victorian poet; the modern love story (Aaron Eckart/Gwyneth Paltrow) plays off nicely against the 19th C one. (Jeremy Northam / Jennifer Ehle)
One Day: Young English couple are drawn to each other, but decide to stay just friends and meet once a year; Anne Hathaway is pretty good, despite her dreadful British accent
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: Yemeni prince wants to fish for salmon in the desert; Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor want to help; more of a fable than a real-life story, but charming nevertheless; look for Conleth Hill (GOT’s Varys) as McGregor’s work colleague – with hair.
The Wedding Banquet: When gay Chinese man living in New York learns his parents are coming to visit, he asks a female friend to pose as his fiancée; early Ang Lee
Interesting Foreign Movies
I’ve Loved You So Long: Kristen Scott Thomas as woman released from prison after serving time for murder tries to rebuild her life; more life-affirming than it sounds
My Fathers Glory/My Mother’s Castle: Provencal family saga from the early 20th C to current day; based on stories of Marcel Pagnol; casts Provence in a romantic light
Jean de Florette/Manon of the Spring: Provencal family saga from the early 20th C to current day; based on stories of Marcel Pagnol; covers similar ground to Fathers Glory/Mothers Castle, but darker view of life
A Very Long Engagement: Audrey Tatou as woman who loses her boyfriend in WWI, but becomes convinced that her fiancé is still alive, suffering from amnesia
Bob le Flambeur: Dapper gambler gathers a group of 11 guys to raid a casino for one last score; if it sounds like Ocean’s 11, that’s because that both US films were based (very loosely) on this 1956 French original; in black-and-white
Persepolis: Animated film about a young girl growing up in Iran during the revolution; she escapes to Paris and tries to rebuild her life; in black-and-white
Ridicule: Brilliant 18th C social satire masquerading as comedy; with Fanny Ardant
Monsieur Lazhar (in French): Algerian refugee in Montreal becomes a substitute teacher for a 4th grade class
The Lives of Others: Stasi agent wiretaps successful East German author, begins to identify with him
All About My Mother: Woman wants to meet theater actress she idolizes; wonderful shots of Barcelona
Volver: Woman who discovers her husband is a jerk takes matters into her own hands; with Penelope Cruz
[many more Almodovar if you like these]
Best of Youth: TV miniseries which follows several young Italian men from their college days in the 1960s to the current day; 40 years of Italian social history
Dirty Pretty Things: Strange goings on in London hotel; staff, mostly illegal immigrants, struggle with whether to go to police; Audrey Tatou has a small role
The Unbearable Lightness of Being: Womanizing Czech doctor becomes political dissident after Russian invasion of 1968; Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin before they were famous
Eat Drink Man Woman: Widowered master chef communicates with his three grown daughters by cooking for them; early Ang Lee, with great cooking scenes
Lemon Tree: Palestinian widow on the West Bank makes a modest living selling her lemons until the Israeli defense minister moves in next door and wants to cut down her trees; a metaphor for the last 40 years of Israeli-Palestinian relations
The Namesake: Young Indian-American tried to discover his roots; with Kal Penn
Gritty Foreign Films
Battle of Algiers: Classic film about attempts by the French to fight terrorists in Algeria
Le Prophete: Young Muslim Frenchman in French prison
Widow of St. Pierre: A man commits a murder in a remote French-owned island off the coast of Canada in the mid-19th C; while they’re waiting for a guillotine to be delivered, the townspeople form a relationship with the murderer; based on a true story; with Juliette Binoche
Waltz with Bashir: Animated film about a guy who wants to discover the truth about the Sabra/Shatila refugee camp massacres