Since Labor Day Weekend is historically a lame box office weekend, it affords us a fine opportunity to look back at the year thus far rather than wait for box office results. Especially in terms of films that aren't usually spoken of in terms of box office. So let's look at two sets of baker's dozens: 2015'S FOREIGN LANGUAGE and DOCUMENTARY HITS.
How many have you seen?
Top Dozen of 2015 thus far
01 Bajrangi Bhaijaan (India) $8+
02 Baahubali: The Beginning (India) $6+
03 A La Mala (Mexico) $3+
04 Wild Tales (Argentina) $3+ Review
05 Dil Dhadakne Do (India) $3+
06 Tanu Weds Manu Returns (India) $3+
07 Clouds of Sils Maria* (France) $1+ Various Sils Maria Articles
08 Piku (India) $1+
09 Assassination (South Korea) $1+
10 Phoenix (Germany) $1+ Nina Hoss Interview
11 i (India) $1+
12 Timbuktu (Mauritania) $1+ Review, César Winners
13 Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Israel) $.9+ Review, Second Opinion
As we always see in the foreign charts in the past decade or so, Bollywood films continue to be solid imported hits without the benefit of any media attention whatsoever. That's what comes when you have distribution companies that cater to niche audiences and understand/market directly to them. This is surely what China Lion is attempting of late though they have yet to find as much regular support for Chinese language films. Aside from the Hindi language films, the top of the charts also painfully remind us that subtitled films have far teensier grosses even when they get breakout media attention than they once had. Wild Tales for example surely would have been at least a $13 million rather than a $3 million hit a decade ago. The chart also shows us that Oscar nominations help (see #4 and #12) but aren't necessary (see #10 and #13). 2015 hasn't yet had a breakout Oscar-headed hit like Ida from Poland last year (Phoenix was passed over for Oscar submission last year by Germany so it's been on its own without awards-buzz to find its audience. Happily, it's done just that). Sadly Sweden's sublime Oscar entry for this year A Pigeon Sat on a Branch... earned only $200,000 at the US box office. Maybe Labyrinth of Lies, Germany's submission, which opens September 25th can fill that semi-annual slot of foreign hit that doesn't wait for its Oscar fate to make a stir.
* I'm fudging to include Clouds of Sils Maria I know. It's surely ineligible for France's Oscar submission as its more than 50% English. If you remove it from the list, the film that enters at the lowest rung is The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared from Swedish director Felix Herngren. It earned nearly a million at the US box office but was a huge hit internationally with an additional $50 million!
Top Ten of 2015 Thus Far
01 Monkey Kingdom $16+
02 Amy $8+ Review
03 The Salt of the Earth $1+ Documentary Nominees Conversation
04 Iris $1+
05 The Wolfpack $1+ Review
06 Dior & I $1+
07 Meru $.8+
08 Red Army $.6+
09 Best of Enemies $.6+ Review
10 Cartel Land $.6+
11 Seymour: An Introduction $.6+ Review
12 Deli Man $.5+
13 The Hunting Ground $.4+
The list includes only one of last year's Oscar nominees The Salt of the Earth since most of them played in their correct calendar year. The big story beyond Disney's nature epic and the Amy Winehouse hit, is the success of Sundance Award Winners since The Wolfpack, Cartel Land and Meru were all hits in release. The late Albert Maysles (Grey Gardens) final full documentary feature Iris about eccentric fashion icon Iris Apfel was also well-received.
From this list we really expected Red Army to break out a little further as the Russian Olympic hockey documentary was quite entertaining and benefitted from a highly accessible international-interest storyline. If they hadn't waited for their Oscar nomination -- which they didn't get -- they might have fared better.
Here's a crazy colorful musical number from the year's #1 foreign language hit Bajrangi Bhaijaan starring Salman Khan called "Selfie Le Le Re"
When was the last time you saw a Bollywood film in theaters? Do you seek out the buzz titles from these categories?