1. Hidden (2005) by Michael Haneke.
A married couple in France is terrorised by a series of anonymous surveillance videotapes left on their front porch which allude to memories of the husband’s childhood. Haneke strikes again in his ability to scare the bejesus out of the viewer without really presenting a threat. There were times when I wouldn’t blink, shift myself or pick up my drink for fear that I may have a heart attack at any time. This was my first experience with this director, and certainly wasn’t my last.
2. A Bittersweet Life (2005) by Jee-Woon Kim.
A loyal hotel manager/enforcer is asked by his crime boss to kill his girlfriend’s lover. Daring to defy him, his actions lead to terrible personal consequences, setting in motion a cavalcade of blood, violence and mayhem. This is a must-see from masterful, yet diverse, South Korean director Jee-Woon Kim.
3. Lady Vengeance (2005) by Chan-Wook Park.
After 13 years of false imprisonment for the kidnap and murder of a six-year-old boy, the beautiful, yet ruthless, Geum-Ja Lee wreaks havoc on the man who was actually responsible for the boy’s death. This is the third installment in Chan-Wook Park’s vengeance trilogy and is my personal favourite. What’s not to like – she is relentless, vindictive, utterly disturbed, and yet you can’t take your eyes off her.
4. Ichi the Killer (2001) by Takashi Miike.
As a sadomasochistic yakuza enforcer named Kakihara searches for his missing boss, he stumbles across Ichi, a repressed and psychotic killer who may be able to inflict levels of pain of which Kakihara has only dreamed. Straight off the bat, if you have a weak stomach or are easily shocked, this may not be the film for you. This is as explicitly violent and extreme a film as you are ever likely to see. Then again, it is a Takashi Miike film, so you should be expecting the worst.
5. La Femme Nikita (1990) by Luc Besson.
Convicted felon Nikita, instead of going to jail, is given a new identity and trained, stylishly, as a top-secret spy/assassin. You just can’t go far wrong with a film that has Luc Besson at the helm as well as a beautiful, seductive femme fatale as the main protagonist.
6. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) by Guillermo del Toro.
In the fascist Spain of 1944, the imaginative, whimsical stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into a mysterious, fantastical world. With only a handful of films under his belt at the time, del Toro proves, with Pan’s Labyrinth, why he is going to be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come.
7. The Lives of Others (2006) by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.
In 1984, East Berlin, an agent of the Stasi (secret police), whilst conducting surveillance on a writer and his lover, finds himself becoming increasingly absorbed by their lives. Before seeing this film, I had limited knowledge of everyday life in East Germany during this period, not quite realising the extremes to which the Stasi went in order to ensure its civilians remained true and proper to its society’s values. This film provides some truly remarkable performances and is an insightful, powerful thought-provoker.