The Berlin Film Festival is one of the oldest movie festivals in the world, yet for some reason it doesn’t cause the same level of buzz as other European gatherings like Cannes and Venice.
Berlin has one hell of a track record when it comes to its award winners. We gathered up 20 masterpieces that rocked the festival and that everyone needs to see.
This 140-minute long-take heist movie hits you like nothing you've ever seen before. Part romance, part action thriller, “Victoria” is an immersive landmark, constantly surprising as its stakes grow insanely high. Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen won a Silver Bear at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival for his contribution to the film.
It only takes a couple of minutes of watching Sebastián Lelio’s “Gloria” to realize why Paulina García won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival. Her radiant turn as a 58-year-old divorcée re-discovering what it means to be happy makes your heart feel alive. She fills the screen with female complexity that’s all too rare.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” came on strong at the start of 1995, world premiering to acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival and then winning the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 45th Berlin International Film Festival. Linklater would repeat this exact one-two punch with “Boyhood” in 2014.
Often considered the crowning achievement of Ingmar Bergman’s film career, “Wild Strawberries” won the Golden Bear for Best Film at the 8th Berlin International Film Festival. Its exploration into human existence still sets the high bar for introspective cinema, and it inspired generations of iconic filmmakers to come.
Sidney Lumet’s masterful debut feature won the Golden Bear at the 7th Berlin International Film Festival, catapulting the first-time director into the global filmmaking spotlight. Nearly six decades later, this searing behind-the-scenes look at the American legal system continues to be relevant and revolutionary.
Mia Hansen-Løve won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival for this warm, funny and profoundly sensitive portrait of a woman letting go and learning to make new memories after an unexpected divorce. An extraordinary lead performance from Isabelle Huppert rivals her Oscar-contending work in “Elle.”
You probably know Miguel Gomes best as the director of the three-part Cannes epic “Arabian Nights,” but three years before his drama “Tabu” took the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival by storm. Told in two parts, the black-and-white drama follows two elderly women trying to find their recently deceased friend’s former lover. It won the Alfred Bauer Award, which is given to a feature film that opens new perspectives.
Paul Thomas Anderson has had quite the prosperous trips to Berlin over the years. His sprawling epic “Magnolia” won the Golden Bear at the 50th Berlin International Film Festival, while “There Will Be Blood” earned him the Silver Bear for Best Director in 2008. Composer Johnny Greenwood was also honored that year with a Special Artistic Contribution Award.
Being banned by the Iranian government from making movies hasn’t stopped Jafar Panahi from making one masterpiece after another. “Taxi” takes place entirely in a cab as Panahi drives around Tehran. His conversations with passengers bring viewers up close and personal with the country’s social challenges. It’s cinema at its most urgent and intimate, and it won the Golden Bear and the FIPRESCI Prize at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival.
Andrew Haigh’s devastating marriage drama “45 Years” was the darling of the 65th Berlin International Film Festival, winning lead actors Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay the Silver Bears for Best Actress and Best Actor, respectively. The film, which follows a married couple slowly come undone by a revelation from the husband’s past, packs a knockout punch that’s hard to recover from. The final scene, set to The Platters’ “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” gives Rampling a silent tour-de-force moment like no other.
Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” tied Paul Greengrass’ “Bloody Sunday” for the Golden Bear at the 52nd Berlin International Film Festival, but there’s no question as to which film has stood the test of time. The fantasy film introduced some of the most famous creatures in movie history (No-Face, anyone?) and won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
Holly Hunter’s performance as the career-driven and emotionally messy Jane Craig won her the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 38th Berlin International Film Festival. She’d go on to receive an Oscar nomination and win the same prize from the National Board of Review.
Few movies have the level of narrative brilliance that Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s “Adaptation” so easily possesses. The film uses Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book “The Orchid Thief” to imagine two parallel stories, one of which is the book itself and the other is the author’s struggle to adapt it into a feature. It’s still the best performance Nicolas Cage has ever given, and Jonze was awarded the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 2003 festival.
The first Iranian film to ever win the Golden Bear, Asghar Farhadi’s searing drama “A Separation” was by the far the masterpiece of the 61st Berlin International Film Festival, additionally winning the Silver Bears for Best Actress and Best Actor. It went on to win the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
You’ve probably never seen a period movie quite like “Aferim!,” for which Romanian director Radu Jude won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 2015 festival. Following a boorish Romanian lawman and his obedient son in the late 19th century as they track down an escaped Gypsy slave, the movie foregrounds the ugly sentiments of the feudal era that define its quest-driven characters while steadily humanizing them.
Mike Leigh’s splendid “Happy-Go-Lucky” features one of those breakout performances from Sally Hawkins that puts a smile on your face that doesn’t quit. Her infectious charm is impossible to resist, and she won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 2008 festival. We still haven’t forgiven the Academy for snubbing her.
“The Silence of the Lambs”
Bela Tarr’s final film is a philosophical powerhouse that won the Grand Jury Prix at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival. Shot in black-and-white and using a series of long takes, the movie imagines the life of the farmer who whipped his horse and caused Friedrich Nietzsche’s mental breakdown. The film depicts the farmer and his daughter’s repetitive life, gradually bringing their strife to the attention of every viewer with ambiguous power.