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What Is the Best American Remake of a Foreign-Language Film? — Critics Survey

In honor of "Sleepless," or perhaps in search of a better alternative to it, critics name films that benefited from the Hollywood treatment.

Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys

“12 Monkeys”

Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: In dubious honor of “Sleepless,” a new Jamie Foxx vehicle that’s been adapted from Frederic Jardin’s “Sleepless Night,” what is the best American remake of a foreign-language film?

Joshua Rothkopf (@joshrothkopf), Time Out New York

Long before I knew and appreciated Jean Renoir, I was in love with “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” a 1986 comedy based on “Boudu Saved from Drowning” that peppered the flow with some truly eye-opening ideas for Hollywood: class warfare, unequal police treatment, a neurotic dog with its own therapist. The movie holds up beautifully — it’s one of Nick Nolte’s quietest performances, and one of Richard Dreyfuss’s least oily — and I’m still reckoning with my hunch that it’s better than the Renoir. Pretty sure it is.

Alissa Wilkinson, Vox (@alissamarie)

It’s a tie between “The Departed” and “Let Me In” for me. Both movies were able to successfully transpose their predecessors — movies rooted in a culture in very particular thematic and symbolic ways — into an American context that also feels like they could have just sprung from American culture itself. And I enjoyed both as much or more than the originals, which is no small feat.

Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko), Pajiba/Nerdist

“Twelve Monkeys.” I know. It’s kind of a cheat to pick a feature-length film inspired by a French short film (“La Jetée”). But here we are. It’s one of the few American adaptations of a foreign film that justifies its own existence outside of box office. Terry Gilliam took the seed of Chris Marker’s trippy time-travel tale, and spun it into a world that felt uniquely his own, full of wild characters, grime and color. It’s a film that’s beautiful, bizarre and bittersweet. And so damn compelling it’ll lure me in anytime I spot it channel surfing.

Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse), Freelance for Vulture, Rolling Stone, the Verge

William Friedkin has repeatedly insisted that his nerve-flaying “Sorcerer” directly adapts Georges Arnaud’s 1950 novel “The Wages of Fear” and not the masterful 1953 film from Henri-Georges Clouzot. But for the purposes of this exercise, I’ll go right ahead and ignore that, because few films have made such an agreeably lateral move from their overseas counterparts. The existential despair hung a little thicker in Clouzot’s picture, but Friedkin more than picks up his own slack with unbearable raw tension. The fraught journey to transport a shipment of nitroglycerine through the South American jungle can make a viewer break a sweat without getting off the couch. The bitter realization that life has no value, that’s just gravy!

Christopher Campbell (@thefilmcynic), Nonfics / Film School Rejects

The correct answer is probably “Some Like It Hot,” but I will just mention some favorites, including the underrated comedies “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” which I consider the movie that most represents the 1980s for me, and “Quick Change,” which is a brilliant New York odyssey that I’ve been a fan of for too long before knowing it was even a remake. My subjective choice is “Twelve Monkeys,” if it even counts as a remake and not just something “inspired by” Chris Marker’s “La Jetee.” It’s an adaptation unlike I’ve ever seen, taking a uniquely poetic experimental sci-fi film and turning it into a mainstream but intelligent and visually masterful entertainment.

David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich), IndieWire

Few people know that “True Lies” was based on a foreign film, and James Cameron’s 1994 blockbuster feels like such a sui generis masterpiece that even fewer people would ever assume that it wasn’t completely original. And yet, the fact remains that the movie was adapted from Claude Zidi’s 1991 action comedy “La Totale!,” which — while little seen in the United States — boasts a very similar plot and an inarguably better title.

Keith Phipps (@kphipps3000), Uproxx

The first film that comes to mind is “The Ring,” which couldn’t exist without its Japanese inspiration, but makes it scarier, more intense, and more coherent. But I’ll always go to the mat for “Vanilla Sky,” Cameron Crowe’s self-described “cover version” of Alejandro Amenábar’s “Open Your Eyes.” The original’s terrific, but the way Crowe keeps the spirit of the original film while putting a personal twist on it never got the respect it deserved. Neither did the movie’s innovative soundtrack, which in its weirdest sections seemed directly inspired by the era’s fondness for mash-ups. Plus, this is the last real glimpse we get of what Tom Cruise could do outside of an action movie. It’s overdue for a reassessment.

Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker


Christopher L. Reed (@hammertonail), Hammer to Nail

Tough. Many good choices. Despite such options as “Some Like It Hot,” “Victor/Victoria,” “The Birdcage,” “The Ring,” and “Let Me In,” I am going for “12 Monkeys” for the sheer inventiveness of its adaptation of Marker’s experimental short.

Question: What is the best film currently playing in theaters?

Answer: “Moonlight”

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