Good German Movies

Monday, November 30, 2009 at 7:00 am

There are plenty of good German movies available if you know where to look. Fortunately, I do, and that’s why I’ve put together this list for your convenience. From political dramas to stylistic horror, our friends near the Baltic Sea have been turning out cinematic goodness since the early days of Wiene, Murnau, and Lang. So if you’re looking to explore the wonderful world of good German movies, here are a few to keep in mind.

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The Baader Meinhof Komplex (2008) – Taking place in Germany during the ’60s and ’70s, this film deals with a young group of radicals devoted to keeping fascism from ever rearing its ugly head again. But as their methods become increasingly violent, where does heroism end and terrorism begin? Based on a true story, the film drew raves from critics and created a firestorm of debate in Germany. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) – Werner Herzog puts his own spin on the classic silent vampire film, Nosferatu (1922), and he casts none other than insane German actor Klaus Kinski in the lead role. Isabelle Adjani makes a striking Lucy Harker, and keep an eye out for Bruno Ganz years before he received international acclaim for playing Hitler in Downfall. The story has a number of twists and turns that casual vampire fans won’t see coming, and Kinski’s powerful performance demonstrates why he continued to find work despite his anger management issues.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) – If you’re looking for really old school horror with plenty of German Expressionism thrown in, be sure to check out this silent masterpiece from director Robert Wiene. Dr. Caligari and his sleepwalking henchmen, Cesare, are committing murders as their carnival travels through the mountains of Germany. When a couple of do-gooders start snooping around, you know a reckoning can’t be far off. Beautiful visuals, especially for a film made in 1920, and a twist ending that’s more than satisfying.

Good Bye Lenin! (2003) – When a East German woman comes out of a coma brought on by a heart attack, her loving son must do everything in his power to keep her from getting excited. Chief among these tasks includes keeping her from finding out about the recent re-unification of Germany. The laughs increase as the movie goes on, including efforts to hide the presence of a newly-opened Burger King and recreate defunct East German news programs. A touching story about how far we’ll go to protect the ones we love.

Das Boot (1981) – If you’re going to see one film about naval combat, then this Wolfgang Petersen movie is the one to see. Jurgen Prochnow heads a cast which revolves around the adventures of a German U-boat during World War II. From launching torpedoes at enemy ships to evading the lethal bombs of fighters, the crew of U-96 do their duty in the face of constant peril and mind-numbing tedium. The original uncut version is over four hours long, while the theatrical cut clocks in at 2 1/2 hours. But whatever the length, it’s one helluva entertaining film.

The Lives of Others (2006) – The winner of the 2007 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, The Lives of Others features the late Ulrich Muhe as Gerd Wiesler, an East German officer assigned to spy on a playwright (Sebastian Koch) suspected of having Western sympathies. Wiesler starts out as entirely unsympathetic, but his character undergoes a metamorphosis as he listens to the private conversations between the playwright and his circle of friends. The final scene is one of the best I’ve seen in recent years, and Wiesler’s closing line will stick with you for quite a while.

Run Lola Run (1998) – A movie about choices and their profound effect on our lives, Run Lola Run stars Franka Potente (and her beautiful red mane of hair) as the girlfriend of a low-level hood who’s went and lost a large sum of cash intended for the local crime boss. With only 20 minutes to replace the lost cash, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Lola each embark on a number of manic schemes, but the film distinguishes itself by giving Lola the power to start the events over when the outcome doesn’t suit her. This leads to the same 20-minute period playing out with numerous outcomes, and it marks one of the most inventive visual feasts in foreign cinema. If you’re looking for good German movies, you’ve just struck paydirt.

M (1931) – The first sound film from director Fritz Lang, M deals with subject matter you wouldn’t expect from a film made in the ’30s. Peter Lorre would lock himself into villain roles for years to come with his portrayal of Hans Beckert, a serial-killing pedophile fond of whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” But as Beckert searches for his next victim, both the cops and the criminal underworld are busy tracking him down. Way ahead of its time, M unfortunately remains all too relevant in this dangerous modern world.

Wings of Desire (1987) – This is the film that inspired the crappy 1998 American remake, City of Angels. Fortunately, Wings of Desire bears little resemblance to that stinker. Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) are a pair of angels who watch the human population of Berlin. But when Damiel begins falling for a lonely trapeze artist, he suddenly longs to be human. Luckily, nobody gets run over by a damned logging truck in this one, and Peter Falk even appears as himself (and as an angel, to boot).

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) – Another pairing between director Werner Herzog and actor Klaus Kinski, this film concerns a group of conquistadores heading down the Amazon River. Among them is Lope de Aguirre, a power-mad psychopath who dreams of finding the lost city of El Dorado and establishing a kingdom to rival the powers-that-be. As the group is whittled away due to violent natives, the deadly jungle, and Aguirre’s own treachery, madness begins to take hold of the survivors. Kinski is at his manic best, and the minimal storyline really allows him to show off his acting chops. This was the first collaboration between Kinski and Herzog, and four more films would follow.

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If you enjoyed this list of good German movies, why not sample some more cinema from around this great planet of ours?

This entry was posted on Monday, November 30th, 2009 at 7:00 am and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “Good German Movies”

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March 21, 2010


Watch Sonnenalle! Its an hilarious movie about teenagers in the DDR.

March 22, 2010


Thanks for the recommendation, Julia.


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