Last Friday, Dinner for Schmucks, directed by Austin Powers director Jay Roach and starring Steve Carrel, Paul Rudd, and Zack Galifianakis opened to an estimated $23.3 million. The comedy follows Tim (Rudd) who is able to find the perfect guest, Barry (Carrell), for his boss’s monthly event, “dinner for idiots.” What many people don’t know is that this film is a remake of the French film, The Dinner Game (Le dîner de cons), written and directed by Francis Veber. So, for my very first list on this site, I decided to get my film snob on and talk about the best remakes of a foreign film. I am also not including Twelve Monkeys because a) it is such an obvious pick and b) La Jetée, the film that inspired it, is so different in so many ways, that it would be hard to consider it a remake when comparing it to the other films on this list.
Based on Ringu (1998)
While The Ring is probably responsible for the tired trend of remaking J-Horror films in America, it is still a very scary film and one that became somewhat of a cultural phenomenon when released. Gore Verbinski proved that you could make a PG-13 horror film without any real violence and still make it terrifying. The original Ringu is very good but has a rushed conclusion that hampers the film. It is also inherently rooted in Japanese culture and doing a shot-for-shot remake in America would make the film lose a lot of it’s impact. Instead Verbinski’s faithful remake is able to transplant the story to America, while offering some legitimate scares. The film benefits from it’s American feel (especially with the way it deals with journalism and divorce) and it is also responsible for turning Naomi Watts into a bona fide movie star.
Based on L’ultimo bacio (2001)
Tony Goldwyn’s overlooked and underrated gem is a surprisingly frank film about relationships. It is based on L’ultimo bacio (One Last Kiss), a romantic comedy that was quite successful in Italy. Goldwyn’s film takes a far different approach than Gabriele Muccino;s original which is a lot sillier and broad. While it does have some serious scenes, the tonal shifts are quite awkward. The Last Kiss also stars Zach Braff, in what might be his best performance, in the leading role of Michael, who is engaged to be married to his longtime girlfriend, who happens to be pregnant. This, along with his fear of commitment and growing up, leads him into an affair with a college student (Rachel Bilson). Even though it is faithful to the original’s story, the film leans more to the drama than the comedy and Paul Haggis’ script is just as smart as it is bleak.
Based on Infernal Affairs (2002)
The Departed, is not only one of Martin Scorsese’s strongest films but it was also one of the best films of 2006. Scorsese is able to balance the demands of remaking a film while making a “Scorsese Picture.” There are scenes in the film (mainly the famous scene when Billy Costigan spots Colin as the mole), which are shot-by-shot reproductions of Infernal Affairs, and other scenes that feel completely fresh and new. The performances are all excellent, particularly DiCaprio stepping into the Tony Leung’s role from the original, and Mark Wahlberg, who rightly got a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars.
Based on Insomnia (1997)
The red headed stepchild of Christopher Nolan’s filmography, Insomnia is actually one of Nolan’s best and most acclaimed films. I think the reason it has received that status is because (with the exception of his two Batman films), it is easily the most straightforward and accessible film he has done. It stars Al Pacino, in what might be his last great performance, as a sleep-ridden detective who goes to Alaska to solve a brutal string of murder and Robin Williams in a chilling performance as the main villain.
Based on Fingers (1978)
I thought this list was for foreign language remakes of American films? Yet the French film The Beat that My Heart Skipped is a remake of James Toback’s American film Fingers. The United States is a foreign country in France, least we forget. Audiard’s film is a much better film and let me explain before I get accused of being a film snob and siding with the artsy pretentious foreign film; Audiard’s film is by far the more accessible and straightforward of the two. I felt that Toback’s film, while daring and ambitious, was kind of a mess. It is worth seeing for the performances by Michael Gazzo and Harvey Keitel but the film has many plot holes. Audiard’s film does strip the story of some of it’s ambition (although a lot of the themes that Toback was grappling with are still there in the subtext) but it delivers a really powerful punch and the result is an effective French thriller. Also worth mentioning is Romain Duris’ performance which is just as good as Keitel’s making him an actor to look out for.
- Joshua Youngerman