Brazil is one of the most important centre of film production in South America, it just divided this position with its neighbour Argentina for many decades. The cinema in Brazil flourished after the introduction of sound, which added a linguistic barrier to the export of Hollywood film south of the border. Since then, the Brazilian film production passed through ups and downs during the XX century – sometimes becoming a strong industry, other depending on funds and legislation from Government to survive. For instance, in the 40s, the Brazilian audiovisual invented the “chanchadas”, a kind of low budget comedy musical movie that reached a great audience; or in the late 60s when the military Government created Embrafilme (Brazilian Film Department) to use the cinema production as tool to control the Brazilian state during the dictatorship. 

In the ’90s, the modern Brazilian film industry reborn when the democracy had re-established. It has become more profitable inside the country since then. Some of its productions have received prizes and recognition in Europe and the United States such as Central Station (1998), City of God (2002) and Elite Squad (2007) with a lot of fans around the world, and their respective directors Walter SallesFernando Meirelles and José Padilha, have taken part in American and European film projects. 

“Central Station” was nominated for 2 Academy Awards in 1999:  Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actress for Fernanda Montenegro, who became the first Brazilian, to be nominated for Best Actress. In 2003, “City of God” was nominated for 4 Academy Awards: Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. It was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. “Elite Squad” won the Golden Bear at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival.

Check out my special list of the modern Brazilian movies that the world must see:

20) O signo da cidade (The sign of the city) – 2007

While stars and planets move through the sky of São Paulo, randomly shooting their magic, men and women ask what will become of their dreams and desires. Gil is married and alone. Lydia flirts with danger. Josialdo was born to be a woman. Mônica just wants to do well in life. In her night radio show where she answers anonymous listeners, the astrologer Teca sees herself between her own problems and the wishes of others. Little by little, fate weaves everyone together in its own web. In the struggle to break their isolation and find the way to redemption, these people will discover the transforming power of solidarity.

19) O Auto da Compadecida (A Dog’s Will) – 2000 

A comedy movie, based on the 1955 novel called “Auto da Compadecida” by Ariano Suassuna. The movie tells the adventures of João Grilo (Matheus Natchergaele), a poor and lying country guy, and Chicó (Selton Mello), the biggest coward of men. They both fight for their daily food and living and go through several episodes deceiving everyone from the small village of Taperoá, in the backlands of Paraíba, northeast of Brazil. When they die, they are judged by the Devil, Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

18) O homem que copiava (The man who copied) – 2003

André (Lázaro Ramos) is a young 20-year-old man who works doing photocopy in stationery located in Porto Alegre, the south of Brazil. André lives with his mother and he has an ordinary life, basically living for his work, staying home and doing the same activities. André falls in love with Sílvia (Leandra Leal), his neighbour, who he observes using the binoculars from his room. Determined to get to know her better, André discovers that she works in a clothing store and, in order to get close to her, tries everything he can to earn R$ 38 reais (The Brazilian real, the official currency of Brazil) to buy a supposed gift for his mother.

17) Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad) – 2007

The movie shows the daily life of BOPE’s (Special Police Operations Battalion of the Rio de Janeiro Military Police) group of police officers and their captain (Wagner Moura), who wants to leave the corporation and try to find a replacement for his job before the Pope comes to Rio. At the same time, two childhood friends become policemen and stand out for honesty and honour in performing their duties, fighting against the corruption in the precinct they work.

Its sequel, called Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, was released in Brazil in 2010.

16) Cazuza: o tempo não para (Cazuza: Time doesn’t stop) – 2004

Cazuza is a dysfunctional, drug and booze addicted, homosexual that disrespects basic social rules and terrible and irresponsible son and man. He loves his freedom, his friend and singing with his garage band, Barão Vermelho. His career is built by chance because he needs to work and his father and president of phonographic industry Som Livre gives a job opportunity in his company as a simple employee. His talent is found by his direct chief Zeca, who convinces Cazuza’s father to release his album. In the top of his career, he leaves the Barão Vermelho and finds that he has Aids.

15) Quanto dura o amor? (Paulista) – 2009

Marina, a young woman from Sao Paulo’s country side, goes to the capital to follow her dream of becoming a great actress. An old downtown building called “Jaqueline Apartment” is her new home. In the struggle to succeed in the big city, she finds in her neighbors a new true family with whom she creates a strong bond.

14) O som ao redor (Neighbouring Sounds) – 2012

Life in a middle-class neighbourhood in present-day Recife, Brazil, takes an unexpected turn after the arrival of an independent private security firm. The presence of these men brings a sense of safety and a good deal of anxiety to a culture which runs on fear. Meanwhile, Bia, married and mother of two, must find a way to deal with the constant barking and howling of her neighbour’s dog. A slice of ‘Braziliana’, a reflection on history, violence and noise.

13) Cidade de Deus (City of God) – 2002

Buscapé (Alexandre Rodrigues) is a poor, black and very sensitive young man who grows up in the middle of a very violent environment. Buscapé lives at Cidade de Deus, a Rio de Janeiro favela known for being one of the most violent places in the city. Frightened by the possibility of becoming an outlaw, Buscapé ends up being saved from his fate because of his talent as a photographer, which allows him to pursue a career. It is through his look behind the camera that Buscapé analyzes the day-to-day life of the favela where he lives, where violence appears to be infinite. We also get to know Zé Pequeno – a sociopathic drug dealer who takes sadistic pleasure in killing his rivals since he is a kid – and Bené – Zé’s childhood friend and criminal, who dreams of living an honest life.

12) O céu de Suely (Love for Sale) – 2006

It follows Hermila (Hermila Guedes), a strong-willed young woman who leaves the big city of São Paulo with her infant son to return to her home town Iguatu, in the hot, arid hinterland of Ceará (Northeastern Brazil). It’s a poor village and life in Iguatu is simple, humble, uneventful, but unplagued by violence or famine. Hermila moves back into her grandmother’s modest house. Hermila is impatiently waiting for Mateus, her companion (and the father of her child), to join her. In order to get funds and get rid of her home town to start it again her life, Suely decides to raffle her own body.–

11) As melhores coisas do mundo (The best things in the world) – 2010

In São Paulo, 15-year-old Hermano “Mano” and his 17-year-old sensitive brother Pedro are deeply affected by the destruction of their middle-class family when his father, Horácio, leaves their mother, Camila. Mano is still a virgin and has a crush on Valéria, an easy girl that studies in his class, while Pedro is in love with Bia for whom he has promised eternal love. When Mano and Pedro find that their father is gay and that he is the adviser of his new mate Gustavo, they feel their world torn apart. Mano’s best friend is Carol, who has a crush on their Physics teacher, Artur, and they share their secrets. In their upper-class high-school, the schoolmates are afraid of the destructive “Blog of Dri Novaes” written by a snoopy mate. When Carol kisses Artur in a cafeteria things suddenly become more complicated.

10) Como nossos pais (Just like our fathers) – 2017

When Rosa’s mother makes a surprising disclosure to her one day, Rosa decides to break out of her usual obligations. In so doing she discovers that life holds many surprises in store for her.

9) O Ano Em Que Meus Pais Saíram de Férias (The Year My Parents Went on Vacation)  2006

In 1970, Mauro is a twelve-year-old boy who loves football. Suddenly, Mauro’s life changes completely when his parents, political activists, go on holidays unexpectedly and for no apparent reason. Mauro’s parents leave him in the care of a Jewish neighbour, old Shlomo. The film shows the marks of the Brazilian dictatorship in families under the perspective of a child in the 70s.

8) Praia do Futuro (Futuro Beach) – 2014

Donato works as a lifeguard at the spectacular but treacherous Praia do Futuro beach in Brazil; Konrad is an ex-military thrill-seeker from Germany vacationing with a friend. After he saves Konrad from drowning but fails to save his other friend, initial sexual sparks give way to a deeper, emotional connection. He decides to leave everything behind, including his ailing mother and younger brother, Ayrton, to travel back to Berlin with Konrad. There, he finds both confusion and liberation, and his journey for love soon turns into a deeper search for his own identity. Eight years later, an unexpected visit from Ayrton, brings all three men back together as they struggle to reconcile the pain of loss and longing, instinctively drawn to each other in search of hope and a brighter future.

7) Tatuagem(Tatoo) – 2013

1978. While the military coup that assaulted Brazil in 1964 starts to teeter, we follow a romance involving an 18 years old soldier and the cultural ringleader of an anarchist cabaret. Tattoo depicts the conflicts and reflections of a whole generation observed from a marginal perspective. Through the vantage point of the exception, the film elucidates the norm.

6) Terra Estrangeira (Foreign Land) – 1995

After the death of his mother, a young Brazilian decides to leave his country and travel to her native land, as she used to dream with, as an Spanish immigrant. In a foreign land, he finds love and danger as he meets a Brazilian waitress and takes smuggled goods with him in order to pay for his travel.

5) Bacurau (Bacurau) – 2019

Bacurau, a small settlement in Brazil’s remote backcountry, is shaken by the death of its elderly matriarch. But something strange is happening in the village, and there’s little time for mourning. The water supply has been cut off, animals are stampeding through the streets, and empty coffins are turning up on the roadside. One morning, the villagers wake up to find their home has disappeared from satellite maps completely. Under threat from an unknown enemy, Bacurau braces itself for a bloody, brutal fight for survival.

4) Aquário (Aquarius) – 2016

Clara, a 65 year old widow and retired music critic, was born into a wealthy and traditional family in Recife, Brazil. She is the last resident of the Aquarius, an original two-storey building, built in the 1940s, in the upper-class, seaside Boa Viagem Avenue, Recife. All the neighboring apartments have already been acquired by a company which has other plans for that plot. Clara has pledged to only leave her place upon her death, and will engage in a cold war of sorts with the company. This tension both disturbs Clara and gives her that edge on her daily routine. It also gets her thinking about her loved ones, her past and her future.

3) Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho (The Way He Looks) – 2014

This coming-of-age romantic drama tells us the story of Leonardo, a blind high school student who struggles with his independence, opposing his over-protective mom. When a new student, Gabriel, comes to his school, Leonardo starts to deal with new feelings, making him experience lots of new things about himself and his sexuality.

2) Central do Brasil (Central Station) – 1998

Dora (Fernanda Montenegro) writes letters to illiterates at Central do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro. Because the reports she hears and transcribes, we get to know a fascinating Brazil, a true panorama of the migrant population who tries to maintain ties with their relatives and their past. Ana is one of Dora’s clients. She comes to write a letter with her son, Josué (Vinícius de Oliveira), a nine-year-old boy who dreams of finding his father, who never met. Ana suffers an accident in front of the station and dies, leaving Josué by himself. Even unwillingly, Dora ends up hosting the boy at her house and taking care of him, developing a friendly relationship with him. She ends up by taking Josué into the northeast of Brazil and they both go looking for his father. 

1) Que horas ela volta? (The second mother) – 2015

Val is a housekeeper and nanny of a rich Brazilian family in São Paulo. She is from the northeast of Brazil and she went to Sao Paulo looking for a better life 10 years ago. She sends money home to pay for the care of her own daughter Jéssica, whom she has not seen for 10 years. Suddenly, Jéssica a smart, confident 19-year-old comes over to Sao Paulo to visit her mother. She is decided to apply for a public university place that Val employers’ son applied for too. Jessica stays in her mother’s employers house as a guest, sleeping in her mother’s tiny bedroom while Val looks for a place for them. Soon Jéssica presence in the house provokes bothers, envy and desires in her mother’s employers family. It comes up the subject of the class barriers that exist within the home are thrown into disarray.

I hope you enjoy the list and have an opportunity to watch them.