The Kid with a Bike (Belgium): Another neo-realist, near-masterpiece from Belgium's Dardennes brothers, this achingly poignant but wholly grounded and vivid drama tells the story of an 11 year old boy who has been sent packing off to an orphanage by his father, a wayward cook who just cannot handle child-rearing. The determined boy is like an abandoned cat who keeps searching for and returning to the owner who longer wants him--which sounds utterly tragic but along the way the boy experiences compassion and empathy from other beleaguered adults who try to help him as best they can, despite his headstrong nature. There are moments of abject joy, along with the sorrow, and it remains indellibly real from start to finish. One cannot help but leave the film in a state of complete connection to humanity. Despite how pretentious that sounds, this is realistic, simple (but not simplistic) storytelling at its finest. Do not miss it.
I Wish (Japan): Hirokazu Koreeda's follow-up to his beautifully sad Nobody Knows once again returns to the kids point of view, if (slightly) more upbeat. This sweet, wistful film is about two brothers who are separated by their parents' divorce and one of them is determined to reunite them--even if without mom and dad (who have their own problems). Full of gentle humor borne out of character, I Wish meanders a bit and takes its time but is ultimately rewarding. Also integrates Japan's train system into the plot, and will delight anyone interested in the island nation's geography. Simple but the film rings utterly true--thanks in no small measure to the performances of the lead children.