Even though 2012 failed to bring me true masterpieces, it was not only a year of exciting discoveries but also a happy reconnaissance with old favorites. To make sure this recap isn't just a shameful copy of my own top 10, I'm going to stick with listing the best films I've seen for the first time this year. The following list of films is meant to be a good reminder for regular readers and a wealth of tips for those just passing by. For more inspiration, check the previous editions: 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008
10. Usagi Drop
Hiroyuki Tanaka (Sabu) returns with a slick and polished, yet sweet and heartfelt little drama. If the main characters had failed to engage the film could've turned out to be be a sentimental monstrosity, but Matsuyama and Ashida are perfectly cast to bring this feel-good drama to a satisfactory ending. It may not be the return to form that many have been hoping for, but Usagi Drop a great little film nonetheless.
09. Norwegian Wood
Norwegian Wood is probably one of famed writer Haruki Murakami's best-known novels, but it's Anh Hung Tran's mastership that makes this film truly special. Superbly directed and orchestrated, Norwegian Wood is a dark and brooding drama that takes its time to flesh out its characters and bolsters the pent-up tension to deliver a strong punch in the gut during its beautiful finale.
08. First Time
If you ever wondered what a Taiwanese romance film would look like when led by a Chinese director, look no further. Chinese cinema is reinventing itself and it's peeking at neighboring countries for inspiration. The Taiwanese influences are abundant, still Yan inserts enough of his own ideas to make First Time a perfect little marvel. And right when it feels as if the film is becoming a little too mushy for its own good, Yan twists the story around and balances drama and romance like a seasoned director.
Shinya Tsukamoto returns without another gem. No cyberpunk or outlandish plot devices this time around, instead we get a very intimate and intense drama about a girl that struggles with her own mental balance. This doesn't hold Tsukamoto back from applying his usual audiovisual trickery though, making for a very special and unique combination of style and substance, one that warps you right inside the mind of the film's main protagonist.
Megane is without a doubt the most chill film I've watched this year. If the highpoint of a film is a scene where the main characters are enjoying an ice cream on the beach you're either dealing with one of the most boring films ever or a true masterpiece. Lucky for me Megane turned out to be the latter. If you want a mini-vacation without leaving the comfort of your own chair, Ogigami's film is a certain bet.
Christoffer Boe is back with a drama-turned-horror film. Beast is a vicious romance where passion and love turn into obsession and hate. The film looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous (what else did you expect from Boe) and delves deep into the hidden abysses of the human soul. If you're not satisfied with what I have to say about the film, make sure to check my interview with Boe on Beast for more insightful answers.
04. Beyond The Black Rainbow
Usually I'm not a big fan of these 60s/70s revival flicks, but Cosmatos' Beyond The Black Rainbow easily transcends its influences. Every single shot is a mesmerizing marvel, the film oozes atmosphere and sports a mysterious and challenging storyline. It's a shame the ending doesn't match the quality of the rest of the film, but that's just a small blip that hardly takes away from the stunning beauty that came before.
03. Xing Kong
2011 was the year of the big break-through for Taiwanese cinema. While not the absolute best Taiwan had to offer, Xing Kong is definitely one of the finer projects coming from Taiwan last year. A frivolous, stylized and quirky little adventure with strong child actors and a strong plot that charms from start to finish. And extremely accessible to boot.
02. Lee's Adventure
Lee's Adventure carries on the current high of Chinese cinema. It's a sprawling mix of different media and art forms, all mixed together to create one of the most entertaining films of the year. It's modern film making at its best, detached from stifling dos and don'ts and happily finding its own way into the market. Brace yourself for an action-packed film that leaves room for a little romance and a lot of surprise and wonder.
01. Heruzu Enjueruzu
My absolute favorite of 2012 is a film that was first released in 2009. After only a few screening at festivals, Heruzu Enjueruzu remained on the shelves for 3 years until it was finally released on Blu-Ray this year. The film is an insane mix of crazy animation (think Dead Leaves or Redline) with a biblical plot. It's weird, freaky and completely insane, but also an inspirational bombshell that leaves you gasping for air. This is how I like my anime.