It's that time of the year again! For the 6th time in a row I'll be looking back at the past film year, delving up the movies I enjoyed the most. Once again I won't be limiting myself to just recent films, instead I'll run down a list of 10 films selected from every single movie I watched in 2013. And if you happen to be interested in the previous lists ... well here you go: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008
Even though many people consider this Takeshi Kitano's return to form, I found Autoreiji quite difficult to compare to his older Yakuza films. Where his older films are largely driven by characters and comedy, Autoreiji focuses heavily on clan dynamics. It's a stone cold Yakuza flick that features many of Kitano's typical traits, but as a whole feels like a different type of film altogether.
09. Sekai De Ichiban Utsukushii Yoru
Daisuke Tengan's Sekai De Ichiban Utsukushii Yoru was one of the biggest surprises of the year. I went in blank, knowing only of Tengan's involvement in some of Takashi Miike's films (as a writer), but was happy to find a film of a headstrong director. A juicy dash of absurd comedy mixed with some darker segments, but ultimately feel-good and pleasant. It's not a film that eases you in smoothly, but invest in the first half and the second part is a joy to behold.
08. Sumagura: Amae No Mirai O Hakobe
Takashi Ishii returns to the weirdness of his earlier films. Gone are the sweet-natured undertones of his later work, Ishii unleashes the freak in him once more. Nagase and Ando shine in this outlandish yet fun crime flick based on a popular manga. There are no hidden layers, no subtexts or subtle analogies, Sumagura is a piece of die-hard entertainment that fulfils its promise from start to finish.
07. Ikiterumono Wa Inainoka
Sogo Ishii reinvented himself. Quite literally that is, as he changed his name to Gakuryu Ishii. With this new name goes a new style of film making. Ikiterumono Wa Inainoka is a unique film, dialogue-heavy, humorous and difficult to compare to other films. It's a first-time film made by a seasoned director. The result is nothing less than amazing, as long as you're willing to let go of Ishii's old self.
06. Boku To Tsuma No 1778 No Monogatari
You may be forgiven to think Boku To Tsuma No 1778 No Monogatari is just another overly long Japanese drama about a young couple battling illness. The inconspicuous poster and the looming 140-minute running time kept me at bay for quite a while. But 5 minutes into the film I realized I got it all wrong. The film is overflowing with charm and wit. It's an amazingly warm and feel-good drama that sets itself aptly apart from a slew of generic competitors.
05. Luan Qing Chun
Two years ago I was blown away by Lee's Hetun, with no new film in sight I figured I could just as well travel back in time. Luan Qing Chun is a superb Taiwanese drama, if you look closely you can already see the foundation of the leap Taiwanese cinema was going to make in 2011. It's not the easiest film to get into, with some weird time jumps to throw the viewer off guard, but the pay-off is tremendous as you get to know the different characters.
No doubt the biggest surprise of the year. I'm not a big Cuaron fan and up until that point I had been an avid 3D hater. But Gravity finally showed the world how 3D is supposed to be done. It's a mesmerizing film that needs to be experienced in a theater, the first 45 minutes in particular are mind-blowing. Once the storyline picks up and Bullock starts her little adventure there's a noticeable drop in quality, but as a whole the film is one of the must-see experiences of the year.
03. Yi Dai Zong Shi
When I first heard Wong Kar Wai was working on a new martial arts epic I avoided all the film's promotional material like the plague. Not because I wasn't interested, but because I knew from the very start that I just had to see this film. Kar Wai didn't disappoint. Even though there is too much cut from the film (making the story terribly disjointed) the audiovisual mastery is absolutely breathtaking. I hope a full cut will be released later on, but as it is this film contains some of the best looking martial arts scenes ever put on film.
02. Petaru Dansu
Hiroshi Ishikawa returns with a new film. It's only his third full-length feature film in 12 years, but the other two belong to my undisputed favourites. So yeah, expectations were pretty high. The first half hour is somewhat of a downer (although still pretty good), but once the characters start their road trip the old Ishikawa magic returns and what follows is one of the most beautiful dramas ever conceived.
01. Heruta Sukeruta
Ninagawa's second feature is nothing less than sublime. Tackling the hollow depths of pop culture (and its all-consuming industry), she paints two full hours of jaw-dropping, stunning sequences that follow the rise and fall of a Japanese idol. Every frame is laden with visual detail, the styling is simply impeccable and the acting (props to Sawajiri) top notch. The perfect follow-up to Ninagawa's Sakuran and no doubt the best film I've seen this year.