There's no escaping it. Another year is coming to an end and so I've been pretty busy compiling my list of the 10 best films I've watched this year. 2016 didn't differ that much from the previous ones. I watched a lot of crap, but there was also plenty of magnificent, inspiring and uplifting cinema. I won't be dragging out the introduction too much, but if you're wondering what films made it the previous years, here's a quick recap that might be helpful: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.
10. Umimachi Diary (2015)
Hirokazu Koreeda is back to his former self. Umimachi Diary is a very welcome addition to Koreeda's oeuvre, at least for those who prefer his mellower side. Not that the film lacks drama, but ultimately Umimachi Diary is more about the gentle, laidback, summery vibe that permeates its every single frame. It comes warmly recommended, though I'd suggest you keep it for a pleasant spring evening or warm summer day to get the most out of it.
09. Bai Ri Gaobie [Zinnia Flower] (2015)
Tom Lin Shu-Yu returns with a more solemn endeavor. Bai Ri Gaobie is a film about loss and mourning, inspired by personal tragedy. It's going to be a change of pace for fans of Lin's previous films, but in the end quality prevails and Lin slowly reveals a strong, moving and intricate drama about the process of mourning. Well-acted, beautifully stylized and very pure, Lin's third feature only strengthens his status of one Taiwan's most promising talents.
08. Hana to Alice Satsujin Jiken [The Case of Hana & Alice] (2015)
I didn't quite know what to expect from Shunji Iwai's return to the world of Hana & Alice. Iwai's previous feature was a pretty severe flop and I didn't quite get why he was turning Hana to Alice Satsujin Jiken into an animation feature. Turns out there was nothing to worry about. This prequel turned out even better than the first film. It's a smart blend of animation and traditional live-action drama that keeps its intentions hidden until the second half of the film, but delivers in spades if you allow it its freedom. Welcome back Mr Iwai.
07. Ten no Chasuke [Chasuke's Journey] (2015)
Hiroyuki Tanaka (SABU) is back to his old self. After Usagi Drop and Miss Zombie, Ten no Chasuke is his third gem in a row. It's a vintage Tanaka though, meaning it's not the most coherent of films as Tanaka still gets side-tracked quite easily. But if you're used to his style of film making, Ten no Chasuke holds plenty of genius. it looks magnificent, it's original and it entertains from start to finish. And any film that reunites Ren Osugi with Susumu Terajima deserves an extra accolade.
06. Soredake [That's It] (2015)
Closing off the list of directors returning to their former glory is Gakuryu Ishii. Even though he changed his name (from Sogo to Gakuryu) to break with his (cyber)punk past, Soredake is a film that feels like a mix of his old and new persona. The film takes its inspiration from a punk song and Ishii revisits his energetic style of filming, but he also throws in some novel elements. The result is an explosive combination of everything that made and makes Ishii great.
05. III [III - The Ritual] (2015)
If you need proof that films don't really need a big budget, look no further than Pavel Khvaleev's III. This young Russian DJ/producer is a self-thought director, but delivers one of the most impressive horror/mysteries of the past few years. Wildly imaginative, visually gorgeous and creative in its solutions to deal with its limited budget, the film is a testament to how vision and talent can make up for lack of funding. An amazing film and I'm happy to report that Khvaleev is already working on his next film.
04. Pusong Wazak! [Ruined Heart] (2014)
When Tadanobu Asano signs up for a Pan-Asian project, you better take notice. Luckily for me Third World Films did, otherwise I would've completely missed Khavn's Pusong Wazak! With the help of Christopher Doyle behind the camera and Asano in the lead, Khavn delivers a classy, off-center and fizzling film that defies description. It's pretty experimental and freeform, but I'm quite certain that those with a taste for originality won't be disappointed.
03. Shoto Pisu [Short Peace] (2013)
It took me a while to finally catch up with Shoto Pisu, but boy was it worth the wait. I'm pretty big on anthology projects, especially when they're comprised of anime shorts. Somehow these films always end up being a playground for trying out new and original styles of animation. Shoto Pisu is no exception. It's bloody gorgeous, really creative and offers plenty of variety. None of the shorts are disappointing, with the final one being just absolutely mind-blowing.
02. Hardcore Henry (2015)
Remember the insanity that was Crank (and its sequel)? You've been craving something equally insane and adrenaline-inducing? Well, it's Russia to the rescue. Ilya Naishuller delivers the most manic actioner in years. Entirely shot from a first person perspective, this blend of action, scifi and fantasy thunders on from start to finish. It's probably a bit much for some people and if you're looking for a solid plot there won't be much here for you, but those yearning for an immersive rollercoaster ride will find themselves overwhelmed.
01. Kizumonogatari I: Tekketsu-hen (2016)
Japanese animation is going through some rough times, but there are shimmers of hope. Kizumonogatari is a film not unlike Furi Kuri. There is no fixed visual style, no obvious storyline, but there is a rhythm and a deeply rooted passion for creativity and originality. The film may be a bit easier to grasp for those who saw the preceding TV series, but they are by no means a prerequisite to enjoying this 64-minute long work of art. And best of all, there are two more films in the works.