With 2015 coming to an end, let's do the "best of" thing again. The rules haven't changed: this list is not about production year, instead it's a rundown of the 10 best films I discovered this past year. If for whatever strange reason you've missed some of my reviews, here's your chance to catch up. And of course, for reference, I'm also including all the posts from previous years: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.
10. Mei Gaau Siu Nui [May We Chat] (2014)
Mei Gaau Siu Nui was one of the biggest surprises of the year. Hong Kong isn't known for its contemporary dramas, Philip Yung demonstrates it's not an issue of quality. In a world that is connected through phones, three young girls are reaching out to each other. Beautiful cinematography, strong acting and a dose of edgy drama make for a great film putting Hong Kong's youth culture front and center. They could use more more films like this one over there.
09. Horsehead (2014)
It wasn't a great year for horror cinema, but at least there's light at the end of the tunnel. Romain Basset is one of France's emerging talents and he delivers a spectacular genre piece. Horsehead is a little vague and not straight-forward enough to be a run of the mill horror film, but the added mystery is more than welcome and the presentation is absolutely stunning. Here's to hoping Basset's next film will be every bit as entrancing.
08. Watashi no Otoko [My Man] (2014)
Last year Kazuyoshi Kumakiri resurfaced with a gritty, edgy and overall impressive film. Rising star Fumi Nikaido appears next to Tadanobu Asano and shines in this icy, understated drama. Kumakiri touches on quite a few taboo subjects and doesn't pull his punches, making for a twisted yet humane package. It's probably not for everyone, but if you're into harsh and relentless Japanese dramas you simply cannot pass this one up.
07. Alléluia (2014)
When Fabrice du Welz made Calvaire he put Belgian horror on the map. With Alléluia he returns to the roots of his first success. While not a sequel, the film is part of an ongoing trilogy set in the Ardennes, featuring Laurent Lucas as the main lead. The film has a rather slow start but purposely builds up to a dark, vile and disturbing finale. It's not your typical horror film, yet the impact is one most horror films can only dream of.
06. Lost River (2014)
When I read Ryan Gosling was directing a film I wasn't immediately interested. I liked Gosling in his early days, but I felt he made a few less than favorable career choices since then. Yet after hearing Benoît Debie was on board to handle the cinematography, I couldn't help but seek this one out. And a good thing I did, because Lost River is mysterious, atmospheric and beautifully shot. It may a little disjointed and vague, but that's actually works in the film's favor.
05. Si Fei [Guilty] (2014)
While Jill Wong's oeuvre mostly consists of domestically targeted comedies, she's actually a protégé of Oxide Pang. Looking at Si Fei that suddenly becomes very obvious. A fantastically shot, well acted and aptly scripted drama/thriller, Si Fei is without a doubt one of the highlights of Hong Kong's recent output. Hopefully Wong will continue in this direction, because this film is infinitely better than her usual work.
04. Kawaki [The World of Kanako] (2014)
Tetsuya Nakashima rebranded himself. From the colorful world of Pako to Maho no Ehon and Shimotsuma Monogatari to his recent violence and revenge-driven films, it can be a little challenging to recognize the hand of the old Nakashima. What remained is Nakashima's keen eye and his minute attention to detail. Kawaki may be a raw, energetic and hostile film, Nakashima is always in control over what is shown and how it's being shown. Kawaki is one hell of a ride, but not for the squeamish.
03. Tokyo Tribe (2014)
2015 was the year of Shion Sono and what better way to honour him than including one of his 2014 films. International distribution of Japanese films remains a total disaster. Anyway, Tokyo Tribe is Sono's completely demented crime/action/musical movie and what a joy it is. Several different hip hop clans battle it out in one big fight for control over the city. Riki Takeuchi is the perfect bad guy and even though Tokyo Tribe crosses over on Miike's turf several times, it's a film nobody with a taste for the exceptional should miss out on.
02. Rairu Onigokko [Tag] (2015)
But wait, there is more Sono! Rairu Onigokko is one of the six films Sono released in 2015 and while I haven't seen the other ones, this one will be quite difficult to top. From the crazy opening to the dazzling ending, I was hit with the rare feeling of not knowing where the film was going. Sono hides the clues remarkably well and keeps you guessing until the very end, all of that without an actual twist to speak of. This is Sono at his very best.
01. Gokudo Daisenso [Yakuza Underground] (2015)
But the best film I've seen this year comes from the uncontested master of bafflement. Gokudo Daisenso is Miike at the top of his game, two hours of weirdness and nonsensical voodoo balled up in one single film. And then there is the frog. Easily one of the most memorable characters in years, even though it doesn't have any actual dialogue. It's hard to believe, but even after 70+ films Miike still knows to surprise. Maybe not the easiest Miike to recommend, but fans owe it to themselves to seek this one out.