2022 was a rather tough year for film. Particularly in the last couple of months, I had some trouble unearthing first-watch personal favorites. On the rewatch side of things, I'm also knee-deep in the section of former favorites that are hit-and-miss, with quite a few of them disappearing from my master list. I'm not losing hope though, throughout the year there were still plenty of films that lived up to my expectations, so continuing my good tradition, here are the films that moved me the most in 2022. If you want to check the lists from previous years, you can do so here: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.
10. Happiness by Hiroyuki Tanaka
Don't be fooled by the title, this isn't one of Tanaka's lighter films. Though the premise sounds perfect for a fun genre flick and the first third of the film leaves you guessing, the middle part and the finale hit pretty hard. Nagase is outstanding, the cinematography is stylish, the soundtrack is exemplary, and the drama is captivating. Tanaka proves time and time again he's one of the most gifted and unique contemporary Japanese directors, which makes his somewhat lackluster international status that more frustrating.
09. Poupelle of Chimney Town [Eiga Entotsumachi no Puperu] by Yusuke Hirota
Studio 4°C's latest feature animation is a sprawling fantasy adventure that echoes Noiseman Sound Insect and Tekkonkinkreet, only targeted at a slightly younger audience. The animation is riveting, the art style imaginative and the pacing perfect. The plot is a bit basic and the soundtrack can get a little J-Pop centric, but these are just minor hiccups that didn't really get in the way of my overall enjoyment. Fans of animation (and 4°C in particular) will have a field day with this film.
08. Carter by Byung-gil Jung
A sprawling action spectacle. I'm not a big fan of South-Korean cinema, it often lacks focus and dedication, never quite pushing things as far as they should. Well, Carter breaks with that tradition. It's an action film that reminded me of Hardcore Henry. The single-take action is obviously stitched together, but the camera never stalls, the action is constant and the choreography is well over-the-top. The plot's a bit messy and not all performances are equally great, but if you're looking for an adrenaline-fueled action flick, there are few that can match the energy levels of this one. Had an absolute blast watching this.
07. Belle [Ryû to Sobakasu no Hime] by Mamoru Hosoda
Hosoda revisits Summer Wars and mixes in a royal dash of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Belle is no doubt one of his most ambitious films to date, blending different universes and loaded themes to create an epic fantasy adventure with a strong dramatic backbone. The visuals and soundtrack are absolutely grand, the voice actors do a terrific job and Hosoda finds a nice balance between fantastical grandeur and personal drama. It's a rather risky film and may divide audiences, but I feel Hosoda's bet paid off. His best film to date.
06. The Girl from the Other Side [Totsukuni no Shôjo] by Yutaro Kubo
A stunning indie animation that is reminiscent of Studio 4°C's Comedy and Mamoru Oshii's Angel's Egg. Based on a manga, director Kubo sculpts a magical realm that slowly reveals its secrets. The animation is a little limited, but the art style is magnificent, and the score is entrancing. The characters are both mysterious and loveable, and their relationship is both simple and complex. After a somewhat slower start, the film really comes into its own during the second half, building up toward a beautiful finale. I really loved this one.
05. Mad God by Phil Tippette
A film 30 years in the making. Mad God is special effects master Phil Tippett's passion project, and that passion shows. It's a weird, bewildering film that wasn't made with any clear commercial goal in mind, but people who love dark, nightmarish fantasy will no doubt find lots to love. The structure of the plot is needlessly convoluted, the music isn't quite on point and the live-action parts are a bit of a downer, but the stop-motion work is beyond impressive and the outlandish, freaky designs are dead gorgeous. A unique project that deserves all the support it can get.
04. Nowhere Girl [Tôkyô Mukokuseki Shôjo] by Mamoru Oshii
Though Nowhere Girl carries many of Oshii's usual traits, it doesn't quite feel like anything else he's made. Or anything any other director made for that matter. It's a film that starts off slow, gives ample hints that something is off, starts to feel like a pressure cooker halfway through, and then goes from 0 to 11 in less than two minutes, offering a sprawling finale. It's not the easiest sell, but if you don't mind a film that's a little different, be sure to give this one a go. Even if you don't end up loving it, I guarantee the finale will be memorable.
03. H4Z4RD by Jonas Govaerts
Jonas Govaerts proves he's more than just a talented genre nut. Cub was a great first film that showed his love for horror cinema, with H4Z4RD he delivers a stronger personal signature. It's a film that breathes 90s Antwerp, delivers a mix of dark comedy, weird crime, and crazy action, and sports a set of characters that is just beyond. I'm not sure how well this film will travel beyond Belgian borders, but the comedy is spot on, the soundtrack is killer and the pacing is perfect. H4Z4RD is a film that does everything at 200%, exactly the kind of cinema I live for.
02. The Midnight Maiden War [Mayonaka Otome Sensô] by Ken Ninomiya
Ninomiya strikes again. A slightly more narrative film this time, though he still finds plenty of time for mood-building and dramatic character exploration. He hasn't lost his knack for stylistic excellence either, which all comes together in a majestic finale. Ninomiya is by far the most undervalued and neglected director working in Japan these days, probably because he does things just a little differently and writes characters that are a little outside the (cinematic) norm. The Midnight Maiden War is just more proof that he is overflowing with talent.
01. Till We Meet Again [Yue Lao] by Giddens Ko
Giddens Ko finally makes good on his potential. He's been one of the most promising figures in Taiwanese cinema this past decade, but there were always minor details that kept his films from becoming personal favorites. This sprawling contemporary fantasy sees him taking the next step. The lovely cinematography, the solid performances, the creative plot, and the excellent direction turn this film into a real event. The minor flaws are still there, only now they're overshadowed by all the greatness. A lovely surprise, hopefully, Ko can continue on this level.