Aaron Yap’s Top 20 film discoveries of 2022

Nobody does an end-of-year list like Aaron Yap. Take a look at his Top 20 film discoveries for 2022.

It’s that time of year when our intrepid cinema gem hunter, Aaron Yap, emerges from the coal mines of forgotten films with a wheelbarrow full of movies worth remembering. Here are 20 films from his 2022 movie-watching diary to add to your watchlist.

Such a Pretty Little Beach (1949)

A crumbling hotel, an empty rain-swept village, a desolate beach, a heaping of post-war trauma. This bleak shimmer of a film is a perfect entry point into Yves Allégret’s brand of poetic realism. Beautifully dreary stuff.

The Farmer (1977)

Legendarily hard-to-find at one stage, the long-awaited unearthing of this ‘70s revenge oddity on Blu-ray was well worth the wait. The 1940s period sets it apart from other similar war-vet-on-a-rampage fare of the era, but it’s also unusual enough to carve out its own grimy identity next to the likes of Rolling Thunder and Welcome Home, Soldier Boys.

Violet (2014)

Belgian filmmaker Bas Devos might be one of the greatest filmmakers around we aren’t regularly talking about. Slow-cinema mastery, unspooling a teenager’s navigation of grief against a sublimely hypnotic succession of haunting imagery that will take your breath away. Put Ghost Tropic on your watchlist too.

Der Fan (1982)

Celebrity worship and obsession taken to some truly wild and deeply perverse places in this West German psycho-horror. Super-chilling descent into madness with a killer soundtrack. Still relevant. Even if you’re prepared, you’re not prepared for this.

The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950)

Superb little noir gem from sturdy B-picture operator Felix E. Feist (The Devil Thumbs a Ride), featuring wickedly plotty machinations and sweet San Francisco location shooting. Amazing wordless chase scene at the end is filled with grace notes that elevate the whole picture to another level. For my money, it’s up there with Blast of Silence’s climax for pure atmosphere.

The Maiden’s Tune (1973)

One of the two bonus shorts accompanying the disc of Serbian director Đorđe Kadijević’s Leptirica on Severin’s stunning folk-horror box-set. Brief, black-and-white Gothic transmissions from another world/time. Actually better than the main course.

Holy Emy (2021)

Assured, absorbing blend of immigrant story, body horror and religious mysticism. If the recent genre-bending audaciousness of Julia Ducournau and Anita Rocha da Silveira spoke to you, this promising debut feature from Greek director Araceli Lemos should provide a similarly distinctive tingle. Also a fresh, empathetic view of the rarely-portrayed Filipino experience in Greece.

Talking About Trees (2019)

Warm, likeably rambling, dryly funny doco following four retired Sudanese filmmakers literally trying, against all political odds, to keep cinema alive in their homeland. All-round delightful and touching ode to the communal movie-going experience, and the people behind the battles we never see. A wonderful reminder that Film Twitter exists in its own silly little bubble.

Cuadecuc Vampir (1971)

Totally otherworldly, ahead-of-its-time subversion of making-of documentaries. Cutting room floor shavings and behind-the-scenes snatches of Jesús Franco’s Count Dracula repurposed into an arrestingly spectral, multi-layered form of mythological deconstruction.

A Gentle Breeze in the Village (2007)

After rediscovering my love for Linda Linda Linda earlier this year, I went on a Nobuhiro Yamashita catch-up bender. This bucolic charmer, in particular, stayed with me. Just cosy, sleepy, peaceful. A leaf wafting in the air waiting for you to catch it.

Winter adé (1989)

Invaluable, eye-opening, unvarnished look into the lives of women—from factory workers to teenage runaways—in the days before the collapse of the GDR. An essential, remarkably candid feminist document.

The Ernie Game (1968)

Kaleidoscopic character study about an unstable, eccentric young man (Alexis Kanner) going nowhere fast in wintry ‘60s Montreal. Cool little Canadian obscurity with one foot in the French New Wave, the other in New Hollywood. Watch out for an appearance by Leonard Cohen.

Slither (1973)

James Caan died the day after I watched this. The kind of road movie caper they don’t really make in this specifically loosey-goosey way anymore. One of Caan’s breeziest performances.

Le Trou (1960)

Jacques Becker masterpiece. Quietly exhilarating display of process and detail, with a soul-shredding ending that’s unexpected yet powerfully fitting. Probably the greatest prison break movie ever.

Microhabitat (2017)

The weighty expectations of society and the crushing effects of capitalism versus the simple pleasures of cigarettes and whiskey—a tale as old as time! A tender, wise, devastating debut from Jeon Go-woon. You won’t forget Miso soon.

Buck and the Preacher (1972)

Barrier-busting Black-centred Western balances clever humour and brisk action into a deft buddy flick. A rambunctious ride from start to finish, and the chemistry between Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte is undeniable. Poitier directed the hell out of this—his directorial debut. Deserves to be in any conversation that invokes Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

The Yellow Sea (2010)

Diabolically savage neo-noir beast from Na Hong-jin (The Chaser, The Wailing) pulses with incredible, kinetic action and a fierce, primal urgency. That one chase scene in the middle left my jaw hanging.

The Stairway to the Distant Past (1995)

The second installment in Kaizo Hayashi’s Maiku Hama trilogy is more surreal, stylish and darker than the first, The Most Terrible Time in My Life, but its inclusion here is just more of a prompt for this criminally underseen private eye series to get remastered on Blu-ray so more people in the world can see it.

Apostle (2018)

Almost exactly what you’d expect from the director of The Raid movies taking a stab at a folk-horror period piece. Big-swinging lunacy that unfortunately got buried in the heyday of Netflix’s content-spending rush.

Love Me Deadly (1973)

Genuinely strange movie—the sole effort from director Jacques Lacerte—about a woman with daddy issues who develops a penchant for kissing fresh corpses at funerals. Less extreme and graphic than it sounds; best approached like a demented TV soap opera with outrageous tonal shifts.