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150 of the Best Chinese-Language Films of All-Time

I’ve been doing some cataloguing lately, trying to organize my books and movies and make some kind of plan for how I’m going to attack the Chinese Cinema over the next year or so. Three and a half years ago, I started a chronological Johnnie To project that, by design, immediately ballooned into a comprehensive exploration of Chinese-language film. In that time, I’ve made it seven films into To’s career and 327 films into China in general. It’s increasingly absurd to consider it To-specific, and I’d love to rename it (I never liked the name anyway) but the prospect of renaming and tagging all those old posts is daunting. Anyway, I’m hoping to spend this year taking a long look at Shanghai cinema of the 1920s-40s (at least as much as is available) and Hong Kong films of the 1950s. As well I’d like to catch up with the rest of the films I haven’t seen from Filipe Furtado’s letterboxd list of Favorite Hong Kong Films, which has served as an essential guide for me since the Summer of Sammo. And as I was thinking about where to go next, I thought it might be useful to sum up where I’ve been, and so here’s a list of 150 great Chinese films. The list is ordered chronologically.

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A Top 50 Films of 2016, More or Less

As I did last year and the year before, I’m making a Best of the Year list following the conventional system for what counts as a 2016 film, mainly the nonsensical and ahistorical system that decrees that critics may only consider movies to have existed once they have played for a week in a commercial venue in New York City, or, in a new twist this year, on a television or streaming service in New York. This is the system that claims my favorite film of 2013 (La última película), which played for a week in Seattle in 2014, can only be considered a 2015 film because that is when it finally got a New York release, although it played Los Angeles for the first time in 2016. Not to mention the absurdity that my favorite film from 1991, Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday, qualifies for this list, along with a 30 year old Edward Yang movie and an Apichatpong Weerasethakul movie I saw in Vancouver in 2012. But alas, we all must bow to convention, however silly, every once in awhile.

My 2016 list of course will never be finalized, as there’s no such thing as a final list here at The End: there are always more new movies to discover and old movies to reevaluate. But in a couple of weeks I’ll have the nominations up for the 2016 Endy Awards, with the winners to be announced during the Academy Awards ceremony. This list is a snapshot of my favorites of 2016 as they stand now, on the last day of the year.

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1. Only Yesterday (Isao Takahata)

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2. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)

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3. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman)

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4. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)

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5. Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke)

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6. Elle (Paul Verhoeven)

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7. Lemonade (Beyoncé Knowles & Kahlil Joseph)

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8. Things to Come Mia Hansen-Løve)

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9. SPL 2: A Time for Consequences (Soi Cheang)

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10. Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

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11. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)

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12. Sully (Clint Eastwood)

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13. Sunset Song (Terence Davies)

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14. The Love Witch (Anna Biller)

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15. The Terrorizers (Edward Yang)

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16. Three (Johnnie To)

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17. Kaili Blues (Bi Gan)

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18. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sangsoo)

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19. Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater)

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20. The Mermaid (Stephen Chow)

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21. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (Karan Johar)

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22. The Age of Shadows (Kim Ji-woon)

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23. Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick)

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24. The Thoughts that Once We Had (Thom Andersen)

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25. Mekong Hotel (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

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26. Hail, Caesar! (The Coen Brothers)

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27. Crosscurrent (Yang Chao)

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28. The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig)

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29. I Am Not Madame Bovary (Feng Xiaogang)

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30. The Shallows (Jaume Collet-Serra)

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31. Tower (Keith Maitland)

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32. Rogue One (Gareth Edwards)

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33. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson)

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34. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)

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35. Train to Busan (Yeon Sangho)

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36. OJ: Made in America (Ezra Edelman)

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37. De Palma (Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow)

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38. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)

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39. Short Stay (Ted Fendt)

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40. Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho)

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41. The Witch (Robert Eggers)

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42. My Beloved Bodyguard (Sammo Hung)

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43. A Train Arrives at the Station (Thom Andersen)

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44. The Wasted Times (Cheng Er)

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45. One Night Only (Matt Wu)

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46. Indefinite Pitch (James Kienitz Wilkins)

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47. SoulMate (Derek Tsang)

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48. Call of Heroes (Benny Chan)

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49. Garfunkel and Oates: Trying to Be Special (Riki Lindhome & Jeremy Konner)

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50. La La Land (Damien Chazelle)

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Books of 2016

2016 was the first time since I started writing about movies on the internet that I averaged less than one film watched per day, with somewhere around 320 movies seen over the course of the year. Some of that is schedule-related: my kids are at such an age that watching a single movie in one sitting is difficult, let alone the two or three per day I could squeeze in when they were less ambulatory. But some of that is also a shifting of priorities: I read (and finished) more books this year than I had in all my five plus years of parenthood put together. And since this is the end of the year, and since I love to make lists, here is a ranked list of all the books I read (and finished) in 2016:

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1. Where I Was From – Joan Didion

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2. Slouching Towards Bethlehem – Joan Didion

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3. A Death in the Family – James Agee

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4. Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

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5. Annals of the Former World – John McPhee

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6. The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin

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7. The Proud Tower – Barbara Tuchman

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8. Harmonium – Wallace Stevens

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9. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

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10. Lyrical Ballads – William Wordsworth & Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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11. The White Album – Joan Didion

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12. White Teeth – Zadie Smith

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13. The Souls of Black Folk – WEB DuBois

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14. Eminent Victorians – Lytton Strachey

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15. A Collection of Essays – George Orwell

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16. Meditations in an Emergency – Frank O’Hara

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17. Lady Susan – Jane Austen

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18. Salvador – Joan Didion

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19. Justine – Lawrence Durrell

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20. Violet Energy Ingots – Hoa Nguyen

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21. Kora in Hell : Improvisations – William Carlos Williams

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22. 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed – Eric Cline

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23. Love & Friendship – Whit Stillman

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24. The Silk Roads – Peter Frankopan

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25. A Galaxy Not So Far Away – Glenn Kenny, et al

The Best Older Movies I Saw in 2016

An annual tradition here at The End, this is a look at my favorite film discoveries of the year, any movie more than a few years old that I saw for the first time in 2016. Previous years include: 201520142013201220112010200920082007, and 2006. I watched 320 or so movies in 2016, less than one third of which qualified for this list. Here are 60 that I liked.

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1. Mahjong (Edward Yang, 1996)

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2. Love Exposure (Sion Sono, 2008)

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3. Canyon Passage (Jacques Tourneur, 1946)

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4. The Yakuza Papers (Kinji Fukasaku, 1973-74)

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5. Distant Voices, Still Lives (Terence Davies, 1988)

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6. School on Fire (Ringo Lam, 1988)

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7. Viva Erotica (Derek Yee & Law Ch-leung, 1996)

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8. Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2008)

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9. Isn’t Life Wonderful (DW Griffith, 1924)

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10. La bête humaine (Jean Renoir, 1938)

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11. The Long Day Closes (Terence Davies, 1992)

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12. Prospero’s Books (Peter Greenaway, 1991)

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13. Duelle (Jacques Rivette, 1976)

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14. Phantoms of Nabua (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2009)

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15. Sonatine (Takeshi Kitano, 1993)

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16. The Big Road (Sun Yu, 1935)

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17. Viola (Matías Piñeiro, 2012)

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18. Suicide Club (Sion Sono, 2001)

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19. Persuasion (Roger Michell, 1995)

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20. Swamp Water (Jean Renoir, 1941)

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21. Noroît (Jacques Rivette, 1976)

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22. The God of Cookery (Stephen Chow, 1996)

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23. Violent Cop (Takeshi Kitano, 1989)

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24. Dirty Gertie from Harlem USA (Spencer Williams, 1946)

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25. Cure (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1997)

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26. The Unchanging Sea (DW Griffith, 1910)

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27. Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001)

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28. La chienne (Jean Renoir, 1931)

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29. Burning Paradise in Hell (Ringo Lam, 1994)

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30. Hearts of the World (DW Griffith, 1918)

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31. Medicine for Melancholy (Barry Jenkins, 2008)

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32. The Golden Coach (Jean Renoir, 1952)

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33. Beyond Hypothermia (Patrick Leung, 1996)

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34. Under the Cherry Moon (Prince, 1986)

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35. The Bitter Stems (Fernando Ayala, 1956)

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36. The Stunt Woman (Ann Hui, 1996)

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37. The Anthem (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)

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38. The Razor’s Edge (Edmund Goulding, 1946)

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39. So Dark the Night (Joseph H. Lewis, 1946)

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40. Ebola Syndrome (Herman Yau, 1996)

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41. Viva (Anna Biller, 2007)

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42. Youth of the Beast (Seijun Suzuki, 1963)

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43. Looking for Mr. Perfect (Ringo Lam, 2003)

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44. Gates of the Night (Marcel Carné, 1946)

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45. Stage Door (Shu Kei, 1996)

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46. Wishful Drinking (Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato, 2010)

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47. Desk Set (Walter Lang, 1957)

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48. Bastards (Claire Denis, 2013)

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49. Death Duel (Chor Yuen, 1977)

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50. A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2009)

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51. Big Bullet (Benny Chan, 1996)

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52. The Flame and the Arrow (Jacques Tourneur, 1950)

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53. Young and Dangerous 3 (Andrew Lau, 1996)

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54. The Sorrows of Satan (DW Griffith, 1926)

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55. The Black Pirate (Albert Parker, 1926)

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56. Shanghai Grand (Poon Man-kit, 1996)

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57. Mysterious Object at Noon (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2000)

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58. Mismatched Couples (Yuen Woo-ping, 1985)

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59. The Fun, The Luck and The Tycoon (Johnnie To, 1990)

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60. Prison on Fire II (Ringo Lam, 1991)

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A Top 100 Films of All-Time

It is time once again for a Top 100 Films of All-Time list. As I’ve done for the last few years, the first ten spots on the list comprise a hypothetical Sight & Sound-style ballot. We had an on-going project related to this on The George Sanders Show, that will now be based at Seattle Screen Scene. This top ten is presented here in chronological order. The remaining 90 films were randomly selected from a consideration set of 867 films, which excluded films that made my Top Tens in 201220132014 and 2015.

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1. Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey, 1935)

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2. Hatari! (Howard Hawks, 1962)

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3. News from Home (Chantal Akerman, 1977)

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4. The Green Ray (Eric Rohmer, 1986)

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5. Peking Opera Blues (Tsui Hark, 1986)

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6. The Last of the Mohicans (Michael Mann, 1992)

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7. Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2001)

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8. Running on Karma (Johnnie To & Wai Ka-fai, 2003)

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9. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)

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10. Linda Linda Linda (Nouhiro Yamashita, 2005)

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11. The Last Movie (Dennis Hopper, 1971)

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12. Murmur of the Hearts (Sylvia Chang, 2015)

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13. Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk, 1956)

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14. Nomad (Patrick Tam, 1982)

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15. Run of the Arrow (Samuel Fuller, 1957)

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16. Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 1935)

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17. The Golem: How He Came Into the World (Paul Wegener & Carl Boese, 1920)

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18. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

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19. Wheels on Meals (Sammo Hung, 1984)

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20. Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997)

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21. The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch, 2009)

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22. Choose Me (Alan Rudolph, 1984)

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23. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)

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24. Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955)

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25. The Heroic Ones (Chang Cheh, 1970)

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26. What Time is it There? (Tsai Ming-liang, 2001)

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27. The Man Who Would Be King (John Huston, 1975)

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28. Hearts of the World (DW Griffith, 1918)

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29. Romancing in Thin Air (Johnnie To, 2012)

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30. There’s Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk, 1955)

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31. World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt, 2015)

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32. Written By (Wai Ka-fai, 2009)

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33. Big Night (Campbell Scott & Stanley Tucci, 1996)

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34. The Pan-American Exposition by Night (Edwin S. Porter, 1901)

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35. Battles Without Honor and Humanity (Kinji Fukasaku, 1973)

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36. Kiss Me Kate (George Sidney, 1953)

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37. Sixty Six (Lewis Klahr, 2015)

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38. Come Drink with Me (King Hu, 1966)

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39. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Jim Jarmusch, 1999)

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40. City Girl (FW Murnau, 1930)

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41. Fort Apache (John Ford, 1948)

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42. Night Across the Street (Raoul Ruiz, 2012)

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43. The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988)

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44. L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960)

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45. Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)

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46. Big Trouble in Little China (John Carpenter, 1986)

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47. Public Enemies (Michael Mann, 2009)

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48. Police Story (Jackie Chan, 1985)

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49. Friday Night (Claire Denis, 2002)

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50. Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allen, 1986)

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51. Exiled (Johnnie To, 2006)

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52. Romance Joe (Lee Kwangkuk, 2011)

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53. Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov, 2002)

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54. Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa, 1961)

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55. City on Fire (Ringo Lam, 1987)

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56. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)

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57. 24 City (Jia Zhangke, 2008)

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58. Prospero’s Books (Peter Greenaway, 1991)

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59. The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962)

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60. The Sword of Doom (Kihachi Okamoto, 1966)

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61. The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom (Adam Curtis, 2007)

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62. Shaolin Soccer (Stephen Chow, 2001)

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63. The Missing Picture (Rithy Panh, 2013)

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64. It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt, 2012)

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65. In Another Country (Hong Sangsoo, 2012)

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66. Toute la mémoire du monde (Alain Resnais, 1956)

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67. Kid Auto Races at Venice (Henry Lehrman, 1914)

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68. Wife! Be Like a Rose! (Mike Naruse, 1935)

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69. Culloden (Peter Watkins, 1964)

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70. Henry Fool (Hal Hartley, 1997)

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71. PTU (Johnnie To, 2003)

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72. The East is Red (Ching Siu-tung & Raymond Lee, 1993)

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73. Pom Poko (Isao Takahata, 1994)

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74. Hapkido (Huang Feng, 1972)

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75. Pickpocket (Robert Bresson, 1959)

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76. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)

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77. Dangerous Liaisons (Stephen Frears, 1988)

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78. Chinese Odyssey 2002 (Jeffrey Lau, 2002)

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79. This is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984)

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80. A Woman is a Woman (Jean-Luc Godard, 1961)

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81. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)

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82. Late Spring (Yasujiro Ozu, 1949)

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83. Wee Willie Winkie (John Ford, 1937)

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84. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (Allan Arkush, 1979)

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85. Yesterday Once More (Johnnie To, 2004)

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86. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)

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87. Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichhardt, 2010)

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88. To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks, 1944)

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89. Blissfully Yours (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2002)

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90. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Bill Melendez, 1966)

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91. Jason and the Argonauts (Don Chaffey, 1963)

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92. Prince of Darkness (John Carpenter, 1987)

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93. Two Tars (James Parrott, 1928)

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94. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)

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95. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (Eleanor Coppola, Fax Bahr & George Hickenlooper, 1991)

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96. Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1984)

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97. Body Double (Brian De Palma, 1984)

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98. Unfaithfully Yours (Preston Sturges, 1948)

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99. The Day He Arrives (Hong Sangsoo, 2011)

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100. Heroes of the East (Lau Kar-leung, 1978)

The Best Movies of 2016 (So Far)

We are now halfway through the year and as has become an annual tradition here at The End, it’s time to look back at the best movies of the year so far. As I discussed in the 2013 halfway post, the consensus movie-dating system is nonsensical and posits New York as the center of the universe. Far more logical (and much easier to use) is a system reliant on imdb’s dating system, which locates a film in whatever year it first played for an audience. That’s what we use here for all Rankings & Awards as it’s the most fair to all eras and areas. (A dating system reliant on playing in a certain locality I think can be valuable for a publication that is geographically specific, like a local newspaper or website. We’ll be putting together a Seattle-specific lists for Seattle Screen Scene later this week, for example. But here at The End, we have a global reach.)

A by-product of the system is that a number of films that first go into wide-release in any given year actually had their premiere in the year before. A number of the films on many critics’ halfway-thorough lists include these films, films that find their proper home here on my 2015 list. And so here we have two lists: the Best Movies of 2016, following the strict imdb dating system, and the Best 2015 Movies of 2016, which includes those films from last year that you might find on a more chronologically-illogical list (and despite the title, also includes one film from 1991 and one from 2012, both of which only premiered in New York this year). I also have a third list, Best Unreleased Movies of 2015, of last year’s films that have yet to see a New York release and therefore don’t (yet) exist by the standards of most critics. And a fourth list, a halfway version of my annual Best Older Movies list, counting the top movies I saw for the first time this year that are more than a few years old.

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This Week in Rankings

Since the last update the Seattle International Film Festival has come and gone. My coverage included fifteen reviews, three podcasts and a trio of previews, all at Seattle Screen Scene. I posted the English language version of a short survey of Contemporary Chinese Cinema I wrote for the Estonian arts magazine SIRP and I listed 50 of the Best Chinese Language Films of the 21st Century. Jealous of the massive Hong Sangsoo retrospective going on in New York, I indexed all of my writing and podcasting on Hong and resurrected a lost podcast episode I helped record last year on Hong and Oki’s Movie. And, with the festival over, I finally was able to watch and review my much-anticipated English-subtitled DVD of Jiang Wen’s 2014 film Gone with the Bullets.

These are the movies I’ve watched or rewatched over the last few weeks, and where they place in my year-by-year rankings.

The General (Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman) – 1, 1926
The Big Road (Sun Yu) – 6, 1935
Merbabies (Vernon Stallings & Rudolf Ising) – 23, 1938
Heaven Can Wait (Ernst Lubitsch) – 4, 1943
A Scandal in Paris (Douglas Sirk) – 13, 1946

Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly) – 1, 1952
Los tallos amargos (Fernando Ayala) – 22, 1956
Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles) – 2, 1965
Dragon Gate Inn (King Hu) – 3, 1967
Distant Voices, Still Lives (Terence Davies) – 1, 1988

The Long Day Closes (Terence Davies) – 6, 1992
Cure (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) – 9, 1997
Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) – 12, 2001
Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) – 6, 2008
575 Castro St. (Jenni Olson) – 18, 2009
Gone with the Bullets (Jiang Wen) – 26, 2014

Sunset Song (Terence Davies) – 11, 2015
Murmur of the Hearts (Sylvia Chang) – 24, 2015
De Palma (Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow) – 47, 2015
Concerto: A Beethoven Journey (Phil Grabsky) – 58, 2015
Thithi (Raam Reddy) – 63, 2015

Tag (Sion Sono) – 74, 2015
The Island Funeral (Pimpka Towira) – 83, 2015
Ten Years (Various) – 91, 2015
The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Maddin (Yves Montmayeur) – 99, 2015
The Final Master (Xu Haofeng) – 114, 2015

Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman) – 1, 2016
Three (Johnnie To) – 3, 2016
A Bride for Rip Van Winkle (Shunji Iwai) – 7, 2016
Trivisa (Jevons Au, Frank Hui & Vicky Wong) – 8, 2016
Creepy (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) – 9, 2016

My Beloved Bodyguard (Sammo Hung) – 10, 2016
Lo and Behold: Reveries of a Connected World (Werner Herzog) – 11, 2016
The Mobfathers (Herman Yau) – 14, 2016
The Seasons in Quincy (Tilda Swinton, et al) – 15, 2016
In a Valley of Violence (Ti West) – 20, 2016