Hana-Bi - Takeshi Kitano - Kitano plays an ex-cop who goes into debt with a loan shark in order to care for his ailing wife and another ex-policeman whose disabling injury he feels responsible for. When the gangster's muscle start to squeeze him he robs a bank to pay back the loan. Now he's got cops on his trail as well as the loan shark who puts together how he was able to get the money so quickly leading to some tense posturing and an inevitable bloody showdown. Before the fireworks there are some remarkably tender passages of Kitano and his wife (Kayoko Kishimoto) as they make the most of their dwindling time together as well as separate scenes of Ren Osugi's wheelchair bound ex-cop battling suicidal depression through painting. An unusually emotionally affecting outing from Kitano whose hardboiled humor is more often the counterpoint to the bursts of stylized violence that punctuate his pictures. Kitano makes some capital-C choices here including the non-linear narrative framing, and the inclusion of the lovely painting sequences scored so distinctly by Joe Hisaishi. I love how aware Kitano is of his own strengths as a performer, choosing to silently absorb all the dialogue his co-stars feed him and react slowly with a slight shift in his amazing face or with decisive physicality alternating his body between a vehicle for violence or slapstick humor. I tend to find his films potent to the point of thinking "a little bit goes a long way" and not particularly wanting to watch another any time soon, but I reacted differently to Hana-Bi and I might go for another very soon.
2010s (that won't be eligible for 2020 year-end picks)
Tramps - Adam Leon - This low stakes romantic shaggy-dog of a crime oddyssey through New York City stars Callum Turner as a reluctant participant in a criminal transaction of an unknown nature. He's trying to do his incarcerated brother a solid by taking a package and delivering it to someone else, but things go wrong pretty quick and he finds himself partnered with Grace Van Patten chasing the misplaced goods around the city. There's a series of unanticipated complications and crises that test their wits and guts and the bonds of their new relationship. I was charmed and disarmed by this one that plays like a rom-com version of the Safdie Brothers' Good Time.