Aaron Yap’s top 20 film discoveries of 2023

An annual tradition, critic Aaron Yap presents the 20 rarest of rare gems and forgotten movies he’s discovered this year – from Romanian ’80s animation to 1978’s Remember My Name (pictured above).

The Last Horror Film (1982)

David Winters’ previously-lost film would’ve just been fine as a tongue-in-cheek companion piece to Maniac with its reunion of stars Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro. But with the added meta-layers of being shot on location, without permission, at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival? An invaluable journey into twisted fan obsession and movie-within-a-movie nuttiness.

The Investigation (2020)

Essential six-part Scandi-procedural about a baffling, horrific true crime — the murder of journalist Kim Wall in a homemade submarine — that removes the murderer entirely from the picture to focus, with sobering forensic precision, on the painstaking investigation. Haunting, rigorous, deliberately agonizing.

The White Angel (1955)

My first time with Italian melodrama king Raffaello Matarazzo. A structurally subversive, wildly over-the-top time, this one’s got nuns, pre-Vertigo doppelgangers, cruel twists of fate, and a prison break. Viewed without realizing it was a sequel made it all the more delirious and disorienting.


The Only Son (1936)

Sacrifice, the burden of expectation, filial disappointment, economic depression. Deserving as much of a reputational heft as his other more-heralded masterpieces, Yasujirō Ozu’s first sound film is an effectively bittersweet, gently poetic work of accomplished craft that cuts like a sharp blade through the heart.


Remember My Name (1978)

Robert Altman protégé Alan Rudolph has always been somewhat of a blind spot for me, but with this and Trouble in Mind ticked off the watchlist, I’m ready to embrace more of his films. Revenge-noir and stalker tropes upended, bathed in ‘70s disillusionment, with Geraldine Chaplin absolutely fire as an ex-con who turns construction worker Anthony Perkins’ life into hell.


Alice in Movieland (1940)

On one hand, this two-reel Warner Bros. short is a sappy, painfully earnest Tinseltown fairytale, but on the other, taken as a proto-Mulholland Drive dive into the dark side of showbiz and stardom, it has the jolt of an unsettling nightmare.

Patterns (1956)

Punchy performances, unsparing, piercing Rod Serling script make this one of the all-time great films about corporate dehumanization. We’re all disposable, replaceable cogs under capitalism. A devastating drama of prescient power.


My Heart is That Eternal Rose (1989)

Bullet-ridden heroic bloodshed meets lush, neon-smeared romanticism in Patrick Tam’s hazy noir melodrama. Christopher Doyle’s cinematography is, of course, extraordinary. Wong Kar-wai heads run, don’t walk, to this.


Lolly-Madonna XXX (1973)

Certainly one of the grimiest, clammiest, sweatiest films ever committed to celluloid, starring Rod Steiger and Robert Ryan as patriarchs of two Tennessee families at each other’s throats. This is what a studio picture could look like 50 years ago. Much more going on here than your average hicksploitation.


Night Killer (1990)

Typically deranged late-period Italian horror from Troll 2 director Claudio Fragasso was inexplicably promoted in its home country as an unofficial sequel to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s closer in every possible way to A Nightmare on Elm Street, but it’s also a more breathtakingly bonkers proposition in every possible way.


Broken Path (2008)

Production-wise, some of this looks as good as what you and your friends might make goofing around in the backyard, but holy cow, the fights will send you into orbit. Practically one insanely protracted fight scene hanging off a simple home invasion plot. Directed by Kôichi Sakamoto, the stunt coordinator of Power Rangers and Drive.

Laurin (1989)

If not for the synth score dating it, one could have easily mistaken Robert Sigl’s debut feature for something from Mario Bava’s ‘60s period. A Gothic folk horror coming-of-age wonder, atmospheric as hell and simply stunning to look at.

The Unholy Three (1925)

A century later, Tod Browning’s films still fascinate and move with their weird, unique, empathetic sensibilities. Made before Freaks, this little carny crime flick, with its utterly bizarre and macabre set-up, is no different. The ape sequence made my jaw drop.


The Spook Who Sat By the Door (1973)

Ivan Dixon’s adaptation of Sam Greenlee’s 1969 novel, about a man who’s recruited by the CIA to be a token Black operative then leaves to start an uprising, is such an incendiary force the FBI demanded film prints to be destroyed. Vital, urgent. Just imagining the unrest it would stir up today…

Delta Space Mission (1984)

Delightfully trippy Romanian animation with a story that might make your brain leak a little. Synth-drenched rotoscoped intergalactic psychedelia for sleepless nights.


Devil Fetus (1983)

The titular fetus sadly only makes a brief appearance, but don’t worry, this screaming batshit demon-possession Hong Kong horror delivers all the Category III fun you’d want from a film called Devil Fetus made in 1983 Hong Kong.


Naked Alibi (1954)

Cop brutality, killer on the loose, a seedy border town, a nightclub singer in the middle. Overlooked noir with a nasty streak caught me off-guard with its bifurcate narrative. Sterling Hayden, Gene Barry, Gloria Grahame eating every scene they’re in.

Typhoon Club (1985)

Shinji Sōmai’s anti-Breakfast Club. Teenagers on the brink of adulthood, caught in an existential awakening laced with detachment, disenchantment, and desperation. Growing up: uneasy, terrifying, messed-up.


Rivals (1972)

A genuine ‘70s oddity with future Bad Ronald Scott Jacoby as an obsessive, unhinged ten-year-old who plots to do away with his mother’s new beau. Yeah, this one definitely could not be made today.

Full Moon Scimitar (1979)

Chor Yuen, who passed away last year, was one of Shaw Brothers’ best and most versatile directors, known for his elaborate, beautifully stylish swordplay films. If you’re looking for an introduction to his work, this twisty dazzler positively rips.