This was one of the toughest lists to compile, and I’ve watched most of these films more than once to make sure they hold up. Do they ever. My only disappointment is that the list doesn’t include more foreign-language films and has no documentaries. Another list could have included Superbad, This Is England, 13 Tzameti, The Aura, My Kid Could Paint That, Iraq In Fragments, Brand Upon The Brain!, Into The Wild, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead and Gone Baby Gone. Did I mention it was a difficult year?
1 NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN Joel and Ethan Coen
The cat-and-mouse pursuit plot is gripping enough, and Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh has joined Hannibal L as one of the most horrifying and enjoyable screen villains. But it’s the melancholy times-are-changing philosophy captured in Tommy Lee Jones’s creased face and weary voice that catapults the Coen brothers’ best film since Fargo into a compelling parable about the human condition.
2 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS Cristian Mungiu
Two Romanian students in the dying days of the Ceausescu regime test their friendship and solidarity under the worst imaginable circumstances. Catharsis delivered with a hint of grace.
3 ONCE John Carney
It cost $100,000 to make, its leads aren’t professional actors, and 60 per cent of the thing is music. But somehow this feisty Irish indie works magic, resurrecting the movie musical and the romantic comedy genres at the same glorious time.
4 RATATOUILLE Brad Bird
Director Bird serves up one of the most convincing portraits of the artist as a young, er, rat – all rendered in lovingly detailed animation and featuring a potpourri of the most unexpected voice talent around. After a stalled Cars, Pixar is back in fine form.
5 EASTERN PROMISES David Cronenberg
Vincent Cassel (left) and Viggo Mortensen delivered on their Eastern Promises.
Cronenberg offers up another look at A History Of Violence, this time in London’s insular Russian émigré crime community. The excitement and sinister tone are as well-maintained as Viggo Mortensen’s slicked-back hairstyle, and that bathhouse fight scene is one for the film books.
6 ATONEMENT Joe Wright
Some critics have unfairly called this handsome adaptation of Ian McEwen’s historical novel Merchant-Ivory chintz. What they don’t get is that the performances, costumes and somewhat arch feel of much of the film, including the by-now-infamous unbroken five minute Steadicam shot of the evacuation of Dunkirk, is all about literary – and filmic – artifice and revisionism.
7 LARS AND THE REAL GIRL Craig Gillespie
The charmer of the year features a synopsis that doesn’t do it justice: introverted man finds love with blow-up sex doll. But it plays out like contemporary Capra, thanks to Ryan Gosling’s authentic performance and a script and director that never wink knowingly at us.
8 THE SAVAGES Tamara Jenkins
If and when you ever have to look after an elderly parent, Jenkins’s wise and unsentimental look at two sparring siblings dealing with their ambivalent feelings about their abusive estranged father will make you laugh and wince in recognition. More than that, though, it’ll force you to grow up and move on.
The City of Light got short shrift in Paris, Je T’Aime.
9 PARIS, JE T’AIME various directors
We’ll always have Paris – thanks to this great collection of shorts by a dizzying array of directors capturing different neighbourhoods, genres and moods in the City of Light. I haven’t since returned to Paris,but I’m sure when I do I’ll spot these people.
Amy Adams and James Marsden kept us completely Enchanted.
10 ENCHANTED Kevin Lima
Disney’s send-up of and homage to the archetypal Disney animated musical lives up to that title. Lots of in-jokes make it repeated-viewing fun, but it wouldn’t be as magical without Amy Adams’s princess, whose wide eyes grow even wider as she learns what it means to be fully human – or at least as human as a Disney pic allows.
Didn’t live up to the buzz
Bee Movie (literally); Knocked Up; The Simpsons Movie
Into The Wild; Hairspray; Superbad
Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer; Disturbia; Vacancy; The Hoax; 13 Tzameti
Best career move
The usually dull James Marsden sends up his matinee-idol good looks in Hairspray and Enchanted.
Hours of my life I’ll never get back
Wild Hogs; Because I Said So; Catch And Release; The Brave One; Love In The Time Of Cholera