WALL*E wheeled his way onto the top of the list (left), while Michael Stahl-David and Odette Yustman had monster appeal in Cloverfield.
Coming up with a list was more difficult than I expected. Most of my Cannes highlights - The Class, Wendy And Lucy, Hunger - won't open here until 2009. But if the prestige pictures came up a little short, this turned out to be an exceptional year for genre projects, as young(ish) filmmakers embraced the apparently limitless potential of digital technology to expand the horizons of what we consider science-fiction, fantasy and horror. Jon Favreau's zippy, engaging Iron Man and Christopher Nolan's mature, merciless The Dark Knight were just the most popular examples.
Technology rediscovers humanity, in more ways than one, in this magical and thrilling digital feature that's part silent movie, part 1970s sci-fi adventure and pure perfection from start to finish. It astonishes me that anyone could dismiss this exquisite tale of loneliness and salvation as "a kids' movie." Their loss.
2. THERE WILL BE BLOOD
Paul Thomas Anderson
Anderson's audacious masterwork shouldn't be forgotten just because it had the bad luck to open in Toronto on January 4. It's still a hell of a thing, with Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Dano matching froth and fury as an oilman and a preacher competing to shape the future of America. After three viewings, I'm pretty sure it's a comedy.
Even if you completely remove the stunning technical accomplishment of shooting a major effects movie with handheld digital cameras, Reeves's riveting ground-level reinvention of the giant-monster genre is still a thrilling, terrifying ride, with a tragic core that becomes more resonant on subsequent viewings.
4. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK
Kaufman's directorial debut takes the themes of loss and death he's explored in scripts for Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and ups the ante even further. Philip Seymour Hoffman's hypochondriac theatre director begins an ambitious stage production that becomes, quite literally, his life's work. It was the year's most divisive film - you either loved it or hated it. Clearly, I'm in the former camp.
5. THE VISITOR
McCarthy's follow-up to The Station Agent is a similarly small study of a lonely man welcomed into a larger world. It's a modest film, but its pleasures are legion, starting with Richard Jenkins's note-perfect performance and ending with McCarthy's portrait of Manhattan as a city grown more resilient, and more understanding, in the wake of 9/11. It's also one of the few films on this list that doesn't lose anything on home video. Hint hint.
6. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
Sure, Boyle's energetic, brawny take on the Bollywood genre is an unapologetic crowd-pleaser. It's also a complex, dazzling narrative that spans some 15 years of recent Mumbai history, balances its idealized love story with some really dark shit and even finds room for a musical number. This is maximum entertainment.
7. SON OF RAMBOW
The director of the underrated Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy returns with this exhilarating comedy about two English schoolboys who see a bootleg tape of First Blood and decide to make the sequel. A rambunctious salute to cinema's power to spark the imagination, this is the movie Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind wants to be when it grows up.
8. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
"I'm 12... but I've been 12 for a long time." Screw the poncey abstinence vampires of Twilight. Alfredson's lyrical, terrifying study of a bullied Swedish schoolboy (Kåre Hedebrant) and his sad-eyed new neighbour (Lina Leandersson) proves the much more relevant - and compelling - cautionary tale about human-bloodsucker bonding.
9. STILL LIFE
UP THE YANGTZE
China's Three Gorges Dam project is so massive, it requires two movies to really understand its social, practical and geographical impact. (Well, three if you count the sequence about it in Manufactured Landscapes.) Jia's lyrical drama explores the desolation of doomed villages and their displaced residents, while Chang's documentary addresses the same issue from the vantage point of a Western tourist cruise. Made independently of one another, the two now play as each other's perfect reflection.
10. STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE
Morris's documentary wasn't the first film to investigate the atrocities committed by the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib, but the direct-address intimacy of his Interrotron camera system - and the director's access to infamous thumbs-up girl Lynndie England - make this the definitive study. It's also a mesmerizing exploration of the human capacity for rationalization: if we can foist the ultimate blame on someone else's shoulders, well, we're capable of anything.