2009 was my biggest year at the movies yet: 125 films viewed. That said, it wasn't a great year for movies, so much so that I felt I would not be satisfied by trying to single out 10 remarkable films. Instead, I have compiled a list of 20 films that, for one reason or another, stood out for me this year*.
And for those who think that's a cheat or a cop out, be thankful I'm not following Roger Ebert's lead and doing Top 10's for Mainstream, Independent, Animation, Foreign Language and Documentary.
The list is also in alphabetical and not numerical order. I have not chosen a number one film but if pressed I would offer Milk, The Reader, An Education and Balibo as my clear favourites and well worth seeking out (all but An Education are available now on DVD).
Feel free to offer your opinion on my list, as well as letting me know what movies left their mark on you in 2009.
(*Note: Only those films released in Australian cinemas between January 01 and December 31 2009 were eligible for my list. Films seen but releasing 2010 were not.)
A SERIOUS MAN The Coen brothers continue their purple patch with this somewhat autobiographical tale of a put upon Jewish man in 1960s midwest America. It's a comedy but not Burn After Reading funny.
AN EDUCATION Lone Sherfig's film announced the arrival of Carey Mulligan who, at the very least, will receive an Oscar nomination for her star making performance in this '60s set coming-of-age tale.
BALIBO Not just the best Australian film of the year but one of the best from anywhere. A political thriller about the murder of five journalists by the Indonesian military in East Timor, it will anger and sadden you in equal measure. Anthony Lapaglia has never been better.
(500) DAYS OF SUMMER Applying a defibrillator to romantic comedy, this inventive non-rom-com injected new life into the genre by having the smarts to know that love hurts.
DISTRICT 9 This South African film was a breath of sci-fi fresh air, seamlessly mixing action with political parable and all in a mockumentary style that aided in its immediacy and authenticity.
DUPLICITY A sexy and smart caper film with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen reuniting and reigniting their chemistry from 2004's Closer.
THE HANGOVER These boy's own films are usually not for me but by focussing on the morning after a drunken night in Las Vegas, this one managed to be surprisingly inventive and very funny.
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS Alternate history, Dirty Dozen homage or Jewish revenge fantasy? Either way, Tarantino made an unforgettable film and introduced us to Christoph Waltz, who may well be introduced to Oscar come March.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN Forget Twilight, this Swedish thriller was the best vampire movie of the year. Seek it out on DVD and avoid the forthcoming US remake.
MILK Sean Penn's performance is at the centre of this powerful, political film by Gus Van Sant. Penn plays Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to US office, and assassinated soon after.
RACHEL GETTING MARRIED There was no better sister act this year than Anne Hathaway and Rosemarie DeWitt, the latter as the bride-to-be and the former as the family black sheep poised to wreak havoc in Jonothan Demme's Dogma-like take on the wedding movie.
THE READER Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Bernhard Schlink's novel is a powerful meditation on the nature of guilt but will perhaps be best be remembered for delivering Kate Winslet her first Oscar – and deservedly so.
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD And had Winslet not won for The Reader she probably would have for her performance here. Sam Mendes's wrenching examination of youthful idealism cum suburban nightmare reunited Titanic's Kate and Leo in another doomed relationship.
STAR TREK No one is more surprised than me by how much I enjoyed JJ Abrams's re-boot of the tired sci-fi franchise. Going back to the beginning, Abrams has introduced a whole new generation to the sexy intergalactic crew of the Starship Enterprise.
STATE OF PLAY It didn't matter that it was a remake of a quality British miniseries, Russell Crowe headlined a top cast in a smart political thriller and a paean to the death of print journalism.
SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK Charlie Kaufmann's directorial debut – about life imitating art, imitating life, imitating art - was as trippy as you'd expect from the writer of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Ebert has named it his 'best film of the decade'.
TAKING WOODSTOCK Ang Lee's wonderfully enjoyable look at how Woodstock came about was strangely ignored by audiences but I'd recommend catching it on DVD. Nostalgic but not cloying, it leaves you on a mellow high.
TWO LOVERS If Joaquin Phoenix really has retired from acting then his performance in this intimate drama is a beautiful swan song. Gwyneth Paltrow is also very good as one object of his affections.
UP Pixar really have no equal in the animation stakes. The opening few minutes of Up, where we witness an almost silent montage of a life together, are alone worthy of an Oscar. This year, they could very well be in the running for Best Picture.
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE Fans of the children's book may have been perturbed by Spike Jonze's take on the classic but not me. I could eat it up, I loved it so.
Sadly, it is much easier to name the worst films of the year. And these five are in numerical order.
5. WINGED CREATURES Aussie director Rowan Woods' American debut was, in spite of its talented cast – Guy Pearce, Forest Whitaker, Dakota Fanning, Kate Beckinsale – a ponderous, much too earnest look at post traumatic stress.
4. COUPLES RETREAT It was a year full of misfiring comedies but this one takes the cake. I'll admit I'm not a fan of Vince Vaughan and this only further convinced me – the guy's not funny.
3. HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU Why does Hollywood continue to make films that deliberately insult its audience? Why do actresses who should know better (Jennifer Connolly, Drew Barrymore) continue to appear in them? And why do women continue to watch them?
2. G.I. JOE While equally as dumb as my #1 least favourite film, G.I. Joe doesn't quite take the top spot. I'm not sure what fans of the cartoon series or toys made of this big screen version but for me, I'd rather have done two hours in boot camp.
1. TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN A worldwide gross of almost a billion dollars is further proof that people will watch anything, just not small, intelligent films, or Aussie ones for that matter. This film is everything that is wrong with Hollywood filmmaking: no substance and not even any style; just an overlong sensory bombardment. I saw it in IMAX which made it even worse. There should be a special place reserved in Hell for director Michael Bay and his crimes against cinema.