I didn't even get a chance to see all the movies I wanted to this year, so of the ones I saw, here's the cream of the crop:
1. The Departed - If you saw my original review of this, you know how much I loved this film. Scorsese back to his best, Jack kicking ass, Matt Damon and Leo ruling and Mark Wahlberg stealing the movie. Best and most enjoyable movie of the year.
2. Volver - I'm a huge fan of Almodovar's work and I think that this is the best thing he's ever done. Penelope Cruz proves that she can really act, Carmen Maura is fantastic as the Mother, the music is perfect and the production design and use of color (especially red) make this the most beautiful movie I saw this year. Nobody can write about women like Pedro Almodovar.
3. United 93 - Wow. Considering the subject matter, it's almost unbelievable that Paul Greengrass has been able to make a film that is powerful, accurate, inspiring and, crucially, not over-emotional. This was both the most uncomfortable and powerful movie of the year.
4. When the Levees Broke - Reigning in his usual angry polemical style, Spike Lee lets the people of New Orleans speak for themselves in this amazing four-hour documentary. More than your opinion or my opinion, the victims give their own account of one of the worst days in the nation's history. This film is a hugely important and accurate indictment of a government's (lack of) response to a tragedy.
5. Little Miss Sunshine - This is one of those movies that is so built up with hype about how brilliantly funny it is, that you just know it's gonna disappoint when you finally see it. Well, it turns out that this wasn't the case when I finally saw this last week. Equally hilarious, prescient and touching, the first time directors present a microcosm of the (now) typical American family. Abigail Breslin is magnificent as the titular heroine.
6. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada - The best and only western I saw this year. Tommy Lee Jones wrote, directed and starred in what is on the surface a revenge/road movie. Underneath, however, are commentaries on the plight of hispanics in the south, general ignorance, the new west and plain (no pun intended) friendship. Highly recommended.
7. Brick - I read a lot of good buzz about this movie on the internet and from friends so I decided to rent it to check it out. Man, it really knocked my socks off. Some people thought the cod-noir dialogue was too gimmicky but I thought it suited the plot perfectly, as did the milieu of high school, that is, the traditional whodunit. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has come a long way since 3rd Rock.
8. Inside Man - The second Spike Lee joint on this list, this was, for me, almost the perfect movie in that it combined entertainment and social commentary in a perfect stew. A clever heist story that would have worked well in the hands of a hack is turned into a hugely impressive thriller in the hands of a director as talented as Spike. Add to this comments on race in America, how we interact with each other under pressure and a kick-ass performance from Jodie Foster and you get one of the most entertaining "joints" in years.
9. Quinceanera - This is a small independent movie that won several prizes at the Sundance Film Festival. It tells of the coming of age party (the "Quinceanera" of the title) of 15 year old Magdalena and the troubles and issues facing teenagers in America today. By focussing on a Mexican community, non-Hispanics can see that some truths are universal. Uniformly excellent performances from an inexperienced cast, especially Jesse Garcia as Carlos.
10. (tie) V for Vendetta and Jackass Number Two - I really couldn't decide which one of these to leave out so I cheated and included them both. The former was far better than I expected it to be. The script, sets and Hugo Weaving made this the best movie I saw in the first quarter of the year. The latter was quite simply one of the funniest movies I've ever seen (and I saw Borat this year). If you judge how successful a comedy is on laughs per minute (and intensity of laughs) then this is a text book example of the formula. I was actually crying in some parts.
I really, really, REALLY loved:
Rocky Balboa (whodathunkit)
An Inconvenient Truth (you can't argue with facts, Mr President)
Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen is a genius)
Hard Candy (Ellen Paige - what an actress!)
I just really, really loved:
Talladega Nights ("Dad, you made that grace your Bitch!")
Lady in the Water (why do so many people hate on this movie? It was WAY better than The Village)
MI:3 (three words: Phillip Seymour Hoffman)
Open Season & Happy Feet (highly entertaining)
The Descent (best horror movie of the year)
Movies I didn't get a chance to see, but some of which I'M SURE would have made it into my Top ten are:
Thank You For Smoking
The Last King of Scotland
The Good German
Notes on a Scandal
The Good Shepherd
Crap Movies of the Year:
Failure to Launch
Failure to Launch
Failure to Launch