At first I didn’t want to put these in any order. Unlike the albums on my other list, which I listened to countless times, I’ve visited each of the below only once and have only the memory of my first impression (combined with a fuzzy sense of the extent to which they’ve stuck or faded slightly in my mind) to go on. But while ordering seemed silly, it was also more fun – and certainly more revealing for me when I look back in years hence and realise I got the order entirely wrong….
In descending order of preference…
10. Robinson in Ruins (Patrick Keiller)
The third in Patrick Keiller’s superb Robinson trilogy, with a new green emphasis. A second viewing may be required to try and keep up with the narration’s socio-economic prognoses, but Keiller offers plenty for the eye as well as ear.
9. Buried (Rodrigo Cortès)
This year I enjoyed being stuck on a ski-lift in the biting cold (Frozen), being trapped in the bottom of a canyon with a huge rock on my arm (127 Hours), and – perhaps most of all – being buried alive with only a mobile phone for help in this terrific Spanish thriller.
8. The Secret of Kells (Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey)
Though no fan of animation, I was surprised how much I enjoyed this exquisite Irish cartoon about a young monk’s adventures creating an illuminated manuscript to preserve civilisation against marauding Vikings. In an uncrowded field, this is one of the more profound – not to mention most imaginative – films I’ve seen about Europe’s distant past.
7. Ivul (Andrew Kötting)
An eccentric, haunting and magnificent film from Kötting about a boy taking to the trees on his family’s estate in defiance of his father.
6. The Ghost (Roman Polanski)
As thrilling and atmospheric as a good episode of The Avengers, I loved the wintry, Martha’s Vineyard setting of this hugely entertaining political thriller. It may be a little silly in places, but Polanski never lets the tension drop – and the final shot is the director at his best.
5. Un prophète [A Prophet] (Jacques Audiard)
The prison movie to end them all, Jacques Audiard follows up his magnificent The Beat That My Heart Skipped with an equally forceful study of crime and masculinity. Rarely has 150 minutes been worn so lightly.
4. Io sono l’amore [I Am Love] (Luca Guadagnino)
An engrossing wallow of a family drama with Tilda Swinton as the matriarch of an upper-middle-class Milanese family. A little melodramatic in its finale, but otherwise exquisitely poised and seductive.
3. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives [Loong Boonmee raleuk chat] (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
After loving Joe’s three previous pictures, this was the film I most looked forward to this year – as such, I could do with a revisit once the hype and my own over-eagerness has died down. But there’s no denying that the old Joe magic is present in spades and that herein lay the year’s most enchanting and warmly felt WTF moments.
2. Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos)
This Greek film – about a couple who keep their children at home, feeding them false knowledge about words, sex and the supposedly dangerous world beyond their garden fence – was a true original, and as darkly funny as it is surreal and horrific.
1. La mujer sin cabeza [The Headless Woman] (Lucrecia Martel)
Certainly one of the best directed films of the year (or in fact of 2008, as it took a couple of years to reach UK screens), this intense 80 minutes puts us inside the head of a middle class Argentinean woman experiencing post-traumatic shock and puzzling over what it was that her car hit in the road. Minimal but inspired cinema.
Five outstanding yet-to-be-released films: Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky); Mistérios de Lisboa [Mysteries of Lisbon] (Raúl Ruiz), My Joy (Sergei Loznitsa); 127 Hours (Danny Boyle); La Princesse de Montpensier (Bertrand Tavernier)