Before I launch into the bottom half of my top ten, I'd like to first acknowledge the finalists. Films very good in their own right that failed to make this list.
I found A Serious Man to be very enjoyable, if clearly inferior Coen Brothers fare. Moon elicited some very emotional reactions from me, even if it is very uneven and greatly overestimated. Ditto for District 9. I greatly enjoyed (500) Days of Summer, more than I did on the first outing and more than I thought I would in both cases. And Julia brought me Tilda Swinton's great performance--for that, it will always hold a special place in my heart.
What about James Cameron's Avatar? I enjoyed it immensely on the first outing. The further away I get from it, the more the cracks start to show and the worst the aftertaste becomes. But it is a singular cinematic achievement...not that Cameron really needs my endorsement at this point.
With no further ado...
10. dir. Spike Jonze
"Yes, it takes a while to get started and yes it's a little dark for the same youthful audience it desperately needed to attract in order to recoup its budget, but what a wholly engrossing, enriching and beautiful moviegoing experience it was. All of the little flourishes--Karen O's score, Spike Jonze's direction and Max Records pitch-perfectly petulant performance make for an imperfect but resonant piece of cinema that will be talked about for years to come."
9. dir. Pete Docter and Bob Petersen
"I remember watching Beauty and the Beast as a child and being extremely excited and entranced. It was a feeling marked both by the majesty and the splendor of the film, as well as remnants of similar feelings from The Little Mermaid...Now, as an adult, we are smack dab in the middle of another golden age. One need only watch the first ten minutes of Up (Pixar's tenth feature) to realize this--ten minutes of perfectly hewned storytelling, marked by rich, earned emotion..Up is definitely one for the ages. The year's not even half over yet, but this is top ten material if I ever saw it."(my full review here)
8. dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga
"Beautifully acted, well-paced and heartwarming, in all the ways that Slumdog Millionaire tried and failed to be (whilst offending many in the process in its failure). It wisely never fetishizes its exotic locale, nor does it try to over explain or provide context into said locale, knowing that doing either would serve to suppress the realness achieved here."
7. dir. John Hillcoat
"Gorgeously shot, necessarily slow paced and well-acted. This is a film that was made with such a full understanding of its almost unfilmable source material. I believe that this is the best film that could have been made based on Cormac McCarthy's staggering and beautiful novel."
6. dir. Jane Campion
I saw this just in time. It slipped in just under the wire and I'm glad it did. Knowing that it's written and directed by the peerless Jane Campion should prohibit a literate watcher of films from regarding this as a stuffy costume drama, even at face-value. This is a true period piece. It is immersive, resonant and attentive to detail and aesthetic in a way that few period films can boast. You never catch the actors or the filmmakers "playing" period. We are watching John Keats and Fanny Brawne fall in love in their time, with their obstacles and hurdles and their gorgeous words. I first fell in love with Ms. Campion when the rest of the world did with The Piano. And yes, it's true that (as John Keats could tell us) your first love always burns bright. But she is still burning bright, unfading, unflickering...
Best Picture Nominees Coming Tomorrow...