So, from 10 to 1:
10. Sideways (15)
Alexander Payne’s bittersweet fortysomething comedy kicked off the year and took everyone by surprise, garnering Oscar nominations like bunches of grapes. A movie about a wine tour of California by two old friends, it has the light touch of a rosé and the punch of a pinot, managing to pack in sharp observations on friendship, love, longing and regret. A corking performance too from Paul Giamatti. This was one to be sipped not glugged.
9. Ong-Bak (18)
It’s not everyday you witness the arrival of a phenomenon, but in Thailand’s Tony Jaa demonstrates his astounding physical abilities in one of the best martial arts movies in years. Showing up the mediocrity of most action stars (apart from Jet Li and Jackie Chan), this had top-drawer choreography and no wirework or special effects. Ong-Bak is immediately up there with Lee’s Enter the Dragon and Chan’s Police Story or Project A.
8. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (15)
80s and 90s wunderscribe Shane Black shot back into the limelight with his directorial debut – a film noir comedy action thriller cockier and more accomplished than any of his previous work (Lethal Weapon). Rodriguez and Tarantino may be purveyors of blood ‘n’ bullets, but Black boots ‘em into touch with an effervescent imagination and an intelligent script that bounds about like a shaggy dog. It disappeared from cinemas far too quickly.
7. Hitch (12)
Not many romantic comedies can entertain teens, twenties, thirtysomethings and their parents. But Hitch did. The chemistry between all the leads – not just the bankable charm of Will Smith - made this smart and sassy movie stand out from the crowd. In an age of so-called romantic comedies that focus more on the sex, it was refreshing to find one that was sexy but sex-free. The perils and pitfalls of attraction have rarely been so breezily brought to the screen.
6. The Interpreter (15)
This Nicole Kidman/Sean Penn conspiracy thriller is shot through with a realism and foreboding you don’t find in most mystery movies or against-the-clock thrillers. In a lesser film, the emphasis would have been on car chases, shoot-em-ups and bed-scenes. But like the less satisfying The Constant Gardener, it relied on believable characters, taut plotting and visual style. This was the first movie to film inside the United Nations building. But it’s notable for far more than that.
5. Kung Fu Hustle (15)
Hong Kong superstar Stephen Chow wowed critics and audiences alike with this audaciously off-the-wall action comedy. A kung fu pastiche, it’s like a Looney Tune cartoon with a degree in Film Studies – bursting with energy and a welter of OTT computer images. It riffs musicals, gangster-flicks and almost every kung fu film ever made. It’s even romantic. A great introduction to the mad world of Stephen Chow.
4. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (PG)
This adaptation of C S Lewis’ classic needed to stand out from the crowd. And thanks to Shrek-director Andrew Adamson and great performances, it did. With its heart in the right place, the movie matches the magicality of the book as well as any movie can. Witty, visually impressive and with voice-talent to spare, Narnia’s now on the map. Middle Earth is yesterday’s place and Hogwarts had better watch out. Aslan is on the move.
3. A History of Violence (18)
If violence is a bad thing, why do we lap it up on screen? Cine-philosopher David Cronenberg put our guilty pleasure under the microscope in this mischievously unsettling and exceptional thriller. With strong performances and cracking boo-hiss baddies (Ed Harris and William Hurt) this beautifully filmed piece is riveting, blackly funny and genuinely tense. Cronenberg-lite – with a powerful punch.
2. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (U)
What a year for Aardman Animations. Their warehouse goes up in flames and their first Wallace and Gromit feature does cracking business at the box-office. Jam-packed with Brit humour and voice talent, Were-Rabbit was inventive, madcap, fast-paced and literate. Better realized than the year’s other animated fare, its intelligent humour satisfied both kiddies and adults. Neither selling-out his creations nor his audience, Nick Park succeeded in pulling a large and amusing rabbit out of the hat.
1. Serenity (15)
Buffy-scripter Joss Whedon had the last laugh in 2005 when his cancelled sci-fi TV series Firefly stormed to success on the big screen. Serenity was loaded with good things – cheeky charm, an intelligent script, self-mocking humour, believable characters and edge-of-seat action. Serenity well-deserved its wildfire word-of-mouth and showed George (Revenge of the Sith) Lucas how you really do sci-fi action-dramas. The surprise hit of the year.