By my yardstick at least 13 extraordinary films — each with some kind of striking, original-seeming quality and made from deep-seated, rock-solid material — opened in 2009, and four others came close to breathing the same air. Anyone who whines that ’09 was a weak year just hasn’t been paying attention or has been living in a cocoon. It wasn’t one of the all-time great years, okay, but it was certainly more than decent if you brought an intelligent, open-minded, ready-for-the-next thing attitude to the theatre.

On 11.18 I said I’d be assembling a list of ’09 films and filmmakers that achieved one of two things. One, they simply gave me enormous viewing pleasure. (Even if an isolated aspect of some of these films was the primary provider with other aspects registering or satisfying less than 100%.) Or two, they introduced me to some new aesthetic or style or attitude that I hadn’t really absorbed before but which I felt very comfortable with as I left the theatre.

A list, in short, of my favorite films that I liked for my own damn reasons and which I’ll end up owning on DVD or Bluray and will most likely revisit from time to time in years to come. So in this particular instance let’s say “to hell with taking the pulse of the town” and paying lip service (or list service) to Oscar pundit consensus favorites.

In order of preference with links to my original raves…

First-place tie between The Hurt Locker and Up In The Air. The former because it blended a sense of profound existential peril and a completely believable, no-GG, real-world excitement with amazing expertise. And the second because it’s one of the calmest and most unforced this-is-who-we-are, what-we-need and what-we’re-afraid-of-in-the-workplace movies ever made — and blissfully free of the usual Hollywood bullshit and jerk-offery, and with a kind of Brokeback Mountain-y theme at the finale — i.e., “move it or lose it.”

Followed by (in order of vague preference) Pedro Almodovar‘s Broken Embraces, Chris Smith‘s Collapse, Joel and Ethan Coen‘s A Serious Man, Lone Scherfig‘s An Education, Armando Ianucci‘s In The Loop, Cary Fukunaga‘s Sin Nombre, Michael Man‘s Public Enemies, Lynn Shelton‘s Humpday, Tom Ford‘s A Single Man, Louie Psihoyos‘s The Cove, Neil Blomkamp‘s District 9, Sacha Gervasi‘s Anvil! The Story of Anvil, James Toback‘s Tyson, Steven Soderbergh‘s The Girlfriend Experience, Paolo Sorrentino‘s Il Divo, and Jane Campion‘s Bright Star (for the production design and cinematography, and for Abby Cornish‘s performance).