Over the last twelve months 20 winning films opened in theatres, and I’m not sure if people understand this as fully as they could or should. It wasn’t a top-ten year but double that. But yet only three on this list — Avatar, Up In The Air and Public Enemies — have done well at the box-office while the others have had to scramble.

On 11.29 I posted a 2009 sum-up that focused on 13 or 14 peak pleasure films — each with some kind of striking, original-seeming quality and made from deep-seated, rock-solid material — plus four others came close to breathing the same air. With Avatar seen and digested I obviously need to update, and I’m also paying respect to Judd Apatow‘s Funny People, which I left off the list before for reasons that I can’t discern or explain. (I’ve re-used phrases here and there because they’re good enough to repeat.)

We’re talking a new three-way tie between Avatar, The Hurt Locker and Up In The Air. Avatar because it managed to propel a well-structured but familiar story into a super-visual, awe-inspiring, maximum-energy emotional fantasia. The Hurt Locker because it blended a sense of profound existential peril and a completely believable, no-GG, real-world excitement with amazing expertise. And Up In The Air 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, Judd Apatow‘s Funny People, Cary Fukunaga‘s Sin Nombre, Michael Mann‘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).

All 20 films 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 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.