With just a few days to go until Toronto, where I hope to be cramming in a mad variety of new stuff, it seems like a good moment to recap on the year so far in movies. I'll keep it simple. Here's what a top ten would look like if I had to compile one right now, graded and linked to reviews where available (some of them just fairly cursory Telegraph capsules, I'm afraid, which I hope to expand into fuller appreciations towards the end of the year).
1. The Sun (Aleksandr Sokurov) A
2. The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel) A
3. Adam & Paul (Lenny Abrahamson) A–
4. Howl's Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki) A–
5. Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel) A–
6. Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin) A–
7. The Secret Lives of Dentists (Alan Rudolph) A– (finally released in the UK this year)
8. Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki) B+
9. The Edukators (Hans Weingartner) B+
10. Primer (Shane Carruth) B+
And coming close: Head-On (Fatih Akin), The Keys to the House (Gianni Amelio), the way-underrated Friday Night Lights (Peter Berg), and The Beat That My Heart Skipped (Jacques Audiard) (all B+ish). I can't decide whether to include Raoul Peck's devastating HBO Rwanda drama Sometimes in April, though it's well up into the A range, because it doesn't seem to be getting a UK cinema release of any kind. And Tsai Ming-liang's incredibly bizarre sex comedy musical The Wayward Cloud, which I kind of adored when I saw it in Berlin, has curdled so oddly in my memory it's going to have to wait until I've seen it again for reassessment.
Observations? Three films from Germany? A Sundance-winner? A Gregg Araki film? What have I been smoking? Unlikely though it is that all of these will make it through to end-of-year honours, their inclusion at this stage is a pretty clear sign of what an oddball eight months we've had. That said, the top two films here would be dead certs in any year, thematically rich and formally irreproachable masterworks which couldn't have been directed by anyone other than Aleksandr Sokurov and Lucrecia Martel. The beautifully-pitched junkie tragicomedy Adam & Paul takes twenty minutes to find its feet, but it's straight-A from then on, and I loved Howl's Moving Castle in such a pure, uncritical way that the minus is only really there to put a safety cap on my enthusiasm until I've gone back for more.
This roster boasts an embarrassment of stunning work by lead actors:– Issey Ogata in The Sun, Bruno Ganz in Downfall, Tom Murphy in Adam & Paul, Campbell Scott in The Secret Lives of Dentists, Mathieu Amalric in Kings and Queen, and Romain Duris in The Beat That My Heart Skipped will all be fighting it out to get into my year-end top five. I use the word embarrassment advisedly, because cherchez la femme and you'll find almost nothing, beyond the very good Maria Alche in The Holy Girl. There were some standouts in lesser films: I was highly impressed by Jennifer Connelly in Dark Water, because she managed to rescue an otherwise disappointing horror movie with an unexpectedly harrowing portrait of psychological breakdown. And Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi was amazing in Francois Ozon's 5x2, which makes it doubly annoying that I counted her last year already. Invaluable in smaller roles were Michael Peña in Crash, who I've already blogged about; Corinna Harfouch, indelibly chilling as Magda Goebbels in Downfall, and Lucy Punch, for the second year running playing an opportunistic ingenue to the hilt, previously in Being Julia, presently in Annie Griffin's scabrous Festival, and fast becoming my favourite young comic actress in Britain.
That's it for now. Expect more, and soon. But please fire away with reactions, rabid disagreements, your own lists, whatever. Let the season of awards geekery begin...