The 20 Best Films of 2009 

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Honorable Mentions...

Beaches of Agnès: Agnès Varda, Godmother of the French New Wave (and den mother for international bohemia), reflects, with henna-haired playfulness and aching nostalgia. No one in cinema history has so perfected the art of leafing through a photo album. Asch

Beeswax: Andrew Bujalski's observational (which is not to say passive, it's structurally quite elegant) consideration of the search for clarity in personal and professional communication—which begins with knowing what you yourself want to say. Asch

Bright Star: Jane Campion's tragic John Keats-Fanny Brawne romance beautifully renders both plein-air flirtation and the cloistered pursuit of poetic inspiration, as well as the day-to-day domestic rituals of early-19th-century England. Mercer

The Class (Laurent Cantet): A friend, a 9th and 10th grade history teacher in Bushwick, reports: "I have every single one of those kids." Asch

Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha: From adolescent groping to pirates to love-starved grannies and even more touch-hungry gorillas, Melvin Van Peebles' audacious bildungsroman epitomizes the boundless spirit of DIY filmmaking. Gallagher

Henry Selick's Coraline, adapted from the Neil Gaiman text, has a living-storybook quality with its gorgeously intricate stop-motion animation and a haunting, sometimes even subtle use of digital 3-D tech. Hassenger

Goodbye Solo: Ramin Bahrani, New York's next neo-realist maestro (of Man Push Cart and Chop Shop fame), went home to North Carolina for this moving story from America's fringes. Sutton

Independencia: Raya Martin's as-yet-undistributed silent-film pastiche fits its tale of Filipinos hiding out from the Americans with an appropriately colonized aesthetic, but what sticks most are the silvery, dreamlike images. Schenker

Of Time and the City: Queer, erudite Terence Davies' history of Liverpool is equally the story of his self-conscious, perhaps guilty attempts to distance himself from his working-class Catholic origins: the nostalgia is doubly poignant for the filmmaker's self-defeating attempts to deny it. Asch

Paradise: Michael Almereyda preserves on video a collage of fleeting, stolen moments from around the world. The film's unassuming reticence only heightens its expressive, evocative power. Gallagher

Tokyo Sonata: Kiyoshi Kurosawa's masterpiece, about people out of place, centered on one family but with an eye on the surrounding world, which parallels their condition. H. Stewart

Serbis: Brillante Mendoza's hauntingly lurid modernist story about a Filipino family in crisis and the porno theater they run. A celebration of the tactile, no matter how grotesque. Simon Abrams

Still Walking: Hirokazu Kore-Eda's tribute to Ozu and Naruse, about two generations of a family who desperately want to but cannot connect. Brimming with genuine warmth and hurt. Abrams

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