Film in 2009: Cheers for sink-estate misery. Jeers for a boat that plopped

'Fish Tank' by Andrea Arnold dazzled, but Richard Curtis seemed to have lost his golden touch
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Corker of the Year

Fish Tank was Andrea Arnold's dazzling follow-up to Red Road. From a distance, it could have been mistaken for a medicinal dose of British council-block misery, but its bolshie Essex-girl heroine, Katie Jarvis, opposed life's slings and arrows with such wit and spirit that she left me cheering.

In different ways, State of Play was as impressive. Beforehand, it sounded like a bad joke: a Hollywood remake of a beloved British TV series, with John Simm and David Morrissey replaced by Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck. But the film, as directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) and co-written by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, The Bourne Trilogy), was a rich, intelligent political thriller in its own right.

Turkey of the Year

I wish I could give the wooden spoon to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which was reprehensible in every conceivable way, but a film can't be classed as a turkey when it's made enough money to cover Third World debt. A more appropriate turkey would be The Boat That Rocked, even though it wasn't reprehensible in quite so many ways.

Richard Curtis has long been synonymous with British films that charm the world, so it was quite something when, after The Boat That Rocked sank in Britain, he had to change the title and cut 15 minutes before its release in America.

Surprise of the Year

Woody Allen devotees have a habit of hailing every one of his new films as a return to form, but the sun-kissed Vicky Cristina Barcelona really was the first in a decade that any of us could watch without wincing.

As a bonus, we also got Two Lovers, 2009's other triumphant Woody Allen. Strictly speaking, Allen had nothing to do with it, but it revolves around a neurotic, film-loving, Jewish Brooklynite (Joaquin Phoenix) who romances an unstable blonde shiksa (Gwyneth Paltrow), so it counts as honorary Woody.

Face of the Year

Strictly, the title ought to belong to Penelope Cruz. It was only a few years ago that she'd failed to break Hollywood, despite being Tom Cruise's arm candy. This year, she won an Oscar, and grew ever more goddess-like from Vicky Cristina Barcelona to Broken Embraces to Nine. But since she's had quite enough acclaim already, let's pass the gong to someone who needs it: Steve "The Lips" Kudlow. As his nickname suggests, he boasts quite a physog – he looks as if he's escaped from Where the Wild Things Are – and we saw plenty of it in Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Sacha Gervasi's hilarious yet weirdly touching documentary about a Canadian heavy metal band that has kept on keeping on for decades, despite being ignored for most of that time.

Setting of the Year

The bullying and peer pressure that can make school a misery were a recurring theme in some of the best films of 2009, as well as in a number of also-rans (Cracks, American Teen, the St Trinian's sequel). Top marks to the spine-tingling Swedish vampire drama Let the Right One In, which had as much to do with a swot being picked on as it did with immortal blood-suckers.

There was delicious comedy-horror in the Brit flick Tormented, which portrayed a UK comprehensive with pinpoint accuracy, undead marauders included. There was Afterschool, a stunning American indie film as cool and precise as a scalpel. There was An Education, in which most of the educating was done out of the classroom. And then there was The Class, a riveting French docu-drama about an inner-city teacher who wasn't quite as laid back and liberal as he thought. And as if that weren't enough, there was 17 Again, which was almost, if not quite, a Back to the Future for the High School Musical generation.

Rollercoaster of the Year

Crafty South African sci-fi thriller District 9 was a fast, loud, overwhelming sensory bombardment, and it made me feel a bit sick, but still I wanted to get straight back on for another go.

Cameo of the Year (here's a clue: it's in 'Zombieland')

But I can't say who it is without spoiling it. In fact, if you haven't seen the film yet, forget you ever read this.