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The Screening Room

The experts' 20 best movies of 2009

By Daniela Deane for CNN
  • A movie blogger, a critic, a film social networker and a film festival director give us top flicks
  • Haneke's "The White Ribbon," Reitman's "Up in the Air," and "Avatar" most popular
  • Films from: U.S., Romania, Greece, Austria, France, Argentina, South Africa on list
  • We want your opinions too. What are you favorite movies from 2009? Tell us in SoundOff

London, England (CNN) -- It's been an epic year for movies.

From James Cameron's return to the big screen with "Avatar," to "Star Trek" re-imagined to the star-studded cast of Rob Marshall's "Nine," Hollywood has been going big guns this year.

Meanwhile over in independent film a new star was born -- Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe -- the abused, overweight teen who grabs your heart and won't let go in "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire."

And a few foreign language films -- "The White Ribbon" and "A Prophet," in particular -- simply blew critics' socks off.

We canvassed a diverse group of movie experts to find out what films they thought were the best of 2009. Disagree? Think they missed on? Tell us what regular movie goers think in SoundOff below.

The Blogger
Erik Davis, Editor-in-Chief,

1. 'Avatar' (James Cameron, U.S.)
A visual orgasm. I think it'll definitely be a Best Picture [Academy Award] contender and Cameron will be a Best Director contender. There were definitely some things wrong with it story-wise. It's a bit clichéd, a story we've seen before. But from a visual standpoint, I had never experienced anything like it.

2. 'Up in the Air' (Jason Reitman, U.S.)
Reitman's film is great -- pretty brilliant. There's familiarity there, especially for anyone who's traveled a lot. It's a story you can connect with on a personal level. Reliable, familiar, and yes, a little bit poetic.

3. 'District 9' (Neill Blomkamp, South Africa)
Nice and refreshing to get a creative sci-fi original at the end of summer. A big action-intense film that is also smart and has something to say. It showed us what a summer blockbuster can be without hundreds of millions of dollars spent on it.

4. 'The Hangover' (Todd Phillips, U.S.)
A guilty, raunchy comedy. You can't help but just crack up at it all. You had to recommend it to all your friends, because you couldn't stop laughing. And it brought three unfamiliar faces together that are under the radar in Hollywood. That was really good.

5. 'Nine' (Rob Marshall, U.S.)
Is it one of my favourite films? I don't know. But, in terms of what audiences like and what the Academy likes, it's a big, star-studded musical. Daniel Day-Lewis is brilliant in it. The production values are marvelous. It's not blowing anyone's mind, they're not gushing over it, but it's a quality, movie/musical you almost have to put in the list.

The Critic
Mike Goodridge, Editor, Screen International

1. 'The White Ribbon' (Michael Haneke, Austria)
It's the most extraordinary film. The most controlled, commanding movie. It's an incredible story that has implications for the 21st century.

2. 'A Prophet' (Jacques Audiard, France)
Extremely ambitious European filmmaking. Thrilling to watch. It's about this Algerian guy in prison in France and it's a two-and-a-half hour epic ... the violence he goes through. It's an incredible epic, wonderful.

3. 'A Serious Man' (Ethan and Joel Coen, U.S.)
I've never adored the Coen Brothers, but this movie just tickled my fancy. It's a hilarious film, a penetrating portrait of that Midwestern Jewish ghetto of the late 1960s. I laughed my head off. And it was beautifully acted.

4. 'Avatar' (James Cameron, U.S.)
I love "Avatar." Like "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings," it's one of those movies that really changes the paradigm of filmmaking. It has created an amazing new capability: watching computer-generated characters with the audience as invested in them as they are in the human characters. Who knows if it'll stand the test of time, though.

5. 'Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire' (Lee Daniels, U.S.)
I saw it at Sundance 12 months ago and it still resonates. It's a beautiful story, like nothing you've ever seen before. It takes one of life's underprivileged and puts them at the center of a movie. She's obese, black, abused beyond comprehension, yet you're put in her shoes. It makes you think about life differently. Really powerful.

Avatar is a visual orgasm
--Erik Davis, Editor-in-Chief,

The Social Networker
Efe Cakarel, Founder and CEO, The Auteurs

1. 'The White Ribbon' (Michael Haneke, Austria)
Haneke has made his bid for an Oscar with this literary, early 20th century period piece set in a small pre-War German town. Lurking behind the stark, high-contrast black and white photography ... are the same sinister motivations that have driven all the characters in this master filmmaker's work. A beautiful film pitched at a larger, more respectable audience.

2. 'A Prophet' (Jacques Audiard, France)
Prison dramas are notoriously difficult to render on screen with any authentic sense of the tedium that underscores the violence, claustrophobia and degradation of daily life. And yet here, Audiard paints a magnificently raw portrait, not only of survival, but of that most precious of human qualities -- the capacity to thrive, adapt and ultimately to transcend.

3. 'The Headless Woman' (Lucrecia Martel, 2008, Argentina)
South America's most exciting filmmaker keeps getting more famous, and her movies keep getting smaller. "The Headless Woman" feels like it started as a noir ... but without warning, Martel drops the camera and everything moves out of focus. The result is a sliver of a film -- exquisite, beguiling and utterly mysterious.

4. 'Love Exposure' (Shion Sono, 2008, Japan)
A four-hour epic of obtuse, perverse sexual deviancy, religion, abuse and evil is, of course, entirely about love. Resisting at every turn the temptation to condemn the morality and behavior of his five severely emotionally damaged protagonists, he instead paints a portrait of real, raw emotion. This ponderous and beautifully-shot film will endure long after this list has turned to dust.

5. 'Phantoms of Nabua' (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)
A remarkable example of the true power of cinema. This short film is a tone poem, a disarticulation of space, a testament to disaffected masculinity and an exemplary piece of cinematography.

The Festival Director
Despina Mouzaki,
Thessaloniki International Film Festival

1. 'The White Ribbon' (Michael Haneke, Austria)
An allegory for the times and the dangers that lie beneath the surface that could lead us to totalitarianism. A political film with a strong message. A modern film that speaks about how difficult it is to let go of our bad traits -- traits that endanger our own existence. Haneke is, as always, a master. A dark story of a very specific community.

2. 'Up in the Air' Video (Jason Reitman, U.S.)
The best American film of the year. One of those rare moments when a director catches the momentum of what society is facing right now and captures it in such a smart way. Funny and tragic at the same time, the story of the leading character is the story of a 21st century man who has lost track of what is important in life.

3. 'Police, Adjective' (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania)
Another film that proves that Romania is in the vanguard of original filmmaking and storytelling today. Language is at the heart of this story of surveillance, bureaucracy and the difficulty of letting old habits and policies go. A critique of the country's post-Communist stagnation.

4. 'Lourdes' (Jessica Hausner, Austria)
A great film on the subject of faith and the questioning of miracles by an original voice from Austria. Combining delicate humor with the tragic stories of the people who are hoping for a miracle at Lourdes, Hausner succeeds in creating an impeccable balance of respect for human nature without hiding its weaknesses.

5. 'Dogtooth' (George Lanthimos, Greece)
We are very proud to have the rare opportunity to include a Greek film in the best films of the year without feeling we're doing it a favor. Having won awards at Cannes and numerous other European festivals, Lanthimos is a talent to watch.