The films that rocked 2009: Ron Yamauchi

It was a year of outer-space spectacles and inner-city dramas, animated delights and sombre period pieces. Critical acclaim may yet swirl around flicks like Crazy Heart and The Messenger, but they won’t hit local screens until 2010. Thus, the following is how the best of this year’s celluloid lot stacked up for our movie reviewers. The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, and Up in the Air scored the most accolades with our critics, with An Education and District 9 coming in a close second.

Movies, like all art, are about the creation of feelings. I’m not opposed to being educated, hectored, or made ashamed, but I call those life lessons, and I can get them for free. When I lay down my $13 plus popcorn, I want to get the good feelings: to be amused, charmed, thrilled, and shaken, ideally at the same time. These are 10 of the year’s most successful, albeit in the theatre—it’s never the same at home, at least until James Cameron invents the fully holographic cinema, complete with bad parking and rainy puddles.

Watch the trailer for Star Trek.

Star Trek
The best TV-to-movie reboot, and possibly the greatest space adventure ever made, Star Trek succeeds on almost every level. It brings giant spectacle, subtle themes, and confident performances, moving crew and audiences alike to say “Energize!”

The Hurt Locker
Twenty-plus years of quality action filmmaking culminate in director Kathryn Bigelow’s masterpiece. A character study set in a contemporary bomb squad in Iraq, Bigelow’s triumph is in making us feel the explosiveness within.

A Serious Man
The Coen brothers have long brought us funny, ironic, and dense tales of naifs distressed by the bizarre behaviour of those around them, but this semiautobiographical tale is perhaps their first to directly implicate God as the solution—and the reason—for all such woes and among their best work.

District 9
Science-fiction movies are usually short on both science and fiction, in the sense of compelling characters or novel plot, but District 9 transcends the genre as a haunting and rather amazing blend of political satire, relationship drama, farce, horror, and then sheer kick-assery.

A classically B-movie tale—retired CIA man on the hunt for his missing daughter—this unheralded product from Luc Besson’s thriller assembly line is an example of the revenge thriller done as well as it can be, thanks to a riveting star performance by Liam Neeson, who plays us like a violin. Which he then stomps.

Inglourious Basterds
A Second World War men-on-a-mission flick as only Quentin Tarantino could deconstruct it, Basterds is endlessly enjoyable as treatise on propaganda, as textbook example of dialogue construction, and, not least—in fact, mostly—as gleefully sadistic vengeance fantasy.

Solemn philosophizing has never merged so seamlessly with over-the-top violence as in Watchmen, the antisuperhero superhero movie that is easily the most faithfully reverent comic-to-movie translation ever, despite Alan Moore’s ungrateful and destructive kvetching.

Observe and Report
With this giddily psychotic inversion of Paul Blart: Mall Cop, director Jody Hill has done for people who think they are tough what Anchorman did for people who think they are sexy. Who knew that Seth Rogen could mutate his flabby geniality into something so genuinely disturbing?

(500) Days of Summer
A witty, wrenching autopsy of a failed relationship, where the lessons fly mostly over the head of the (charmingly) unreliable narrator, played by terrific young star Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

To be visually distinctive in an era where the spectacular is commonplace is, in itself, an impressive achievement. But storytelling comes first, which is why the animated movies of Hayao Miyazaki and Pixar are so special. I share this spot with Up, because it is wise and clever, while Ponyo—a sentimental fable about a boy and his fish/girlfriend—is uniquely weird.

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