Honorable Mentions: Terminator Salvation, Up in the Air, Julie & Julia.
10. A Single Man. The film debut by fashion designer Tom Ford, and featuring Oscar-worthy performances by Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, A Single Man is a film about loss, grief and hope.
9. Broken Embraces (Los Abrazos Rotos). It's always a good year when there is a new Pedro Almodóvar film released. Features an incredible performance by Penelope Cruz and some fun self-referential jokes in the movie within a movie.
8. Outrage. A brilliant documentary about media hypocrisy in the coverage of homosexuality in political circles by the director of This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Kirby Dick. Senator Larry Craig, Governor Charlie Crist, Governor James McGreevey are just a few of the names that are bandied about in the film.7. The Hangover. A bawdy, ridiculous comedy about a bachelor party weekend in Vegas that goes hyperbolically, hysterically wrong. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and the apparently ubiquitous Zach Galifianakis are pitch perfect in this screwball comedy directed by Todd Phillips.
6. Star Trek. J.J. Abrams has the Midas touch. The director took the dross that was the Star Trek brand and turned it into cinematic gold with this energetic, smart re-boot of the most venerable science fiction franchise in Hollywood. Yes, the plot is a mess, but the film (and its youthful stars) are well worth ogling.
5. District 9. Who says summer blockbusters have to have huge budgets and be mindless? South African director Neil Blomkamp is able to amaze and provoke the audience with his allegorical tale of mistreatment of a despised minority group by the government, in a country which has its own unique history with state-sanctioned mistreatment of its citizens.
4. Food, Inc. After seeing this film you'll never look at dinner the same way again, but you will be happy that you did. An absolutely must-see documentary in the spirit of An Inconvenient Truth and Sicko that tells uncomfortable truths about the way our society is organized and offers suggestions for how we can stop being complicit in making things worse for us all.
3. Up. Yet another Pixar masterpiece. It seems like the geniuses at the computer animation are just messing with our heads now. They just showed how to take a curmudgeonly old man, a socially awkward, chubby Asian kid and a talking dog and make an emotionally evocative, suspense-thriller summer blockbuster out of these unlikely elements. One of the better Pixar animated films, and that is saying something.
2. The Hurt Locker. After being exposed to another ecstatic review as the summer was winding down, me and the Other Half went to a nearly empty late screening of Kathryn Bigelow's masterpiece and were unceremoniously blown away by the visceral power the film has to transport the viewer into the heart of a war zone and too close for comfort to the mind of an adrenaline-junkie bomb dismantling soldier played with devastating impact by Jeremy Renner, in a performance that is now beoming widely celebrated.
1. Avatar. The most enjoyable time I spent at the movies all year (really, in several years) was the nearly six hours I spent immersed in watching this film by James Cameron twice in three days in 3-D. It brought back the joy of going to the movies that I remember the first time I saw Star Wars. An instant class and without a doubt the Best Picture of the year.
Not Seen in 2009: Precious, Fantastic Mr. Fox, A Serious Man, An Education, Invictus.
UPDATE: You might want to check out my Top 10 movies for the decade 2000-2009.