1. Precious When I think back to 2009, this will be the film I remember—and the miraculous way Lee Daniels managed to coax humor, and even joy, from the story of obese, illiterate, abused Precious (remarkable Gabby Sibide).
2. The Hurt Locker Kathryn Bigelow's Gulf war film, about a soldier (Jeremy Renner) who defuses roadside bombs, works as both a you-are-there action flick and an examination of the awful paradox of war: that once it gets into your blood, it becomes almost impossible to leave behind.
3. Inglourious Basterds A Jewish WWII revenge pic that plays like Tarantino's video store education thrown into a blender. There are elements of Spaghetti Westerns, German art pictures, blaxploitation films, kung fu flicks, and studio melodramas. The result? The single most audacious (and entertaining) film of the year.
4. Up in the Air Might very well win the Oscar, not just because it's shrewd and sexy and funny, but because it seemed to so accurately sum up our decade—the scourge of air travel, the casual cruelty of capitalism, and the potential for isolation in an increasingly impersonal world. Oh, and did I mention that Clooney is great in this?
5. Funny People Since this film hasn't gotten a whiff of award's attention, I have to wonder: Was I the only one who found Judd Apatow's latest, about a caddish celebrity (Adam Sandler) who finds a smidge of humanity when he thinks he's dying of cancer, to be humane, insightful, and spit-take funny? Guess so.
6. Bright Star Breathlessly beautifully story about the poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his love for the girl next door (Abbie Cornish). Of course, social constraints conspire against them-making their yearning, and Jane Campion's ecstatic direction, all the more intoxicating.
7. The Maid Tart and brilliantly observed piece of social anthropology about a live-in maid (indelible Cataline Saavedra) working for an upper-class Chilean family who churlishly protects her turf. She's miserable—partly because she has no life of her own and partly because she knows that her status as a member of the family has its limits.
8. An Education Carey Mulligan plays a '60s-era British schoolgirl who falls in love with a glamorous older man (Peter Sarsgaard). She thinks she has all the answers—and even her hopelessly middle class parents agree her new beau is the bee's knees—but a wise school teacher (Olivia Williams) sees through her short-sighted choices. Mulligan's Jenny is a great teenage heroine: Smart, feisty, and deeply, believably flawed.
9. Drag Me To Hell Sam Raimi brings his A-list talent to a B-grade horror flick and the result is scream-through-your-laughs funny and gross.
10. (500) Days of Summer This inventive charmer acts like it's never seen a romantic comedy before-and that's a good thing. Also gets mad credit for being the film that finally—finally!—made Joseph Gordon Levitt a star.
Honorable Mention: A Single Man, Avatar, Brothers, District 9, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Messenger, The September Issue, State of Play, Where the Wild Things Are, Whip It!, Zombieland.