1. Inglorious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino). When I first saw it, I wasn't sure if the whole movie added up to the sum of its parts. On a second viewing, I was convinced. Someday, it may even replace "Pulp Fiction" as my favorite Tarantino flick. As many others have said, Christoph Waltz is just amazing as Hans Landa, and the opening sequence where Landa interviews a simple French farmer is one of Tarantino's greatest accomplishments. The moment when Landa drops the pretense and through just a change of expression reveals all of the evil beneath is breathtaking. And then there's the underground tavern scene - I could watch that one all night, and never get tired of it. And let's give Brad Pitt his due - he's pretty damned good.
2. Moon (Duncan Jones). The directorial debut of Duncan Jones, until now best known as the son of David Bowie. A quiet, mesmerizing film that demonstrates you can still do science fiction on film without a lot of space battles and explosions. For a long time I've waited for a breakthrough performance by Sam Rockwell. I'm not sure if enough people saw this to make this the one, but I hope so.
3. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow). An amazing achievement, simply for proving that it is possible to make a film about the war in Iraq that is apolitical. Almost unbearably suspenseful, with a terrific leading performance by Jeremy Renner. Great cameos by Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes.
4. Star Trek (J.J. Abrams). I wouldn't have thought it was possible, but Abrams indeed pulled off the neat trick of reinventing the "Trek" universe so that anything can happen now, and it will be OK.
5. District 9 (Neill Blommkamp). Particularly the first half, when it sticks to the "faux documentary" approach. Sharlto Copley is strikingly good as the lead.
6. Public Enemies (Michael Mann). Johnny Depp was great, but my favorite performance in the movie was Stephen Lang's.
7. The Men Who Stare at Goats (Grant Heslov). Perhaps not as good as it could have been, but there's no arguing that Clooney, Bridges and McGregor were great in it.
8. Watchmen (Zack Snyder). Only Jackie Earle Haley really matches the intensity of his character (and the casting of Ozymandias nearly ruined it for me), but I'll stick with what I said right after I saw it - this was probably the best Watchmen movie that could have been made.
I haven't seen any of the holiday releases, so we'll save a couple of spots for them.
Great and good movies I saw for the first time in 2009:
"Ratatouille" - Brad Bird is a genius. I never dreamed that this would be so good - nearly as good as "The Incredibles."
"Zodiac" - Like I said when I saw it: if you were 9 years old and living in Northern California in 1969, believe me, you knew all about the Zodiac killer. And this brought it all back.
"No Country for Old Men" - Javier Bardem deserved all the kudos, but I thought Josh Brolin was just as good.
"There Will Be Blood" - Even though there was a bit of "master thespian" in Daniel Day-Lewis' performance, that didn't make it any less compelling. And until the last 30 minutes, the film-making was as good as it gets. But I didn't like Paul Dano one bit.
"American Gangster" - A nice companion piece to "Prince of the City." Again, a nice supporting turn from Josh Brolin.
"The Wrestler" - OK, I've made up my mind: Rourke was better than Penn. And I'm sorry, but Bruce Springsteen got robbed by the Academy.
"Milk" - Penn was good, but there's a part of me that thinks James Franco and Josh Brolin (again!) were even better.
"The Queen" - Helen Mirren was great, and James Cromwell was almost as good.
"Frost/Nixon" - For Frank Langella. But as a Watergate obsessive, I was disappointed by the false drama in the way Ron Howard ended the movie. Trust me, what Nixon revealed in that interview really wasn't that big a deal.
"Mrs. Brown" - Judi Dench was great, and Billy Connolly was even better.
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" - WOW. Just saw this a couple of nights ago, and am still thinking about it. Will probably replace "The Truman Show" as my favorite Jim Carrey movie.