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The best and worst of 2009: Movies

'WILD THINGS': Spike Jonze's adaptation evoked childlike wonder and intimations of loss.
'WILD THINGS': Spike Jonze's adaptation evoked childlike wonder and intimations of loss. (Matt Nettheim/warner Bros. Via Associated Press)
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By Ann Hornaday
Sunday, December 20, 2009

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Best

1. "The Hurt Locker" Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq war drama indisputably ranks as the most taut, visceral, well-made piece of filmmaking this year. Both a slam-bang action thriller and an observant character study of heroism and recklessness, it takes the war movie to a new heights of dynamism and boldness.

2. "Up in the Air" The perfect George Clooney movie that, with indelible supporting performances from Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick and themes of economic decline, rootlessness and the enduring power of connection, becomes much more than a George Clooney movie.

3. "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" This searing portrait of domestic squalor would be unwatchable were it not for Lee Daniels's assured, poetic direction and galvanizing performances from Mo'Nique, Gabourey Sidibe and Mariah Carey.

4. "Sugar" An unforced, perceptive drama about a Dominican baseball player on his way to the American big leagues stars first-time actor Algenis Per├ęz Soto in a gentle, haunting performance.

5. "The Baader Meinhof Complex" Uli Edel's detailed portrait of the German terrorist group limns how earnest political outrage can curdle into unspeakable violence; the lead performances, by Martina Gedeck and Moritz Bleibtreu, are uncompromising and unforgettable.

6 ."Anvil! The Story of Anvil" So much of this film -- about an obscure but influential Canadian metal band trying to make a comeback -- recalls "This is Spinal Tap" that it's easy to forget it's all true. Funny, sad, inspiring and it rawks.

7. "Star Trek" A pretty much flawless prequel to the iconic TV series and subsequent movies, featuring breakout performances by a sporting, nervy cast of young actors playing the Enterprise crew. Director J.J. Abrams earned props for paying due homage and giving the franchise a poppy, entertaining reboot.

8. "District 9" This nifty science fiction B-movie proved that pulp can be deliver smart laughs and political allegory along with the adrenaline jolts, in this case served up in a '50s-worthy alien thriller set in a futuristic South Africa, where an extraterrestrial race is mired in apartheid-era separatism.

9. "Where the Wild Things Are" Spike Jonze brought Maurice Sendak's cherished children's book to the screen with equal parts childlike wonder and mournful intimations of loss, striking the perfect tone for the source material.

10. "Humpday" Writer-director Lynn Shelton sets up an eye-rolling premise -- two heterosexual friends agree to have sex together for an art project -- and turns it into a funny, touching portrait, not just of male friendship and pride, but of a modern marriage.

Worst

1. Sandra Bullock in "All About Steve" The fact that Bullock has had such a terrific year with "The Proposal" and "The Blind Side" only points up how wrong-headed this misfire was, from casting the smart, spirited star as a bumbling, nerdy stalker, to its clumsy execution.

2. "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" Everything that Michael Bay got right in the first "Transformers" -- the action, the humor, the story, the characters -- went horribly wrong in this overblown, over-loud, repetitive, joyless installment.

3. The digital cinematography in "Public Enemies" Michael Mann's gangster picture starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, was supposed to be a high point of the summer. But Mann's choice to film the movie on digital video produced a muddy, pixilated look that was completely at odds with the film's period -- and uuuugly.


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