Some people think critical top-10 lists are a self-indulgent waste of time. Those people will probably want to turn to a different section of the paper.
Here in WW's screen-watching quadrant, we felt that a year filled with this many arresting and divisive films deserved more than one inventory of movies to rent, revisit and debate. So we asked each of our four regular contributors to submit a list of what was really worth watching. In the following pages, you'll also find each of our candidates for the best film of the decade. And on wweek.com, we've prepared a rundown of the year's best television, as well as a three-part podcast in which we break down the flicks still further, while drinking.
We think there's never been a better time to argue about movies. We hope you agree.
1. Inglourious Basterds
It kills Hitler and (of course) it does not kill Hitler. It offers what movies provide all the time—wish fulfillment—while undercutting the foundations those other movies assume. It is a prank. It is a curse. It is an imprecatory psalm. Name me a movie that tries anything close. I dare you.
2. The Hurt Locker
The horror of Iraq summed up in a single image: a purpose-maddened explosives expert trying to defuse a reluctant suicide bomber, then crying, "I'm sorry!" as he runs for his life.
3. A Serious Man
You want God should answer your prayers?ask the Coens. You should pray thanks he doesn't.
4. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Nicolas Cage plays gator bait in an addiction noir that showcases Werner Herzog's outsized affection for damaged people.
Most of the city never got the chance to see Tim from The Office dressed as Rembrandt, performing cunnilingus. Shame.
This is the movie Up in the Airmight have been, a satire of predatory corporate chicanery combined with a romance between characters just a little bit smarter than the crowds. It flopped, naturally.
7. Observe and Report
The worst impulses of homogenized American Eagle culture get an airing out. Seth Rogen looks just like Glenn Beck in this movie.
8. In the Loop
Movies I Underrated, Part 1: I disliked the cynicism of its politics, but I can't deny that in a year of fine British filmmaking, this entry was the best—and the funniest.
Movies I Underrated, Part 2: Yes, the ending is too forgiving to be lifelike, but maybe life should be more like this comedy.
Science fiction with the special effects where they belong: in the unrestrained behavior of human actors (Sam Rockwell, Sam Rockwell and Sam Rockwell).
1. Inglourious Basterds
Perhaps the only film released this year that our fanboy heirs and academic offspring will still be arguing about when movies are beamed as holograms into our tiny pod-homes.
2. The Headless Woman
Lucrecia Martel's movie-as-daydream is a quicksand trap of eerie suggestion and elliptical discomfiture. Surrender and sink into it.
3. Silent Light
Carlos Reygadas finally delivers on the promise of Japón with this patient study of melancholy Mennonites whose faith in God is matched, honored and answered by Reygadas' glorious images.
Michael Fassbender delivers the performance of the year in Steve McQueen's hypnotic, brutal, unflinching take on Bobby Sands' suicidal hunger strike.
Most lives are a subtle push and pull of contentment and nagging disappointment, but so few movies do this everyday struggle justice. Humpday is this year's Old Joy or Happy-Go-Lucky: a small and perfect snapshot of the way we get by.
Director Greg Mottola and star Jesse Eisenberg nail post-collegiate weltschmerz once and for all in this ode to moving back home and failing to put that diploma to use. The sequel, in which Eisenberg freelances for a weekly paper and drinks too much, should be wonderful.
7. Summer Hours
A film about death that makes me happy to be alive, and even a little bit less afraid of my final destination. More movies like this, please.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space. It's sad and lonely and insane out here, and Moon is solace for those who've noticed that the body is the scariest of all possible conveyances through the stars.
9. You, the Living
According to Ingmar Bergman, Roy Andersson makes "the best commercials in the world." He also occasionally makes amazing feature films. His latest consists of a series of meticulously staged vignettes that play like advertisements for the one thing all of us already have in abundance: crushing despair. It's a blast.
10. Tie: Avatar and The Hurt Locker
Both gunned for profundity and missed, but ex-spouses Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron made the most exhilarating roller-coaster movies of 2009.
1. The Hurt Locker
A nerve-shredding look at the toll combat stress takes on a bomb squad in Iraq, The Hurt Locker is a career-defining work from action maven Kathryn Bigelow, and by far the best film about the Iraq war.
2. In the Loop
The funniest, most-acid tongued political satire of the decade.
Pixar turns the absurd story of a cantankerous old man, a floating house, kaleidoscopic birds, a lonesome kid and talking dogs into the most poignant and endearing film of the year.
Freshman director Duncan Jones (son of Ziggy Stardust) blasts into orbit with the most satisfying case of Space Madness since Ren and Stimpy.
5. Inglourious Basterds
Even despite its flaws (I'm looking at you, David Bowie), Tarantino's extremely revisionist World War II fantasy is a triumph of Hitchcockian suspense and cinematic bravery.
6. The Informant!
Steven Soderbergh crafts the most entertaining film of his schizophrenic career by playing the whistle-blower story for big laughs wresting from Matt Damon a giddily sociopathic turn.
7. Drag Me to Hell
Sam Raimi's departure from arachnid superheroes is a frighteningly funny horror yarn that reminds us that tossing a Three Stooges mentality into a story of menacing demons is worth its weight in goo.
8. Goodbye Solo
Director Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop) goes three for three with a heartbreakingly earnest story of a Senegalese cabbie in North Carolina whose quest to save a suicidal old man offers joy and sorrow as what they are—everyday realities.
9. The Hangover
Todd Phillips' sophomoric and crude comedy is sure to become a late-night staple, a pitch-perfect comedy that's unafraid to whack a baby in the head when necessary.
In a year full of big-budget giant robots and blue Pocahonti, this low-budget (and decidedly goofy) Thai flick proves the best special effect is a fearless female martial artist with gonzo stunt work.
1. Two Lovers
James Gray's hypnotic chamber piece about Generation Y is even better than Minority Report(my Best of the Decade), but this way you get an extra movie recommendation.
THE MOVIE WITH THE MOST SHOES, ANYWAY: Isla Fisher in Shopaholic.
2. Confessions of a Shopaholic
They tried to make her go to rehab, but she said no, no, no: Isla Fisher's shopaholic rivals Nicolas Cage's bad lieutenant as America's most lovable addict.
A timeless Austrian morality play that refuses to go where you want it to, except perhaps into the woods.
4. Still Walking
Hirokazu Koreeda updates Tokyo Story for the modern era, distilling all the quiet anguish of a family reunion into two hours of harsh judgments, summer sweat and home cooking.
Define "avatar": Stop-motion animation plus 3-D glasses shrinks you down, not just into a child, but into the doll you played with as a child.
6. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Before directing Coraline, Henry Selick initiated another stop-motion project with Wes Anderson: this witty Roald Dahl adaptation about Homo sapiens and other feral species.
7. Gentlemen Broncos
Mormon filmmakers Jared and Jerusha Hess offer a Very New Testament of Jesus Christ, so don't slam the door: It's wonderfully adolescent and gooey, with Sam Rockwell as a yeast lord from outer space.
Ignore the trashy and misleading trailer for Jim Sheridan's drama, which addresses American military trauma with heartfelt simplicity.
9. World's Greatest Dad
Robin Williams has a midlife crisis and learns to be a serious man in this raunchy drama that was falsely advertised as comedy.
10. The Baader Meinhof Complex
Stifled by the chauvinist doll's house of '60s middle-class Germany, a couple of Marxist hausfraus take on the Fatherland at gunpoint, with epic results.