1. “Inglourious Basterds”

What’s that, you say? Our pick for the best film of 2009 is flawed? Why yes, it is. “Inglourious Basterds” is as flawed as those cheeky misspellings in the title. It’s as flawed as Brad Pitt’s Italian. And it’s as flawed as the historical accuracy of that final whiz-bang, shoot-em-up climax that plays out like John Wayne’s wet dream. But the greater flaw would be our inability to recognize Quentin Tarantino’s absurd, gleeful propaganda riff for the work of sheer filmmaking bravado that it is. And that, my friends, is a bingo.

—Andrew Lapin

2. “Avatar”

It looked stupid. It looked obvious. It was going to flop. Or so we thought. With “Avatar,” James Cameron, the grandest showman in Hollywood, once again proved he can deliver a blockbuster of incomparable scale. Already one of film history’s most remarkable aesthetic accomplishments, “Avatar” sends the audience light years away from Earth to the planet of Pandora, where the local Na’vi people attempt to defend their sacred homeland from invasive, money-grubbing humans. Maybe you’ve seen “Avatar” ten times already; maybe you haven’t seen it at all yet. But you will see it. And when you do, you’ll never forget the astounding journey on which Cameron leads you.

—Nick Coston

3. “District 9”

A director’s prowess in filmmaking is gauged, among many other criteria, by what he can do with the resources he’s given. “District 9” director Neill Blomkamp made his $30-million budget look like a $100-million one. The result is one of the most hauntingly beautiful movies of the year, melding South African apartheid allegory with stunning visual effects and quirky humor. By seamlessly combining documentary-style footage with spectacular CGI, “District 9” delivers an out-of-this-world story that hits close to home. By the way, this movie is for humans only.

—Hans Yadav

4. “Up in the Air”

George Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham is paid to fire people. He has spent most of his life alone, in and out of hotels and airports. His life seems to be a lonely and depressing one, but director Jason Reitman, of “Thank You for Smoking” and “Juno” fame, brings warmth and wit to an otherwise desolate picture. It’s a funny movie, but it also gives reason to look twice at everyday occurrences — especially the people standing in line at a security check.

—Emily Boudreau

5. “A Serious Man”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?” That is the philosophical question lying at the heart of the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man.” The directors take us back to the 1960s Minneapolis suburb of their youth to tell the tale of a mild-mannered physics professor put through a series of moral dilemmas — drawing obvious parallels to the plight of Job in the process. Amid their trademark ambiguity, schadenfreude and eccentric characters, the Coens raise stirring questions about morality and the role of faith in society. This is the dynamic duo of directing at their finest. Be sure to bring your Yiddish phrasebook.

—Kavi Pandey

6. “Up”

Pixar laps up another victory. Boasting one of the strongest expository sequences since, um, last year’s “Wall-E,” “Up” is a giddy, luminous tale of love and perseverance. 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen lives out the fantasy we all had in our youth: to sail into a billowing ocean of balloons, seeking adventure, and to never come back. Yet the strongest aspect of “Up” is the economy of dialogue. Those words left unsaid are powerfully dictated by a glance, a smile or a sigh. “Up” is easily one of the most heartbreaking and heartwarming films of the year.

—Jennifer Xu

7. “An Education”

Jenny is a 16-year-old girl who devotes all of her time to getting into Oxford. When she meets David, a man twice her age, Jenny starts to see the world around her differently. There’s a whole world out there that has to be experienced, not just studied. Actors Peter Sarsgaard and Carey Mulligan both show great talent in roles that aren’t easy to pull off, and they both deliver simply stunning performances. Not only are the actors convincing, the film creates an arresting portrait of London in the 1960s where people are always conscious of class and change.

—Emily Boudreau

8. “The Hangover”

“The Hangover” is one of film’s first successful fusions of intelligent humor and outright inebriation. This movie somehow managed to show us that Mike Tyson’s tiger, Vegas weddings and a whole slew of dental jokes could co-exist with the ideals of close friendship and marital fidelity. But more important than the film itself was its role in introducing America to Zach Galfianakis, a comedian whose merit as an actor, while made apparent in “The Hangover,” is yet to be fully realized.

—Timothy Rabb

9. “(500) Days of Summer”

“(500) Days of Summer” is a mishmash of modern classics, drenched in the vintage. This tale of boy-meets-girl-loses-girl (that quite insistently proclaims itself to be “not a love story”) evokes the old-school charm of “Annie Hall,” the hipster quirkiness of “Punch Drunk Love” and the modern-age nonlinearity of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” But despite its derivations, director Marc Webb manages to fashion a film that’s refreshingly, lyrically different from its predecessors. It’s about falling hopelessly in love and falling hopefully out of love. And that animated bluebird scene couldn’t be better.

—Jennifer Xu

10. “Paranormal Activity”

It was rumored that Stephen Spielberg had to wait until daytime to finish watching his copy of “Paranormal Activity.” Whether that story is true or not, “Paranormal” is without question one of the scariest movies of the modern era. If it wasn’t the midnight-only screenings or the long, winding lines outside of select theaters that helped viewers appreciate the film, it must have been a realization that hit them as they shook under the covers upon returning home: Their bed — their haven of refuge for all these years — may just be the last place they want to be.

—Hans Yadav

Editors’ Choice: “The Hurt Locker”

“The Hurt Locker” is a painful character study of badass Staff Sergeant William James, a bomb diffuser who has fallen in love with the rush of his craft. For James, who has dismantled more than 800 bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan and keeps a box of his favorite triggers under his bed, nothing else in life matters. Fellow soldiers and family members cycle throughout the movie, but you, like James, don’t care. Because, like James, all you really want is to experience the heart-pounding adrenaline rush of standing over a bomb.

—Jacob Smilovitz

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