The way I labored over my top 10 list of movies for 2009, you'd think I were devising a plan for world domination (hmmm).
It wasn't easy. There were some great films in 2009, and we flocked to the theaters in droves. The total box office haul for the year was around $9.5 billion, according to Boxofficemojo.com. That's about an 8.5 percent increase over 2008, and Hollywood is hoping it only gets better.
So before we get too far into the New Year, here are my top 10 films of 2009 (ranked in order):
1. "Up" — Pixar continues its amazing streak with this adventure about an elderly man who ties balloons to his house to set off for South Africa and follow his dream of being an explorer. It's a magical journey that also turns out to be an unexpectedly, wonderfully sentimental one, and makes us realize everyday life is the biggest adventure of all.
2. "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" — Heartrending, brutally unflinching tale of an abused, overweight, pregnant Harlem teen no one would expect anything from but failure. That she finally learns to see the beauty in herself is a transcending, moving experience.
3. "Avatar" — James Cameron's 3-D epic is a jaw-dropping, groundbreaking, technological marvel. But the real victory is that we care about his computer-created characters.
4. "The Hurt Locker" — War is hell, and director Kathryn Bigelow makes us feel it, putting us on the streets of Baghdad in this intensely suspenseful, riveting portrait of an Army bomb squad trying to do its job — and survive.
5. "Inglourious Basterds" — Quentin Tarantino's revenge fantasy is practically giddy in its violent intentions, but it's also surprisingly intelligent, a gripping tale that lets us in on the joke.
6. "(500) Days of Summer" — A refreshing antithesis to the romantic comedy, this boy-meets-girl tale (which is adamant about NOT being a love story) told out of order is clever, buoyant, insightful, funny and utterly charming.
7. "Zombieland" — Twisting the zombie genre like a broken neck, this is great, snappy fun and jabs everything from Bill Murray to Twinkies. And when was the last time you admired a zombie film for its creative typography?
8. "Up in the Air" — Subdued but compelling character study of a man addicted to his frequent-flier lifestyle who is blissfully unaware of his unhappiness — until it slaps him in the face and makes him realize he just might be the loneliest man in the world.
9. "Star Trek" — Lovingly reinventing the classic space franchise while also paying homage to it, "Star Trek" was one of the funnest movies of the year (as long as you ignore that whole time-travel thing with Leonard Nimoy). Inspired casting, too.
10. "Fantastic Mr. Fox" — Wes Anderson's quirky tone was perfect for this wonderfully whimsical stop-motion animation tale of a fox (perfectly voiced by George Clooney) who finally grows up and learns responsibility.
11. "The Hangover" — Stupid, low-brow, idiotic — and very funny.
12. "Drag Me to Hell" — Sam Raimi returns to frightfully fantastic, campy horror form.
13. "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" — The series finally gets a much-needed sense of darkness, danger and tragedy.
14. "The Messenger" — Roiling performances propel this tale about men who must console families of fallen soldiers.
15. "An Education" — Frothy, enjoyable coming-of-age tale about a teenage girl and a much-older man.
16. "Moon" — Moody sci-fi study of isolation with Sam Rockwell playing multiple roles.
17. "Adventureland" — Nostalgic, humorous and surprisingly warm ride.
18. "The Road" — Bleak, disturbing, wrenching — but worth it.
19. "Sin Nombre" — A tale of immigrants in Mexico told with seething urgency.
20. "Food, Inc." —Awakens us to what we're eating — and shouldn't.
Meryl Streep, "Julie and Julia" — She gloriously embodied Julia Child with warmth, humor and bigger-than-life zeal.
Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique, "Precious" —Both are ferocious, fearless and brimming with rage.
Jeremy Renner, Brian Geraghty and Anthony Mackie, "The Hurt Locker" —Their turns as gutsy, brave soldiers made us want to take a hit for them.
Viggo Mortensen, "The Road" — It would have been easier for his character to just give up in the face of unrelenting dread, but Mortensen made us see his determination and hopefulness.
Carey Mulligan and Peter Saarsgard, "An Education" —A star-making, jubilant turn by Mulligan, but Saarsgard made us see the charm that she saw.
Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds" — His Nazi villain was wonderfully, wickedly demented and fun.
Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster, "The Messenger" —As the dutiful soldiers who must don emotional armor, they fight back tears, but ours flow.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "(500) Days of Summer" — Not a typical romantic lead, but he flawlessly moved between love-struck and heartbroken from one moment to the next.
Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side" — I was skeptical, and the big, blond 'do only made me more so, but she completely owned the screen as a gutsy Memphis mama.
What you thought
Total estimated box office gross for 2009, according to Boxofficemojo.com (in millions):
1. "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" ($402)
2. "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" ($302)
3. "Up" ($293)
4. "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" ($281)
5. "The Hangover" ($277)
6. "Star Trek" ($258)
7. "Avatar" ($213)
8. "Monsters Vs. Aliens" ($198)
9. "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" ($197)
10. "The Blind Side" ($184)