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Ten best films of 2009

Uncovering some gems in an uneven year at the movies.

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With all this real-world weightiness to bear, it’s no wonder the big escapist franchises thrived, though for the life of me I can’t understand why anybody would want to spend three hours being assaulted by “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” or “Terminator Salvation.” (It’s like taking a vacation in a war zone.) At least “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” didn’t have any cyborgs. Animation remained big, and not just the computer-generated variety: The great Hayao Miyazaki’s “Ponyo” had a hand-drawn lyricism, and even Disney, with “The Princess and the Frog,” dispensed with the CGI playbook and (for the most part) went back to basics. Pixar’s “Up” was certainly uplifting for its first half hour, until it literally went to the dogs. Foxes and big hairy creatures had a better time of it: Wes Anderson’s stop-motion “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” like Spike Jonze’s phantasmagoric “Where the Wild Things Are,” brought a much-needed sense of wonderment to the overcrowded, underinspired family-entertainment arena.

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As is so often true for me these days, the best reason to see a movie is for a bang-up performance, and there were many this year. “The Last Station,” which opens nationwide in mid-January, when I will review it, has two marvels: Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer as Sofya and Count Leo Tolstoy. Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart” demonstrates for the umpteenth time why he’s one of our finest actors. Meryl Streep didn’t simply impersonate Julia Child in “Julie & Julia,” she inhabited her. The same could be said for Christian McKay’s turn as Orson Welles in “Me and Orson Welles.” Watching Mo’Nique in “Precious” is like having a close encounter with a gargoyle. Michelle Pfeiffer’s underrated work as a faded courtesan in “Chéri” is moving beyond measure.

Your faithful servant saw about 250 movies this year, and so, without further ado, here are my picks for the 10 best films of 2009, in alphabetical order, plus an addendum of worthies. Alas, some of the best flew under the radar this year. I hope this list encourages you to seek them out:

Everlasting Moments

One of the great Swedish director Jan Troell’s finest films, it boasts a classic performance by Maria Heiskanen as a quietly, heroically suffering wife. You really feel as though you’ve been through a life when you see this one.

In the Loop