The movie year in review


Paul Newman died, James Cameron came out of retirement and Quentin Tarantino proved he was more than a junk-movie repository. 2009 wasn’t a great
year for movies, but the good ones had an air of timelessness. They
will endure long after the “Twilight” and “Transformers” sequels, two
of the highest-grossing films of the year.

Two icons of 1980s cinema passed away this year: “Dirty Dancing” star Patrick Swayze, after a long bout with pancreatic cancer, and “The Breakfast Club” director John Hughes, who died suddenly on the streets of New York and was mourned by a generation weaned on his movies.

3D also continued to catch on, although “Avatar,”
the “Titanic” director’s much-hyped return to filmmaking, proved two
hours and 40 minutes of 3D are a bit of a strain on the eyeballs.

“The Hurt Locker” swept most critics’ groups awards and is poised to make Kathryn Bigelow the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar in March. The movie went
largely unseen, a victim of poor distribution and marketing by Summit Entertainment,
which opened the animated flop “Astro Boy” on more than 3,000 screens
but never brought “The Hurt Locker” to more than 500 theaters.

Most people will see the war drama when it is
released in January on DVD and Blu-ray, the high-definition format that
gained slowly but steadily in sales. “The Hurt Locker” will eventually
find its audience: Great movies always do.

Top Five

1. “Up in the Air”: The miraculous thing about writer-director Jason Reitman’s third feature is that it is a timeless, classy Hollywood entertainment that also happens to be a precise snapshot of the mood and concerns of present-day America.

2. “The Hurt Locker”: Bigelow’s nerve-jangling drama about a squad of bomb-defusing soldiers in Iraq isn’t only the best movie to date about that war: It’s one of the best war pictures ever made.

3. “Inglourious Basterds”: Tarantino’s playful and
outrageous reworking of world history exuded a profound love for — and
command of — filmmaking in every frame.

4. “A Serious Man”: The always-ironic Joel and Ethan Coen got personal, wrote their first autobiographical screenplay and came up
with what is arguably their best film to date: The story of a man who
doesn’t understand why God won’t answer the eternal questions.

5. “(500) Days of Summer”: The best movie romance
since “Brokeback Mountain,” a potentially generic rom-com about two
twentysomethings that captured the exhilarating highs — and
soul-crushing, life-changing lows — of falling in love for the first
time. Bonus: The best musical number of the year (sorry, “Nine”).