The Brothers Bloom: Rian Johnson's second film is populated with superb acting, phenomenal writing, and a story that features multiple layers. A con movie with heart, this is not to be missed.
Drag Me To Hell: Sam Raimi's return to horror could also be hailed as a return to comedy - the gross-out moments are far funnier than they are scary. That said, this was the most intense theatrical experience I've ever had. Thanks to Raimi's decision to ramp up the volume at the "jump scare" moments, this movie almost literally shocked me out of my seat several times, and the tension involved (even in ridiculous scenarios) is top notch.
Avatar: While it certainly wasn't the perfect film some make it out to be, this was the "Event Movie" of the decade and it more than lived up to its insane reputation. James Cameron's return to feature length fiction was something to behold, especially in IMAX 3D. The legendary director sure hasn't forgotten any aspects of filmmaking in the twelve years we waited to see this movie, and now that the tech behind it is already in place, expect at least one Avatar sequel in the next three or so years.
(500) Days of Summer: Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers more solid work in this picture, and I'm glad the guy is getting a little more high profile roles these days. The script was funny, heartbreaking, and real - that's more than can be said about almost any other film this year. Music video director Marc Webb made a great debut and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing his next project.
Star Trek: The ensemble cast took the world by storm, especially Chris Pine as James T. Kirk. The story of how the Enterprise gained its most famous crew was in good hands with J.J. Abrams, who, in only his second feature film, created a clearly defined universe filled with humor, action, romance, and - most importantly - fun. This was a blast, and (again, unusual for me to say) I'm really looking forward to the sequel.
Up In The Air: Jason Reitman's third film features George Clooney in one of his best performances. You can read my review here, but suffice it to say that I really enjoyed this movie.
District 9: One of the most original sci-fi movies I've seen in years, Neill Blomkamp's directorial debut (man, there are a lot of directorial debuts in my selections!) announced his presence in a big way. This guy has a bright future ahead of him, and District 9 proves his ability to work well with both actors and CGI.
Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning: Tony Jaa's masterpiece, this is the best action movie (of any kind, mind you) that I've ever seen. The bone-crunching martial arts on display are absolutely dazzling, and there are scenes in this movie (ex: two guys fighting ON TOP OF A LIVE ELEPHANT) that you'll probably never see in film again.
Inglourious Basterds: Tarantino's best film so far, this revisionist WWII story is expertly told by a man who truly loves cinema and translates that love into a palpable enjoyment on screen. This may well win the Best Picture of 2009.
Likely to see on everyone else's "Best Of" lists: The Hangover, Moon, The Hurt Locker, In The Loop, Where The Wild Things Are