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The Best Drama Movies Of 2009

1. The Princess and the Frog

Animation is thought of as a cash cow for the studios and a niche category for the Oscars. Yet a straight-faced argument could be made - and is, here - that 2009 boasted a richer crop of animated features than of live-action movies. We acknowledge the cartoonucopia with our top three selections, each in a different format. Hand-drawn (or 2-D) animation was left for dead in the CGI stampede, but this instant classic showed there's plenty of life, fun and heart in the old style. Tweaking the fable of the frog princess and setting it in 1920s New Orleans, directors John Musker and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin) created a bayou full of winning characters, all bearing a wondrous comic elasticity. In time-honored Disney fashion, the movie offers a princess in the making, wishes made upon a star, the death of a major character and some well-earned tears to salt the spectator's smiles. For those who thought that 2-D had become the sole preserve of Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki (who returned to form with his sea fable, Ponyo), Musker and Clements proved that the number of dimensions don't matter; it's the animating spirit you bring to them.

2. Up

This prime Pixar achievement begins with the intertwined life and love stories of Carl and his wife Ellie, which span 70 years and are told in pantomime; there's no sweeter, more poignant 4.5 minutes in movie history. Then director Pete Docter ties a bunch of helium-filled balloons to Carl's dead-end life, sending the crotchety old man and a feckless young interloper to South America for a lesson in what constitutes a life of adventure. Of the year's many CGI-animated features, from the imaginative (Monsters vs Aliens, 9, Astro Boy) to the just O.K. (Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs), none soared as high as Up.

3. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Stop-motion animation is exacting, exhausting work: building puppets, placing them on a miniature stage and moving them one frame at a time - tens of thousands of times. Harder still is bringing insouciant life to this arduous process. That's what director Wes Anderson and animation director Mark Gustafson managed in this delightful version of the Roald Dahl children's classic about a dapper, larcenous fox (voiced by George Clooney) who aims to pull off one last, impossible heist. The vibe of Fox's family is as comically tense as it is in families from earlier films by Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums) and co-writer Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale), but the brood soon bonds to reveal its foxiness and humanity. To this puckish, handsomely rendered comedy, add the meritorious work on Coraline, A Town Called Panic and the Wallace and Gromit short A Matter of Loaf and Death, and you had a banner year for stop-motion.

4. The Hurt Locker

American movies took ages to address Iraq and its satellite wars, and then tended to point fingers at the military. Not so in The Hurt Locker, a scary, thrilling patrol of the streets of Baghdad by men who defuse IEDs. It's a character study of a GI (Jeremy Renner, superb) with ice-water nerves and a go-it-alone bravado to match his ninja expertise. He tersely insists on doing his own thing, which is to keep little pieces of Baghdad from blowing up. Written by journalist Mark Boal and directed by action-movie maven Kathryn Bigelow, this is a war film that looks, feels and smells real; you needed to rinse off the grit after seeing it.

5. Up in the Air

If you're not out of work yet, you surely know someone who is. So you might be resistant to seeing a movie about a traveling man (George Clooney) whose job is to tell other people they've lost theirs. But he's kind of sympathetic - he has such a friendly, caring manner that his targets often end up thanking him. And it's a romantic comedy, with the Clooney character juggling the attentions of a fellow frequent traveler (Vera Farmiga) and a perky upstart back at company headquarters (Anna Kendrick) who wants to ground him. Cheers to director Jason Reitman, of Juno fame, for tossing a tightrope across the chasm of our national pain, then strolling across with such poise. In streamlining Walter Kirn's novel for the screen, Reitman created a savory dish with a tart undertaste, and Clooney responded to the movie's maturity with the most nuanced performance of his career.

6. The White Ribbon

The deserving winner of the top prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Michael Haneke's period political epic tells the lacerating saga of collective brutality and guilt in a northern German village two decades before Hitler would take power. The town is troubled by seemingly random acts of violence on animals, property and a few local children. What's happening? Who's to blame? Perhaps everyone, as we discover by following the lives of five prominent families. A kind of mashup of Our Town and Village of the Damned, the film is both draining and enthralling. Other movies don't even consider the enormity of a society's power to crush its people's best instincts. This one said: Don't look away. Look here.

7. A Single Man

An Englishman teaching literature at a Los Angeles college, George (Colin Firth) has made a smooth transition from his old culture to a gaudy new one. But when his longtime lover dies in a car crash, George is bereft, alone and broken. He spends the day, which he hopes will be his last, with an old London friend (Julianne Moore, never more glam) and a student (Nicholas Hoult) who would like to be his next lover. In an imposing directorial debut, fashion designer Tom Ford brought tenderness, wisdom and a gorgeous Pacific palette to his adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's 1964 novel. Among the several excellent new films, including Up and The Lovely Bones, that focus on a survivor's grieving for a lost loved one, this is the most plangent. That's thanks largely to Firth's quietly magnificent embodiment of a frayed heart; he made that ache subtly, splendidly visible.

8. Of Time and the City

To celebrate the 800th anniversary of the founding of their city, the good burghers of Liverpool commissioned a documentary by Terence Davies, whose best films - the 1987 Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes in 1992 - are fictionalized memoirs of growing up on the Merseyside. The result was a kind of Liverpool, mon amour, a documemoir that used newsreels and home movies to create what Davies called a "valediction and an epitaph." Even those who knew the city only as the home of the Beatles and a prominent football team should have been amused and touched by this brief (71 minute) mlange of ancient history and autobiography that is immensely funny and pained and deeply felt.

9. District 9

From South Africa, hitherto unknown as a production center for really cool movies, came this grimy, grand scare-fi epic. Extraterrestrials - great, icky insect creatures, with wriggling worms where their noses might be - arrive in Johannesburg and are soon treated like chattel by South African whites, who have a long history as enslavers. Viewing the visitors as illegal aliens, they enforce a transgalactic apartheid by herding the creatures into a ratty part of Joburg called District 9. Some genre filmmakers know how to make a movie but not why. Writer-director Neill Blomkamp, just 29 when his first feature became a surprise summer hit, demonstrated a brain as well as an action-director's eye. Here was a mockumentary thriller that, besides being a hell of a lot of fun, said things you hadn't considered and showed stuff you hadn't seen. In this monster movie, the monster is us.

10. Thirst

New Moon grossed at least half a billion dollars at the worldwide box office; Thirstearned $318, 574 in North America. But the South Korea mad-love story was our vampire movie of the year. Writer-director Park Chan-wook - he of the ultra-violent Vengeance trilogy - took the basic genre canvas and splattered it with ecstasy, pain and all the bodily fluids, especially blood. A Catholic priest (Song Kang-ho), turned into a vampire after undergoing a dangerous medical experiment, is drawn to the lonely wife (Kim Ok-vin) of the priest's feeble school chum. When the priest and his demon lover fall into a torrid affair, Thirst melds with the obsessions of its characters and goes orgasmically nuts with them. In this nutsy-greatsy melodrama, the acting revelation is Kim, who evolves from a creature of mute docility to one of desperate ardor, then explosive eroticism, then murderous intent. She is Lady Chatterley and Lady Macbeth in one smoldering package.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION:This content was based upon a free review copy the Contributor received.By pawaih squarda -

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