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Five great flicks

Published January 01. 2010 4:00AM
Wilson Webb / Focus Features
Michael Stuhlbarg stars as physics professor Larry Gopnik in what may be Joel and Ethan Coen's best yet, "A Serious Man."

Arts editor and movie blogger Kristina Dorsey picks her favorite films of 2009

1. Precious

No film packed more emotional power this year than "Precious." The outline of this drama sounds brutal - a teenager is abused, obese, illiterate and pregnant for the second time by her father. And it is brutal at first. But Precious' fight for herself is achingly moving. The cast shines, especially newcomer Gabourey Sidibe as Precious and Mo'Nique as her monstrous mother, but the real stars are behind the scenes: director Lee Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher (who - yes! - grew up in southeastern Connecticut), who adapted the story from Sapphire's novel. They create something that feels utterly real, not melodramatic. "Precious" deserves to earn a raft of Oscar nominations.

2. A Serious Man

Watching a character with a perpetual black cloud looming over his head has never been so damned entertaining. In what is one of their best movies - and that's saying something - the Coen brothers set this story in a Jewish family in 1960s middle-America suburbia. All the details feel richly observed, no doubt because the Coens grew up in that time and place. Actor Michael Stuhlbarg reflects perfect bewilderment as a man who tries to do right and yet is never rewarded for it. The movie's ending? Dark perfection.

3. Julie and Julia

My favorite because of Meryl Streep's utterly buoyant performance as Julia Child. The movie suggests that Child's joy was contagious, and so, frankly, is Streep's.

4. Inglourious Basterds

And here I thought Quentin Tarantino was so over. Instead, he whirled into a creative cyclone with this odd but effective WWII film, a revenge fantasy against Hitler and his underlings. Tarantino maneuvers between the quirky, conflicting aspects of his film (comedy and brutality, Brad Pitt's outsized acting and Christoph Waltz's finely calibrated performance) with agility. This might actually be Tarantino's finest film.

5. An Education

What a charmer. This movie - about a bright, assured 16-year-old who falls for a much-older man - could have gone wrong in many ways. But Nick Hornby's script and Lone Scherfig's direction are smart and non-sentimental. Carey Mulligan becomes an absolute star in the lead role; she's this year's Ellen Page.

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