10. 'Drag Me to Hell'
Sam Raimi atones nicely for 'Spider-Man 3' with this B-movie gem starring Alison Lohman as a home loan officer who rejects an utterly gross Gypsy woman's plea for an extension and --as is always the case when one rejects an utterly gross Gypsy woman's pleas -- is summarily slapped with a deadly curse. Raimi telegraphs the end a bit, but the movie is filled with enough terror, laughs and delightfully disgusting stuff -- including the aforementioned Gypsy woman's crusty dentures -- flying into Lohman's mouth to more than compensate. Best of all, Raimi reminds us that watching a horror movie doesn't have to be torture (or torture porn); in fact, it can be one 'Hell' of a good time.
9. 'Where the Wild Things Are'
OK, so there really wasn't a coherent story per se, but what'd you expect from a movie based on a 10-line children's book and directed by the guy who gave us 'Adaptation' (that'd be Spike Jonze)? But the plot here is not the point; no film has ever captured more perfectly exactly what it feels like to be an 8-year-old boy, alternately kind and spiteful, loving and hateful, tender and ferocious -- in short, a wild thing.
The Bill Murray cameo alone earns this post-apocalyptic action-comedy instant classic status, but it's the dysfunctional Butch-Sundance dynamic between zombie slayers Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg that makes 'Zombieland' such a hoot. That, and the incredibly inventive ways it concocts to off the undead. My favorite: death by banjo.
7. '(500) Days of Summer'
Tired of the same-old, run-o'-the-mill rom-coms? Here's the antidote. Told out of order with a kickass soundtrack, whimsical flourishes (including a fantasy sequence involving a dance number to Hall & Oates), and stellar turns by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, 'Summer' is what so few love stories are these days: lovely.
6. 'Star Trek'
The 'Star Trek' franchise had all but crashed and burned until director J.J. Abrams went boldly where no filmmaker had gone before: back to the beginning. Abrams' fiercely entertaining origin story gives the space-set saga new wings, not to mention tantalizing special effects and a Starfleet-ful of talented up-and-coming young actors (Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto) at which to marvel. We'd say "beam us up," but we're already there.
You're probably already tired of hearing about how "James Cameron has completely revolutionized filmmaking" with his 12-years-in-the-making 3-D extravaganza. Well, sorry to say it, but he kind of has. Until now, 3-D pretty much has been a gimmick employed by horror movies to show axes and decapitated heads flying out into the audience or to hide a nude animated Beowulf's junk with a 3-D candelabra. But in 'Avatar,' 3-D is seamlessly integrated into almost every scene to eye-popping and, frankly, gorgeous effect. It's also a compelling and engaging flick with dynamic characters and only mild doses of 'Titanic''s cheesiness. Watching it just might make you feel like you're king of the world.
The nearly wordless montage that opens Pixar's latest masterpiece and chronicles the complete romance, from start to heartbreaking finish, of Carl and Ellie is a thing of pure, unadulterated beauty. It's also a prime illustration of why the studio has yet to produce a cinematic turd: Pixar has the stones to put something so poignant and wonderfully sad at the outset of a kids' movie because they're not afraid to take risks. And -- you know what? -- those risks never fail to pay off in beautifully colored spades.
3. 'Inglourious Basterds'
Quentin Tarantino proves once again that he's one talented Basterd with this brutally graphic, surprisingly thought-provoking, utterly entertaining and refreshingly revisionist take on WWII. Brad Pitt is top-notch as Nazi-scalping Lt. Aldo Raine, Christoph Waltz is a cinch for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his turn as the villainous Col. Hans Landa, and the wish fulfillment and catharsis offered by the film's climax are what going to the movies is all about.
2. 'Fantastic Mr. Fox'
Wes Anderson has never been wittier, funnier or more emotionally accessible than he is here ... with a stop-motion animation movie about chicken-pilfering foxes and their animal brethren. Go figure. It's like 'The Royal Tenenbaums' meets 'The Nightmare Before Christmas.' Which, in case you're wondering, is a very, very good thing.
1. 'Up in the Air'
'Juno' director Jason Reitman proves that he's all grown up -- and delivers his finest film yet -- with this modern masterpiece that's at once funny, charming, sad, hopeful and, most important, emotionally honest. George Clooney has never been better (or more Oscar-worthy) than he is as a frequent-flier-mileage-obsessed loner, who, with the help of two equally Oscar-deserving women (Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick), discovers that solo is not always the best way to fly the friendly skies.