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Picks and Pans Main: Movies

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Star Trek

In a year of reboots, this one offers the biggest kick. Showing how the young crew of the USS Enterprise spaceship first comes together, director J.J. Abrams takes a four-decades-old sci-fi TV series (plus 10 movies) and makes it all seem fresh and exciting. Long may the new series live and prosper.


As Fred, 10, my consultant on kids’ films, so perfectly put it after seeing this magical tale about an old man’s excellent adventure, “Pixar never disappoints!” Up has heart and laughs to spare and, in a silent montage chronicling a marriage over decades, the single most moving, eloquent sequence of this year.

The Hurt Locker

Of the half-dozen or more movies touching on the current U.S. wars, by far the standout is this achingly tense drama–you’ll bite your nails to the quick–about an Army bomb defusing expert serving in Iraq.

Up In the Air

This captivating comedy from director-writer Jason Reitman scores a trifecta: it’s smart, funny and grown-up. With its main character (deftly portrayed by George Clooney) a fellow who makes his living flying around the country firing people for companies, the movie couldn’t feel more in tune with these wretched economic times.

District 9

To say this sci-fi action drama is an allegory about South Africa’s old apartheid policy is to make it sound serious and dire, rather than the kick-butt, amusing whirlwind that it is. And the movie’s giant, crustacean-like space aliens, with their fondness for gorging on canned cat food, rock.

A Serious Man

To tweak the old J. Geils Band hit, life stinks. That’s pretty much the theme of this glorious downer comedy from the sibling directing duo of Ethan and Joel Coen. The story of a Jewish college professor in the Midwest whose life falls apart in the late 1960s, it’s an endless tale of woe. As long as it’s someone else’s misery, why not laugh?

An Education

In this dazzling comic drama, it’s 1962 and a brainy London teen (Carey Mulligan, in a breakout turn) becomes romantically involved with an older man. Told with style and bite, this coming-of-age tale’s crowning achievement is offering, in the end, a clear-eyed but sympathetic view of each of its characters.

Inglourious Basterds

Get past the bizarro spelling. Director Quentin Tarantino’s WWII thriller, a revenge fantasy version of the war, is his most accomplished film since 1994’s Pulp Fiction. Sure it’s violent, but also funny, clever and super suspenseful. Plus Brad Pitt had a swell time wallowing in his good ol’ boy accent.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Movies can provide a window into lives many of us otherwise might never see up close, and Precious affectingly does exactly that. Its heroine—an illiterate, overweight, abused, pregnant teen—confronts and overcomes daunting challenges and has us cheering for her every step of the way.

Crazy Heart

Call this the anti-blockbuster. An intimate, perfectly observed character study, Heart movingly chronicles a washed-up country music singer (Jeff Bridges, never better) who surprises himself by falling in love.