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Best films of '09

A look back at some of the best surprises of the year in cinema:

• 10. Paranormal Activity: The theme for this year in my moviegoing adoration was the return of the theatrical experience, and Paranormal Activity was a tiny little film that made it big because of this. If you didn't see this movie in a dark theater with 250 of your closest friends, you were really missing out.

• 9. Anvil: The Story of Anvil: Each year, a special documentary seems to make it on my list. This year's pick is Anvil: The Story of Anvil. It's a tender story of a real-life Spinal Tap with a bit of American Movie mixed in. I dare you to watch it and not root for the guys in the greatest metal band that never was.

• 8. Watchmen: The theatrical cut was good enough, but when the Ultimate Cut arrived on DVD, it broke new ground. While not all fans (as well as Alan Moore) were entirely pleased, Watchmen is one of the best adapted graphic novels ever.

• 7. Avatar: In line with the return of the theatrical experience, Avatar gave us something completely unique. The story and characters are nothing new, but the photorealistic CGI and the brilliant IMAX 3D presentation were beyond awesome. Again, it was one of those movies you had to see in the theaters to fully appreciate.

• 6. Bruno: People called it crass. I watched some event sponsors walk out en masse with this film. It offended people who thought they couldn't be offended. Yeah, it was a lot of cheap shots, but it was a bold move for Sacha Baron Cohen. It wasn't as brilliant as Borat, but it pushed a lot of the same buttons, and it made me laugh the hardest in the theater this year.

• 5. Star Trek: Whether you are a Trekker, a Trekkie or someone who never watched a single episode of the original series, you could totally get swept away in this movie. It brought the space adventure back to the big screen and updated a tired franchise while keeping in line with the original mythology. Live long and prosper, franchise.

• 4. District 9: This is the closest I'll get to putting an art house piece on my best of list. District 9 was a brilliant made, allegorical film that put a mirror up to ourselves and dared us to look at what we are.

• 3. Fantastic Mr. Fox: As a fan of both Wes Anderson and Roald Dahl, I adored this movie. It brought to life the classic book and gave it Anderson's quirky spin to the whole thing. Add to the mix some nostalgic stop-motion animation and a charming voice cast, and you'll have one of the friendliest movies of the year.

• 2. Coraline: Yep, it's another stop-motion animated pick. It's been lost in the shuffle since it came out last February, but it stayed in my mind as one of the best of the year. A brilliant adaptation of Neil Gaiman's story by Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick, a true genius filmmaker.

• 1. Up: I know it seems too easy to put a Pixar movie atop the list, but I can't blame them for continuing to make awesoeme movies. Up is so many things - from a coming of age story to a jungle adventure. It has the most tender love story ever commited to film, and that all happens in the first ten minutes. You can't help but watch this movie and feel inspired.

*** Movie and DVD reviewer Kevin Carr is an independent writer, journalist and filmmaker who lives in Columbus, Ohio.