Even as moviegoers look ahead towards 2010, it cannot be denied that 2009 was a banner year for blockbuster cinema. Hot off the heels of the domestic box office's single most lucrative weekend ever, there is no question that both Hollywood and the indie scene alike had their best game-faces on this year, resulting in a science-fiction renaissance through the likes of "District 9" as well as more intimate (though no less dangerous) affairs as seen in "The Hurt Locker."
While a movie is only as good as the sum of its parts, it's clear that the films of 2009 had some very, very good parts. From intergalactic space battles to an intense conversational showdown over a glass of milk, these are our nine favorite movie moments of 2009, in no particular order. There are some minor spoilers ahead, so proceed with caution.
Director James Cameron's return to feature filmmaking wasn't always an easy road, thanks to a seemingly insurmountable amount of pre-release hype, but the first time injured Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) linked up to his artificial avatar proved the movie's skeptics wrong. Jake's free sprint from the medical lab to the open fields of Pandora wasn't just his cathartic return to upward mobility — it was also Cameron's way of telling the naysayers, "I told you so."
Who knew that rookie filmmaker Neill Blomkamp could create such a grandiose science-fiction adventure on such a shoestring budget? Thankfully producer Peter Jackson had the foresight to realize the director's capabilities, which were on full display during the film's climactic battle sequence of Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) rampaging against his fellow man within the confines of a massive robotic battle suit. It's shocking to think that this scene was filmed within a $30 million budget, but that's what happens when creativity triumphs over cash.
By taking time off from web-slinging and other superhero antics to return to the genre that made him famous, director Sam Raimi was able to deliver one of the single greatest horror movies of the decade in "Drag Me To Hell." Save for Doc Ock's chainsaw scene in "Spider-Man 2," there is no better recent example of old school Raimism than the "Hell" scene in which Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) goes fist-to-gummy-mouth with an impossibly old gypsy woman within the claustrophobic confines of her car.
While science fiction and horror epics ruled the box office this year, Kathryn Bigelow's realistic "The Hurt Locker" more than measured up with its terrifying and explosive examination of the war in Iraq. The opening sequence, in which an explosives expert (Guy Pearce) fatefully fails in his attempt to disarm a roadside bomb, is an undeniably iconic and spine-tingling scene that sets the tone for the film's remaining two-hour runtime.
The bloody violence of Quentin Tarantino's long-awaited World War II film is outmatched only by the intense rounds of interrogative dialogue fired back and forth between the movie's many players, as best illustrated in the first scene's conversation between Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and a terrified French farmer who is secretly housing a Jewish family. Who knew that a glass of fresh milk could produce such delicious tension?
Space isn't just the final frontier; it's also the setting for one of the single most illustrious action sequences of 2009. Director J.J. Abrams not only reinvented the wheel with his reimagining of the "Star Trek" franchise, he also offered glorious space battles such as the one seen at the movie's outset. The ship-to-ship battle between the USS Kelvin and the Narada succeeds thanks to a delicate balancing act of audiovisual magnificence with the emotional weight of James T. Kirk's (Chris Pine) birth and his father's heroic death.
Even if critics weren't kind towards Michael Bay's second "Transformers" installment, there's no denying that Optimus Prime's final battle is one of the finest fight sequences of the year. No matter how you feel about Devastator's cybernetic naughty parts, how could you possibly resist the fiery resurrection of Optimus Prime and his subsequent evisceration of Megatron and the Fallen within a matter of mere minutes? Cybernetic action hasn't been this cool since the advent of Rock'em Sock'em Robots.
The literally uplifting story of elderly widower-turned-adventurer Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) begins with a heartbreaking montage highlighting the old man's life with his late wife, but the movie truly takes off when Carl unveils an impossible amount of balloons that turn his shabby abode into a veritable flying fortress. Pixar is no stranger to awe-inspiring spectacle, but this first flight in "Up" takes the meaning of "eye candy" to new heights.
Zack Snyder's painstaking attention to the details of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' classic graphic novel is on full display throughout "Watchmen," but the director's signature style is never far behind. The death of the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) at the movie's outset immediately proved that Snyder not only stayed true to the source material, he also managed to fill his film with a visual originality that simply isn't possible to achieve in the static images of the comic book medium.
Join the stars of "Jersey Shore" and Adrienne Bailon for MTV News' "Top 9 of '09" — which counts down the year's biggest stories, from Michael Jackson to Eminem and everything in between — airing New Year's Eve at 11 p.m. on MTV.