The follow-up to Half Nelson from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, a quiet observation of a Dominican pitcher in the minor leagues, finds a beautiful, fundamentally troubled friendship between hopeful immigrants and the American pastime.
4. "The Hurt Locker"
Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal kept the politics on low simmer, but their action-packed, adrenaline-pumped war movie has succeeded as no other film about Iraq has: It got people's attention.
3. "Up in the Air"
At 32, writer-director Jason Reitman already has solid Hollywood methods down pat, plus the brains to make the most of them. His best film to date offers some genuine fun, a cast of characters to feel for and moments that ring painfully true.
2. "A Serious Man"
The Coen brothers' latest is strange, absurd and silly, but also thoughtful and unusually profound. A lot of strands in old Joel and Ethan's heads.
OK, so part of the love involves a ridiculously simple running gag involving dogs and squirrels, but that's the only thing that's simple about this nimble, masterfully told animated adventure that wrenches your heart then kicks up your laugh response at just the right beat.