The movies of 2009 saw some established actors and directors do splendid work (George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino) while revealing new talent (Carey Mulligan, Christoph Waltz, Gabourey Sidibe) making auspicious debuts. In alphabetical order, my list of the ten best films of 2009:

“An Education”: A precocious British teenager falls under the seductive charms of a worldly, older American in this intelligent, perceptive film based on the memoir by Lynn Barber. Carey Mulligan is perfection as the young woman with Peter Sarsgaard dashing and sympathetic in the tricky role of her older suitor.

“District 9”: Original science fiction tale about a race of dying aliens who, after stalling their space ship over Johannesburg, are rescued by humans and put in a camp which soon turns into a prison. Directed by newcomer Neill Blomkamp, “District 9” is compelling sci/fi with imagination to burn and a touching human story at its core.

“(500) Days of Summer”: Effervescent romantic comedy directed with a light touch by Marc Webb and smashingly performed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. The couple meet at the greeting card company where they work and their relationship - which we know is doomed from the very first frame of film - is then played out back and forth at various stages of its development. A sly charmer.

“Goodbye Solo”: Director Ramin Bahrani’s story about a Senegalese taxi driver in North Carolina and his relationship with a crusty senior citizen is no retread of “Driving Miss Daisy”, but an intelligent, somber chamber drama about two diverse characters who have nothing in common except life itself. Simple, devastating and worth seeking out on DVD.

“The Hurt Locker”: It took director Kathryn Bigelow to produce one of the best Iraq-themed movies to date with this riveting drama about a band of soldiers who put themselves on the line to seek out and defuse I.E.D.’s. Non-stop tension is bolstered by brilliant performances including Jeremy Renner as a soldier who appears to love his job more than his life. Bigelow may be our first Oscar-winning female director. It’s due.

“Inglourious Basterds”: Quentin Tarantino’s best film since “Pulp Fiction” is another of the director’s bombastic thrill rides exemplifying his love of movie lore. Here he comes up with a World War II fantasy that re-imagines Jewish soldiers getting their ultimate revenge on Adolf Hitler. Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, playing a charismatic, psychotic Nazi, walks away with the movie.

“Precious”: Gabourey Sidibe, in the most fearless film debut of the year, plays the title character - an obese, nearly illiterate Harlem teenager on the road to nowhere with a monster mother (Mo’Nique, who may as well pick up her Oscar now) showing her the way. Downbeat and heart-breaking, the film ultimately finds some hope within its harrowing tale. Director Lee Daniels rarely hits a false note here.

“A Single Man”: First-time director Tom Ford also adapted this literate and moving rendering of Christopher Isherwood’s gay classic about a lonely British professor (Colin Firth at the top of his game) grieving the death of his longtime companion. Julianne Moore, in her best role in years, plays Firth’s party-girl friend.

“Up”: Another year, another masterwork from the geniuses at Pixar. Bliss.

“Up in the Air”: In Jason Reitman’s up-to-the-minute dark comedy, George Clooney is superb as a corporate henchman dispatched to fire employees at various companies across the country. The refreshingly adult dialogue and situations resonate long after viewing and Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick add immeasurable support.

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: