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Some of the best films of '09 arrive on DVD

John DeFore
'The Hurt Locker,' starring Jeremy Renner, left, and Anthony Mackie, depicts the constant tensions of a bomb squad in Iraq.

The time around Christmas is often bad for new home entertainment releases. The best movies, music, and books tend to come out either just as the shopping season gets under way or long after New Year's hangovers have passed.

But next Tuesday sees the arrival of three of 2009's best films — and that's not even counting the Oscar-winner "Departures," the Austin-based "Goliath" or the acclaimed Spike Lee doc "Passing Strange." Conveniently for those seeking something to rent this weekend, all three are films you might well have skipped during their theatrical releases.

Moviegoers might be forgiven if, despite the rave reviews, they approached "The Hurt Locker" (Summit) as a chore or avoided it. It is, after all, the latest in a long line of tense films about a war many of us wish had never started, much less lasted this long. But it's time to pay attention to a movie that has fared better, by far, in the year-end avalanche of critics' Top 10 lists than any other.

Though some of director Kathryn Bigelow's more visceral scenes will be diminished by the move to the small screen, the heart of "Hurt" isn't in its explosions. It isn't even in the long, sweat-dripping sequences in which we wait for explosions that might or might not occur — though those have suspense to burn.

The drama's real hook is its focus on the psychology of a small group of men, and one man in particular, who are very good at a job whose options are perfection or death.

Bigelow's zoomed-in focus doesn't allow for questions of how we got into this war. For that, film buffs with an appetite for black comedy should by all means get "In the Loop" (IFC). This spin-off of the British TV series "The Thick of It" (which offers sharp-edged political humor but doesn't rise to the level of "Loop") turns the Iraq War's origins into a fable of miscommunication and manipulation, suggesting that Yankee warmongers might not have managed to get their way if not for a single stupid comment by an anonymous British functionary.

Events snowball from the moment this inept bureaucrat opens his mouth, but plot twists pale in comparison to the entertainment offered by Peter Capaldi's spinmeister Malcolm Tucker, whose insults for co-workers are both startlingly imaginative and as intensely profane as anything Ben Kingsley said in "Sexy Beast."

Lastly, there's "Moon" (Sony), which I admired at SXSW and embrace all the more due to my impression that far too few people even heard about it. Essentially a one-person film, it stars Sam Rockwell as the unfortunate soul stuck operating a lunar mine for a far-off corporation. The cast includes Kevin Spacey as well, but only as the voice of a computer whose unusual programming puts a faux-empathetic twist on the HAL 9000 model.

Emotional shipboard computer, greedy interplanetary corporation, lonesome astronaut — you see some of the sci-fi greats from which "Moon" draws inspiration. But director/co-writer Duncan Jones (those who heard of "Moon" surely heard he's David Bowie's son) does more than quote the greatest hits of his genre. He recombines these elements imaginatively, and Rockwell holds the screen impressively while a couple of narrative surprises make us wonder just what kind of film we're watching.

Jones leaves himself room for a sequel, but here's hoping he moves on. "Alien" may have fared surprisingly well in its second installment, but even in 2010, how many of us would want to watch the misguided "2001" sequel "2010: The Year We Make Contact" again?