Director: Neill Blomkamp
Stars: Sharlto Copley, David James, Jason Cope

As the summer of 2009 began, audiences had no idea what was about to hit them come mid-August, when first-time director Neill Blomkamp's District 9 debuted in theaters, on its way to an Academy Award nomination and $116 million in domestic grosses.

Made for a reported $30 million, this Peter Jackson-produced social satire/action thriller looks like it cost five times its actual budget, which adds to its overall "wow" factor. But, in the end, it's Blomkamp's deft balancing of black comedy, mega violence, and topical messages that elevate District 9 to an eye-opening level of excellence. In Blomkamp's world, refugee aliens that resemble giant shrimp are forced to live in an oppressed South African slums under a strict code of don't-kill-humans conduct. But once a doofus named Wikus (a revelatory Sharlto Copley) ingests some of their magic space gas, his gradual transformation into an overgrown shrimp causes a rift between us and them.

Thankfully, Blomkamp establishes the film's allegorical aspects within the first 20 minutes, which leaves him plenty of space to flex his James Cameron-esque (circa Aliens) ability to orchestrate breathless, CGI-filled action sequences.