It has not been a great year for movies, so it may be faint praise to say that District 9 is easily one of the year’s best—but it’s way better than its 2009 pedigree. Director Neill Blomkamp expanded his short film Alive in Joburg into a feature-length exploration of apartheid, propaganda and the sort of cruelty that comes easily when we are capable of seeing others as nonhuman. The movie starts 20 years after a million space aliens have come to Johannesburg. They’ve been given refugee status and are kept in a filthy ghetto surrounded by “no aliens allowed” signs. When mousy bureaucrat Wikus Van De Merwe is accidentally infected with outer-space biofuel, he becomes a potential superweapon and gets to experience firsthand what it’s like to be an alien in a country that treats those who are different as a source of propaganda and body parts. Tense action (which slightly detracts from the political message) and a thoughtful ability to switch perspective mark this first feature from Blomkamp. I can’t wait for the crappy and dumbed-down sequel!