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Films of the Year: 2010 in Retrospect

Natalie Portman plays the lead in the haunting film "Black Swan," this Examiner's choice for the top film of 2010.
Natalie Portman plays the lead in the haunting film "Black Swan," this Examiner's choice for the top film of 2010.
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Whether you're fan of Buzz Lightyear or Banksy, dream-infiltration or dancers, Facebook or feminine heroes, you have to admit 2010 was a great year for movies.

It's hard to boil down all of the great films from the year into a simple list, but here's an attempt at highlighting the ten most entertaining, exciting and enlightening movies from 2010.

10. "Winter's Bone" and "True Grit"

"Winter's Bone" is set in the Ozarks in contemporary America and details a teenage girl's quest to track down her father. "True Grit" is set in Arkansas in the days of the Wild West and follows a teenage girl's quest to catch the man who killed her father.

Other than the setting, tone, and a few minor plot details, they are basically the same movie.

Both feature a strong and talented female lead, both have a tremendous script with an equally impressive cast, and both show the impact of perseverance and, of course, grit.

9. "The Ghost Writer"

Roman Polanski's gripping crime drama thrusts viewers in the world of a ghostwriter, Ewan McGregor, who must collaborate on the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister. The ghostwriter is continually thwarted in his efforts to learn anything about the politician's controversial role in a recent war. The Prime Minister, played effectively by Pierce Brosnan, might as well be wearing a "Tony Blair" name tag, and Polanski doesn't hide his personal beliefs or political agenda.

Politics aside, however, it's an intense and interesting film that will keep you guessing till the end.

8. "Exit Through the Gift Shop"

Street artist Banksy's foray into the world of movies is a fascinating, humorous, and befuddling look into the underground culture of graffiti artists and the man who tried to film them all.

Critics and fans alike are divided about the credibility of the "documentary" and question whether or not parts of it are a hoax. The only way to decide for yourself is to see this Sundance sensation. Be prepared to laugh, scratch your head, and Google the main characters after watching – it's almost too weird to be real. Assuming it is.

7. "The King's Speech"

Colin Firth gives the greatest performance of the year in this historical drama about King George VI. The monarch who led England into World War II struggles to overcome his speech impediment, and the audience roots for him and for his friendship with speech therapist Lionel Logue, portrayed perfectly by Geoffrey Rush.

The conversations between Firth and Rush are endearing and oftentimes hilarious while also providing the emotional heart of the movie that perfectly blends historical events with individual struggles.

6. "Four Lions"

This explosive comedy about a group of jihadist Muslims in England is one of the funniest and most confusing films in years. The plot itself - a handful of friends hope to become terrorists despite their incompetence - is fairly straightforward, but the tone is simultaneously light and somber, ridiculous and all-too-real.

You can laugh at these characters, but by the end you'll also care about them as individuals, and that's the brilliance of Christopher Morris' film.

5. "127 Hours"

Despite its star power, this film had a lot of questions to answer when it was released. Could it keep audiences interested with only one character onscreen for most of the movie? Would it resort to constant flashbacks for story development?

Director Danny Boyle responded to the challenge of making a movie about the real-life events of hiker Aron Ralston's five-day struggle to free himself from a rock which had trapped his arm. The result is a beautiful, moving and surprisingly humorous story.

One of the biggest reasons "127 Hours" works is the personality, charm, and vulnerability of the lead actor, James Franco, who proves he is one of the most dedicated and talented actors of our generation.

4. "The Social Network"

Facebook dripped with irony as movie fans flocked to the site to discuss "The Social Network," and I'm sure Mark Zuckerberg wasn't too happy. The film directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin tells the story of the founding of Facebook and the legal battle for ownership of the site. Based on the book "The Accidental Billionaires," the story presents Zuckerberg as a greedy, manipulative, and socially aloof pseudo-villain.

If you believe it's all true, then it's a fairly damning biopic. If you think it's exaggerated and biased against Zuckerberg, it's still a poignant portrayal of the meteoric rise of the site that has revolutionized both relationships and the Internet.

3. "Inception"

Christopher Nolan's latest creation is the brain-spinning tale of a group of criminals who work in corporate espionage through dream-infiltration. The complexity of the plot and the impressive visuals aside, "Inception" works as a poignant story about dealing with the death of a loved one, in large part because of the emotional depth Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard bring to their characters.

Whether people loved or hated it, the film's creative story and its beautifully frustrating ending kept them talking, blogging and ranting about it for months, and you can't blame them.

2. "Toy Story 3"

When children grow up, most of them think the movies they watched as kids are far superior to any new films that are released. The youngest generation of Pixar fans are probably going to be right.

The final chapter in the trilogy of Andy's toys somehow met and surpassed the gargantuan expectations from the original two movies and the recent success of both "WALL-E" and "UP." Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang are back with a story that provides humor, excitement, and at least a few heartbreaking scenes that had adults across the country pretending there was something in their eye.

Pixar is on an unprecedented hot streak, and we all have to hope they never go cold.

1. "Black Swan"

I should probably admit upfront that Darren Aronofsky is my favorite director. It shouldn't be a surprise then that my choice for best film of the year is Aronofsky's passionate, complex, and frightening tale of a dancer's descent into depravity.

The story about a ballet performer's role in "Swan Lake" is both visually stunning and emotionally gripping. "Black Swan" is consistent with Aronofsky's trademark intensity of focus, and Natalie Portman, a shoo-in to win Best Actress, earns the attention she gets as the lead. The actress' ability to push herself to physical limits for this performance mirror the story of the dancer she is playing, and the result is breathtaking.

Easily the most haunting, powerful and memorable film in a year that was filled with great ones.

I just hope 2011 is ready. It has a lot of catching up to do.

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