1. Black Swan
Outlandish and electrifying, Darren Aronofsky’s ballet melodrama takes wild risks, leaping from high camp to horror, with a grand jeté of high tragedy. Remixing Hitchcock, Cronenberg and Polanski, the movie polarized audiences. But it surprised and exhilarated me like nothing else. Natalie Portman deserves the Oscar for her tour de force, and Mila Kunas could give Angelina Jolie lessons in vixenry.
2. The Social Network
Finally a movie captures the rhythms, the jackrabbit attention span, and the colonizing logic of Internet culture. Jesse Eisenberg is pure cold genius as the face of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Somehow writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher convert fact to fable without getting sued.
3. Winter’s Bone
Jennifer Lawrence shines in Debra Granik’s Ozark Gothic tale of an intrepid teenage girl who plunges into a hillbilly heart of darkness. With locations and characters that feel so authentic, yet mysterious, it creates its own genre: anthropological horror.
4. The King’s Speech
The Oscar pedigree of a feel-good film about royalty and disability now seems a given. But this slim tale of overcoming a stutter could have gone so horribly wrong. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are a treat in the year’s most unlikely buddy movie.
5. Toy Story 3
There is a special place in heaven reserved for sequels that are better than the originals. Very few have “3” in the title. Exciting, poignant, witty, profound—why can’t live action be this good?.
Clint Eastwood steps out of character to construct an intricate narrative mosaic that’s gorgeously shot and quietly moving. Matt Damon sees dead people; he’s so modest we believe him.
7. 127 hours
Reminding us he’s the wild man who made “Trainspotting,” Danny Boyle delivers the year’s most visceral thrill ride with the story of a hallucinating climber pinned by a boulder.
8. Never Le Me Go
Adapting Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel, Mark Romanek directs vistas of exquisite desolation and perfect performances from Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield.
9. The Town
Ben Affleck proved he’s a helluva director with a down-and-dirty heist movie rich with detailed character work and emotional angst. Jeremy Renner and Rebecca Hall are superb.
10. Exit Through the Gift Shop
Banski, the clandestine king of street art, turns the camera on a crazy French videographer, and we still don’t know if this documentary is real or a hoax—or even who made it. A mind-blowing trip into the no man’s land between art and hype.