Israeli filmmaker Samuel Maoz's deeply personal account of the first day of the 1982 Lebanon War puts us inside a tank with four traumatized soldiers for 90 minutes. This powerful evocation of war as hell is not easy to endure in its "you are there" virtual reality. But if this is pure cinema at its most unnerving, it's also at its best.
9. The Ghost Writer
One of the most purely pleasurable films of 2010, Roman Polanski's wicked little thriller -- derived from Robert Harris' novel "The Ghost" -- brims with paranoia and witty style. The smirky absurdity of Ewan McGregor's travails as ghost writer to Pierce Brosnan's ex-prime minister consistently delivered deadpan delights.
In a slew of 2010 political documentaries, Jeff Malmberg's character study "Marwencol" stood out from the pack. Remarkable outsider artist Mark Hogancamp simultaneously lives in two worlds: ours and the one-sixth-scale World War II-era Belgian town built and photographed in Hogancamp's upstate New York backyard. Malmberg puts on display the endearingly damaged and heroically resilient Hogancamp and his stunning self-therapeutic art.
No film this year was stranger than Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos' absurdist allegory, which won top honors in the Un Certain Regard section at last year's Cannes Film Festival. At once droll and horrifying, this tale of overgrown children made unwitting captives by their parents functions as a condemnation of doomed parental overprotectiveness and perhaps, symbolically, the folly of a "nanny state." Hm. Maybe Sarah Palin would like it (zing!).
6. The King's Speech
The good old-fashioned appeal of Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech" is dramatic craft. With a cracking screenplay by David Seidler that was 70 years in the making, this docudrama of King George VI (Colin Firth) literally finding his voice with speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) entertains and inspires, in no small part due to the brilliant actors' top-notch tit-for-tatting in a series of dialogue duets.
5. Rabbit Hole
David Lindsay-Abaire adapted his Pulitzer Prize-winning play for the screen under the auspices of director John Cameron Mitchell ("Hedwig and the Angry Inch"). Together they found the truth in a shopworn theme (grieving parents) and the thoughtful expression to make unspeakable pain understandable. Fine acting from Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest and newcomer Miles Teller seals the deal.
The words "heady" and "blockbuster" rarely go together, but writer-director Christopher Nolan ("The Dark Knight") doesn't care, and we're better off for it. This action-adventure set mostly (or entirely?) inside minds may not be a perfect "film" or a perfect "movie," but by combining the two, Nolan gave us something uniquely satisfying at the multiplex.
3. Toy Story 3
Pixar's populist genius reaches a crescendo with the improbably great second sequel to 1995's "Toy Story." Along with experiencing the deft comedy and brilliantly choreographed action, kids can still guilelessly delve into the secret world of toys, young to middle-aged adults can feel the hurts-so-good pangs of nostalgia, and the elderly can relate to the terror of social abandonment. It's a film for all seasons.
2. The Social Network
A sly satire about the way people relate today, "The Social Network" definitively acknowledges the genius of Facebook co-creator Mark Zuckerberg, exposes the ruthlessness of modern American capitalism, and anatomizes the disconnect that is the logical (yet ironic) result of both. As Zuckerberg, Jesse Eisenberg leads a strong, sensitive young ensemble. David Fincher directs with cool efficiency, and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin delivers the flood of incisive talk.
1. Blue Valentine
This master class in acting from the next generation of top talent (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) takes the pulse of modern love. With American divorce rates still hovering near 50 percent, few stories could be more wistfully relevant than this intimate look at the birth and death of love. First-time director Derek Cianfrance nails the delicate past-vs.-present structure, while Gosling and Williams do miraculous work playing two people at two discrete times in their lives.
Peter Canavese's pans
As usual, the very worst films mostly preyed on the weak: Won't somebody please think of the children? (Thank you, Pixar ... )
When in Rome
The horror, the horror. This cheerily bad rom-com is like watching a party clown bomb ... hard.
Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore
Warning to asthma sufferers: The pop-culture allusions in this kiddie "comedy" are seriously musty. Kids won't get them and adults will hate them, so ... why?
Fat, half-naked Brendan Fraser battles anthropomorphized animals. 'Nuff said.
Spoiler alert: This jerks "Twi"-hard tears by killing R-Pattz on 9/11.
The Nutcracker in 3D
Nathan Lane as Albert Einstein. Singing Andy Warhol rodent. Proto-Nazi space-ranger rats. Very little ballet.