Watching Clint Eastwood's metaphysical drama is sort of like taking a road trip to the Grand Canyon. The journey is long and plodding, but the destination is breathtaking. Matt Damon's likable protagonist leads the viewer through a wave of emotions and Eastwood presents the afterlife in a peaceful light instead of as something morbid or terrifying. But "Hereafter" requires patience and maturity. Those willing to give it are rewarded with a complex, heartfelt and spiritually inspiring experience.
9. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Audacious director Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead") throws a jolt of energy into the cinematic pantheon with this imaginative romp. Rock-music, video-game and comic-book sensibilities collide for a refreshingly unique blend of action and comedy. Michael Cera plays the geek/hero role perfectly while arcade-inspired visual effects and wildly inventive transitions add to the picture's whimsical flair.
8. Robin Hood
Ridley Scott's under-appreciated epic boasts a strong performance by Russell Crowe, admirable production values (costumes, lighting, cinematography, etc.) and a fresh perspective on the bow-wielding adventurer. The storyline is engaging and the action is visceral -- although many critics labeled the film a disappointment (lofty expectations can often lead to mediocre reviews). But an argument could easily be made that this is the most historically accurate and well-crafted "Robin Hood" film to date.
7. The Town
Ben Affleck's cinematic love letter to the city of Boston is a taut, suspenseful action/drama in the vein of Michael Mann's "Heat" (1995). Affleck offers up one of the best acting performances of his career while "Hurt Locker" standout Jeremy Renner threatens to steal the spotlight with another gutsy portrayal. But the film's overall success -- not unlike a heist itself -- is all about solid execution. Affleck deserves applause for his directorial vision.
6. The Ghost Writer
Kindling memories of his heartbreaking masterpiece "Chinatown," director Roman Polanski empowers his "Ghost Writer" with the perfect balance of suspenseful atmosphere and intelligent substance. "Writer" is the sort of thoughtful mystery Alfred Hitchcock would have sunk his teeth into. An admirable script and cast (which includes Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan and Tom Wilkinson) stoke the dramatic fire while the film's tension steamrolls into a powerful climax.
5. The Fighter
Strong acting performances from Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo and especially Christian Bale lend dramatic gravitas to this uplifting true story. Bale's wired and wide-eyed portrayal of crack-addicted former pugilist Dicky Eklund is mesmerizing. "The Fighter" is more than just an "underdog boxer beats the odds" tale -- it's about family bonds, independence, cooperation and overcoming adversity.
4. The Social Network
There's a lot to "Like" about "The Social Network." The riveting film about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg defines a generation (a la "Easy Rider" and "The Breakfast Club"). Director David Fincher ("Zodiac," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") helms with a deft touch, Aaron Sorkin's screenplay is razor-sharp and the acting is excellent across the board. The well-paced drama is also sprinkled with a healthy helping of humor and suspense.
Director Christopher Nolan's ("The Dark Knight") visually stunning and exceptionally cast "Inception" is a cinematic marvel -- a rare film inspired by imagination rather than potential box-office return. Although the big-budget flick features persistent and impressive visual effects, it is also thought provoking and emotionally poignant. In fact, "Inception" is almost hypnotic -- a mind-bending experience laced with palpable tension and fueled with drama. Sweet dreams.
2. Toy Story 3
The toys are back in town and they're better than ever. This third installment in Pixar's uber-popular "Toy Story" franchise is witty, heartfelt and thoroughly entertaining. Phenomenal animation, outstanding vocal talent (from the likes of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Ned Beatty and others) and a sentimental climax help elevate "Toy Story 3" into the upper echelon of the Disney library. A G-rated film that appeals to both adults and children alike is a rare breed and deserves to be celebrated.
1. The King's Speech
Historical insight, phenomenal acting, top-notch production values: "The King's Speech" is a royal example of what good filmmaking is all about. Colin Firth delivers the year's best leading performance as King George VI (although James Franco of "127 Hours" and Natalie Portman of "Black Swan" are in the argument) and Geoffrey Rush is exceptional as quirky speech therapist Lionel Logue. Costuming, set design and (especially) sound are tremendous and aptly highlight the period and the king's paralyzing stammer. "Speech" has capably voiced its case to be crowned Best Picture come Oscar time.
Tyler Hanley's pans
The comedy-gold combo of Steve Carell and Tina Fey looks more like cubic zirconia thanks to a bland screenplay, absurd plot and poor execution. A memorable scene featuring James Franco and Mila Kunis as a low-life couple is one of the few bright spots.
This macho vanity project features a way-past-his-prime Sylvester Stallone and a boneheaded script that harkens back to the days when bad action movies were hip. Jason Statham and a cornucopia of familiar manly men help make the film somewhat entertaining, albeit in a gimmicky, sugar-rush-headache sort of way.
From John Malkovich's apathetic performance to a nauseating glut of eye candy and ear-rattling explosions, "Hex" is full of bad mojo.
Jude Law and Forest Whitaker make an intriguing tandem, but the majority of the film is a bloody, unrealistic mess that snowballs toward a rotten ending.
Director Garry Marshall packs this schmaltzy holiday offering like a clown car, using a bundle of actors known more for their physical appearance than thespian prowess (Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Alba and Jennifer Garner, to name a few). The result is enough to make your teeth ache.