The top 10 films of 2010, according to AP Movie Writer David Germain:
1. "Winter's Bone" — Yes, there's a banjo, yet director Debra Granik's country-noir gem is anything but the usual backwoods tale loaded with white-trash cliches. Jennifer Lawrence offers a star-making performance as a teen carrying the weight of the Ozarks on her shoulders as she doggedly confronts the region's crime clan to find her missing dad and save her family's home. The filmmakers present a raw, unsympathetic world filled with people capable of savage cruelty — and surprising nobility.
2. "Four Lions" — At last, some suicide bombers you can feel good laughing at. Chris Morris' wonderfully absurdist nightmare about terrorist wannabes plays like the Three Stooges carrying out their own jihad — with terribly real consequences instead of the slapstick of Curly, Larry and Moe. The tale of phenomenally incompetent British Muslims on the path to martyrdom against Western imperialism balances gasps with guffaws to create a film that's one of the year's funniest and scariest.
3. "Barney's Version" — When you need a curmudgeon with an old, deep soul, Paul Giamatti's your man. Richard J. Lewis' adaptation of Mordecai Richler's big, sloppy, heartbreaking and hilarious novel is all that and more. A self-righteous arbiter of all the world's ills on the outside, an incurable romantic on the inside, Giamatti's Barney is like an old friend who sadly goes sour living his unrepentant life, while Rosamund Pike is a counterweight of decency as the soulmate he cannot help but fail.
4. "The King's Speech" — How's this for great acting? Colin Firth plays a guy who can barely string two words together yet still delivers one of the year's most eloquent, august performances. As stammering King George VI in Tom Hooper's near-flawless period drama, Firth is both regal and an everyman — a guy with a job he doesn't want, for which he's ill-suited, yet he goes to work and does his best, aided by his joyously irreverent speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) and queenly sweetheart (Helena Bonham Carter).
5. "Never Let Me Go" — There's never time enough to do and say the things we really should, both in our world and in this melancholy offshoot, an alternate yet familiar reality that's a beautiful allegory for the journey we're all taking. Mark Romanek's film faithfully preserves the simple but bottomless spirituality of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, while Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield embody hope, heartache and everything in between as school friends with a terrible destiny.
6. "Inception" — Christopher Nolan messes with our heads in ways no other studio filmmaker dares. He dazzles with his visual effects, wows with his action scenes, thrills with his surprises. All along, he asks us to think as he spins a fantastically entertaining tale of a lost man (Leonardo DiCaprio) clawing his way back to the things that matter through a virtual world of dreams. Nolan has planted the seed of the brainy blockbuster in Hollywood. Here's hoping the idea doesn't die of loneliness.
7. "Another Year" — "Life's not always kind," a friend laments to an utterly disconsolate woman in Mike Leigh's latest, a quiet dramatic jewel so authentic it's like eavesdropping on the neighbors. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen provide the stability as doting old marrieds with a circle of lovelorn friends and relations. Lesley Manville provides everything else with the performance of the year as a woman desperate for the tiniest happiness but too turned inward to go searching for it. She'll make you weep.
8. "True Grit" — The little girl was looking for a man with true grit. Joel and Ethan Coen were looking for a little girl who could act. They got Hailee Steinfeld, a girl with true grit to hold her own alongside Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon in this take on novelist Charles Portis' darkly comic Western that's far superior to John Wayne's 1969 version. Just turned 14, Steinfeld is a revelation in her screen debut as the fearless girl who bends two seasoned lawmen to her will in avenging her father.
9. "127 Hours" — Give Danny Boyle two sock puppets and he'll probably do a "Romeo and Juliet" to rival Zeffirelli's. The "Slumdog Millionaire" director plunks a man alone in a crevasse, trapped there for most of the movie, yet the story's a cyclone of hallucination, horror, agony and euphoria. As real-life adventurer Aron Ralston, James Franco re-enacts a deed excruciating to watch, but it's one of the most life-affirming acts you'll ever see on screen, in one of the most life-affirming films.
10. "The Social Network" — Just about everyone's friends with this critical darling and box-office success chronicling the rise of Facebook — and the falling out of friends who quarrel over its riches. David Fincher crafts a sharp-tongued tale of egos ballooning like tech stocks before the bubble burst. As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Jesse Eisenberg is a marvel of contradictions, a genius for the masses but an interpersonal lout for whom, even with all his billions, you can't help but feel a little sorry.
The top 10 films of 2010, according to AP Movie Critic Christy Lemire:
1. "The Social Network" — The movie of the year because it captures where we are in time in captivating fashion. In depicting the origin of Facebook, director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin have created an epic tale about how we tell the world the tiniest details of our lives, and they convey potentially dry, unwieldy topics — computer coding and competing lawsuits — in an intimate way. This represents the best of what they do: Fincher's mastery of fluid, visual storytelling, Sorkin's knack for crisp, biting dialogue. It's sharp, funny and tense, has great energy and pulsates with the thrill of discovery, with an excellent cast led by Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake.
2. "Inception" — All the hype is justified. Writer-director Christopher Nolan's film is a stunningly gorgeous, technically flawless symphony of images and ideas. In its sheer enormity, it's every inch a blockbuster, but in the good sense of the word: with awesomeness, ambition and scope, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio at the center of a classy, eclectic cast. The cinematography, production design, effects, editing, score, everything down the line — all superb. But unlike so many summer movies assigned that tag, this is no mindless thrill ride. With its complicated concepts about dreams within dreams, it'll make you work, but that's part of what's so exciting.
3. "Winter's Bone"— There's not a single false note in this intense, intimate story about a teenage girl struggling to keep her family's home. Debra Granik's backcountry drama oozes authenticity, both in its small details and its grand, haunting gestures. Jennifer Lawrence proves she's a flat-out star as a young woman who ventures deep into the Ozark Mountains to track down her drug-dealing father. As she confronts increasingly dangerous foes, she discovers her own strength. But there's also unexpected hope to be found toward the film's end, especially in the scenes Lawrence shares with the formidable John Hawkes as her ornery uncle.
4. "I Am Love" — Words like "lush" and "gorgeous" don't even begin to scratch the surface in describing Italian director Luca Guadagnino's retro-styled melodrama. It's more like the most sumptuous design porn, lingering over every detail in the palatial home of a Milanese industrialist and his family, allowing plenty of time for us to ooh and ahh. This is a visual medium, after all, and in the tradition of Visconti and Sirk, Guadagnino expertly throws in everything he's got. But despite these aesthetic trappings, an even more compelling factor is the most fundamental: the tour-de-force performance from its star, Tilda Swinton, as a wealthy wife who comes to question the life she's built.
5. "Black Swan" — At once gorgeous and gloriously nutso, a trippy, twisted fantasy that delights and disturbs. Darren Aronofsky takes the same stripped-down fascination with the minutiae of preparation he brought to his Oscar-nominated "The Wrestler" and applies it to the pursuit of a different kind of artistry: ballet. But then he mixes in a wildly hallucinatory flair as "Black Swan" enters darker psychological territory, featuring a brave performance from Natalie Portman as a dancer slipping into madness. Working with his frequent cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, and blending dazzling visual effects, Aronofsky spins a nightmare scenario within a seemingly gentile world.
6. "127 Hours" — James Franco gives it his all and then some as trapped hiker Aron Ralston, and the role allows him to show off every bit of his range: his gifts for both effortless comedy and deep despair. Even though the movie is about a man who's essentially stagnant for five days straight, Danny Boyle makes the story vital and vibrant in his signature kinetic style. Despite the physical restrictions of this real-life tale, the way Boyle and co-writer Simon Beaufoy tell it are boundless. "127 Hours" skips around in time and place, taking us outside the canyon and deep within one man's isolation and fear. And it's shot so beautifully, it'll make you want to explore middle-of-nowhere Utah yourself — with a buddy.
7. "Never Let Me Go" — It's philosophically provocative and achingly sad, touching the mind and the heart with equal measure. Longtime video director Mark Romanek has made a film that's sumptuously gorgeous and filled with sterling performances from Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield. But it's never stuffy, and, at times, even a little gritty in an appealing way. It also raises intriguing questions about medical ethics and the nature of humanity itself. Some may find its tone suffocatingly heavy, but if you give into it, you'll find yourself sucked into this melancholy alternate world, an ambitious hybrid of sci-fi drama and coming-of-age romance set in a British boarding school.
8. "Animal Kingdom" — A riveting look at a small-time Melbourne crime family unraveling under the weight of its overconfidence. Australian writer-director David Michod takes his time methodically detailing his characters' self-destruction; it's such a stripped-down, assured little thriller, you'd never know it was Michod's feature debut. The combination of steady pacing, intimate cinematography and startling performances — especially from Jacki Weaver, who's chilling as the family's matriarch — will leave you feeling tense throughout and probably for a while afterward.
9. "The King's Speech" — This is the kind of handsomely photographed, weighty-yet-uplifting period drama that seems to arrive amid great fanfare come awards time each year. It's based on a true story about British royalty — always a favorite among those coveted voters — features a pedigreed cast and hits every note you expect it to hit. And yet Tom Hooper's film is so flawlessly appointed and impeccably acted, you can't help but succumb. The friendship that develops between Colin Firth as the stammering King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as his unorthodox speech therapist gives the film its sweet, beating heart. Watching the sparring matches between two actors at top of their game is nothing short of a joy.
10. "Exit Through the Gift Shop" — During the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's annual voting, someone asked whether this should be considered a documentary. Without missing a beat, another critic answered: "It is if you want it to be." Well, I want it to be — but I also love that it explores the ideas of truth and beauty in art, all the while exposing the malleable perception of what actually constitutes art. Leave it to the elusive and subversive Banksy to shine such a bright and brilliant light on the very forces that made him famous. In a year of are-they-or-aren't-they? docs, this is the only one that hits its targets.