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Steven Rea: The best films of 2010

If the lame retro romantic caper The Tourist is good for anything, it's for making Angelina Jolie's international glamourpuss seem utterly anachronistic in the context of all the blazingly great - and real, and honest - women's roles on screen this year.

If the lame retro romantic caper The Tourist is good for anything, it's for making Angelina Jolie's international glamourpuss seem utterly anachronistic in the context of all the blazingly great - and real, and honest - women's roles on screen this year.

From the sharp-tongued cowgirl played by Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit to the lonely New York exec played by Patricia Clarkson in the beautifully rueful Cairo Time to the loving couple that Annette Bening and Julianne Moore bring to messy life in The Kids Are All Right, 2010 has been marked by a wealth of fully realized female characters.

Noomi Rapace's fiercely committed reading of the dragon-tattooed, fire-playing, hornet's-nest-kicking Lisbeth Salander in three - count 'em! - Stieg Larsson adaptations is not to be trifled with. Jennifer Lawrence's portrait of an Ozarks teenager thrown into a world of hillbilly criminality in Winter's Bone may well get her an Oscar nomination.

In fact, there's been such a surfeit of substance this year that honing the Academy Award best actress list to five is going to leave a good dozen worthy contenders unrecognized. In the past, AMPAS voters (and critics, and moviegoers) were hard-pressed to count the notable women's roles on one hand. Not this year: Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Naomi Watts (Fair Game), Katie Jarvis (Fish Tank), Tilda Swinton (I Am Love), the aforementioned Clarkson, Steinfeld, Bening, and Moore - plus Hilary Swank (Conviction), Sally Hawkins (Made in Dagenham), Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass and Let Me In), Carey Mulligan (Never Let Me Go), Catherine Keener (Please Give), Lena Dunham (Tiny Furniture), Isabelle Huppert (White Material), and, by many accounts (I've yet to see these), Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole and Halle Berry in Frankie and Alice.

Recession-tossed 2010 also served up an astoundingly varied and vital group of documentaries that looked at art and commerce, politics and war - and a few films (Catfish, Exit Through the Gift Shop, I'm Still Here) that played with the nature of truth and the documentary form. Among the best: A Film Unfinished; The Art of the Steal; Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer; Countdown to Zero; Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould; Ghetto Physics: Will the Real Pimps and Hos Please Stand Up; Inside Job; Marwencol; The Tillman Story; Restrepo; and Waste Land. And, of course, Waiting for 'Superman', Davis Guggenheim's wrenching survey of the crisis-mired American school system. (If you discount the greeting-card-cute Babies, Waiting for 'Superman,' released only in September, is the year's top-grossing doc.)

In animation, 2010 saw Toy Story 3, the Pixar flick that had people blubbering behind their 3-D glasses, and the big, slick, enjoyable DreamWorks supervillain riff Megamind. On the other end of the scale (low-budget, hand-drawn) were a couple of strong, emotionally resonant cartoons: The Illusionist, adapted from an unproduced Jacques Tati script (and opening here in January), and Paul and Sandra Fierlinger's wonderful and wise My Dog Tulip.

Trends? Superheroes, or would-be superheroes, were all over the place, from Iron Man 2 to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. And Christopher Nolan's Inception - with Leonardo DiCaprio as a guy who manipulates people's dreams (and Juno's Ellen Page spouting some of the stiffest dialogue this side of an infomercial) cannot go unmentioned. It was the pop-cult event of the summer, and still has people debating its dimensional-twisting ending. Cobb's totem? Dream? Reality? Wake me up when the discussion is over.

Some great noirs this year, two of which - The Square and Animal Kingdom - hailed from Australia. (The other: Michael Winterbottom's pitch-black The Killer Inside Me, with Casey Affleck as a sexually twisted, sociopathic lawman.)

And bubbling under my year-end Top 10 list: The Fighter, Please Give, True Grit, My Dog Tulip, The Father of My Children, Let Me In, White Material, The Illusionist, and Noah Baumbach's squirmingly uncomfortable character study, Greenberg.

For the record, Avatar was the most pirated film of 2010, according to the file-sharing blog Second on the list was Kick-Ass, followed by Inception.

And if you want to refresh your memory and relive the year in movies and see a dang fine piece of editing work (in just six minutes), look for "Filmography 2010" by Gen Ip, a.k.a. genrocks on YouTube.

And so, to my Top 10 (in alphabetical order):

127 Hours Danny Boyle follows up his Boyle-y-wood Slumdog Millionaire with the true-life tale of a guy pinned under a rock. In a crevice. In a canyon. In the middle of nowhere. An amazing survival story, and also a passionate riff on why connection matters - the world is teeming with people, and it's a good idea to get close to a few. James Franco takes time out from publishing short stories, pursuing doctorates, and pushing Gucci Pour Homme to give an Oscar-caliber performance as canyoneer Aron Ralston. (In theaters.)

Black Swan Darren Aronofsky imagines what it would be like if the Repulsion-era Roman Polanski had made The Red Shoes - with a Canon digital camera. Natalie Portman stars as a prima ballerina going off the deep end, and it's a testament to her work that we feel her pain for every second of the movie, even as it goes insanely over-the-top. (In theaters.)

Fish Tank A tough-minded heir to the British New Wave's kitchen-sink tradition, Andrea Arnold's brilliant portrait of a troubled 15-year-old (newcomer Katie Jarvis) tumbling into a dangerous relationship with her mother's new boyfriend is full of ache, pain, and gritty cinematic poetry. (On DVD and Blu-ray, February.)

I Am Love Falling helplessly in love over a plate of prawns and watching as the rich, rarefied world around her crumbles in tragedy, Tilda Swinton is exquisite in director Luca Guadagnino's rapturous Italian melodrama. Never mind Eat Pray Love and Julia Roberts, this is the movie where a woman has great sex, discovers her soul - and slurps down some pasta in the process. (On DVD and Blu-ray.)

The Kids Are All Right A neo-nuclear family - lesbian moms, sperm-donored sibs - is examined with wit and insight in Lisa Cholodenko's sweet, superbly acted ensemble piece. Annette Bening rules as the tightly wound, slightly tippled breadwinner, Julianne Moore hasn't been this good in years, Mark Ruffalo plays an immensely likeable, self-centered, immature jerk, and the kids (Josh Hutcherson and Alice in Wonderland's Mia Wasikowska) are considerably more than all right. (On DVD and Blu-ray.)

The King's Speech Britain on the brink of war, a reluctant royal with a debilitating stammer, it's the stuff of - well, in the sure hands of filmmaker Tom Hooper (The Damned United, John Adams), it's the stuff of more than just Harvey Weinstein's latest Oscar campaign. Colin Firth is Bertie, a.k.a. George VI, a monarch with childhood trauma to bear, and Geoffrey Rush is Lionel Logue, the alliterative Aussie speech therapist whose unconventional methods are tested by the king. A fascinating bit of history, and a transcendent tale of the bond between two men. Modern-day shrinks would have ethical conniptions, but Bertie and Lionel's relationship starts off like a psychologist's with his patient, and ends up as one of enduring friendship. (In theaters.)

Never Let Me Go The Social Network's Andrew Garfield is joined by Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan as the young and clueless grown-up versions of schoolmates reared in the misty but dystopian Great Britain of a recent parallel-universe past. A beautiful adaptation of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, from director Mark Romanek. Belle and Sebastian aren't on the soundtrack, but it feels like they are. (On DVD and Blu-ray, February.)

A Prophet A French gangster film with an epic Godfather vibe, and with a performance from Tahar Rahim - as a lowly convict who rises through the prison hierarchy - that is scary in its focus and ferociousness. Director Jacques Audiard tops an already formidable filmography (A Self-Made Hero, Read My Lips, The Beat That My Heart Skipped) with this violent, revelatory gem. (On DVD and Blu-ray.)

The Social Network The saga of billionaire Mark Zuckerberg and the birth of Facebook is brought to the screen in a flurry of walk-and-talk revelations (courtesy of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin), with a darkly observant eye (director David Fincher). Jesse Eisenberg makes playing an ethically challenged Harvard brainiac with zero social skills look effortless. (On DVD and Blu-ray, January.)

Winter's Bone Jennifer Lawrence in a star-making turn as an Ozark teenager hunting for her deadbeat dad, and running into backwoods meth dealers and shifty hill people on the way. Debra Granik, the director, comes from a background in docs, and the telling details are everywhere. Adapted from the Daniel Woodrell novel. Bone-chillingly suspenseful. (On DVD and Blu-ray.)