Crowning achievements: Top 10 films of 2010


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Forget the curious case of Benjamin Button.

America and awards voters have embraced the curious case of Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook and Time magazine's person of the year, whose story is told in "The Social Network." Well, it's his story according to director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin and the early favorite in the 2010 Oscar race.

As the year draws to a close, there is no shortage of fine films to track down in theaters or on DVD. A look at the top movies of the year:

1 "The King's Speech"

Another nifty nine

Also noteworthy were these movies (a couple of which were 2009 releases arriving here in 2010) earning our critics' highest rating of four stars:

"A Prophet" -- Barbara Vancheri, PG movie editor

"The Last Station" -- Barry Paris, PG film critic emeritus

"The Secret in Their Eyes" -- Paris

"I Am Love" -- Paris

"Let It Rain" -- Paris

"How I Ended This Summer" -- Paris

"Exit Through the Gift Shop" -- Mary Thomas, PG art critic

"Marwencol" -- Megan Roth, former PG staff writer

"Mary and Max" -- Elham Khatami, former PG staff writer

For some, fear of public speaking trumps fear of death. For Bertie, that anxiety was magnified due to a debilitating stutter. He couldn't simply avoid the public eye and microphone, particularly once his lovesick brother abdicated the throne in 1936 and Albert "Bertie" Frederick Arthur George became King George VI.

Colin Firth is masterful and so is Geoffrey Rush as the Australian whose unconventional methods helped the reluctant royal control his stammer and find his voice (and a much needed friend) as Hitler threatened the Empire and the world. In this age of 3-D gimmicks and Facebook films, it's a conventional story but one beautifully told, acted and staged. Now in theaters.

2 "Inception"

I'm not sure why so many people disowned this film after embracing it when it was released in July. I heard more talk about "Inception" than virtually any other movie this year, if I don't count the sheepish confessions from men about crying during "Toy Story 3."

"Inception" is a brilliant sci-fi action picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio as an American thief who can steal secrets from others when they are asleep. Director Christopher Nolan kept moviegoers off balance as they tumbled into his dreamscape, engaged the left and right sides of their brains and debated what the ending really meant. On DVD.

3 "The Social Network"

I suspect writer Aaron Sorkin, he of the walk-and-talk scenes in "The West Wing," makes all of these characters much wittier than they are in real life. Take the response of a Harvard man when asked if he wants to hire an intellectual property lawyer and sue Mr. Zuckerberg: "No, I wanna hire the Sopranos to beat the ... out of him with a hammer!"

For a movie about a socially awkward computer genius whose fingers and neurons move at hyperspeed, it's highly entertaining, smart and flawlessly led by Jesse Eisenberg as the accidental billionaire whose invention has 550 million users and counting. Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake and Armie Hammer (as the Winklevoss twins) are essential, too. Coming to DVD Jan. 11.

4 "Toy Story 3"

Ken loved Barbie's leg warmers, and we loved this update to the animated adventure that started in 1995 with a little boy named Andy and his toys. Now, he's ready for college, and the toys are in a tizzy.

They end up at a day-care center that seems like heaven but soon proves otherwise. "Toy Story 3" had the vocal cast we've grown to love, newcomer Michael Keaton as the scene-stealing Ken and a grand "Great Escape" story. On DVD.

5 "The Fighter"

Mark Wahlberg stars in this movie, produced it and nurtured it, but he may be the odd man out at Oscar time, unless "The Fighter" wins best picture. Co-stars Christian Bale and Melissa Leo have emerged as front-runners for supporting honors, and they deliver knockout performances.

This is based on a true story and it follows the fortunes of Lowell, Mass., half-brothers and boxers "Irish" Micky Ward and Dickie Eklund, their brassy mother-manager (who also has seven daughters) and the body blows they all give and take. In theaters.

6 "Winter's Bone"

Jennifer Lawrence plays a 17-year-old whose daddy, a crystal-meth cooker, put their Ozarks house up for his bail bond and then disappeared. That means she's in charge of finding him, taking care of her younger siblings and their mentally ill mother and saving their home and land. A tall order and tale, told with authenticity. On DVD.

7 "127 Hours"

Even one of the rare moviegoers who fainted while watching this film came 'round and said, "Excellent movie, by the way." Director Danny Boyle took the story of Carnegie Mellon University graduate Aron Ralston (James Franco), pinned by an 800-pound boulder in a Utah canyon, and left us inspired, exhilarated, teary-eyed and impressed by the strength of a man willing to trade an arm for a life. In theaters.

8 "Black Swan"

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the craziest one of all? This R-rated psychosexual thriller keeps you on your toes, so to speak, as you try to figure out the answer. Candidates include Natalie Portman's ballerina, who gets in touch with her dark side; her suffocating mother, played by Barbara Hershey; Winona Ryder as an aging star who cannot accept being cast aside; and ambitious newcomer Mila Kunis. In theaters.

9 "Restrepo"

In a year of dynamic documentaries led by "Inside Job," "Waiting for Superman" and "The Tillman Story," this movie provided the most vivid picture yet of the war in Afghanistan and the bond among the U.S. Army soldiers stationed there. Named for a medic who died in the line of duty, it's bracing (and alarming) to see what they face daily in a godforsaken place where the road ends and the Taliban begin. On DVD.

10 "Mesrine"

Vincent Cassel, now opposite Natalie Portman in "Black Swan," stars in this two-part epic about French gangster Jacques Mesrine. He is magnificent as he captures Mesrine's charisma, sneer, audacity, recklessness, quick thinking and sadistic violent streak. On DVD.


Best movies that haven't opened here: The wrenching "Rabbit Hole," featuring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as parents whose world implodes and marriage withers after their little boy dies in a traffic accident, and Mike Leigh's domestic drama "Another Year," following characters through the seasons of the year and life.


Honorable mention

"The Kids Are All Right" -- Annette Bening could be Oscar-bound thanks to this movie, but she was equally strong in "Mother and Child." She and Julianne Moore are a longtime couple whose world is shaken and stirred by their children's sperm donor, an irresistible Mark Ruffalo. On DVD.

"The Town" -- Great movie poster, with bank and armored car robbers in nun disguises. Jeremy Renner has been singled out of the ensemble, but Ben Affleck deserves credit for directing this muscular movie and assembling a cast that also counts Jon Hamm, Chris Cooper, Rebecca Hall and Blake Lively. On DVD.

"Despicable Me" -- A villain schemes to steal the moon with the help of minions (he got there before Megamind) and orphaned girls in this delightful animated adventure. For once, the extra couple of bucks for the 3-D were worth it, but families will be fine with old-school 2-D at home. On DVD.

"True Grit" -- The Coen brothers reunite with "The Big Lebowski" star Jeff Bridges in this adaptation of the Charles Portis novel about a 14-year-old girl and the lawmen hunting for the man who killed her father. It strikes a more bittersweet note than the 1969 version but boasts strong performances all around. In theaters.

"Please Give" -- Director-writer Nicole Holofcener reunites with actress Catherine Keener for a fourth time in this little slice-of-life movie. It's chock-full of asides, keen observations and small moments, funny and female-centric. On DVD.


COMINGS AND GOINGS

1. Gone baby gone -- The Squirrel Hill Theater, a fixture on Forward Avenue for more than seven decades, closed in March, and the Showcase West called it quits in April. The Hollywood Theater in Dormont turned out the lights (again) in May and the onetime South Hills Theater on West Liberty Avenue was demolished in June.

2. Will it stay or will it go? -- Rave Motion Pictures of Dallas, which bought Showcase North a year ago and operates it as Pittsburgh North 11, is trying to sell those 30-odd acres along McKnight Road.

A spokesman said this week, via e-mail, that Rave prefers to keep the theater, but if a buyer wants the entire plot of land, who knows? Perhaps Rave could sell the property and build a new, more modern theater nearby. If the North Hills had the moviehouse equivalent of Ross Park Mall, imagine the business it could do.

3. Pittsburgh on parade -- Three movies shot in Pittsburgh opened in 12 days in November. "Unstoppable," "The Next Three Days" and "Love & Other Drugs" kept moviegoers busy trying to spot the location of the dead-man's curve, the playground frequented by Russell Crowe's character and the coffee shop where Anne Hathaway's artist worked.

4. Taylor Lautner -- His handlers and the "Abduction" publicist wouldn't let the media near the "Twilight" star, but the actor reportedly was gracious with his fans, which is what counts. The movie is slated for a Sept. 23 opening, two weeks after "Warrior" is scheduled to arrive. The new year also will bring "I Am Number Four" and "One for the Money," both filmed here.

5. Darn you, "She's Out of My League" -- For the R-rated romcom, director Jim Field Smith and his crew turned Market Square into a summery, open-air restaurant with white twinkle lights, topiaries and lots of happy people. I think of it whenever I see Market Square, which is cold, all harsh surfaces and frankly unattractive (except when the farmers' market is there).

"She's Out of My League" showcased Pittsburgh like no other movie, although Paul Haggis incorporated the city into "The Next Three Days" as if he were a native.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her Mad About the Movies blog at post-gazette.com/movies.


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