Sofia Coppola returns to Lost in Translation territory with Somewhere, another tale about a movie star in a hotel dealing with some serious issues. Stephen Dorff gives the performance of his career as an A-lister who's lost his way, and Elle Fanning is utterly natural and convincing as his daughter, who's plunked down on his doorstep. Coppola has a relaxed, confident style that gives "Somewhere" a docu-drama feel. It starts as a tale of debauchery and becomes one of the best movies about family I've seen in recent years.
9. The King's Speech
Colin Firth's magnificent performance as King George VI is the centerpiece of The King's Speech. With its British pedigree and a number of showcase scenes for Firth and Geoffrey Rush, this is the kind of movie that has Academy members drooling — and not just because they're old. But that doesn't mean The King's Speech is stuffy or dull — not for one second. This is a lively, funny, surprisingly moving tale of the man who would be king but couldn't get through a sentence without stammering — and the middle-class teacher who helped him break through and became his best friend.
8. True Grit
Sacrilegious as it may sound, the Coen brothers' take on True Grit is a far superior movie to the 1969 edition that won John Wayne the Oscar. Jeff Bridges is a worthy successor to Wayne in iconic role of the drunken marshal Rooster Cogburn, and Matt Damon represents a serious upgrade from Glen Campbell as the Texas ranger named "LaBeef." Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld nearly steals the movie as Mattie, the 14-year-old girl who hires two lawmen to track down the cuss that killed her father. The Coen brothers transport us to the unforgiving wilderness of the Choctaw Nation just after the Civil War and give us a story that's harsh, violent and authentic. This is a great Western.
7. 127 Hours
I know a lot of you are shying away from 127 Hours because you think it's a movie about a guy who cuts his arm off to save his own life. But that's like saying It's a Wonderful Life is about a guy who gets drunk and wrecks his car. Danny Boyle's kinetic, thrilling, inspirational movie stars James Franco in a nomination-worthy performance as the thrill-seeking narcissist who comes to grips with his past while trapped with his arm pinned. The admittedly grotesque arm-cutting scene is obviously pivotal, but it takes up about 5 percent of the movie. You shouldn't deny yourself the opportunity to experience this unforgettably exciting and deeply moving movie.
6. Toy Story 3
Like last year's instant animated classic Up, Pixar's Toy Story 3 gives us more heart and more insight than 95 percent of the live-action movies out there. It's a decade after the first two entries in the series, with Andy now about to go off to college, and the toys facing an uncertain future. What follows is a rousing, funny, thrilling adventure equally suited for kids who weren't even born when the first Toy Story came out, and adults who know Pixar's movies only become more impressive with repeated viewings. If you're not moved by the final scene, check your pulse.
5. The Town
Set in the Boston neighborhoods that director and star Ben Affleck knows so well, The Town is a gritty, savvy, thrilling movie that feels authentic even when the plot stretches credibility. Affleck gives one of the best performances of his career as Doug MacRay, the brains behind a four-man crew that hits armored cars and banks. Some of the most memorable scenes in The Town are the intense, multi-layered exchanges between two characters. But Affleck also knows how to stage some big-picture heist scenes. The Town is like a blue-collar version of Michael Mann's Heat, one of my all-time favorite movies. Affleck displays a sure hand behind the camera, and the cast is amazing.
4. The Kids Are All Right
The Kids Are All Right is a classic study of a 20-year romance, with all the highs and lows and in-betweens. This couple just happens to be lesbians. Annette Bening is an Oscar front-runner and Julianne Moore is just as excellent. They bicker, make love, fret about their kids, argue about work, and celebrate their love for one another in one beautifully rendered scene after another. Mark Ruffalo strikes just the right notes as the kids' sperm donor, a charming, self-pleased sort who creates all manner of havoc within the family dynamic. This is a richly satisfying movie with an Academy Award–level script and uniformly excellent performances.
3. The Social Network
From its opening scene featuring a brilliant undergrad digging himself deeper and deeper with a girlfriend, The Social Network is an electric, mesmerizing movie. This is the birth of Facebook, and it's the Citizen Kane of modern social media movies. Working from an Oscar-worthy script by Aaron Sorkin, the brilliant director David Fincher delivers one of his most straightforward and one of his best movies. Loosely based on true events, The Social Network hops back and forth between the genesis of Facebook at Harvard in 2003, and the court cases that pitted Facebook genius Mark Zuckerberg against his former classmates. This is the classic story of an outsider who achieves the American Dream through inspiration and dedication. It's also the definitive look at the way our world has been changed forever by a site that turns everyone into the star of their own personal movie.
2. The Fighter
Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo and in particular Christian Bale all deserve serious awards consideration for their work in David O. Russell's masterful movie, The Fighter. I haven't been this inspired by a boxing movie since the original Rocky. Wahlberg plays the hard-punching Micky Ward and Bale is mesmerizing as his older half-brother Dicky Ecklund, who's training Micky when he's not smoking crack and ruining his own life. Micky's torn between family loyalties and one last shot at the title before it's too late. Inspired by a true story, The Fighter is a working class tale of redemption with Shakespearean-level issues. What a magnificent movie.
Christopher Nolan's Inception is a movie for the ages. It's an incredibly rich, dense, multi-layered and beautifully rendered masterpiece. It is one of the most beautiful, complex, and challenging movies I've ever seen. Leonardo DiCaprio is front and center as Cobb, who has the ability to penetrate dreams. But it's a lot more complicated than that. On one level Inception plays like a standard thriller. You'll recognize elements of movies such as The Matrix and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but this is a truly original work of art. The special effects are jaw-dropping, the cinematography is gorgeous, the performances are uniformly excellent, the score is amazing. A century from now, movie lovers will be debating this great, great movie.