The postmortem on 2010 is that there were fewer great films on display than in other recent years, but the possible explanation is that the talent was heavily concentrated in the top percentile. Not only were the best films better than usual, but there are some stone-cold classics on this list.
1. Watch “The Social Network” once, and the story of Facebook and its contentious creation is a marvel of modern storytelling, a tale as old as the human race and as new as the latest status update. The second go-round reveals just how tightly Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin crafted the story and how the mesmerizing performances by Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake and Armie Hammer match the film's kinetic energy. Behold the compact epic of its time, a kind of “Citizen Kane” for the era of mass transparency. Click “Like.”
2. A worst-case scenario for ballerinas everywhere, a pitch-black retelling of “Swan Lake” and a relatable horror film about workplace stress madness, Darren Aronofsky's “Black Swan” delivered its emotional churn through Natalie Portman's searing performance as Nina Sayers, a prima ballerina engaged in a pas de deux with insanity. Portman is fully invested in this challenging performance. Expect a best actress nomination for Portman and a supporting actress nod for Mila Kunis as Nina's chief rival, Lily.
3. Recommendations for viewing Christopher Nolan's “Inception”: eight solid hours of sleep and a clear mind ready to grasp every detail of this sharply conceived, genre-defying heist film. In this thriller dealing in the planting of subconscious ideas, Nolan devises a complex system of parallel actions operating within a series of nesting doll-like dreams experienced by Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team of sleep invaders (including Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ellen Page and Tom Hardy).
4. Australian David Michod's feature-length debut, “Animal Kingdom,” swept viewers into the sociopathic Cody household, where 17-year-old “J” (James Frecheville) gets dumped into the arms of a crime family matriarch (Jacki Weaver) and dragged into the brood's bloody business. Weaver is an absolute nightmare as Janine “Smurf” Cody, as is Ben Mendelsohn as “Pope,” the psychotic oldest brother who serves as the family's chief mayhem strategist.
5. Set in a French prison where Corsican Mafiosi run their crime syndicate from within, Jacques Audiard's “A Prophet” centers on Malik (Tahar Rahim), who is forced into a murder scheme by crime boss Cesar (Niels Arestrup) in an attempt to get the Muslim population in line. Malik proves to be an apt pupil in this tense, uncompromising import that is worthy of all the “Godfather” comparisons heaped upon it.