6. “Brave”: Imagine a fairy tale with a princess who doesn't have to hassle with a prince charming, knight in shining armor or lifesaving first kiss. The animation sorcerers at Pixar subtly but firmly revolutionized the magical princess adventures that are parent company Disney's stock in trade with its visually dazzling Scottish fable.
7. “The Dark Knight Rises”: Even without the late Heath Ledger to play the Joker, Christopher Nolan managed to make his Batman saga even better and more relevant with its third installment. With the stunning and satisfying capper in place, it's now safe to declare the director/co-writer's superhero crime-drama series one of the all-around best cinematic trilogies ever.
8. “Robot & Frank”: First-time director Jake Schreier pulls of a big score with his near-future caper about an aging former jewel thief (Frank Langella) who decides to pull one last heist with his caretaker robot (voice of Peter Sarsgaard) as his high-tech partner in crime. Christopher D. Ford's script delves into germane issues like dementia, family ties and technological innovation, but it thankfully never gets maudlin and boasts a pleasingly oddball sense of humor.
9. “Lincoln”: Politics have rarely been more gripping than director Steven Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner's period piece about the Abraham Lincoln-spearheaded race against time to get the 13th Amendment passed and slavery abolished before the end of the Civil War. From James Spader's hilarious scene stealing as an underhanded early-day lobbyist to Tommy Lee Jones' commanding turn as a politician with a gift for articulate insults, the performances are uniformly outstanding, but Daniel Day-Lewis is sure to add a third Oscar to his collection for his embodiment of the 16th U.S. president.
10. “Safety Not Guaranteed”: A real-life (although author-contrived) 1990s classified ad seeking a time-travel companion inspired Derek Connolly to pen his first movie script. Film fans who resist the urge to automatically dismiss director Colin Trevorrow's feature debut as a quirky-for-the-sake-of-quirkiness hipster comedy will be pleasantly surprised at the indie's refreshing originality and unexpected resonance.