6. “Lincoln”: Stripping away years of cinematic revision about one of history's greatest men, writer Tony Kushner, director Steven Spielberg and actor Daniel Day-Lewis recreate the most important weeks in the career and life of President Abraham Lincoln. Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and an enviable supporting cast featuring representatives from nearly every great drama on cable television help make this detailed story about political gamesmanship come to life, but it is Day-Lewis' landmark transformation into the 16th U.S. president that makes “Lincoln” so compelling.
7. “Beasts of the Southern Wild”: Writer-director Benh Zeitlin's feature film debut finds beauty and truth in squalor as a young swamp dweller named Hushpuppy (played by talented newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis) must contend with her father's deteriorating health and the arrival of an environmental disaster with supernatural overtones. “Beasts” is rendered with such naturalistic grace, it could pass for a documentary — at least until the giant aurochs start trampling through the bayou.
8. “The Dark Knight Rises”: In one of those exceedingly rare feats, director Christopher Nolan completes his Batman trilogy with a film that achieves a worthy denouement. The series elevated an entire genre, and Nolan's repertory players (Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt) all help to achieve a fitting end, and ever so possibly, a new beginning.
9. “Headhunters”: This wildly inventive Norwegian import takes a cocky corporate recruiter (Aksel Hennie) and humbles him, over and over, at the hands of one of his recruits (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). “Headhunters” is top-shelf, mean-spirited fun with more sudden twists than a crazy straw.
10. “Safety Not Guaranteed”: A journalism intern (Aubrey Plaza of “Parks and Recreation”) is assigned to check out the man who keeps placing personal ads for time travel partners. Thanks to a subtle performance by Mark Duplass as Kenneth, the oddball in question, “Safety Not Guaranteed” maintains its mystery to the end, and the chemistry and honed wit between Plaza and Duplass are the reasons to care whether Kenneth is insane or is really onto something.