6. Leave it to the man who turned conventional storytelling structure on its ear with 2000's brain-boggling “Memento” to top himself with the most mind-blowingly original crime thriller of the past 10 years. Writer-director Christopher Nolan's “Inception” starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, a master thief of valuable secrets of the subconscious, operating in a world where it's possible to invade the dreams of others, as long as one is willing to risk all the nightmarish and catastrophic perils the sleeping human mind can conjure. The action is unpredictable and virtually nonstop, the special effects jaw-dropping, and Nolan's imagination seems as wonderfully weird and infinite as an M.C. Escher staircase. Pure movie manna.
7. “Never Let Me Go” mysteriously got up and went away from theaters in most markets after a week's run, despite reviews that glowed with praise that was fairly radioactive in intensity, and all of it richly deserved. Based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro set in an alternate reality of the 1990s, director Mark Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland brought together the seemingly incompatible elements of low-key sci-fi horror and the warm visual and emotional colors of bittersweet British romance storytelling involving a thorny love triangle made up of three young people (Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield, uniformly superb) who are bred to literally sacrifice themselves when they reach majority age.
The film's lessons in the impermanence of life and love and the importance of living in the precious moment were haunting and lasting.
8. With Adolf Hitler on the march and war clouds gathering over Great Britain, reluctant new King George VI suffers a debilitating speech impediment that may prevent him from rallying his subjects in “The King's Speech,” an inspired historical drama from director Tom Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler that featured Colin Firth as the stammering monarch and Geoffrey Rush as the oddball Australian amateur speech therapist who comes to his aid, forming one of the most unlikely, little-known and touching friendships in the annals of human events. Firth and Rush both deserve to be crowned with Oscar glory.
9. Director Darren Aronofsky made a broad leap from the seedy world of professional grappling (“The Wrestler,” which saved Mickey Rourke's career from being counted out) to the gracefully bounding and pirouetting world of ballet with the efdisturbing and absorbing psychological thriller “Black Swan,” featuring Natalie Portman in a dizzyingly affecting portrayal of a fragile young dancer on the edge of losing her mental balance.
10. Leonardo DiCaprio was unusually busy this year, working with yet another great director, Martin Scorsese (for the fourth time), in Laeta Kalogridis' gripping adaptation of Dennis Lehane's novel “Shutter Island.” DiCaprio was gut-ripping as a U.S. marshal with some deep emotional problems of his own, investigating the totally baffling disappearance of a homicidal mental patient from an asylum on a remote island in Boston Harbor that is supposedly escape-proof.
Performances by Ben Kingsley and Mark Ruffalo were pitch-perfect, and the film's methods of illustrating the human mind's ability to blank out events and deeds of monstrous dimensions were chillingly effective.