Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” is a movie for the ages. An incredibly rich, dense, multi-layered and beautifully rendered masterpiece, it’s one of the most beautiful, complex and challenging films 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 films 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 film.
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 film, “The Fighter.” I haven’t been this inspired by a boxing film 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-like issues. What a magnificent film.
3. “The Social Network”
An electric, mesmerizing movie about the birth of Facebook; 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 best movies. “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.
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 happen 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 father. This is a richly satisfying film with an Academy Award level script and uniformly excellent performances.
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. “The Town” is like a blue-collar version of Michael Mann’s “Heat.” Affleck displays a sure hand behind the camera, and the cast is amazing.
6. “Toy Story 3”
Like “Up,” Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” gives us more heart and more insight than 95 percent of the live action films 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.
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 film 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 under a boulder. You shouldn’t deny yourself the opportunity to experience this unforgettably exciting and deeply moving film.
8. “True Grit”
The Coen brothers’ take on “True Grit” is a superior film 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 LaBoeuf. 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. A great Western.
9. “The King’s Speech”
With its British pedigree and a number of showcase scenes for Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, this is the kind of film 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.
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. What starts as a tale of debauchery becomes one of the best movies about family I’ve seen in recent years.