2010 nearly became a sea of dreck: from godwaful summer hits (I'm looking at you Sex and the City 2) to overrated Oscar-hopefuls (The Town really bummed me out) it looked like slim pickings. Then came David Fincher's mesmerizing and simmering Greek tragedy in the form of the most powerful social networking site around, Joel and Ethan Coen's new classic re-telling of "The Duke's" only Oscar-winning role, a vampire movie that didn't suck and who name doesn't begin with Twilight, and the the beginning of the end for a beloved boy wizard. Add a lesbian couple's marriage on the rocks, a writer investigating corruption in the life of a public servant, and thieves pulling the perfect crime in our dreams, and we have 10 of the movies that not only didn't suck, but had true grit (forgive the pun) as well.
2. Black Swan - Natalie Portman gives the performance of the year as a rising ballerina in the New York Ballet company who's landed the biggest role the production of Swan Lake. As the opening draws near, she faces a mental breakdown as she begins to explore her darker side as the Swan's alter ego in the recital. What could have been a total melodrama with a memorable steamy girl-girl sex scene between Portman and her co-star, a surprising, sensual performance by Mila Kunis, director Darren Aronofsky, along with longtime collaborators cinematographer Matthew Libatique and composer Clint Mansell take us on a harrowing, dark, and erotic journey into Nina Sayer's head, where her drive to being perfect threatens to destroy her and the production. The last line floors you: "I felt it. Perfect. I was perfect." It's the best way to describe Portman's tour-de-force and Aronofsky's latest, and best, creation.
3. The Social Network - A movie about Facebook? Hollywood has jumped the shark you might say. That guy from N'Sync, a handsome-looking but largely unknown British actor, and the kid in Zombieland? This has to be a fucking disaster, and in lesser hands, you would be correct. Director David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (TV's The West Wing) don't give a damn about how LOL and OMG became part of our online vocabulary, the pair are hunting bigger game in how gifted genius, ruthless ambition, sex, money and betrayal paved the way for Zuckerberg to become the world's youngest billionaire and how his own shortcommings in social communication brings about the social networking phenomenon. Jesse Eisenberg gives the best performance of his young career as Facebook's founder, genius techie, and all-around brooding prick, while Andrew Garfield laces loyalty and heartbreak as Edwardo Saverin, Mark's best and only friend he eventually screws over for Napster founder Sean Parker (an excellent Justin Timberlake).
5. The Tillman Story - We all know the story of Cpl. Pat Tillman: how he turned down a lucrative deal to continue playing for the Arizona Cardinals in order to serve his country after 9/11. We all know how the Pentagon and the Bush Administration covered up his death (he died via friendly fire by his own unit) in order to use him as a recruiting tool for the military and to make him an American hero back home. Director Amir Bar-Lev and narrator Josh Brolin go further to uncover how our government tried to block the truth on how he died to a grieving family, and revealed the man behind the propaganda. The result makes the documentary all the more heartbreaking and sickening as Congress and the media looked the other way. The Tillman Story sticks with you long after the credits roll.
6. 127 Hours - A claustrophobic thriller/true story where the hero is incapable of movement? Sounds like another bland, weepy docudrama. Danny Boyle, who won the Oscar for Best Director in 2008 for the masterful Slumdog Millionaire, avoids the cliches and pitfals, and follows up with a brilliant, inspiring and harrowing journey into the six days that defined Aaron Ralston's life as his hand was pinned down to a boulder in a canyon in Utah. James Franco has shown off his acting chops before (see Harvey Milk's first partner in Milk) but he digs deep to show us what's going through Aaron's head as he comes face-to-face with his reckless/lone-wolf behavior, and with certain death. You feel like you're just as trapped as was the real hiker was, with hope fading minute by minute, which makes 127 Hours unforgetttable: Boyle and Franco make you believe.
8. Let Me In - It's a miracle! A vampire movie that doesn't suck, and an American remake (2007's mesmirising Sweedish horror movie Let The Right One In) that improves on the original. Matt Reeves, who wrote and directed the film, doesn't coddle to the fangirl base by plugging a couple of attractive leads and doesn't skimper on blood-sucking and feeling. Abby is played by the fantastic Chloe Crace-Moretz, the vampire who befriends Owen, a young boy who's tormented by bullies at school and his alcoholic, Bible-thumping mother, who is played with tenderness and traces of bubbling menace by Kodi Smit-McPhee. The relationship that forms turns deadly and deeply moving as the body count begins to pile up in the small town of New Mexico, as a local cop (Elias Koteas) tracks Abby and her guardian down (the always reliable Richard Jenkins).
9. True Grit - First the Facebook movie, now Hollywood remade the classic 1969 western staring John Wayne in the only role in which "The Duke" snagged the Best Actor Oscar? Again, this would be a walking disaster in lesser hands, but leave it to Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men) to take a vastly different approach and come away with a new Coen Bros. classic. Much like No Country in 2007, the directing duo don't just understand Charles Portis's novel of the same name, they know how the characters act, think, and breathe. The dialouge is among some of the finest the pair have ever crafted, as each line is laced with ferocity and stinging humor. Cinematographer Roger Deakins captures the open range with both breathtaking beauty and the lurking danger that spring at a moment's notice. As for the man who plays Wayne's Rooster Cogburn? Jeff Bridges dons the eye patch and does the The Duke proud by making Cogburn into a fat, drunkard with quick aim and glimmers of regret. The movie, though, belongs to newcomer Haliee Steinfeld, playing Mattie Ross, the 14 year-old smartmouthed, headstrong girl who hires Cogburn to hunt down Ton Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who killed her father. She's a live wire.