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Twas a year in which sequels ("Toy Story 3," Iron Man 2"), "originals" ("Inception," "Despicable Me") and movies somewhere in between ("Alice in Wonderland") dominated the box office side-by-side.
But what movies ranked highest where it matters most (you know… in our hearts)?
From thrilling new installments in the behemoth "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" franchises to fascinating prestige films that mined gold from surprising sources like Facebook and ballet, here are our picks for the very best of the best of 2010.
25. 'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse'
That vampire-werewolf-human love triangle reached hot new heights with its third – and strongest – installment this summer. With the highly anticipated tent scene, the battle against Victoria and the newborns and (swoon) that marriage proposal, the flick was so action-packed, smooch-packed and six-packed, fans' cries of pure joy are still ringing in our ears. Or maybe those sounds are caused by the fact that we have to wait until next November to see "Breaking Dawn – Part 1." Sigh.
–Breanne L. Heldman
24. 'Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World'
Most mainstream movie fans skipped this comic book adaptation when it was in theaters – maybe they missed the obvious allure of Mary Elizabeth Winstead with multi-colored hair and vintage video game references. Here’s what else those short-sighted squares missed: adorkable performances by Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim and Ellen Wong as his sort-of-ex-girlfriend Knives Chau, a seamless integration of comic-style storytelling and big screen action, some sweet-ass fight scenes and one of the greatest soundtracks we’ve heard in years. - Brooke Tarnoff
Robert Rodriguez's gloriously over-the-top intro to "Mexploitation" (can this be an ongoing genre please?) didn't do so bueno at the box office, which is a shame: Audiences missed out on one of the year's most ridiculously fun movies. Granted, with a plot that paints an "illegal" as idol and gun-toting border patrol vigilantes and conservative politicians as diabolical d-bags, your stance on the immigration debate will obviously affect your feelings toward the film. But how can you not root for the rugged and scar-faced Danny Trejo? And remember, Machete don't text.
Is this a really a documentary or did filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost "uncover" a "mystery" they'd already solved before turning on their cameras? A more important question might be... how much do we really care? Whether the story of internet romance and false identity is 100 percent organic, it's indisputably riveting, capturing a sense of dread and foreboding we haven't felt since the Blair Witch messed up those other real-life documentarians. – BT
21. 'Get Him to the Greek'
"The Other Guys" is widely considered the best comedy of the year (well, except by the Golden Globes, which would probably give that honor to "The Tourist"), but this relatively unheralded laugh riot is worth a second or third look. Russell Brand finishes what he started in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," delivering trademark rapid-fire wit and bombastic style in his first star vehicle, Jonah Hill conjures up heaps of humor just trying to keep up, and Sean "He'll Always Be Puffy" Combs nearly steals the entire show as a record mogul you really don't want to f**k with. –KP
20. 'Animal Kingdom'
One of those movies that will make you praise God (or James Cameron) that your family is only just dysfunctional, this haunting and intense Australian import about a quiet teen (James Frecheville) forced to move in with his extended kin of killers and criminals takes the opposite approach of crime classics like "The Godfather" and "The Sopranos." Their life's work is deglamorized, and this is one clan you wouldn't want to be a part of, overseen by should-be-Oscar winner Jacki Weaver's matriarch, a woman who makes Mommie Dearest look like Peggy Bundy. --KP
19. 'Despicable Me'
Who hasn't fantasized about having a bunch of minions to do your evil bidding? Now imagine those minions yellow, cute and in super-cool 3-D. The animated flick about a supervillain (voiced by Steve Carell) who turns out to have a heart as golden as those minions, not only warmed our grown-up hearts, it inspired some serious laughs. Placing this treat this low in our top 25 only proves what a fantastic year it's been for animated movies. –BLH
18. 'Blue Valentine'
Don't take a new date to see this tough drama, which teeters between the puppy-love courtship and years-later unhappy union of a now-married couple (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams), likable but normally flawed people. A meditation on the nature of romantic relationships that's undeniably depressing yet incredibly insightful, the film is buoyed by a pair of remarkable performances from two of their generation's best. So while new couples may want to avoid this one on principle, it will at least make singletons not long for that loving feeling. – KP
It's been a great year for the unlikely action star (see gun-toting Helen Mirren), but top honors belong to one pint-sized she-ninja: Chloe Moretz. The 13-year-old is cast in seven films coming out next year, and she clearly owes her status of It Girl to Hit Girl, the foul-mouthed baby ass-kicker of "Kick-Ass." Moretz is just one of the movie's charms -- deep down, we identify with the main character's urge to throw on his green jammies and fight crime, and it's always a pleasure to see Nic Cage in an increasingly rare moment of true greatness. -- BT
16. 'Winter's Bone'
Like "Frozen River" two years ago, this micro-budgeted indie set in the Heartland has taken Hollywood by storm (if not necessarily America), at least in terms of award circuits and critics lists. Breakout star Jennifer Lawrence is a revelation as the film's tormented heart and soul, a poor teen in rural Missouri forced to care and provide for her ill mother and siblings while trying to chase down her meth-cooking pops. This quiet thriller heads into unexpected terrain and has the ammunition to shock. It might make you afraid of Missouri, too. --KP
15. 'Easy A'
It’s the kind of movie made for a slumber party -- witty, a little naughty, and featuring sleepover movie queen Amanda Bynes. Lucky for anyone hoping to make a buck from the production, "Easy A" also has a sharp script, a deluge of references to '80s films, a stellar performance by star Emma Stone, and an equally fine performance by her cleavage in a series of corsets. Also, we dare you to find a set of cooler movie parents than Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson. (No, seriously. Let's play Truth or Dare. We just put on "Easy A" and the s'mores are almost ready.) - BT
14. 'Let Me In'
Movie buffs were irate when it was announced that "Cloverfield"'s Matt Reeves was directing an American version of the popular Swedish horror film, "Let the Right One In." But anyone who gave it a chance owes Reeves and stars Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee their props; not only is the remake totally loyal to its subtle-yet-scary source material, but some even argue that this telling of the vampire tale is superior. –BLH
13. 'The Town'
We've seen plenty of bank robber movies and a slew of Boston-is-a-gritty-city flicks, but this one is a rarity -- it did well in the box office and is now on a somewhat surprising awards nomination tear. Ben Affleck proves yet again that he makes a solid writer and director, Jeremy Renner reassures any doubters that his "Hurt Locker" performance was no fluke, and even "Gossip Girl" starlet Blake Lively makes it clear she can do more than don a plunging neckline and Jimmy Choos.
12. 'How to Train Your Dragon'
In a year that wasn't so spectacular for the 3-D boom (at least in terms of quality… enough with the retrofitting, mmm k?), animated 3-D films were the medium's shining stars, and none made better use of the added dimension than this high-soaring adventure. But beyond the dazzling visuals, there's the profound friendship at the film's core, between a boy and his "pet" dragon, and applauded messages of peace and understanding. Sure, they might be different colors (and breathe fire), but can't we all just get along? -- KP
11. 'The Fighter'
Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams pack a one-two-three-four punch in this true tale of boxing champ Micky Ward and his debilitatingly dysfunctional family, and director David O. Russell swings for much more than just a sports biopic. Bale is heartbreakingly scary-skinny as Ward's junkie brother/trainer and probable Oscar contender Leo ("Frozen River") gives her second scene-stealing performance of the year after "Welcome to the Rileys."
10. 'The Other Guys'
Will Ferrell is funny. This comes as a shock to no one -- we've all seen "Old School." But even though Mark Wahlberg's given us a few comedy sneak previews ("Date Night," "SNL"... "Fear"), we were still bowled over by his scene-stealing performance. It was a lean year for comedy, but the power-duo of Ferrell and Wahlberg -- plus some amazing cameos, priceless quotables and Eva Mendes looking exceptionally fine -- would still make our list among stiffer competition. – BT
9. 'The Kids Are All Right'
Much like TV's sensation "Modern Family," this sleeper hit (about a lesbian couple whose teenage kids seek out their biological daddy) takes a fresh and refreshing look at a 21st century nuclear family, a portrayal that's honest, heartfelt and humorous. Unlike the film sensation "Brokeback Mountain" (regrettably dubbed "the gay cowboy movie"), it has avoided being defined by its main characters' sexuality. And have we mentioned how superb the performances are? Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo are veritably great, but Annette Bening is downright sensational and should finally land an Oscar. -- KP
8. 'True Grit'
If you haven't seen John Wayne in the 1969 original, fear not -- the 2010 version has everything you need: Jeff Bridges at his mush-mouthed best, a sturdy performance from breakout star Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon providing some comic relief and, despite the moments of levity that mark most Coen Brothers movies, some real grit. "True Grit" holds onto the earnestness of classic American Westerns but explores a brutality that puts the good old days in perspective. -- BT
7. 'The King’s Speech'
Oscar buzz can be the kiss of death for a movie that opens in limited release -- by the time it shows up in your local theater, you're already sick of talking about it, but "The King's Speech" is the rare gem that deserves every ounce of praise. If you're thinking, (and we wouldn't blame you) "there's no way a King George VI biopic can be anything but painfully boring," take the leap of faith. In addition to being the first period bromance in recorded history, it's an amazing, inspiring story. -- BT
6. 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1'
When a movie makes audience members cry within the first few minutes, how can it not be one of the best movies of the year (see also: last year's "Up")? This chapter served as a fitting and emotional beginning of the end for our favorite Hogwarts students and was arguably the most true to the source novels of any of the seven adaptations thus far. Sure, Hermione got a little more naked and Kreacher lacked screen time, but Dobby's demise was one of the most heartbreaking moments of the books and, appropriately, of the year in cinema. We cannot wait to see the final chapter in July, but are devastated at the thought of saying goodbye to our pals. -- BLH
5. '127 Hours'
A movie about a guy trapped alone in a canyon for days should be pretty lame, right? But with the combination of the talents of "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle and inspired star James Franco, this movie is anything but boring. For some, seeing Franco's Aron Ralston cut off his limb sent them running for the restroom (or even the hospital), but for us, the highlight of the film is experiencing the butterflies that went all a-flutter just as Ralston's impending disaster was about to strike. Of course that's just where the adventure begins. –BLH
The mind-f**ker to end all mind-f**kers, Christopher Nolan's futuristic thriller/mind-heist flick was the most debated movie of the year, and almost required repeated viewings for moviegoers to responsibly engage in the dialogue (multiple dream levels? A better racket than 3-D IMAX showings). But beyond the astounding FX, layered narratives and cliffhanging climax, what's most reassuring about "Inception" is that it was a summer sensation that wasn't a sequel, prequel, remake, or based on a book, comic, TV show, "SNL" skit, theme park ride, informerical, etc. It was a unique, original idea. Let's hope Nolan's planted that thought in Hollywood's collective mind. --KP
3. 'Toy Story 3'
Seriously, who didn't sob watching this movie? The return of Woody, Buzz and friends alone is enough to put a smile on our faces, but watching the toys bid farewell to their beloved Andy as he heads to college had huge, wet teardrops streaming down our cheeks. Kids may see colors and talking playthings when they watch these films, but we see pure brilliance and a real need to pass the tissues. –BLH
2. 'Black Swan'
Ladies, ballet enthusiasts and cinephiles, may we interest you in a dance movie directed by the incomparable Darren Aronofsky, with performances guaranteed to garner Oscar nominations and a story that you'll mull over for days? Gentlemen and other fans of girl-on-girl action, may we interest you in a psychological thriller that features Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis totally getting it on, in a scene that may or may not be real, but features Portman and Kunis doing it regardless? Amazingly, it's the same movie. And it's wonderful. - BT
1. ‘The Social Network'
Like "Black Swan" and ballet, director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin weaved a thoroughly riveting tale from the unlikeliest of topics: the creation of Facebook. His expose of its formation by antihero Mark Zuckerberg (gotta love that one of the film's prevalent themes hinged on the debate as to whether or not Zuckerberg was, in fact, an a-hole; it's no wonder the guy is donating half of his wealth to charity) grips you in the opening scene and doesn't let go for the next 119 minutes, as we hang onto its razor-sharp dialogue, behold its grade-A performances (Jesse Eisenberg is especially brilliant) and marvel at the real-life making of a modern-day billionaire. It's still hard to believe "the Facebook movie" turned out to be a work of genius. -- KP