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On movies: The 10 best movies of 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 30, 2010 - The 10 best movies of 2010 -- more precisely, my favorite 10 movies of the year -- are presented in alphabetical order, but the two movies at the end of the list could easily stand at the top of it. "Winter's Bone" and "True Grit" were superb variations on similar classical themes: A daughter goes on a long and dangerous quest involving her father. Both feature triumphant performances by young actresses.

All but one of the movies listed played in St. Louis in 2010. The exception, "Rabbit Hole," has opened elsewhere and thus, like all the other films listed, is eligible for year-end awards.

At a time when it seems, more than ever, that truth is truly stranger than fiction, three of the films appropriately are documentaries.

The 10 Best Movies Of 2010

Fair Game: Sean Penn plays a former American diplomat married to a CIA officer (Naomi Watts) in a excellent film based on a true story. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, both of them, working independently, report that it is highly unlikely that Saddam Hussein has a nuclear arsenal. They are attacked by powerful men in the Bush administration, and their marriage and careers are almost destroyed.

The Fighter: Christian Bale gives a remarkable performance as the drug-addicted older brother and trainer of a young welterweight boxer (Mark Wahlberg) who is trapped by family ties. Superb boxing scenes and a realistic portrayal of economically depressed Lowell, Mass., add to the movie's verisimilitude. Some of the acting by Bale and Melissa Leo, as the mother of the brothers, comes perilously close to being over the top, but the performances are hard to forget.

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould: A superb new documentary about the life and art of, arguably, the greatest pianist of the 20th century. The film pays attention to the pianist's well-known eccentricities -- and, toward the end of his life, his mental unbalance -- but presents them in the context of his musical genius and shows that, much of the time, he led a rich, full life.

Inside Job: Charles Ferguson has meticulously assembled a scathing indictment of the powerful men whose financial policies, fueled by greed and the political power of Wall Street, led to the economic meltdown of 2008. Investment bankers got richer, ordinary citizens got poorer, and many of the same men are still in power, pursuing the same policies.

The Kids are All Right: Annette Bening and Julianne Moore star as a longtime lesbian couple with two teenage children in a very engaging, mostly comedic look at how traditional difficulties can afflict a thoroughly modern family.

Rabbit Hole: Nicole Kidman has deservedly been nominated for a Golden Globe award for her strong yet subtle portrayal of an emotionally shattered woman whose marriage is being destroyed by the accidental death of her young son. Opens here Jan. 14.

The Social Network: Working from a witty and trenchant script by Aaron Sorkin ("West Wing"), director David Fincher lays out in fascinating detail the story of Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), who built Facebook with ingenuity bordering on genius, obsessive entrepreneurial drive and the occasional betrayal of trust. One of the best movies ever made about an entrepreneur.

The Tillman Story: Pro football player Pat Tillman enlisted in the army after 9-11 and was killed in Afghanistan, probably by so-called friendly fire. The military and the federal government tried to gloss over his death and paint him as a conventional hero killed in a noble war, but his family fought for the truth.

True Grit: Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld plays 14-year-old Mattie Ross, a simultaneously naive and shrewd avenging angel who hires a crusty federal marshal (Jeff Bridges) to go into Indian Territory to find the man who killed her father. One catch -- she insists on going with him. The Coen brothers have gone back to the original Charles Portis book and created a wonderful, classic revenge-driven Western with a few weird Coen touches. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Winter's Bone: Teenager Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence, in a fine performance) searches for her meth-making father in the hills and hollows of the Ozarks in a memorable and multifaceted portrait of an insular and nurturing mountain culture turned mean by drugs and drug money. The best movie of the year.

Harper Barnes, the author of Never Been A Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked The Civil Rights Movement, is a special contributor to the Beacon.