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Originally published Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 7:01 PM

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10 favorite movies of 2010 — plus 10 runners-up

A list of Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald's choices for the best movies of the year, including (in no particular order) "Inception," "Black Swan," "The King's Speech," "Winter's Bone" and "The Social Network."

Seattle Times movie critic

Writing an annual top 10 list is a task I approach with trepidation. It's not optional, as Roger Ebert wrote earlier this year — for movie critics, making a year-end list is "our equivalent of signing the Hippocratic oath when you're a doctor." But it seems odd to reduce the year to 10 films, and odder still to rank them numerically — how, I wonder every year, do you distinguish the fifth-best movie of the year from the sixth-best, or the seventh from the eighth? Recently I saw a critic online who had ranked every movie he had seen that year — well over a hundred — in order of quality, from best to worst. Interesting, but not an exercise I'm going to try; fretting about whether "Sex and the City 2" was better or worse than "Grown Ups" seems like a pretty clear route to depression.

But, remembering how fortunate I am to have a job that allows me to lose myself in movies, and how many movies thrilled me this year, here's a compromise: 10 favorites, listed alphabetically, plus 10 runners-up and a wild card. I'm not going to say these are the 10 best movies of the year; surely there were good movies that I missed (though I saw plenty), and "best" is a tricky honorific to bestow on a work of art. Anyway, here are some movies that were pretty great; that I watched more than once (in most cases) just because I wanted to; that transported me beautifully into somebody else's world and imagination. These are my favorites in 2010; I'd love to hear about yours.

"127 Hours": I heard what this movie was about — surely you've heard by now — and didn't even want to see it. Oh, am I glad I did. Danny Boyle masterfully turned a potentially off-putting true story into a riveting tale of suspense, wit and just plain celebration of life.

"Black Swan": This one kept tiptoeing in and out of my first 10; director Darren Aronofsky, I think, almost lurches out of control a few times in this wildly over-the-top ballet horror show. But, when I think of Natalie Portman's solo as the black swan, for me the single most beautiful moment in a movie this year, I need to put it on this list.

"Inception": Christopher Nolan's wickedly smart blockbuster was a thrillride — and a thrill — from start to finish. And, though nobody talks about the performances, Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard enacted one of the year's most moving love stories.

"The Kids Are All Right": Directed and cowritten by Lisa Cholodenko, this tale of an American family was so beautifully acted you felt as if you were spying on real life. Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo were every bit as good as you've heard; Mia Wasikowska emerged as a star.

"The King's Speech": Long live the British costume drama, particularly if they're as good as Tom Hooper's. Colin Firth transformed himself into a reluctant king trapped by a stammer; Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter provide wonderfully funny support.

"Please Give": Not many saw this Nicole Holofcener gem about two New York families; those who did saw a beautifully nuanced portrait of family love and the search for goodness, played by a splendid ensemble led by Catherine Keener and Rebecca Hall.

The "Red Riding" trilogy: I'm cheating a little here, as these are three movies (subtitled "1974," "1980" and "1983," for the years in which they take place) set in Northern England and featuring some overlapping characters and plots. Taken together, though, these gripping crime dramas form an unforgettable portrait of a region — and a new genre: "Yorkshire noir."

"The Secret in Their Eyes": This year's Academy Award winner for best foreign-language film, directed by Argentine filmmaker Juan Jose Campanella, twisted time back and forth — like some other good movies this year — in the service of a haunting thriller about memory, truth and how the two intertwine.

"The Social Network": Paced like a screwball comedy yet unfolding like high drama — who would have thought that one of the year's most exciting movies would be about the founding of a website? David Fincher's "Facebook film" zipped along like lightning, but its snappy dialogue and smart performances (particularly Jesse Eisenberg's) lingered.

"Winter's Bone": Debra Granik's chilly tale of true grit in the Ozarks region of Missouri introduced a new star — Jennifer Lawrence, in an unflinching portrait of courage and loyalty — and was a marvel of tight, mesmerizing storytelling.

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And another 10

A second 10, any one of which might have slipped into the first list on a different day: "Animal Kingdom," "Fish Tank," "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "I Am Love," "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work," "Never Let Me Go," "Rabbit Hole," "Toy Story 3," "Waste Land," "The Wildest Dream."

Best movie that never opened here for a regular run: I'm still holding out hope that "The Hedgehog," the top award winner at the Seattle International Film Festival in June, might return — but don't hold your breath. Regardless, Mona Achache's adaptation of Muriel Barbury's novel "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" is wistful perfection.

And that's it. As always, I'll close with a wish that the new year will be filled with joy, beauty and peace — at the movies, and elsewhere.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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