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Toy Story 3

Director: Lee Unkrich
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris

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Toy Story 3


Year after year, Pixar comes through. Their streak of box office and critical hits has gone on for so long that it’s beginning to look like they will never have a true misfire. Revisiting the Toy Story franchise 11 years after Toy Story 3 seemed like a dodgy prospect, but director Lee Unkrich and the rest of Pixar once again delivered. Toy Story 3 manages to be a prison movie, a caper movie, and even resembles a horror movie at times. But at its core, it’s a movie about growing up. The overarching plot of the toys’ owner Andy moving away to college gives the movie its soul, but the action and comedy throughout keeps the film lively. The animation on display here is subtler than recent Pixar efforts, but just as amazing. Take another look at the scene where Mr. Potato Head is stuck as a tortilla. The scene in the incinerator and the sequence with Andy and Bonnie near the end of the movie hit just as hard emotionally as any live-action film out there in 2010, and it’s why Toy Story 3 is near the top of so many Best of the Year lists, including this one. Chris Conaton


 

 



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The Kids Are All Right

Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Cast: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson

(Focus Features)

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The Kids Are All Right


The Kids Are All Right feels progressive at first because it features a well-adjusted family that just happens to have a lesbian couple as the parents. What makes Lisa Cholodenko’s film feel real, though, are the domestic issues that Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) have to sort through. Jules is the domestic artist-type who always has a not-quite-realized dream on the horizon, while doctor Nic is the family breadwinner who eases her stress by drinking too much. When their two teenage kids contact their sperm-donor father (Mark Ruffalo), and the family gets to know him, his destabilizing presence pulls the family’s issues into the open. This film could easily have descended into too-precious melodrama, but the strong cast makes it all seem very honest and believable. It’s a small story well-told. Chris Conaton


 

 



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Never Let Me Go

Director: Mark Romanek
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield, Sally Hawkins, Charlotte Rampling, Nathalie Richard

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Never Let Me Go


Two girls and a boy grow up in a British orphanage where nobody ever comes to choose them for adoption. Come adulthood, the three – Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley – have formed a love triangle with deeply fraught tensions that arise from the suspicious nature of their upbringing. Mark Romanek’s cool-to-the-touch science-fiction tone poem (adapted sharply by Alex Garland from Kazuo Ishoguro’s novel) has a washed-out palette and sense of crumbling foreboding that captures the cruel essence of postwar British sci-fi. The tremblingly tearful acting was distracting for some, but if you accept the story’s brilliant hook of an idea (namely, the reason why are these orphaned children raised in separate facilities in this vaguely alternate universe), what comes after is a chilling, horrifically true answer to a moral quandary the human race hasn’t faced. Yet. Chris Barsanti


 

 



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The Fighter

Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo,  Jack McGee,  Frank Renzulli

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The Fighter


2010 was a year of technical bravado in film. From the laden with imagination Inception to the terrifyingly terrific Black Swan, many movies laid their claim to fame through careful craftsmanship, but, with the exception of the tear-tugging Toy Story 3, lacked emotional resonance. The Fighter makes up for every one of its peers’ slight shortcomings by providing a too-good-to-be-true true tale. Like Rocky before it, David O. Russell’s boxing drama tells the story of an underdog fighter held back by personal strife. Only in this story, Fighter Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) has to unite a nine-member family wrought with dysfunction in order to reach his title fight. Though the actors are all in Oscar form (see the Best Performances list for more), Russell doesn’t set his camera down and let them do the heavy lifting. His own craftsmanship is second to none, but it’s still the heart he finds in the The Fighter that earns it the championship belt. Ben Travers


 

 



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Inception

Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page

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Inception


Director Christopher Nolan has spent his career toggling between big-budgeted action films and more thoughtful, cerebral fare. (Memento and Insomnia preceded Batman Begins, which was followed by The Prestige, which was then followed by The Dark Knight, and so on.) Inception is unique in that it succeeds at being both. At its core, it’s a heist movie, where a group of characters conspire to steal the most precious commodity of all: the ability to originate our own thoughts. And, like most heist movies, it comes with its own set of adrenaline-pumping action setpieces, with men with guns, car chases, big explosions, and perhaps the best fist-fight put to film this year. But Inception is so much more than a typical crime thriller because of its mind-bending structure. There is much to puzzle over after the film’s end. Whose subconscious were they entering? (Watch it again; it becomes clear.) Were those the same children at the end? (No, they were older and wearing different clothes.) Did that damn top continue to spin? (Well, that one’s not so cut-and-dried.) It’s this willingness to engage the mind—and the way that Nolan shows us worlds where city streets fold in on themselves, freight trains barrel through busy intersections, and hallways spin in space—that makes Inception more exciting than any close-call car chase could ever be. Marisa LaScala


 
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