AUDIE CORNISH, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.
Even with the help of wizards, vampires and premium pricing for 3-D movies, Hollywood will not make this a year for the box-office record books. North American theaters took in about $10.5 billion in 2010, but that's a bit less than last year.
But if the numbers don't impress, how about the quality? Bob Mondello's 10 best list positively overflows.
BOB MONDELLO: Let me start with something that's not from one of this year's films but that perfectly describes what a lot of the best movies this year are about. It's a line from "Cool Hand Luke," and who knows what it says about Hollywood or the state of the world, but it kept resonating this year at the multiplex.
(Soundbite of film, "Cool Hand Luke")
Mr. STROTHER MARTIN (Actor): (As Captain) What we've got here is failure to communicate.
MONDELLO: The difficulty of getting through to other people is absolutely central in three of the films that nearly everyone agrees are among the year's best: "The Social Network," about the creation of a Web-based communications tool by a guy who's depicted as barely capable of having a conversation...
(Soundbite of film, "The Social Network")
Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) I believe I deserve some recognition from this board.
Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As character) I'm sorry.
Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Yes.
Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) I don't understand.
Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Which part?
MONDELLO: "The King's Speech," about a stuttering monarch so tongue-tied he cannot hope to inspire his nation in a time of war...
Mr. COLIN FIRTH (Actor): (As King George VI) (Unintelligible).
MONDELLO: And "127 Hours," about a rock climber who gets pinned down in a remote wilderness with no cell phone, just a video camera, on which he records a message for his folks.
(Soundbite of film, "127 Hours")
Mr. JAMES FRANCO (Actor): (As Aron Ralston) I'm really sorry I didn't answer the phone the other night. If I had, I would have told you where I was going, and then, well, I probably wouldn't be here right now.
MONDELLO: All three films have gifted actors communicating the hell out of how difficult communication can be: Jesse Eisenberg peering skeptically through slitted eyes in "Social Network"; Colin Firth stammering out his frustration in "King's Speech"; James Franco holding the screen alone for most of "127 Hours."
All three films are also blessed with extraordinarily resourceful directors, something that's also true of the year's most surprising comedy: "The Kids Are All Right," in which Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are lesbian moms who try to be both supportive and protective with their teenagers.
(Soundbite of film, "The Kids Are All Right")
Ms. JULIANNE MOORE (Actor): (As Jules) Are you having a relationship with someone?
Ms. ANNETTE BENING (Actor): (As Nic) You can tell us, honey.
Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (As character) Look, I only met him once.
Ms. BENING: (As Nic) What do you mean once?
Ms. MOORE: (As Jules) Did he find you online?
Ms. BENING: (As Nic) Wait, wait, who did you meet once?
Unidentified Man #3: (As character) Paul.
Ms. MOORE: (As Jules) Paul, who's Paul?
Unidentified Man #3: (As character) I met him with Joanie.
Ms. MOORE: (As Jules) Why was Joanie there?
Unidentified Man #3: (As character) She set it up.
Ms. BENING: (As Nic) Forget the setup. Who's Paul?
Unidentified Man #3: (As character) Our sperm donor. Did you guys think I was gay?
MONDELLO: The kids are all right in "The Kids Are All Right," something you cannot say with confidence about the kids in the nerve-racking drama "Winter's Bone" about a 17-year-old Ozarks girl who must care for her mom and younger siblings when her drug-cooking father disappears after posting their house as bail.
(Soundbite of film, "Winter's Bone")
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. GARRET DILLAHUNT (Actor): (As Sheriff Baskin) If he doesn't show at trial, see, the way the deal works is you all going to lose this house here. Got someplace to go?
Ms. JENNIFER LAWRENCE (Actor): (As Ree) I'll find him.
Mr. DILLAHUNT: (As Sheriff Baskin) Girl, I've been looking.
Ms. LAWRENCE: (As Ree) I said I'll find him.
MONDELLO: "Winter's Bone" was largely overlooked when it came out earlier this year, but crowds are flocking to see another teenage girl on a father-related quest in "True Grit."
The Coen Brothers' quirky Western places its 14-year-old heroine between two very competitive lawmen: a one-eyed marshal and a Texas Ranger.
(Soundbite of film, "True Grit")
Mr. JEFF BRIDGES (Actor): (As Rooster) (Unintelligible).
(Soundbite of gunshots)
Mr. BRIDGES: (As Rooster) (Unintelligible) is running them cheap shells on me again.
Unidentified Man #4 (Actor): (As character) I thought you were gonna say the sun was in your eyes, that is to say your eye.
MONDELLO: Keeping an eye on bad guys was also the task director Charles Ferguson set himself in a rousing, infuriating documentary about the causes of the current economic crisis. The Great Recession was, says the film's title, an "Inside Job" that went down at some of Wall Street's biggest banks.
(Soundbite of film, "Inside Job")
Unidentified Man #5: Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, they knew what was happening.
Unidentified Man #6: What do you think about selling securities which your own people think are crap? Does that bother you?
Unidentified Man #7: As a hypothetical?
Unidentified Man #6: No, this is real.
MONDELLO: That's seven of the year's 10 best films. The next two are crime stories so big they wouldn't fit into single movies, two multipart French epics chronicling the life stories of '70s gangsters.
One styled himself a revolutionary but was basically in it for the money of them: Jacques Mesrine in "Mesrine: Killer Instinct" and "Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One."
The other was a real revolutionary who founded a worldwide terrorist organization and became known as The Jackal. The film "Carlos" breaks his story into three parts, with one concentrating on 1975, when he took a whole oil conference hostage at OPEC headquarters.
(Soundbite of film, "Carlos")
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. EDGAR RAMIREZ (Actor): (As Carlos) Anyone who resists will be executed. Anyone who doesn't obey our orders will be executed. Anyone who panics will be executed.
Unidentified Man #8 (Actor): (as character) You fear for your life.
MONDELLO: A crisis of a significantly less perilous nature rounds out the top 10, but for kids of all ages it was a big deal: Woody, Buzz and the gang realizing Andy is about to head off to college in "Toy Story 3."
(Soundbite of film, "Toy Story 3")
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. TOM HANKS (Actor): (As Woody) Now come on, guys. We all knew this day was coming.
Mr. WALLACE SHAWN (Actor): (As Rex) We're getting thrown away?
Mr. HANKS: (As Woody) No, no one's getting thrown away.
Unidentified Man #9 (Actor): (As character) We ain't ever getting played with.
Mr. TIM ALLEN (Actor): (As Buzz) Hold on. This is no time to be hysterical.
Mr. JOHN RATZENBERGER (Actor): (As Hamm) It's the perfect time to be hysterical.
Unidentified Man #10 (Actor): (As character) Should we be hysterical?
Mr. ALLEN (Actor): (As Buzz) Maybe, but not right now.
Mr. RATZENBERGER: (As Hamm) Come on. Let's see how much we're going for on eBay.
MONDELLO: Ten is an arbitrary number, so let's keep going. This was a year of terrific documentaries. Among the best: "Restrepo," a harrowing look at an isolated American outpost in Afghanistan; "The Tillman Story," guaranteed to make you furious about the lies and cover-ups that surrounded the death of football star Pat Tillman; and "Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work," which offers a complicated portrait of a boundary-pushing comedian as she rummages around in her life and her apartment.
(Soundbite of film, "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work")
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. JOAN RIVERS (Comedian): Everywhere you look, there are jokes, every little - jokes to be found, jokes to be written, jokes that I thought of something. Why should a woman cook? So her husband can say my wife makes a delicious cake to some hooker?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. RIVERS: And you wonder why I'm still working at this age.
MONDELLO: Women so rarely dominate mainstream Hollywood pictures that it was gratifying to see them central to some of the best foreign films this year, from the Korean mom who'll do anything to clear her son of murder charges in "Mother," to the misguided French plantation owner who tries to withstand a tidal wave of African social change in "White Material."
Men, meanwhile, blended substance with testosterone in surprisingly thoughtful ways in the dreamscapes of "Inception," the survival-of-the-fittest-gangster metaphors of "Animal Kingdom" and the boxing-family dynamics of "The Fighter."
(Soundbite of film, "The Fighter")
Mr. CHRISTIAN BALE (Actor): (As Dicky) You're going to work his right, hit him on the left.
Mr. MARK WAHLBERG (Actor): (As Mickey) You ain't me. All right. You can't be me. You had a hard enough time being when you when you had your chance. I'll fight Sanchez the way I fight.
MONDELLO: Almost out of time, but let me just mention three marital dramas that arrived in the end-of-year rush: "Blue Valentine," "Rabbit Hole" and "Another Year," all exemplary, all hoping for Oscar nominations, all likely to be playing at a theater near you in 2011.
I'm Bob Mondello
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.