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MSN Movies Ranks Top Ten Films of 2010

A variety of critics were called upon to write up the best movies of the year. Here are three of them:

1. The Social Network – by Jim Emerson

“We lived on farms. We lived in cities. And now we live on the Internet!”

Technology has long served as an extension of our bodies and minds, from basic tools and weapons (think “2001: A Space Odyssey”) to eyeglasses, musical instruments, pens and paintbrushes, QWERTY keyboards, computers. David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” scripted by Aaron Sorkin, is a film about a Web interface that extends the human social and emotional experience into online interactions — just as the movie itself begins by creating a minutely detailed physical world and then builds outward into fictionalization of actual events. Most of the movie focuses on people communicating and miscommunicating in codes, whether it’s computer code, legal codes, codes of ethics, social conventions, body language, rules of proper attire … virtually every scene is about people trying to connect or refusing a connection. Not unlike the practice we now know as “friending.”

The film is a companion piece to Fincher’s “Zodiac,” in which the physical distance between various crime scenes and pieces of evidence made them nearly impossible to decode. Once the fictionalized Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) completes his long analog walk from the pub where his girlfriend changes their relationship status to his dorm room, he takes advantage of the instantaneous dissemination of digital information to directly insult his ex by name on his LiveJournal blog and hack together a site called Facemash, a forerunner to Facebook designed as a more schematized insult to college women in general. It’s all about faces, friendships and connections;¬†the only difference is the tools. — Jim Emerson

And Kim Morgan writing up Black Swan, which is ranked at number 2.

If torture, perfectionism, masochism and emaciated, ethereal sprites pirouetting themselves into delicate music-box coffins can become an exalted, grandiloquent mixture of horror and beauty, then “Black Swan” is a glorious rhapsody. It’s a movie in which women suffer (and suffer) not only for their art, but for their gender, and all the proud yet vulnerable complexities that frequently come with it. At the center of this ecstatic agony is Natalie Portman’s Nina, a New York ballerina chosen to play the Swan Queen in Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” a role that is indeed an honor, but also a real-life Method-acting nightmare. Extracting every bit of self-mutilating, starving, smothered-mother psychodrama this young woman’s been living with all her life, Nina’s world turns into a kind of dementia that Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg, Jacqueline Susann and, for that matter, William Castle, would cook up: Black Swan Sardonicus. But this is a Darren Aronofsky movie — “The Wrestler” goes “Red Shoes” — and if one finds it hyperbolic, they should: grandiosity bleeding into a dingy subway car. And yet, even pitched at frenzied Grand Guignol, the movie remains both allegorical and heartbreakingly personal. As Nina unravels, we are right there with her, observing and, thanks to Portman’s powerful performance, feeling her real and imagined afflictions — scratching, obsessive nail clipping, impossibly bent toes, and then doppelgangers, dizzying paranoia and phantasmagoria galore. But she is a human being after all, even if she can’t view herself as one, and her dedication is touching. Many yearn to emerge the swan, but as Leda can attest, those birds can be monstrous. — Kim Morgan

Glenn Whipp on Winter’s Bone, which is ranked at number 3

Debra Granik has made two movies and, on the basis of the evidence, you hope she continues taking her sweet time. The eerie and austere thriller “Winter’s Bone” arrived six years after Granik’s debut feature, “Down to the Bone,” a harrowing portrait of addiction that put Vera Farmiga on the map. With “Winter’s Bone,” Granik has discovered another major talent, 20-year-old Jennifer Lawrence, who delivers such self-contained and natural work here that you’d imagine she really did hail from the movie’s Missouri Ozarks setting. Lawrence’s indomitable Red Riding Hood heroine, Ree, finds herself venturing into the woods, looking not for grandma’s house, but her crystal meth-dealing dad, who has jumped bail after putting the family’s house up as collateral. If she fails — and given the terrain and the clannish secretiveness of her extended outlaw family, that outcome seems certain — she and her two small siblings will be homeless. Working with Anne Rosellini in adapting Daniel Woodrell’s novel, Granik has fashioned an emotionally layered detective story by way of the Brothers Grimm that never quite explains all of its lies, mysteries and evasions. As the family intimidates Ree into going along with its twisted notions of loyalty, she finds an unlikely confidant in her uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes of “Deadwood,” utterly unnerving here), whose menace masks a surprising and rather stirring compassion. That’s another one of the film’s surprises. For all its bleakness, “Winter’s Bone” ultimately offers a measure of hope that even in the harshest environments, decency can be found. — Glenn Whipp

And finally, Richard Jameson on The Ghost Writer:

4. ‘The Ghost Writer’

Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” is the best thriller since, jeez, what? (Let’s say “The Parallax View,” to which it has some affinities.) It’s also the latest installment in Polanski’s ongoing contemplation of life as absurdist black comedy, elegantly tricked out as mystery-suspense with roman-√†-clef overtones from recent history. It seems that an ex-British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan as not Tony Blair) has a memoir in need of punching up, and the title character (Ewan McGregor) — a man whose career depends on remaining invisible — is whisked to a borrowed lair on an island off New England with rush orders to make it publishable. Something’s not quite right. For one thing, our unnamed Ghost had a predecessor who is now, well, a ghost, his death … no, his absence from the world … defined by a spectral opening sequence involving a ferryboat. If that scene evokes memories of Fritz Lang, it’s only fitting: Despite its American setting, “The Ghost Writer” was made in Germany, at Lang’s old stomping grounds, Studio Babelsberg, and its whole world feels at once hyper-real and trembling on the verge, liable to slip into nothingness at any time. (All hail cameraman Pawel Edelman and brilliant art direction by Albrecht Konrad.) The director’s mastery of mood, tone, performance and pacing is absolute, distracting us from the few holes in the otherwise engrossing plot and affording a degree of pleasure and bone-deep satisfaction few movies deliver anymore. — Richard T. Jameson

The rest:

5. Glenn Kenny on “Carlos”
6. Sean Axmaker on “Let Me In”
7. James Rocchi on “Dogtooth”
8. Mary Pols on “Toy Story 3
9. Don Kaye on “Exit Through the Gift Shop
10. Kat(hleen) Murphy on “Sweetgrass”