I have to admit, I'm terrible at top ten lists for the same reason that I'm terrible at ordering anything in a restaurant. I just can't decide. Whatever my top ten movies of the year are today, I'm sure they'll be different tomorrow. But, the time has come to stick my neck on the line, as it were; so here goes nothin'.

(A caveat: There were lots of movies I didn't get to see this year, and some of them would likely be shoo-ins for my top ten if I'd only seen them. So I apologize in advance for leaving off 'Dreamgirls,''The Queen,''Letters from Iwo Jima,''Little Children,''Notes on a Scandal,''Children of Men' ... and, of course, 'Snakes on a Plane.' Kidding.)

Jessica Biel and Edward Norton in The Illusionist10. The Illusionist
I saw this film soon after catching M. Night Shyamalan's'Lady in the Water,' and my first thought upon leaving the theater was, "That's the kind of mysticism 'Lady in the Water' only wished it could achieve." Unlike 'Lady' and that other magician movie, 'The Prestige,' 'The Illusionist' never strains at the seams; it's rich with genuine mystery and romance and makes us believe, if only for two hours, that magic might truly exist. Plus, Edward Norton remains one of the most riveting actors in the business. I just wish he'd smile more.

Elizabeth Banks in Slither9. Slither
A horror movie in my top ten? Yeah, yeah, I know. And I don't even like horror movies. But what I do like are Nathan Fillion ('Firefly' and 'Serenity') and Elizabeth Banks ('The 40-Year-Old Virgin,''Scrubs'), who are hilarious -- and have chemistry to burn -- as almost-sweethearts in this awesome (and criminally unnoticed) horror comedy about alien slugs who invade a small town. Don't believe me about the chemistry? Watch Fillion and Banks in my very favorite Unscripted interview ever. Two words: KY Jelly.

Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson8. Half Nelson
Ryan Gosling's portrayal of the coolest teacher you ever had -- except on crack -- is the most extraordinary performance of the year. One minute he's urging his students to become politically active, the next he's curled up in a bathroom stall clutching a crack vial. Newcomer Shareeka Epps is a revelation as the student who reaches out to him, for better or worse. Oh, and the movie contains the single best use of the word "bitch" in movie history. That alone should qualify it for everybody's top ten list.

Brick7. Brick
A 1940s film noir set at a modern-day high school? Teens spouting dialogue like "He knows every two-bit toker in the burg"? What sounds like a film school project turns out to be one of the freshest, smartest movies of the year, as cool and witty as Bogart on his best day. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as a loner tracking down his missing ex-girlfriend ('Lost''s Emilie de Ravin), is all grown up from 'Third Rock from the Sun'; and first-time director Rian Johnson doesn't just mimic a style -- he creates something simultaneously retro and new. Rian, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Aaron Eckhart in Thank You for Smoking6. Thank You for Smoking
I have a bit of a crush on Aaron Eckhart, but that's not the reason I like this movie. (Well, it's not the only reason.) I like it because it's wickedly sardonic and fun, and because Eckhart, as a tobacco lobbyist, is a throwback to leading men like Cary Grant -- he's so breezily magnetic he could charm the dimples off a golf ball. Rob Lowe, Maria Bello and David Koechner are hysterical in supporting roles; and don't miss your only chance to see Katie Holmes in a sex scene. Nothing silent about that.

Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction5. Stranger Than Fiction
Maybe his frat-boy demographic wasn't ready for a clothed and semi-serious Will Ferrell, but he charmed the pants off of us in this sweet, heartbreaking Charlie Kaufman-like tale about an
IRS auditor who learns he's the doomed hero of an unfinished novel. It's not a huge surprise that he breaks out of his dull routine and falls for an anarchist baker (the adorable Maggie Gyllenhaal); what is a surprise is how much we loved Ferrell in this kind of role. You stay classy, Will Ferrell.

Daniel Craig in Casino Royale4. Casino Royale
Gadgets? He don't need no stinkin' gadgets. Daniel Craig ushers in a brand-new era of Bond with a 007 who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. He even kills one guy with his bare hands. Can you imagine Brosnan doing that? I think not. Craig gives us a ferociously great, franchise-reviving performance that works so well because a) he's a badass, and b) we believe, for the first time in a long time, that Bond could actually get hurt. What a concept. Also? Naked torture scene. Ahem.

Mark Wahlberg in The Departed3. The Departed
This is the year Martin Scorsese's finally going to win that Oscar. It's gotta be, because 'The Departed' is IT, man. You've already heard the kudos for DiCaprio and Damon, for the near-poetic violence, for the powerful ending, for the fact that this is Scorsese's best film since 'Goodfellas.' So instead I'd like to single out Mark Wahlberg's scene-stealing turn as a gloriously foul-mouthed, bad-tempered detective. In a movie full of brilliant performances, his is my favorite.

Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine2. Little Miss Sunshine
It's got a terrific script and superb ensemble cast, but what makes 'Sunshine' rock so hard is its priceless details, from Dwayne's mute looks of horror to the
Hoovers pushing the van (it NEVER gets old) to Olive's gloriously tacky finale. Funny and touching, without a single false or overplayed note, this is the kind of movie I raved about to all my friends until they got sick of me and saw it -- and then raved about it, too. Is it a better movie than 'The Departed'? Probably not, but in the end this film gets the highest praise I know how to give: I loved it.

Ivana Baquero in Pan's Labyrinth1. Pan's Labyrinth
For sheer breathtaking imagination and narrative genius, no film in recent memory can top Guillermo del Toro's heartrending fairy tale, set during the Spanish Civil War, about a little girl (Ivana Baquero) who escapes her cruel, fascist stepfather in a netherworld of fairies and magical beasts. Horrible and beautiful all at once, the film is a reminder of what the best movies are supposed to do: spirit you away to a strange and wondrous place. Right after I saw this movie, a woman in the elevator turned to me, her eyes shining. "Wasn't that incredible?" she said. I felt the exact same way. In every sense of the word, 'Pan's Labyrinth' is fantastic.

Honorable Mention:
The Devil Wears Prada
The Groomsmen
The Last Kiss
The Painted Veil
The War Tapes

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categories Features, Cinematical