1. 'The Hurt Locker.' Director Kathryn Bigelow blows up the war movie genre, and actor Jeremy Renner gives one of the best performances of the decade.

2. 'A Prophet.' This mesmerizing tale of a young criminal who works his way up in a tough French prison first played at the Cannes Film Festival. It opens in Austin in March. Like "The Hurt Locker," it reinvents a genre.

3. 'Up in the Air.' George Clooney stars in the best movie of his career, a charmer about a loner who falls in love while traveling the country to fire people.

4. 'The Messenger.' The consequences of war become quite personal in the directorial debut of Oren Moverman. With fine performances by Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson.

5. 'Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire.' People who have attacked this movie seem to think it reinforces racist stereotypes. I think it blows them to pieces.

6. 'A Town Called Panic.' One of the loopiest animated features ever made, it won the audience award at Fantastic Fest. The Belgian flick opens in Austin in January.

7. 'Up.' Pixar proves yet again why it has been so successful. It's all about storytelling.

8. 'The Last Station.' Helen Mirren rips the screen with a combative portrayal of Tolstoy's wife during the Russian author's final days.

9. 'Me & Orson Welles.' Austin director Richard Linklater deserves major props for pulling off this touching coming-of-age tale, written by Austinites Vince and Holly Gent Palmo. Christian McKay has a breakout performance as Welles.

10. 'The Burning Plain.' What good is a top 10 list if it doesn't champion at least one gem that other critics have panned? This one is from director Guillermo Arriaga and based on a story by the revered Mexican writer Juan Rulfo. Charlize Theron stars.