This is Steven Spielberg's "Citizen Kane," with its reliance on dialogue and performance and theatrical mise en scene. It explores Lincoln from the inside out and Daniel Day-Lewis gives a performance for the ages.
2. "Zero Dark Thirty"
Kathryn Bigelow never lets up on the intensity in which pre and post 9/11 rules of espionage come into conflict in the hunt for bin Laden. And Jessica Chastain's unrelenting CIA analyst fittingly represents our need for retribution and catharsis.
James Bond loses his mojo and gains an extended family at MI6 in this rite of passage. And Daniel Craig adds some of the mystique back to 007 after demystifying him. What a lovely 50th anniversary present from Sam Mendes.
4. "Life of Pi"
Ang Lee presents the "2001: A Space Odyssey" of 3-D movies: spiritually uplifting with the most creative use of dimensional space yet. And the CG Bengal tiger, Richard Parker, holds his own with Suraj Sharma's indefatigable Pi.
Michael Haneke dispenses with the usual visceral game playing to give us a great end-of-life, classical love story. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emanuelle Riva are divine, bringing back memories of their earlier roles in "A Man and A Woman" and "Hiroshima Mon Amour."
6. "Silver Linings Playbook"
Leave it to David O. Russell to deliver a brilliant rom-com that combines "Goodfellas with "It's a Wonderful Life," with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence finding the primal route to love.
7. "Anna Karenina"
What's old is new again in Joe Wright's inspired theatrical adaptation of the Tolstoy classic. The Russian aristocracy crumbles in a derelict theater, with Keira Knightley as enchanting as ever and Jude Law surprisingly sympathetic.
8. "The Master"
A post-World War II allegory from Paul Thomas Anderson about power, manipulation, and human nature that's tailor-made for our times. The volatile master/servant relationship between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix is spellbinding and the 70mm film presentation brings clarity to every texture.
9. "Cloud Atlas"
The ultimate time travel movie spanning 500 years of connecting and reconnecting with the acting ensemble changing roles became the most polarizing movie of the year. Yet the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer are to be commended for aiming for the stars with such passion and beauty.
10. "Les Miserables"
Tom Hooper delivers the celebrated Victor Hugo-adapted musical at a fever pitch and like the long-suffering Jean Valjean, we, too, feel as though we've gone to hell and back. It's intimate and gritty and digs deeper into Hugo. And Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway find transcendence in their roles.