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Ten best films: Biopics and classroom acts score high

The Monitor's critic sorts through what he sat through this year.

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Good family-entertainment movies were in relatively short supply. I loved the first half-hour of "Wall-E," before it shucked its neo-Chaplinesque whimsy and turned into a discombobulated eco-fantasia. A nice surprise was "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl," which just goes to show that you can't judge a film by its pedigree – in this case, a marketing empire of books and dolls and whatnot that could give even Hannah Montana the willies.

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Documentaries (see picks in Top 10 list below) remained some of the best reasons to go to the movies this year. Since non-fiction filmmakers, usually for low pay and few financial rewards, often make movies about subjects they feel impassioned about, it's a safe bet their movies will be more interesting than the usual bloated studio concoctions.

In 2008 we welcomed back two of our most incendiary actors. I'm no fan of the hokey, derivative "The Wrestler" – along with "Slumdog Millionaire," it's the most overrated movie out there – but it's terrific having Mickey Rourke in a lead role for a change. I'm not real big on "Rachel Getting Married" either, but Debra Winger is amazing in a supporting role that one hopes will be a prelude to bigger things once again.

Enough carping. This is the time when it behooves critics to put on their party hats and boost the good over the bad. So let the superlatives begin! In alphabetical order, here's my list of the 10 best movies, plus an addendum of worthy runners-up. In some cases, the films have not yet been reviewed by me and will open nationwide in 2009.

'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas'

A Jewish boy in a concentration camp is befriended by a German boy whose father (played by David Thewlis) runs the camp. Devastatingly simple and, in the end, emotionally wrenching beyond measure. Written and directed by Mark Herman, from the novel by John Boyne.

'The Class'

The great French director Laurent Cantet's invigorating examination of a year in a multiracial Parisian junior high school in a tough neighborhood. Worked up through improvisations with the nonprofessional cast and real-life schoolteacher François Bégaudeau, it's one of the rare movies to really nail the classroom experience.

'The Dark Knight'