1. Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s nailbiting procedural of CIA analyst “Maya,” the woman (Jessica Chastain) who orchestrated the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden.
2. Argo, Ben Affleck’s tense thriller about Tony Mendez (Affleck), the CIA “exfiltrator” who spirited six U.S. State Department employees out of Iran during the hostage crisis in 1980.
3. Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s bristling character study of the ground-level campaign conducted by the 16th president (Daniel Day-Lewis) to secure the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.
4. Amour, Michael Haneke’s unsparing account of dignified octogenarians (Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant) facing the indignities of aging.
5. Middle of Nowhere, Ava DuVernay’s involving nocturne tracks a health-care worker (Emayatzy Corinealdi) who breaks out of her emotional lockdown during her husband’s incarceration.
6. The Sessions, Ben Lewin’s tender look at how a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) helps a severely disabled poet (John Hawkes) achieve emotional intimacy.
7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky’s moving adaptation of his novel about high-school outsiders (Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Emma Watson) who support each other through trying times.
8. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Allison Klayman’s sympathetic portrait of the Chinese dissident artist, his work and his political tangles in his homeland.
9. Sister, Ursula Meier’s startling drama of an underclass family, seasonal employees at a posh Swiss ski resort.
10. Flight, Robert Zemeckis’ unflinching study of an airline pilot (Denzel Washington) capable of mastering mechanical malfunctions but not always his personal demons.