NEW YORK (CBS) A monarch found his voice, a dancer lost her grip and a hiker lost his arm - literally - in some of the best films of the past year.
As awards season leads closer and closer to the Oscars, a number of films have emerged as some of the most critically acclaimed of 2010, enjoyed by both critics and viewers.
One awards frontrunner is "The King's Speech." Colin Firth takes on the role of King George VI, who must overcome a stammer he's had since childhood in order to lead his country as they enter World War II. Firth and his supporting costars Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, who played an unconventional speech therapist and the Queen Mother, respectively, should be near the top of Oscar watch lists.
Another spotlight stealer is Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan." Creepy, intense and gripping, it follows a ballerina's descent into madness as she works to master the coveted leading role in "Swan Lake." Natalie Portman turns in a transformative performance - she studied ballet for months to prepare for the role - as a young woman losing her grip on reality as she strives for perfection.
Expect a number of acting accolades for "The Fighter," which is based on the true story of boxer Mickey Ward. Wahlberg bulks up and enters the ring as Ward, while Christian Bale will likely earn supporting actor accolades for his turn as Ward's troubled brother. Also keep an eye on Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, who also received recognition for playing, respectively, Ward's love interest and boozy mother.
Leonardo DiCaprio entered the multi-layered world of dreams in Christopher Nolan's intellectual thriller "Inception." The mind-bending story left everyone debating the ending (did the top stop spinning?), and is worth commending simply for its originality - in a summer full of superhero flicks and franchise sequels, it stood on its own.
The birth of Facebook will be another source of Oscar fodder - Aaron Sorkin's version of events, as chronicled in "The Social Network," was compelling to watch for its mile-a-minute dialogue and Jesse Eisenberg's performance as Mark Zuckerberg.
Others to look out for:
"True Grit." Critics are already raving about newcomer Hailee Steinfeld in the Coen brothers' remake of the 1969 John Wayne Western. The 14-year-old holds her own against film veterans Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin.
"127 Hours." Danny Boyle brings an epic story of survival, based on the true story of mountain climber Aron Rolston, who resorts to desperate measures after getting trapped under a boulder. Yes, it's the movie where James Franco cuts his arm off. But it's also a film he carries almost entirely alone, as his trapped character does what he has to in order to survive.
"Winter's Bone." Critics raved about this harrowing film, set in the Ozarks, focusing on a young girl (played by Jennifer Lawrence, who is already getting awards buzz) trying to track down her drug-dealing father.
"Barney's Version." Paul Giamatti received critical acclaim for his role as the titular Barney, a hard-drinking, cigar-smoking, foulmouthed 65-year old television producer, as he reflects on his life's successes and failures.
"The Kids are All Right." Annette Benning and Julianne Moore both earned praise for their roles as a lesbian couple whose two children seek out their biological father, in this smart, well-acted dramedy.
What did you think was the best movie of the year? Share your thoughts in the comments.