Dark Skies: In the 1990s, the era of The X-Files, we couldn't get enough of alien-abduction stories. But almost nobody went to see Scott Stewart's Dark Skies, a well-made, melancholy little picture that takes the measure of our current national anxiety just as Joseph Ruben's dream-family nightmare The Stepfather took the Reagan era's. Dark Skies didn't screen for critics, an increasingly common practice that still leads people to assume a movie is "bad" — another kind of alien brain-hijacking, when you think about it. Lovers of the wonderful J.K. Simmons, in particular, should have a look: He plays an alien specialist and crazy cat-daddy, though, in the end, he's not so crazy after all.

And don't forget: David O. Russell's American Hustle for its disco-ball dazzle, and Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby for sheer braggadocio; Something in the Air, Olivier Assayas' semi-autobiographical sketch of a kid growing up in Paris post-1968; After Tiller, Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's morally complex documentary about the few remaining doctors in America who perform late-term abortions; The Butler, from Lee Daniels, a mini pop history of black America from circa 1950 to 2008; Joseph Gordon-Levitt's sweet, sure-footed directorial debut, Don Jon; The Best Man Holiday, Malcolm D. Lee's sequel to The Best Man, a comedy-drama with tons of life packed into it; The Past, in which acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi gets in touch with his inner Douglas Sirk; Paul Schrader's The Canyons, messy, problematic, but alive, thanks to Lindsay Lohan's scraped-raw performance; Paolo Sorrentino's lush, mournfully poetic The Great Beauty (and guys! Take some style tips from impeccably appointed leading man Toni Servillo). 

And here are film critic Amy Nicholson's ten best for the year:

10. The Act of Killing

9. Her (opens in St. Louis Friday, January 10)

8. Nebraska

7. Pain & Gain

6. Frances Ha

5. Inside Llewyn Davis

4. Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie

3. The World's End

2. Drinking Buddies

1. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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