Persistence of vision.

In physical terms, it’s the retina’s ability to retain an image for a split-second after the image has vanished.

In movie terms, it’s what makes it possible for us to see a series of still images — and put those images together in our minds to form a motion picture.

And in critic’s terms, it’s what makes the movies on my annual Top 10 list (chosen from the more than a hundred I saw this year) linger in my mind (and heart) long after all the hype and hysteria have faded to black.

From my perspective, then, these are the year’s most persistent cinematic visions:

1. "THE HURT LOCKER" — In Iraq, members of an Army bomb-defusing squad — a cocky sergeant (Jeremy Renner), his steady second-in-command (Anthony Mackie) and a scared-spitless rookie (Brian Geraghty) — hit the streets hoping to save lives, including their own. Director Kathryn Bigelow’s harrowing drama reveals character through action, exploring just how dehumanizing — and how addictive — war can be.

2. "AN EDUCATION" — Almost at the head of the class, this bittersweet coming-of-age drama, set in early ’60s Britain, focuses on a college-bound teen (star-is-born Carey Mulligan) whose affair with an older sophisticate (Peter Sarsgaard) helps her graduate from book learning to the school of heartbreak.

3. "BRIGHT STAR" — A ravishing period romance from "Piano" Oscar-winner Jane Campion, this pulsates with the sensual and the spiritual as poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his muse Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) discover that love is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

4. "UP" — The wonderful folks at Pixar make a whimsical leap to 3-D, and tap into the magical connection between young and old, with this buoyant animated tale of a crotchety widower and a stowaway kid who take to the skies — in a house buoyed by balloons — to explore exotic climes.

5. "THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG" — This traditionally animated treat, set in Roaring ’20s New Orleans, serves up a scrumptious jambalaya of smart storytelling, spectacular visuals and memorable music to create Disney’s best storybook tale since "Beauty and the Beast."

6. "THE COVE" — The year’s top documentary also is one of the year’s most gripping thrillers, combining high-octane suspense with an equally powerful topic: the ongoing slaughter of dolphins near a deceptively placid Japanese village.

7. "A SERIOUS MAN" — Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen return to their own country — suburban Minnesota, circa 1967 — as a physics professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) confronts life’s cosmic jokes when his seemingly rational life unravels before his very eyes.

8. "IN THE LOOP" — This wonderfully nasty political satire follows officials on both sides of the Atlantic (from James Gandolfini’s dovish U.S. general to Peter Capaldi’s expletive-undeleting British press secretary) as their governments prepare to invade an unidentified Middle Eastern country.

9. "UP IN THE AIR" — A cynical corporate high-flier (George Clooney), whose job is telling other people they’ve lost theirs, struggles to make connections in a witty comedy-drama that blends timely and timeless themes with throwaway ease.

10. "SIN NOMBRE" — In this agonizing yet insightful odyssey, U.S.-bound Latin Americans, from a Honduran teen (Paulina Gaitan) reuniting with her estranged father to a Mexican gang member (Edgar Flores) running for his life, encounter danger, degradation — and, perhaps, redemption.

Contact movie critic Carol Cling at or 702-383-0272.

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