The Best Films of 2010
By Anthony Kuzminski
Films are reflections of our lives, what we hope them to be and sometimes what they’ve failed to become. No other art form can transcend and open worlds for people like cinema. A song can be elegiac, a novel rippling, but a film, it has the power to not just inspire, but to show us upfront the horrors of the world, but unlike the nightly news, they can poetically take us out of our comfort zones. Below is my list of the bet films I saw in 2010. There are a few documentary and foreign films released in 2009 in foreign territories or were only in limited release. I include them on the list below not because I saw them this year, but because you need to see them.
There are still a half dozen or so films I didn’t manage to see (Rabbit Hole, Another Year, Inside Job, Never Let Me Go and Get Low) but my deadline for each year’s list is the Oscar weekend. I estimate I caught over 200-films in 2010 and below are my top 35. Regardless, this was a year full of great films and you can’t go wrong seeing any of the films below.
If you're looking for more information on the films, check out these links:
The Internet Movie Database
Christopher Nolan is the best filmmaker working today. From Memento to The Prestige to The Dark Knight to Inception he captures the attention of the viewer in a way no one else can. Despite complex and challenging stories, he creates wholly original characters. The world of Inception is unlike any other I’ve ever seen and the multifarious layers of the script are revelatory. Whether he’s writing from an original script or taking a legendary character and redefining it, he masters the art of cinema. No other film from the last few years has demonstrated as much invention or audacity as Inception. It took Nolan a decade to finish the script and you can see why. This wasn’t a rushed project but a carefully scoped story with breathtaking special effects, superb acting all around (including standout performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Berenger and Tom Hardy). All I know is that the second the film finished, I wanted to see it again. No other film gave me a greater sense of adventure and intrigue than Inception. It’s a wholly original work that will still be discussed and dissected years from now.
2) Toy Story 3
I honestly didn’t see how the team at Pixar could even come close to capturing the heart of the first two films, but they did themselves one better by adding a level of sentiment not in the first two. Andy is on his way to college and the toys need to come to terms with their lot in life. There are metaphors for life and growing up here and no other film in 2010 pulled at my heart strings more than this. My daughter has now seen the film quite a few times and despite the continued repetition of it being played, it still gets me every time.
3) The Social Network
In a mere 7-year period, Facebook was created, hundreds of millions use the service and a book and film have been produced about it. There’s no way this film should be engaging as it is, but it’s a perfect snapshot of our time and our lives. Like the internet, I’m not sure if anyone who uses Facebook could imagine life without it. Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is snappy, David Fincher’s direction is sturdy and the performances by Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake are nothing short of fiery. Eisenberg relishes his role as the creator of Facebook. He goes from simple college student to cutthroat CEO. The transformation is startling. Justin Timberlake is equally impressive where he lit up the screen with each scene he appeared in. He was worthy of an Oscar nomination and sadly didn’t make the cut, but his work here shows he’s more than a pretty face.
4) The King’s Speech
While this film will likely sweep the Oscars, I don’t feel it’s necessarily as inventive as Inception, but it’s a story I actually wish was longer. Virtually everything about this film was pitch-perfect from its direction to screenplay to all of the acting. But what elevates the film to that next level is Colin Firth. Firth should have won last year for A Single Man and without him, The King’s Speech doesn’t have the same emotional weight. This performance is as compelling as any accent, make-up or physical transformation. To take a professional who makes their living speaking the English language with grace and to have the stutter and make it believable is a gargantuan undertaking that Firth mastered. One wishes we had a politician alive today who could overcome obstacles and embrace their inner greatness.
5) Solitary Man
Michael Douglas received a ton of press for the Wall Street< sequel, which is a shame, because in Solitary Man he gives his greatest performance. In the beginning, we see the confident and suave Douglas we’ve grown to love, but as the film progresses, we see a faulted man who despite all his conquests and confidence, it falling apart on the inside. Douglas owns this role and will pull you into his world. Despite being a man who makes one horrendous decision after another, you still root for him wanting him to come out on the other side.
6) Black Swan
A dark and vicious look at what one does for power. A brutal look at the world of ballet led by Natalie Portman who gives a performance no one will soon forget. Director Darren Aronofsky created a world of paranoia for not just his characters but the audience as well. We’re not sure where the delusions begin or end. Mila Kunis gives an equally evocative performance that brings out the best and worse of Portman.
7) Winter’s Bone
A sobering look at what pain, suffering and sacrifice truly is. Overlooked amidst the sobering performance by Jennifer Lawrence is director Debra Granik. She didn’t merely cast guide this mystery with a fierce grip, but she created a world that is sobering and utterly authentic. The word of the Ozark’s is terrifyingly real and no other film will provide you with a better wake-up call than this one.
8) Shutter Island
Scorsese is still the master of cinema and this murder mystery takes him in new directions. It is powerful film best appreciated upon a second viewing. Trapped on an island for the criminally insane, Leonardo DiCaprio (and the audience) is trying to piece together a puzzle.
9) The Fighter
David O. Russell takes you inside a family where everything hinges on the hopes and failures of two brothers; the elder (Christian Bale) and the direction of the younger (Mark Wahlberg). Russell’s direction is buzzing from the opening moments until the credits role. But what truly differentiates this film from standard boxing fare is the reality of the performances. Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo and Bale all knock it out of the park. Never once do you question the authenticity of Bale’s performance. For all you know, you are watching a documentary on Dicky Eklund. This was one of the year’s great surprises for me.
10) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo/ The Girl Who Played with Fire/ The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
The three films count as one in my book. Based on the best selling books of the same name, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen for each film. Lead actress Noomi Rapace is electrifying. I wish David Fincher well on his remake of the film and Rooney Mara luck trying to encapsulate the same emotions and grit that Rapace brought to Lisbeth Salander. Besides the searing performance by Rapace, the filmmakers do a noble job of never losing the viewer. This is no easy feat as the film has many detours and side stories that come to fruition at the end of the third film. I was electrified by all three films and you will be as well.
This is the type of film that was deserving of Oscar attention. A wholly original film that is charming, heartbreaking and downright quirky. John C Reilly is down and out on his luck until he meets Marissa Tomei, who gets better with every role she tackles. Despite their chemistry, she plays it safe. He later learns she has a grown son still living with her, Joan Hill. The three actors savor these roles and bring more than humor to them, but humanity as well.
12) The Town
This is a great crime drama directed and written by Ben Affleck. To every critic who wrote him off about 5-years ago, he has come back with a vengeance with two films showing his gift for storytelling. The Town is more than a well crafted thriller but an audience pleaser as well with a sprawling cast that does the material justice.
13) Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage
Much like last year’s Anvil: The Story of Anvil, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage is a revelation into the history of one of rock n’ roll’s greatest and most durable bands. The progressive rock trio has forever been a staple for the arena circuit despite very few hit singles. Walking into the film completely devoid of their history, it tapped into my heart. Directed and produced with refined care by Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden, they play to the audience telling Rush’s story in a chronological manner that is thoroughly absorbing. Dunn and McFayden have previously collaborated on Metal: A Headbangers' Journey and Iron Maiden: Flight 666. Both films have revealing interviews with its subjects and as they slowly peel off layers you find yourself becoming more engrossed to the point of turning you into a fan. You don’t have to be a fan of Rush to enjoy Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage but it’s unlikely you’ll watch it and not fall under their spell.
Sofia Coppola is a director whom I will follow anywhere. Somewhere is a film delivered in a hush and to many observers, it will be about nothing. To those who feel that way, I am envious, as these are people who have never been lost in their life. Stephen Dorff gives an Oscar worthy performance as a film star living in the Chateau Marmont in LA. We see his daily life unfold from moments of loneliness to other times of heartbreak. His daughter, played by Elle Fanning, is the center of the film. It’s his time with her that helps him come to the realization he is amiss. The film is full of cinematic metaphors and graceful beauty. It may not be apparent in his mundane day-to-day existence but by the film’s final scene, we see he has clearly found what he is looking for.
15) The Ghost Writer
Say what you want about Roman Polanski, but damn can he direct a film. Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor have never been better in this story of former Primer Minister and ghost writer. There’s a high sense of tension throughout the film that keeps you on the edge of your seat. More importantly, McGregor and Brosnan flew their dramatic muscles in ways not always seen.
16) Blue Valentine
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams give all of themselves in this film. Set in present day and in flashbacks, the film dissects their relationship from a time when all was right with their love to a time where it’s all but extinguished. It captures the daily grind of life and how work, children and chores can dash love out quicker than a burning match.
Hye-ja Kim gives a performance of a mother trying to find justice for a mentally challenged son who was incorrectly put in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. She shows such extreme emotions and vulnerability you can’t help but be pulled into the downpour of emotions she experiences. If you’ve ever loved someone unconditionally, you will be engrossed. Director and writer Joon-ho Bong (who had previously wrote and directed The Host and Memories of Murder) has crafted a film that will challenge your faith. It may not be an easy film to watch, but the characters and their struggle with remain with you long after the film has ended.
18) The American
Anton Corbijn has created a great European noir that is slow, steady and sinuous. George Clooney is a professional assassin hiding out in a small town in Europe. As he builds a weapon for his employer, we see him transform from a cold and heartless man to someone seeking redemption and the belief in a higher power. Corbijn’s direction is masterful in its subtleties and nuances. He makes the viewer feel as isolated as Clooney’s assassin. He creates mood and setting that solidify over the course of two hours of scenic European locales that will enrapture anyone who has ever wanted to disappear.
19) True Grit
I have never been a devout Coen brother’s follower. But with every film, I become more enraptured in their world of crooks, criminals and corruption. True Grit is superior to the original in every way imaginable. The original feels like a caricature compared to this film. The gritty authenticity of the film would be enough for it to stand apart from the 1969 film, but with the addition of Hailee Steinfeld as the 14-year-old Mattie Ross, the film takes on dimensions previously unseen. It’s her sharp tongue and determination which makes the film truly authentic.
20) I Am Love
The Recchi family has been successful in the textile industry in Italy. One of the sons married a Russian woman (Tilda Swinton) and becomes one of them. This is the type of film some may stick their noses up against saying it is pretentious, but I found myself swooped up into their world. The cinematography of the film is luxuriant and Swinton’s performance is dynamite. She finds herself having fallen into the world of her family and as her children have grown, she begins to question her life, her needs and her ideals. She is restless and with the introduction of a young cook, her son’s friend, the story takes you places you can’t foresee. I saw the film with two audiences and both gasped at the twists and turns. Even if this film isn’t for you from a narrative structure, you should appreciate the glistening cinematic beauty of the Italian countryside.
A 2009 release I didn’t see until its video release last spring, this is a documentary film about controversial conspiracy theorist Michael Ruppert. I am not sure if any work of art has terrified me to my core as this one. Are some of his ideas “out there”? Yes. With that being said, he digs into the brutal facts of the oil crisis and watching this film will provide you with the most sobering of wake-up calls.
22) The Art of the Steal
Another documentary about the Barnes art collection housed in Philadelphia. This is an art collection worth over $25-billion and about how the powers that be attempt to distort it, make money from it and destroy the wishes of Albert C. Barnes. You will be aghast when you see what has happened.
23) The Disappearance of Alice Creed
Gema Arterton (best known for her work in the James Bond flick Quantum of Solace) plays a kidnapped woman in this British thriller. The films minimalism makes your mind work overtime as you try and make sense of a story that involves only three people and one small apartment. The script is anything but simple and has layers and depth to all three characters. Especially effective is Eddie Marsan as one of the kidnappers. He has moments of such viciousness paired with ache that you can’t help but feel in some way that he is the victim.
This documentary is downright uncomfortable to watch. That being said, the less you know about it, the better. People are not always what they seem on the internet, so be warned. You may see films with movie stars that are nowhere near as good, but I promise you, Catfish will stay with you and disturb you long after the lights come back on. The only thing I can say about the film is that, from all information gathered on the film, I can say that it is authentic and true and not fake.
25) Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
I’ve never liked Joan Rivers. In fact I’ll go on the record as saying she makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. This film changed that for me. In an eye-opening exploration into a year of her life, you quickly realize that despite her quirks, she works harder and gives more of herself than any entertainer on the planet.
26) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
I am not sure if I am giving this film enough credit. I bet if I could have seen both films a few months apart this would have ranked higher. One of the greatest film franchises of all time and the barometer for quality is astoundingly high.
27) Easy A
A rare teen movie that isn’t just entertaining, but smart; Emma Stone shows the world she’s not just a star but can carry a film on her own.
28) Get Him to the Greek
Jonah Hill and Russell Brand may be on the poster to this over-the-top comedy of a has-been rock star with a chance at redemption, but it’s Sean “Diddy” Combs who takes the film to that next level with a series of quotes you’ll remember more than the plot of this film.
29) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
This isn’t for everyone, but the wholly original film (adapted from a comic) is a pleasure to watch and wholly inventive. Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) delivers the film with great enthusiasm and Michael Cera is cast perfectly as the geeky bass player who is torn between two women.
30) Waking Sleeping Beauty
People may not remember it now, but in the 1970’s and 1980’s Disney animation wasn’t all that impressive and a venture that lost the company money. So how did it reclaim its place? This is the story of a decade long journey that helped bring about their best animated films in over four decades.
31) The Kids Are All Right
I “liked” this film and feel Mark Ruffalo gives a perfect performance of a man who is flawed. I just didn’t feel it was as earth shattering as many others. It felt a bit far fetched to me, but when the characters discuss their lives, their dreams and their pain…the film works.
32) Youth In Revolt
Sick, twisted and misunderstood by everyone; if you doubt Michael Cera has talent, look no further.
33) Harry Brown
Michael Caine is a bad-ass taking revenge on the criminal underworld wreaking havoc on hiss neighborhood. Need I say anything else?
34) Hot Tub Time Machine
This is an imperfect film with great heart. Lots of inside jokes and if you love the 1980’s, I defy you not to smile ear-to-ear throughout the whole film.
35) She’s Out of My League
Savaged by critics for its plainness but I enjoyed it. I laughed at quite a bit of it and then there’s Jay Baruchel who is more than just a geek but a guy with a good soul, a good heart and someone we root for to win over the girl. It may be predictable, but it works.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter