The Films of 2010: Ten Favorites

I think I saw fewer movies in 2010 than in any previous year– going back to, ah, my infancy, anyway– but even so: I’ll go on record for this past year as the most rewarding moviegoing year of the last several. I have actually heard more than a few critics dismiss it as a lesser year– never mind the fact that it gave us a masterful Coen Brothers, a superb Scorsese, a top-form Polanski, and a typically sublime Pixar. A disappointing year? Perish the thought.

Of course, there are still films I wish I’d seen, and one in particular– Another Year, from one of my favorite directors, Mike Leigh– that sources close to me have indicated to be among the year’s finest. So, a revision, a couple of weeks down the road, is entirely likely. For now, though, these are my ten favorites of the year. And by the way, I’ve never been more serious about the distinction between Best and Favorite; these are all terrific films, I think, several of them masterworks, but my selections this year are, more than ever, based on my own emotional response to the works in question, to how they spoke not just to my intellect but also engaged my heart.

10. Inception
Dir. Christopher Nolan


The knock against this one is that it’s an action blockbuster that’s a little too brainy for its own good, at the expense of emotional payoff. Fair enough, I suppose, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to trash a summer blockbuster for being too smart. That the film plays out like one giant puzzle is no dismissal of it at all, but rather a summary of exactly why it’s an action movie like no other, and, one can only hope, a template for things to come. For the record, though, many of the puzzle pieces– the almost psychoanalytical infiltration of submerged emotions into our dreams, the typically Nolan-esque metaphor of cinema as a sort of waking dream– these are things that did in fact resonate with me, and even those who weren’t as moved by it ought at least give DiCaprio his due for acting the hell out of it.

09. Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky


In the pro camp, they say this one takes on an almost Shakespearean level of emotional and psychological grandeur; in the con, they say sure, but if it’s Shakespeare, it must be Titus Andronicus. I’m not sure why both can’t be true. I don’t care to defend the movie against its criticisms so much as embrace it precisely because of them, for the way it grabs hold of camp and turns something sort of trashy and vulgar into something darkly, at times comically but always grippingly operatic. As my abiding love for There Will Be Blood suggests, I have a fondness for films that mine the darker regions of human psychology and project our shadows into horror movie monsters, something that I think this movie does rather well.

08. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Edgar Wright


This one I feared would be either a bracingly satirical take on hipsterdom, or else a movie that celebrated hipster culture in the most inside-jokey way possible– in other words, a movie made with a particular subset of young people as its target audience and anyone else can stay the hell away. What a pleasure, then, to find it such a warm, goofy, charming, and utterly winsome hoot of a movie– one that seems to be made with real fondness and affection and no particular ax to grind. Visually, it’s the most original thing I’ve seen since Speed Racer, a film that I have always desperately loved, and it also happens to be the funniest and cleverest thing I saw at the movies all year, though what makes it stick is that its cleverness is not for its own sake, but for the a sake of a movie that tries really hard to entertain and succeeds in the most strikingly unique way I can imagine.

07. The King’s Speech
Tom Hopper


In truth, it’s the kind of movie I normally hate– a prestige picture, a period piece, an acting showcase that seems to have Oscar intentions written all over it. But this– this is a marvelous picture. Perhaps it is due, partially, to the fact that I am a words man, and this film is, among other things, a celebration of the language. I dare anyone to watch the scene in which Lionel Logue explains the therepeutic value of swearing and find it to be anything less than unflinchingly honest, and hilarious to boot. But more than that, I think, I simply love the fact that this film sparkles the way it does with humanity, with wit, with real emotion, all enhanced– not obscured– by its deft sense of craftsmanship.

06. Shutter Island
Martin Scorsese


Yes, I saw the ending coming from the very first scene– but so what? This is the kind of film that isn’t interested in pulling the rug out from under us as forcing us to watch, in dreadful anticipation, as all the wheels of the story move toward that inevitable and awful conclusion. (In this regard, by the way, the film is not at all unlike Black Swan). I love the cinematic vision of this picture, the Hitchcock homages and film noir injections, but what I love most is the portrait it paints of a world so hell-bent on its own destructive madness, the only escape some men can find is into pure insanity.

05. The Ghost Writer
Roman Polanski


A genre picture that actually stands for something– though whether its true meaning is in its allegorical spin on the auteur’s own personal problems, in its kinda-sorta rewrite of the Blair years, or in a political resonance more universal than that, you’ll have to decide. My own inclination is to say that it’s a shockingly effective thriller that’s fueled by anger– or better yet, good old-fashioned moral indignation, the kind we don’t have nearly enough of these days.

04. True Grit
Joel and Ethan Coen


I’ve long given up on picking which of the Coens’ films is the best– in a career that encompasses such diverse masterpieces as Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski, how could one possibly select a single pinnacle?– but I’ll at least throw my support behind this as one of their most pleasurable films– which is really rather odd, given the austere, almost puritanical morality of the thing, its ruminations of righteousness and biblical grace, but true nevertheless: It’s a warm and welcoming movie, a hilarious and heartfelt movie, and as stirring an argument for good old-fashioned storytelling simplicity as I can think of right now.

03. Toy Story 3
Lee Unkrich

I have, in a very real way, grown up with these characters; with the third installment behind us, we’ve come to a place where we have learned to let go. This is a movie about grown-up decisions and grown-up emotions, the series’ usual existential questions about our place in the world here covered in bittersweet emotions that– I readily confess– damn near had me weeping in my seat. It’s worth noting, though, that for all the complaints about Pixar’s movies becoming too adult-oriented, this is the cartooniest, most delightfully silly thing they’ve made since Monsters, Inc. Also, I’ll say this: Best trilogy ever.

02. The Social Network
David Fincher

It’s been called a Citizen Kane for our generation, and the only thing more audacious than the claim itself is the reality of just how close to being accurate it really is: This is an important film, a timely film, a film that encompasses big themes about who we are as people, and how we relate to one another. It’s also a really funny movie, with dialogue that’s as propulsive as any action footage you can imagine. Between Fincher’s artful directing, Aaron Sorkin’s beguiling screenplay, and an oustanding cast that includes, among many others, a really superb acting turn from one Justin Timberlake, I’m inclined to say that this picture single-handedly renders it impossible to single out a 2010 MVP.

01. The Fighter
David O. Russell

The movie’s a knock-out, and I feel like it speaks for itself; since I’m in the minority in choosing it as the year’s best, however, let me offer a quick defense. There were more important movies this year, I grant you. But this one got its hooks in me early, and it didn’t let go. It dragged me through the ringer, through some of the most devastatingly harrowing on-screen moments I’ve ever seen and some of the most hard-won triumphs. As pure cinema, as pure story goes, its pull is simply astonishing. It sings. And all the extra stuff– its nature as a “boxing” and as a “based on a true story” movie, Christian Bale’s weight loss, Mark Whalberg’s ripped arms, Amy Adams’ way-against-type casting– these things don’t impress me nearly as much as the movie’s contentment with being a movie that doesn’t teach a lesson or become a parable, but simply gives us real, complex people making real, complex decisions. Honestly, it still hasn’t really let me go.

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6 responses to “The Films of 2010: Ten Favorites”

  1. Gavin says :

    For the record, I would’ve guessed:

    1. Toy Story 3
    2. True Grit
    3. The Fighter
    4. The Social Network
    5. The Ghost Writer
    6. Shutter Island
    7. Black Swan
    8.The King’s Speech
    9. Inception
    10. Scott Pilgrim

    I got the top five right, just in the wrong order. I definitely called The Fighter being high. I’ve got to go see that ASAP.

    Good list.

  2. Josh Hurst says :

    I’d love to see it again. Let’s go.

    And yeah, I have to say… neither you or Chris guessed right, but you came closest.

  3. John Noto says :

    Great list. Enjoyed all of these immensely minus Speech, Pilgram, and Fighter which I plan on seeing soon.

    Of all the praise you heaped on Social Network though, I found it odd that you left Trent Reznor’s score out in the cold.

  4. Josh Hurst says :

    Of course I loved Reznor’s score, though, honestly, it stood out less to me than it did for other critics.

  5. Scott says :

    How as Melissa Leo in The Fighter?

  6. James says :

    I agree entirely with 1 and 2 but Inception should’ve been higher.

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