The Year in Review: The Best Films of 2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… But mostly it was the worst of times. Actually, that’s a little dramatic. 2010 wasn’t a particularly stellar year for movies (unlike, say, 2007), but there were some really dynamite pictures out there. You just had to root around for them.

If there’s one thematic unifier to the best movies of 2010, it’s the interplay between fantasy and reality. Most of the biggest, most important movies concern themselves with this quandary – whether it’s the multiple points of view that make up the central narrative of ‘The Social Network’, Leonardo DiCaprio getting stuck in dream worlds in both ‘Shutter Island‘ (which didn’t chart here) and ‘Inception’ (which did), or Woody’s self delusion in ‘Toy Story 3’.

Even documentaries got in on the act. The best and most provocative documentary films made you wonder just how much of what you saw was honest-to-god truth. I’m still trying to figure out ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’, my favorite documentary of the year.

Anyway, enough introduction. Here’s my Top 10 list for 2010, with brief explanations. Can’t wait for the comments!

10) ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World‘ (Edgar Wright)

Yes, Edgar Wright’s hellzapoppin’ comic book adaptation was one of the year’s most astonishing visual feasts. But it was also one of the more emotional experiences of the year, for me. There’s real heart here. I’m still fighting for my Ramona.

09) ‘Rabbit Hole‘ (John Cameron Mitchell)

It’s more than a little upsetting that both critics and audiences haven’t gotten behind this film more. I know “dead child” isn’t a huge draw, but people are missing out on a really affecting, shockingly funny portrayal of suburban grief (embodied beautifully by the performances of Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart). It’s also elegantly directed by John Cameron Mitchell, who shows a real maturity.

08) ‘Piranha 3D‘ (Alexandre Aja) / ‘Let Me In‘ (Matt Reeves)

These two are grouped together because they’re both superior genre remakes, and I love them both to death. With ‘Let Me In’, Matt Reeves cut all the fat out of the original Swedish version (‘Let the Right One In‘) and made it leaner, meaner, more politically pointed, and more sexualized. He also ditched that goofy cat-attack sequence. (Plus, nothing beats that Michael Giacchino score.) On ‘Piranha 3D’, Alexandre Aja took the admittedly dopey premise of prehistoric fish chomping down on spring breakers and turned it into an expert satire on American excess.

07) ‘Mother‘ (Bong Joon-ho)

This criminally underseen South Korean crime movie is still one of my favorite movies of the year, and I saw it in September of ’09. Kim Hye-ja is outstanding as a fiercely loyal mother who goes to amazing lengths to clear the name of her mildly retarded son, who’s been arrested for the murder of a local girl. Bong Joon-ho is one of the greatest filmmakers in the world, expertly combining pathos, comedy and terror.

06) ‘127 Hours‘ (Danny Boyle)

Yes, James Franco cuts his own arm off. Are we done here? Okay. Moving on. Danny Boyle’s glorious ode to life was one of the most singular, powerful experiences I had all year. Only Boyle could make a movie about a man trapped in a confined space feel like you’re giving the universe a hug.

05) ‘Inception‘ (Christopher Nolan)

Few movies had the thematic ambition and visual sophistication of ‘Inception’. That’s even more shocking considering its size as a big-ass studio movie. Few movies spun my head around like this one. In its own way, it’s another moving love story. Even after my one millionth (roughly) viewing, I’m still trying to figure it out.

04) ‘True Grit‘ (Coen Brothers)

A surprisingly straightforward and sentimental effort from The Coen Brothers, I loved ‘True Grit’ from its opening shot. (God, it’s gorgeous!) What I wasn’t prepared for was the emotional wallop of the film, thanks largely to the star-making turn by Hailee Steinfeld as a young girl who hires a rough rider (Jeff Bridges) to avenge her father’s murder. What could have been another revenge tale is an affecting coming-of-age experience.

03) ‘Toy Story 3‘ (Lee Unkrich)

Speaking of affecting… Gee whiz, did anyone think that the one movie that would make both children and grown men alike bawl would be ‘Toy Story 3’? No. But it did. The third film is a profound meditation on life, death and belonging. It made me weep out loud. That isn’t to discount the rip-roaring fun I also had, particularly in the second act, when the film mutates into some bizarre prison movie. It can now be said with some certainty that the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy is the greatest movie three-pack of all time.

02) ‘Black Swan‘ (Darren Aronofsky)

Darren Aronofsky made something that not everyone is going to get behind, but something that is unquestionably his own. Natalie Portman, in my favorite performance of the year, plays a ballerina who loses her shit. In the process, the movie dips from a straightforward melodrama into some crazy feminist horror flick. Blurring the lines between reality and fantasy (there it is again!), Aronofsky totally puts you in the emotional and psychological space of Portman’s ballerina. This film is as gorgeous as it is terrifying.

01) ‘The Social Network‘ (David Fincher)

Shocker! I’ve only been talking about this thing since it opened the New York Film Festival last year. Still, nothing even came close to dazzling me the way that ‘The Social Network’ did. Less about the stupid program we all use every day than about the human compulsions (greed, jealousy, insecurity) behind the foundation of a profound technological movement, the movie made us care less about the software and more about what went into it. The chief criticism leveled at the movie, that it’s too emotionally aloof, should be shrugged away. I was totally involved in uber-geek Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his quest for power… and love. Refresh, refresh, refresh…


  1. SCOTT PILGRIM was one of the most pretentious films I saw all year. It’s an awful movie, and I’m shocked (or maybe I’m not) at how many people think it’s fantastic.

    INCEPTION is good, but really needed edited down. I’d stick it in the top 10, but much further down the list. I actually think SHUTTER ISLAND (similar story, if you think about it) was slightly better…certainly better acted and directed, if not story-wise better.

    I have yet to see either TRUE GRIT or THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but for me one of 2010’s best flicks was Ben Affleck’s THE TOWN, which should finally put to rest any question of that guy’s talent. He’s fantastic in it (and he directed and co-wrote to boot).

  2. Andy


    Did you really just pull a Steven King and put Piranha 3D in your top ten of the year? I know you’re probably just trying to make a statement and get people talking, but c’mon! Really? There is no way you can make a credible argument that there weren’t 10 better films in 2010 than Piranha 3D. Yes, it is fun. Yes, I agree with your statement about what it is satirizing. But again, c’mon! You’re telling me that there weren’t 10 better films released in 2010! I’m sorry, I just really don’t like when critics try to be “edgy” by putting a film like this in their top 10 of the year.

    • Ian Whitcombe

      Or maybe, just maybe, he *personally* liked it a bit more than Rabbit Hole, a bit less than Mother, and about the same as Let Me In?

      Sounds credible enough to me.

      • Andy

        Yes, usually when a film is ranked between two others, it means that it was liked a bit more than one and a bit less than another. Thanks for clarifying though. Does any of this have anything to do with whether or not a credible argument could be made that Piranha was one of the 10 best films of the year? Nope.

    • Shayne Blakeley

      Not only do I think Piranha was one of the best movies of the year, I would actually rate it much higher on my own list.

      • Andy

        Seriously? You’re going to tell me that a film that was intentionally made to be “so awful it is good” was one of the best 10 films of the year? And you would even rate it in the top what? Five? I would really like to see someone mount an argument for this. Piranha is not even supposed to be good! The director and other filmmaker’s that worked on it never even had the intent to make it be good or high quality. There’s just no way someone can tell me it’s one of the 10 best films of the year! And I loved it! Let’s keep the top 10 lists limited to only those films that belong.

        • ‘Piranha 3D’ was at #9 in my list until I saw ‘True Grit’, which pushed it out to #10. It also pushed ‘Inception’ out to 11, which I was quite happy about to be honest.

        • Shayne Blakeley

          You seem to be under the impression that whatever criteria you use to determine a films worth are inarguable. The term “best” is pretty vague, intended as opinion, and is open to a large amount of interpretation. No one is arguing that Piranha was a piece of high art, or that is was emotionally moving or anything of that sort. It was however, the most fun I had at the theater all year, and as a horror fanatic, I found it perfectly balanced in it’s gore and humor where so many modern horror movies (remakes in particular) have forgotten that these movies are meant to be fun.

          • Andy

            Ok, so you aren’t rating the “Ten best films of the year” you are rating “Your ten favorite films of the year.” I would never argue with someone’s favorite films of the year. When I think of a top ten list, it means I am trying to subjectively determine which 10 films were of the highest quality, regardless of whether or not I actually liked/enjoyed them.


            Is your top ten list your ten favorite films of the year? Or the ten that you feel were actually of the highest quality? If it’s simply your ten favorite films of the year, you can put whatever you want in there.

          • Andy

            For example, I hated both Mother and Rabbit Hole, but I would still have to put both of them in my top ten best films of the year. It was a weak year in cinema, and I have no doubts that both of these films were of high enough quality to deserve to be in the top 10-12 of the year. If I am rating my ten favorite films of the year, they don’t come close. I’m surprised nobody has mentioned either Winter’s Bone or The Kids are All Right. I would include both of them in the top ten best of the year as well.

            It is only occasionally that my favorite films of any given year are also the ones that I feel deserved a spot in the top 10. Inception is a perfect example. It’s my favorite of 2010, and I feel that it is easily one of the 3 best films of the year as well. This is far more often the exception rather than the rule.

          • @Andy, I have a hard time reconciling how you can hate a movie and yet call it one of the best of the year. Artistic value and entertainment value are not (and should not be) as rigidly separated as you seem to believe.

        • Jack

          “For example, I hated both Mother and Rabbit Hole, but I would still have to put both of them in my top ten best films of the year.”

          That doesn’t make a lot of sense, so you hated both films but yet you’re putting them on your top ten best film? Please could you explain that to me because if I hated any films, I would never ever put them on my top best film list. I’d put them on my worst list instead.

  3. I saw Rabbit Hole at TIFF. I’ll be damned if I remember anything “funny” in it, but my perception may have been skewed by the fact that I saw it back to back with another similar movie about parents whose son died. That was just far too much tragedy for one day.

    Mother is an amazing movie. Great call on that one, Drew.

    My tops of the year are True Grit and Let Me In. Still haven’t seen Social Network or 127 Hours.

    • Andy

      Let me In and True Grit are definitely both in the top 10. Black Swan is in the top 3. I’m still trying to decide which film is the absolute best of the year. 127 Hours and The Fighter make the cut for the top 10. Inception has to be included as well, just for being something that no other film in history has ever been.

  4. Nobody else has any love for the flawed but mindbogglingly good ‘The Killer Inside Me’? I just noticed that HDD hasn’t even reviewed the Blu-ray yet!

    That aside, my list is very similar to Drew’s, though I am yet to see ‘Black Swan’ or (disgracefully) ‘Mother’.

    Another little-seen highlight this year was ‘Monsters’, the movie ‘District 9’ only wished it was.

  5. Jane Morgan

    I agree with everything on this list except ‘Toy Story 3.’ It bored me to sleep. It wouldn’t make my top 50. I’d swap it with ‘The Fighter.’

  6. Drew Taylor

    Jane, you’re very cute (if your avatar is your actual photo), so I appreciate your support. And yes, I believe, in my heart-of-hearts that “Piranha 3D” is one of the very best movies released in 2010. And you know what? There might have been movies that are more thematically ambitious (something like “Biutiful,” say) or emotionally severe (the searing “Blue Valentine”), but in terms of a movie that could have easily just been some cheap B-movie and rose far above its genre trappings, well, that’s awesome. It’s a movie about the adolescent American experience as filtered through the eyes of a satirically-minded Frenchman and caked with the debris of monster movies past and present. Unlike, say, “The Fighter” which aimed to be an above-average sports movie and WAS an above-average sports movie, “Piranha 3D” exceeded itself by leaps and bounds. And I’ll stand by my choice any day of the week. Jane – call me.

    • Maybe I’m way off base about this, but for some reason I assumed that Jane’s avatar was some actress who looks kind of familiar but I just can’t place. Jane, am I crazy?

      • Andy


        Artistic value and entertainment value are most definitely rigidly separated more often than not. Many films are made solely to provide entertainment value. These films are never going to be the best of the year, but a lot of people will love them nonetheless. While I didn’t enjoy Rabbit Hole, or Mother, I could still fully appreciate the artistic quality that went into each of them. My film going experience was one of being very impressed by the artistic quality of these films, but definitely not wanting to see them again, simply because I didn’t enjoy the content/subject matter. Two other films that Drew brought up, Biutiful and Blue Valentine were both highly enjoyable to me and provided great artistic value as well. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to argue that these two films are better than the former two. It just means that I liked them more. I think that all four of these films are very close in terms of quality and artistic value.


        Both Biutiful and Blue Valentine were infinitely superior to Piranha. I think you’re letting your taking pleasure in the fact that Piranha rose above it’s genre trappings and exceeded your expectations confuse you into believing that this makes it an excellent film. Again, I immensely enjoyed Piranha, but it wasn’t made to provide artistic value or to be something that was looked at as high quality. It was made simply to be a really fun — yet really bad — B-Movie, and that’s exactly what it was. It succeeded in being everything that it sought out to be, which was rousing pulp garbage. Is it better than most rousing pulp garbage? Absolutely. Does that make it an excellent — or even really good — film? Absolutely not.

        By the way, The Fighter didn’t set out to be an above average sports movie. The Fighter aimed to be an emotionally driven character drama, that just so happened to take place in the world of boxing, and it succeeded very well in doing this. Christian Bale’s incredible performance alone was of higher quality and more artistic value than anything in Piranha.

        • Ian Whitcombe

          So hypothetically Andy, would you put Mother in a lists of both “The objectively best and irrefutable list of the most artistically solid films of the year” as well as your personal worst list?

          I find that an incredibly obtuse and useless form of film criticism.

        • Yeah, Andy, no offense but the things you’re saying are deeply weird.

          When people make their best films of the year lists, they list their favourite films of the year. People are opinionated.

      • Jane Morgan

        Iga Wyrwal is the avatar. If you do a google image search you might want to have ‘safesearch’ on.

        When I first asked my husband what I should use for an avatar, he said, “Pick someone you would like to have a threesome with.”

        I found this image via random googling. I learned who it was later, from a nice boy at AICN who politely requested pictures of my tits. I chose this avatar because she reminds me of my first girlfriend at university.

        Drew, I like your posts. If I come across any random naked film hotties, I’ll try to throw them your way.

        Josh, perhaps you find Mrs. Wyrwal familiar because you’ve been using the internet to check out Season 10 of the Polish version of ‘Dancing With The Stars.’

        In any case, I have it on good authority that Iga was also completely unimpressed by ‘Toy Story 3.’

    • Andy


      You never clarified. Is this list your ten favorite films of 2010? Or the ten films that you feel were better than any others in 2010? Or do you not differentiate between your favorites and the ones you felt were of the highest artistic value?

  7. Drew Taylor

    Oh and I agree about “Killer Inside Me.” I saw it at Tribeca this year (and interviewed Winterbottom shortly thereafter) and fell in love. It was a runner-up for sure.

  8. BostonMA

    Drew i know you’re dedicated to the Bonus View, and i’m thankful for that, but i wish you at least featured this article in the thread created in the film forum.

    shouldn’t the blog and the forum build off of each other?

  9. Well hell, I didn’t even know JCM made a new flick. Guess I’ve got to get out and see it!

    I dig the list sir, and while I’d argue some of the placements I agree with the movies I’ve seen on there.

    Nice to see a lot of praise for ‘The Social Network’ and ‘Scott Pilgrim’ both. They – along with ‘True Grit’ – were my favorites this year.

  10. EShy

    I just saw the social network this week for the first time. I was staying away from it when it hit the theaters because I didn’t really care to see a movie about the people behind facebook.
    There’s nothing good about this movie, surprising when you look at fincher’s track record.
    This movie was a waste of time. I’m not sure why it ended up on so many top 10 lists.

    • Jack

      Different people have different taste in films brother and as you said you didn’t like it. I on the hand loved The Social Network, it’s number 1 on my top ten best film of the year.

  11. The only movie I saw on this list was Social Network, and I loved it! Inception is in my Netflix que – should be my next movie. I am surprised that Harry Potter did not make this list as people are raving left and right about it.

  12. I dont think Harry Potter will ever make the list, even though the latest was probably the best acted and well done film of the series, it pales in comparison to what else has been out this year, Drew’s list is a really good one and I definitely agree with Piranha being on that list, easily the most fun I’ve had at the theater all year, it was a blast from start to finish with everything in excess, just like his undertones of American partying for Spring Break, Aja is a MUCH smarter film maker than most people realize and he can infuse even a B movie Shlock flick with a lot of humor, political views and personal ideas without anyone even noticing it.

    I havent seen The Social Network yet so I can say anything about that one, nor Black Swan, but I personally would put Scott Pilgrim higher on the list as that was probably my 2nd or 3rd favorite of the year, hard to say when comparing it to Piranha, its a dirty fight between those two 🙂

  13. Oh and I’m honestly flabergasted that anyone could find Toy Story 3 completely boring, that I certainly cant agree with as I felt it was better than the first two put together, the emotional note it took on growing up, friends, death, it touched on A LOT of aspects of real life we all have to deal with, I cried at the end of this one, it was fantastic film making for everyone, Pixar just knows how to make some of the best movies ever, they have never disappointed me

    • Jane Morgan

      I’m flabergasted too. I don’t know why ‘Toy Story 3’ bored me to death. I don’t know why I’m indifferent to all the Pixar movies. Having kids, I’ve seen them all, and not one of the films do I even slightly enjoy. It’s like a mysterious disconnect.

      I experienced the same disconnect with ‘Scott Pilgrim.’ The first twenty minutes had me hooked with all the fractured direction, but after the first boss fight the movie lost me. The rest of it bored my ass off. I was really hoping to love that one too. I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.

      Why do movies sometimes just not work for random audiences?

      Why have I watched ‘The Social Network’ seven times?

      • Probably the same reason I’ve watched Inception or Scott Pilgrim seven times, you just really like it, as I do with those two movies.

        I am really surprised about the Pixar thing, you are the first person I’ve run into that hasnt really cared for any of them, a couple I could understand but not a fan at all of them, extremely rare I’m sure

      • EM

        The saying “there’s no accounting for taste” is usually applied when one person’s tastes clash with another’s, but I’ve found it useful when examining the discrepancies and inconsistencies within my own tastes. When I examine the films I have made part of my video library, I can see an overarching theme of the fantastic or transcendent: science fiction, horror, animation, unusual narrative structure, etc. But my collection does contain exceptions. For example, the only explanation I can come up with for my inclusion of “Casablanca” is that the film is so effective that it overcomes my usual thematic predilections. Ultimately I don’t really know the formula a movie must follow to become one of my preferred films; whatever works, works.

  14. And I certainly dont get how Scott Pilgrim can come close to being called pretentious, you do know the meaning of the word right?

    Claiming or demanding a position of distinction or merit, especially when unjustified.

    I dont recall this movie claiming or trying to be anything like the definition says

  15. Drew Taylor

    Several responses to everyone —

    * “Piranha 3D” was a political choice; you’ve got me. It’s a wild card, for sure, but it was still one that was more artistically and creatively sound than many movies that came out this year. It’s one thing to make an entertaining B-movie about giant piranhas that eat naked people but it’s another thing entirely to make an entertaining B-movie about giant piranhas eating naked people that skewers American culture in such a glorious way. (French filmmaker Alexandre Aja is an auteur; ‘Piranha 3D’ solidifies this.)

    * This is based on entertainment value and artistic integrity. ‘Blue Valentine’ held the #10 spot for a long time and then, the more I thought about it, the more I thought that I’d never, ever in a million years watch ‘Blue Valentine’ after the initial two screenings I went to. Then I thought about how much fun I have watching (and re-watching) ‘Scott Pilgrim’ and how it seems to say just as much about modern relationships as ‘Blue Valentine.’ I would also argue that the “oooh look at how realistic and gritty we are” approach that ‘Blue Valentine’ employed is just as artificial and phony as the jazzed-up, magical realism of ‘Scott Pilgrim.’

    * Those that are mystified by ‘The Social Network’ seem to be those who either haven’t felt any of the half-dozen emotional and dramatic buttons that the film hangs upon (jealousy, betrayal, love, greed, etc) or aren’t interested in interacting with the ever-changing world around them with any real vigor. Because ‘The Social Network,’ like ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘There Will Be Blood’ before it, shows you the ruthless mechanations behind things that shaped our world.