The Glass is Half Full: The Five Best Movies of 2010 (So Far)

Let’s get this out of the way right up front – this year has sucked, movie-wise. As anyone who reads my reviews regularly (and, if you do, I apologize) knows, I have been bitching a lot about how bad the movies of 2010 have been. Tomorrow I’ll run down the five worst movies of the year so far. For right now, let’s focus on the good stuff first. There should be more great movies released in the months to come (‘Social Network,’ I’m looking at you), but right now I want to give props to five movies that absolutely enchanted me. In no particular order, these are the five best movies of the year (so far).

Toy Story 3‘ (Lee Unkrich, USA) – Anyone who read my initial review knows I was over-the-moon for this, Pixar’s latest animated masterpiece. I now feel like an amateur for even considering that the third in the peerless ‘Toy Story‘ franchise would be anything less than amazing. (British film critic Mark Kermode proclaims ‘Toy Story’ the “best film franchise ever.” And he’s right.) There’s so much going on in this movie, which seems to be about growing up and letting go but really encompasses some pretty hefty ideas about death, the afterlife, even reincarnation. It feels pointless to talk about how funny the movie is, but it’s really, really funny. Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) probably has the year’s boldest comedic moment when he gets reset to Spanish mode – perfect for a character who, throughout the series, has been caught in one cataclysmic identity crisis after another. And who doesn’t love those little green aliens? The thematic and narrative complexity of the movie, the bold risks it takes in structure and storytelling (including its bleak prison movie aesthetic), and its unabashedly heartfelt sentimentality, all make ‘Toy Story 3’ one of the greatest movies of this year.

Mother‘ (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea) – Far too few people saw this complex, often hilarious Korean crime movie when it was released this spring. Now that it’s made the leap to home video, maybe more people will bask in its glory. A boy in his early twenties (Won Bin) lives with his older mother (Kim Hye-ja) in a relationship that borders on incestuous. When the boy is accused of murdering a young girl, it’s his mother that picks up the case, turning into a detective of sorts, as she works to solve the crime. Saying anything more about the plot would ruin its twisty magic, but it’s an absolutely unforgettable tale, at turns tragic and comedic, rich and nuanced. If you see a better movie this year, I’d be surprised. It was an absolute travesty that this wasn’t nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar last year, which diminished its visibility. Now that’s it’s on Blu-ray, hopefully people will watch this wonderful film, again and again and again…

‘Inception’ (Christopher Nolan, USA) – Forget all the “I didn’t get it” naysayers, the people who thought the dreams weren’t outlandish enough, and all those in-between; ‘Inception’ is a major cinematic accomplishment and one that people will be picking apart for decades. Mark my words on that. Nolan cashed in all the goodwill he earned making ‘The Dark Knight,’ one of the most successful pictures of all time, for a freewheeling metaphysical thrill ride. As dream warrior Cobb, Leonardo DiCaprio does his best to imbibe the movie with an emotional core amidst all the madness. People will talk about the wizardry of the filmmaking, but I can’t think of another movie in recent memory that leaves you with such an amazing feeling. Not only the feeling that you immediately, at all costs, need to see it again as quickly as possibly, but a loopy, out-of-sync thrill that comes with watching an incredibly powerful movie that questions what, exactly, existence is.

Valhalla Rising‘ (Nicolas Winding Refn, Denmark/UK) – Last year, Refn delivered the bone-breaking prison drama ‘Bronson,’ which was a meditation on masculinity and a formal delight. This year, he’s decided to take things to an even more macho degree by focusing on a bad-ass Viking named One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen) who befriends a young boy, gets taken in by a bunch of Christians, and journeys to a new world altogether. The “new world” bit is important because the movie seems to be, at least partially, a science fiction movie, just without all the cumbersome technology. As the mist parts and the sea opens up, it’s the equivalent of a space voyage. The kind of cerebral, druggy vision Refn conjures up is nothing short of breathtaking. Some will be maddened by ‘Valhalla Rising,’ but those that stick with it will be rewarded greatly.

The Secret in Their Eyes‘ (Juan José Campanella, Argentina) – This is the movie that bested ‘A Prophet‘ and ‘The White Ribbon‘ in this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar category. And you know what? It deserved to. A winding, multi-generational crime story that starts out in the present and flashes back, extensively, to the 1970s, it’s an absolutely engrossing and totally moving thriller. It doesn’t hurt that the film’s visual centerpiece is a “How’d they do that?” five minute continuous shot at a soccer stadium. I only got to see this movie once before it opened, and quickly closed, this spring. But I remember being totally lost in it. Any movie that reminds me of ‘Zodiac,’ I’m probably going to love. Once this hits video in September, everyone must see it! Everyone!


  1. Jane Morgan

    2010 feels like we have the same number of AAA movies as usual, but that this summer all our B movies were D movies.

    Did something bad happen in Hollywood two years ago, that all this junk got greenlit? Was there a screenwriter virus went around, screwed up a year of content?

    Or is this just the cycle of things? Every four years we get a leap year? How’s 2011 looking…?

    • Indeed, there was the Writer’s Guild strike from late ’07 to early ’08. A lot of the movies being released this year were greenlit around that time. The scripts were hammered out to have something completed before the strike, and didn’t get the usual round of revisions and polishing.

    • I think, more than anything, it is a change in audience. I wouldn’t say this year has been awful, and I actually quite enjoyed many of the movies that others seem to hate. Not saying they were great movies, but enjoyed them well enough.

      The Last Airbender is a great example. Yes, I wish it was about half an hour longer so they could have done some more with character development and story progression. My only complaint with Airbender was that it was too short. It stayed true to the source material, was very well cast, and special effects were good. The 3D sucked though. Ended up watching the majority of the movie without the glasses, without a single double-image issue.

      Alice In Wonderland wasn’t quite what I was expecting (I was expecting something more similar to American McGee’s Alice), but it was enjoyable, and picked up the Blu-Ray on its release date. Once again, not a great movie, but I quite enjoyed it.

      How To Train Your Dragon was probably the best film I have seen this year. It did have a predictable story line, but it was something safe that my goddaughter and I could enjoy together. The 3D was great.

      Shrek Forever After was not as good as Shrek 1 and 2, but was WAY better than Shrek 3. It was a solid movie, and quite enjoyable. My only issue is, with as much as I love Shrek, I feel the francise has been beaten to death.

      Hot Tub Time Machine was a GREAT comedy. It did not try to sell itself as anything more than it was.

      There are also some big name movies slated for later in the year – Harry Potter and Narnia just to name a few.

      Yeah, 2010 wasn’t a GREAT year for movies, but I enjoyed all I have seen.

  2. Prayformojo

    Great year for family friendly movies:
    How to Train Your Dragon
    Toy Story 3
    Despicable Me

    Great year for games, the following delivered a better story than any non-family movie I have seen this year:
    Mass Effect 2
    Red Dead Redemption
    Heavy Rain
    Alan Wake

  3. besch64

    Would I be right in assuming that you haven’t seen Dogtooth yet? Because I feel that it is the best movie of the year without question.

  4. DieHard

    So far most of the good movies from this year are more depressing in tone or theme, which in some ways I view as a positive shift (there have been far too many lame ‘heroic’ movies over the past few years) so long as they aren’t all like that. Brooklyn’s Finest and Youth In Revolt spring to mind right away. Even Edge Of Darkness, although extremely predictable, I have to give credit as being a decent movie. Shutter Island also. Inception could be the best movie of the year bar none, at least so far and it gives me recollections of Donnie Darko. Green Zone wasn’t a bad movie, nor was Remember Me. For comedies, I’d have to say that She’s Out Of My League could top the list.

  5. Des

    For me the best movie so far this year has been “25 Carat” an absolute must see and one of the very few films I would see twice. This is a masterpiece. Brilliant casting. The characters remained consistent and the movie ran beautifully.

    Inception was also very good. It seems there may be a little lost to editing but overall it’s a movie to see again to go back and piece together with the full knowledge that you’ve gained by the end. What I love is that not everything is explained although it is shown. Hollywood needs to learn more of this. Incredibly well done. Casting was superb.

  6. BambooLounge

    Wow…you know it is a bad year when 3 out of the Top 5 Films (so far) of 2010 list were released in 2009.

    My 2010 (actual 2010) Top 5 thus far:

    Shutter Island
    Toy Story 3
    Kick Ass
    Iron Man 2

    …haven’t gotten around to The Kids Are Alright, and a lot of the Film Forum/Angelika films yet (hence the emphasis on major studio product in my list). Cyrus just didn’t do it for me that much.

    I’m sure in 2011 when I get to more 2010 foreign stuff, my final 10 of ’10 list will be heavily revised.

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