The Best Films of 2010

The Best Films of 2010

Article by: Witney Seibold

2010 was a relatively weak year for film. Indeed, there have been so few standouts, that most major critics’ top-10 lists have strongly resembled one another. In a citywide poll, one particular film was #1 on, I think, over 44% of all critics’ lists, and I feel like I must apologize for including it as #1 on my list as well. 2010 has so few excellent standouts that the lack of competition is almost dull.


A few critics, like the L.A. Weekly’s excellent Karina Longworth (a critic I highly admire) compiled a list of offbeat films, all under the heading of “Are-They-Fucking-With-Us?” Her list was topped by Harmony Korine’s low-fi, VHS-shot, philosophical snuff nightmare “Trash Humpers.” There were also some other notable experiments from 2010, including Gaspar Noé’s “Enter the Void,” the truly odd social experimentation of “Dogtooth,” and who could forget the living geekshow that is “The Human Centipede?”


Where 2010 really excelled was in “B” movies. 2009 saw a good handful of genre and exploitation films that were shoulders above the rest, and 2010 only upped the ante. While certain studios cynically retrofitted some of their genre blockbusters with awful-looking 3D, others were subtly using the gimmick to major advantage. I will mention some of them below.


Here then is my list of the best films of 2010.


1) The Social Network

David Fincher’s biopic was not only technically marvelous film, featuring excellent photography, a subtly technotronic score, and some of the snappiest dialogue to come along in a Hollywood film in many a year, but it was also an important essay on the way modern businesses are run, the way teenagers have grown to communicate, and how concept of “cool” and the power of personality have come to replace any sort of altruism or need to help the world. The statement is made all the more poignant by the fact that founder/alleged idea thief Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg in the film) was portrayed as having little personality that extended further than his pet ambitions.


This is a film that could have lost itself in topicality and pop iconography, and managed to make itself about the world at large. This is a timely film, and excellent film, and the best film of 2010.


2) Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky’s film is about a put-upon, sex-starved ballerina (Natalie Portman) – skittish, quiet, arrested, passionless – whose sanity gradually unravels as her performance date approaches. This is a film that manages to perfectly blend the lurid enjoyment of a catty backstage Sirkian melodrama with the terrifying and downright icky bodily horror of David Cronenberg. This is a horror film that is wicked, wondrous, unsettling and awesome. This is a drama that is bloody, disturbing and fantastically doting, like an abusive stage mom (which the film also has, in the form of Barbara Hershey).


The dancing itself may be a little unbelieveable and/or over-the-top, but that is in keeping with “Black Swan’s” spirit. It takes a grand talent to make over-the-top appealing, and Aronofsky has achieved that.


3) Winter’s Bone

A stirring, painful and quiet tale of suspicion and survival, Debra Granik’s Ozark Gothic is a meditative poem in the vein of David Gordon Green’s earlier films. The 19-year-old Jennifer Lawrence is exemplary in the role of Ree, a put-upon teenager forced to find her absentee, meth-dealing father before the local police take her country home away from her and her small, wounded family (the kids are very young, and mom is comatose).


This is a film about the twisted ancient codes of backwoods justice that floats through the air of Ree’s world, and the universal frustration of being stymied by unshakable and unjust rules you didn’t invent. It is chilling and beautiful.


4)    The Secret in Their Eyes & Un Prophète

These two films are sharing a line because, in a very technical sense, they were considered 2009 films by most people who pay attention to such things. They were both nominated for Academy Awards last year. However, they were not released to the American public until 2010, and they are both so good that I feel they both deserve a mention.


Juan José Campanella’s “The Secret in Their Eyes” is about a pair of lawyers who, over the course of 15 years – replete with flashbacks – they not only discover the details of an important case they’ve been working on, but come to reinterpret their definitions of justice, and the meaning of their relationship, romantic or otherwise. It’s a film that bland its several elements perfectly, and manages to keep them all tense and gripping and heart-wrenching.

Jacques Audiard’s “Un Prophète” is a prison movie about hope and growth and escape, but is free of plot twists, gentleness or sentimentality. It is a brutal film about the frustrating filthy way prisoners live, and the one man (Tahar Rahim) who is able to cross-pollinate the various in-prison gangs, and become something of an unwitting crime lord in the process. These films are both excellent, and both worth a look.


5) Dogtooth

Giorgos Lanthimos has made a film that is part social experiment, part surrealist manners exercise, and entirely fascinating, in a really, really uncomfortable sort of way. A man patriarch lives in a cloistered home with his three adult children. The children have never been allowed off of the property, and dad has made sure they speak in a protracted jargon, and operate on a painstakingly specific punishment-reward system. There is also an exchange of sexual favors going on, and the constant danger of outside world discovery.


It starts out absurdly amusing, turns uncomfortably violent in certain scenes, and leaves you feeling like you just spend 90 minutes furiously necking with someone you’re not really attracted to. It is a testament to the manipulation of the human mind, and the calculated spread of real madness. For a few moments throughout, when you’re not scoffing in hilarious incredulity, you feel a bit mad yourself. Seek it out, if you dare.


6) The Ghost Writer

Roman Polanski has made what is possibly the best thriller in years with his masterful and little-seen “The Ghost Writer.” Every scene of “The Ghost Writer” is rife with subtle manipulations, prodding attitude exchanges, and a strangely mounting battle of ego, all put into place to cover up a conspiracy of some sort. Ewan McGregor plays the titular writer, hired to write the memoir of a tony Blair-like politician, also a notorious lothario. The writer’s predecessor has mysteriously vanished, and it’s up to our hero to uncover the truth.


What, on paper, sounds like a typical Grisham-like toss-off, in practice, amounts to a beautifully shot, subtle, and wickedly secretive little masterwork. Polanski has not lost any of his filmmaking edge, and I always look forward to what he has to say.


7) Splice

The sickest, smartest, most uncomfortably sexual “B” film since last year’s “Orphan,” Vincenzo Natali’s “Splice” is a twisted sci-fi monsterwork of biting proportions. Not only does it feature some wonderful monster effects, and a cool-looking-and-yet-horrible-and-yet-strangely-sexy beastie, but it actually bothers to bring emotional dilemmas (or lack thereof) into modern scientific study. Easy statements like “…But this is wrong!” begin to fall away into questions like “Why is this right?” and later “This may be wrong, but if feels so natural, even though it’s REALLY EFFING WEIRD.” You’ll have to see the film to find out what I’m talking about.


That the film stars good actors like Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley only aids the film’s class and clout. This is how I want my sci-fi films to be. Smart, personable, possessed of a certain degree of hard science that make the fiction seem at least plausible. Smart enough to ask smart questions. Pushing the envelope, crossing lines.


8) 127 Hours

Danny Boyle brings us the true story of Aron Ralston, the hiker and mountaineer, who once found his hand pinned between a fallen boulder and a cliff face. He was stranded, alone, for about five days, before dwindling water and food supplies forced him to sever his own hand to escape. What sounds like an unfilmable horrorshow is transformed into a tense and terse and unexpectedly entertaining piece of hot cinema.


The film is indeed harrowing, and yes, there is a scene in which Ralston (played by James Franco) does indeed sever his arm. This film is intense, and, in the theater where I work, we had a fainting spell, a bout of vomiting, and even a mild heart attack. The film condenses a five day trail of endurance into a 90-minute film that is markedly unique.


9) Marwencol

Another tale of survival and endurance, “Marwencol” is a documentary film that traces the story of Mark Hogancamp, a restaurant worker, still recovering from a severe beating he received years ago, a beating that left him with no memory and and completely broken body. When Hogancamp ran out of insurance money, his only recourse was to create his own therapy, which he found in Marwencol, an imaginary 1/6th scale Belgian city he created in his own backyard.


Director Jeff Malmberg follows Hogancamp’s construction of Marwencol, and how the pictures he took of the place, and its staggeringly complex doll residents, ended up forcing Hogancamp into the international art spotlight. It is a tale of recovery, bad habits, and the real-life power of imagination to heal. Hogancamp is so vulnerable and so frank, that by the end of the film, you may feel as if he’s a good friend you’ve known for years.


10) The B-Movies of 2010

As I said in my introduction, 2010 was another banner year for “B” movies that managed to take studio money, and produce some good, old-fashioned drive-in clunkers that we seekers of cheap shots and explodey mayhem crave.


The Book of Eli” is a post-apocalypse film of HFS proportions, featuring severed heads, cat meat, a ham-fisted biblical message, and a twist that is as fun as it is outrageous. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” elevated cheap airport thriller material into a three-film epic of crime, twists, and sexy personality conflicts. “Salt” is a film that did action just right. “The Tourist” is a film that did globe-trekking erudite spy comedy just right. “Step Up 3D” was way fun and realized that a dance film was all about its opulent spectacle, and was wise to step up in 3-D. “Piranha 3D” had no illusions about its desire to bring gore, mayhem and tits to the screen, and didn’t even really bother with a story. Broken Lizard’s “The Slammin’ Salmon” is possessed of the troupe’s usual genial outrageousness that may not be comedy gold, but is at least comedy silver. Even the little-loved “Predators” managed to be entertaining on its own terms. And who could forget the dream team that was the cast of “The Expendables?”



Honorable Mention: “Standing Ovation”

“Standing Ovation” is a shrill yet totally earnest Jersey shore-set tweener musical from Stewart Raffill, the man behind “Ice Pirates” and “Mac and Me” (amongst others). He allowed the film to grow from the personalities of the young girls he cast in his picture, making for a film that is frequently baffling, and even more often self-indulgent, but is possessed of a bloody-minded love that is infectious through the Radio Disney-style musical numbers. Just when you think you have the film pegged, it introduces some bizarre element to keep you on your toes (a 12-year-old Italian gangster girl who keeps deadly animals in her purse? An interloping 8-year-old singer who gladly calls herself a wannabe? An unexpected musical number about table manners? A finale where the singers and dancers all perform like robots?). It’s like a film Gregg Araki may have directed, before he discovered sex and drugs.


This is not a film for the average ironic hipster. This is a special film that needs to be pulled from the cracks, and enjoyed in all its obnoxious, cheerful, teenage apocalypse glory.



The worst films of 2010:

And, of course, what list would be complete without some of the worst films I saw?


Kick-Ass” was probably the worst film of the year, as it was a film that simultaneously insulted the audience’s intelligence while being morally irresponsible. It was sloppy, dank, and horrifying, all in a candy-colored cloak of cool. “Furry Vengeance” was off-putting, but just as bland as you’d expect, so not entirely offensive. “Legion” was a horrible action/horror film that repurposed God’s angels as gun-toting badasses. “Cop Out” was clunky and forgettable, and a disappointment from Kevin Smith.



All the new films I saw in 2010:


1)    44-Inch Chest

2)    Bitch Slap

3)    The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

4)    The Book of Eli

5)    Legion

6)    From Paris with Love

7)    Youth in Revolt

8)    Daybreakers

9)    The Slammin’ Salmon

10)                       Repo Men

11)                       Shutter Island

12)                       Un Prophete

13)                       Cop Out

14)                       The Wolfman

15)                       Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

16)                       Chloe

17)                       The Secret of Kells

18)                       The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond

19)                       Clash of the Titans

20)                       Green Zone

21)                       Mother

22)                       The Ghost Writer

23)                       Alice in Wonderland

24)                       The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

25)                       Best Worst Movie

26)                       Trash Humpers

27)                       Iron Man 2

28)                       Kick-Ass

29)                       The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

30)                       How to Train Your Dragon

31)                       Harry Brown

32)                       The Secret in Their Eyes

33)                       The Joneses

34)                       Date Night

35)                       Splice

36)                       Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

37)                       The A-Team

38)                       Agora

39)                       Standing Ovation

40)                       Salt

41)                       Inception

42)                       The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

43)                       Predators

44)                       Great Directors

45)                       The Girl Who Played with Fire

46)                       The Last Airbender

47)                       Knight and Day

48)                       Toy Story 3

49)                       Get Him to the Greek

50)                       Furry Vengeance

51)                       Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

52)                       The Expendables

53)                       Step Up 3D

54)                       Patrik, Age 1.5

55)                       Middle Men

56)                       Dinner for Schmucks

57)                       Resident Evil: Afterlife

58)                       Piranha 3D

59)                       Mesrine: Killer Instinct

60)                       Mesrine: Public Enemy #1

61)                       Machete

62)                       Enter the Void

63)                       Big Money Rustlas

64)                       Hereafter

65)                       RED

66)                       Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

67)                       Freakonomics

68)                       Catfish

69)                       The Town

70)                       Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 1

71)                       127 Hours

72)                       Fair Game

73)                       The Social Network

74)                       Inside Job

75)                       Waste Land

76)                       Gerrymandering

77)                       Tangled

78)                       Marwencol

79)                       Winter’s Bone

80)                       The Tourist

81)                       The Tempest

82)                       The Runaways

83)                       The King’s Speech

84)                       True Grit

85)                       The Fighter

86)                       Black Swan

87)                       Tron: Legacy

88)                       Dogtooth

Published in: on January 21, 2011 at 3:24 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What no Machete?

    And thank you for adding Winter’s Bone.

  2. You had me up until mentioning Kick-Ass as the worst film of 2010. Couldn’t be more wrong!

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