Likability: the best films of 2010

Posted by · 11:51 am · December 13th, 2010

I don’t quite know how to peg 2010.

On one hand it has felt like a weak year. On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed quite a few films. Maybe the story lies in that sentence: “enjoyed.” There were precious few films that really rocked me, but plenty that were a nice enough experience.

If you listened to Friday’s Oscar Talk, then you know my top 10. But before publishing it in this space, allow me to walk through the many films that fell short, starting at the top with Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine.” Here is an honest depiction of a relationship in crisis with performances that hit the mark. It wears its soul on its sleeve.

The Coen brothers’ dip into the western genre, “True Grit,” was a straight-forward piece of flavorful filmmaking much appreciated for its restraint, while similarly, Ben Affleck’s “The Town” didn’t attempt reinvention of the wheel while forging a resonant character study in a genre film’s clothing.

David O. Russell stepped out of his usual zone and delivered with “The Fighter” while comedies like “The Kids Are All Right” and “Made in Dagenham” were mostly difficult to argue with.  And speaking of comedies, “I Love You Phillip Morris” was a fabulous romp that may well feature Jim Carrey’s best work to date.

Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech” found interesting ways to convey an otherwise familiar story (with exceptional performances to boot), while Noah Baumbach’s “Greenberg” tapped into something more authentic than his previous trying work.

Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” and Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” may lose something each time I take a closer look, but they are achievements worthy of applause nevertheless.  Also to be respected was Anton Corbijn’s “The American” and the moving “Rabbit Hole” from John Cameron Mitchell.

Quality documentary filmmaking wasn’t hard to find. Two non-fiction titles found their way into my top 10, but also highly enjoyed were “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” “Inside Job” and, most especially, “Restrepo.”

Animation had a good year, leading with the film spotlighted in my top 10 but followed fairly closely by DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon.” Disney’s “Tangled,” DreamWorks’ “Megamind,” Sylvain Chomet’s “The Illusionist” and Bill Plympton’s “Idiots and Angels” were all vital ingredients in that mixture for me, too.

And then here were films that didn’t quite work but were nevertheless admirable and worthy of a mention here.  I’m thinking specifically of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Biutiful” and Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere.”

I’m sorry to say foreign cinema by and large didn’t settle for me, but I’ll also freely admit I didn’t get around to as many titles this year as I usually do.  That said, last year’s Best Foreign Language Film winner “The Secret in Their Eyes” remained a favorite throughout the year, while Olivier Assayas’s “Carlos” can’t be denied.

And Christopher Morris’s “Four Lions,” had time allowed for another viewing or two, may well have found its way into the top tier.  A brilliant, profound, ultimately unsettling piece of work.

But ultimately, 10 films stood out above the fray for me, and they were:

1. “Exit Through the Gift Shop”
2. “Another Year”
3. “A Prophet”
4. “Shutter Island”
5. “Black Swan”
6. “The Social Network”
7. “Enter the Void”
8. “Catfish”
9. “Toy Story 3”
10. “The Way Back”

If you haven’t already, listen to Friday’s podcast for my thoughts on each.  This year’s column is slightly truncated as a result of that.  Wednesday, year-in-review week continues with my annual “If I had a ballot” post. Check back then for more on 2010’s best of the best.

(I’m forgoing an Off the Carpet column this week, but the Contenders section has been updated this week and the sidebar predictions reflect those changes.)

[Photos: The Weinstein Company, Focus Features, Oscilloscope Laboratories]

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37 responses so far

  • 1 12-13-2010 at 11:56 am

    Duncan Houst said...

    Nice choices. I haven’t seen “Exit Through the Gift Shop” yet. Is it on DVD already?

  • 2 12-13-2010 at 12:02 pm

    americanrequiem said...

    kris, ive been getting fearful that its getting hard to ignore Winter’s Bone is best pic, a film I didnt care much for. What are your thoughts on that?

  • 3 12-13-2010 at 12:07 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    My #11 on predictions and closing in.

  • 4 12-13-2010 at 12:07 pm

    Bernard said...

    @ Duncan, it comes out tomorrow on DVD/Blu and, more conveniently, Netflix streaming.

    Top 10 of 2010 (so far with a decent amount still to see such as The King’s Speech, Black Swan, The Way Back, Biutiful, The Fighter, True Grit, etc):
    Honorable Mentions: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Monsters, Winter’s Bone, Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974, The Crazies, Never Let Me Go, Unstoppable, Iron Man 2, The Tourist, Kick-Ass, Un prophète, How to Train Your Dragon, The Kids Are All Right, Tangled, Salt
    10. Restrepo
    9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
    8. Let Me In
    7. The Ghost Writer
    6. The Social Network
    5. Shutter Island
    4. Inception
    3. The Town
    2. Toy Story 3
    1. 127 Hours

  • 5 12-13-2010 at 12:17 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    OT: Can The Assassination of Yogi Bear by the Coward Robert Ford be nominated for best animated short?

  • 6 12-13-2010 at 12:17 pm

    Matthew Starr said...


    I mean Coward Booboo

  • 7 12-13-2010 at 12:18 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I know, right? Posting that shortly.

  • 8 12-13-2010 at 12:19 pm

    Daniel said...

    Winter’s Bone definitely seems like it’s closing in, but at whose cost? You have 127 Hours at 10, and even with its soft box office intake, I’m still skeptical and it losing its spot. Of the ten, I’m thinking The Town is most vulnerable.

  • 9 12-13-2010 at 12:20 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    But seriously, why couldn’t it be? If not this year then next. I always wondered if some random person made a short film and put it on YT if they could be nominated for an Oscar. Does it have to play in a theater or something even though it is a short?

  • 10 12-13-2010 at 12:22 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    There’s a submissions process, that I know, but beyond that, I’m not sure.

  • 11 12-13-2010 at 12:41 pm

    Lance said...

    “Exit Through the Gift Shop” was amazing. So many documentaries follow the same format and this movie was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I haven’t seen all of 2010’s films but I would be surprised if “Exit” isn’t my first or second of the year also.

  • 12 12-13-2010 at 12:44 pm

    Keil Shults said...


    I suppose this is as good a place to bring this up as any. I finally got around to seeing A Prophet a couple of weeks ago, which I really liked. I might even say I loved it, but I did have a couple of reservations, or at least, questions about it. I suppose my two main issues with it centered around its title. Much of what I loved about the movie was its (often) brutal realism, although I fully understood and appreciated how visions of the protagonist’s “first kill” haunted him over the years during his incarceration. Fine, no problem. But what began to lose me a bit were the visions of the running deer that ultimately prove prophetic and life-changing. This prophetic element, which I felt was very unnecessary, didn’t seem to jive with the rest of the film. The filmmakers seem to disagree with me, because they went so far as to name the film “A Prophet.” Despite the amusing prophet/profit play on words, I didn’t think it was a fitting name at all for the movie, especially since it seems to be named after its weakest element. Thoughts?

  • 13 12-13-2010 at 1:02 pm

    Frank Lee said...

    I’ve seen nowhere near as many films as Kris this year, but I’ve been having the exact same thoughts lately: this year is weak, though I’ve enjoyed a number of movies: “The Social Network,” “The Town,””Toy Story 3,” even “Secretariat” and “Never Let Me Go,” despite their obvious weaknesses. But nothing has hit me the way, say, “Inglourious Basterds” and “A Serious Man” have in recent years. Maybe some of the December movies (“Black Swaw,” “Rabbit Hole”) will do it for me. I don’t have any interest in seeing a good number of the year’s films (“True Grit,” “127 Hours,” “Winter’s Bone”). I guess I’ve been mislead too many times by rave reviews for disappointing films such as “Inception,” “Up in the Air,” and “The Kids Are All Right.”

  • 14 12-13-2010 at 1:11 pm

    Keil Shults said...

    It’s just a shame when the only way to avoid feeling that the year’s been weak is to hope desperately that various small films and documentaries will eventually make it to Netflix. I hope next year will offer more stellar, widely-released films, but the superhero-heavy slate doesn’t bode well.

  • 15 12-13-2010 at 1:28 pm

    DylanS said...

    I was intrigued Kris to see you finally add “Black Swan” into the mix. While i’ve listed Aronofsky as a director nom for a while now, do you really think his nomination will come at the expense of “Slumdog Millionaire” academy favorite Danny Boyle?

  • 16 12-13-2010 at 1:38 pm

    Mike_M said...

    @Keil, well said, well said… I caught A Prophet last Feb (after the Oscar nom, but before the full release at Lincoln Center) and I certainly liked the movie, but my biggest gripe with it was exactly what you said regarding the visions. I agree the deer vision is the one that really got to me, and took me out of the picture, but even the haunting via his first kill throughout the first half, didn’t jive with me (especially when he is on fire). How that last vision propels him to this new stature among the gangsters I just don’t get and I also want to know why Audiard choose that as the title and went with the visions at all. I wish the movie stuck to the realism of his struggles and eventual rise as a new gangster overlord (but then maybe it would have been the status-quo, so I can respect his choice). Once the deer vision occurs, there are no more visions, correct? Maybe there should they could have had a vision of his first kill somewhere in the distance as he was leaving prison to signify he is not concerned with if what he is doing is wrong anymore and has truly stepped over the line into his new “position” or maybe another “prophet” vision of some sort.

    Kris, interesting list… I still have about 6 or 7 films I need to see before making my list, but I can foresee 3 films matching between us. I didn’t recall much talk on Enter The Void from you this year, so that was a bit shocking to me – even more so since I couldn’t stand that film (I did watch it at home via on demand though, maybe that had something to do with it). I was very bored watching it and I can’t stand Paz de la Huerta, even in Boardwalk Empire, so that certainly didn’t help. I am very interesting in revisiting The American though, which my wife should be getting me on Blu-ray for Xmas, I really enjoyed it (may be on my top 10 as of now) and can imagine it would be better the second time around.

    Still need to catch:
    Black Swan (going on Fri)
    The Fighter (going on Fri)
    True Grit
    King’s Speech
    Blue Valentine
    Rabbit Hole

  • 17 12-13-2010 at 1:56 pm

    JJ1 said...

    Just got back from Black Swan. If ever there were a Holy Sh*t movie, that was it. It’s in my top 4 (interchangeable right now with Inception, The Social Network, & Shutter Island). Haven’t seen everything yet, though.

    Natalie Portman? Wow. That Oscar is hers in a just world; though, still haven’t seen Kidman & Manville.

    From beginning to harrowing end, I found Black Swan to be quantifiably perfect.

    My hands were sweaty throughout, and I realized when it was over that I never even looked down to take a drink from my soda. Good times.

    And contrary to what I’ve been reading, my theater was full of elderly folks. No one left when things starting going crazy in the final 20-25 minutes. And the general feeling leaving the theater was that it went over well.

    The acting saves this movie from any kind of camp feel (to me). And I think the Make-Up work here is worthy of an Oscar win.

  • 18 12-13-2010 at 2:07 pm

    Angry Shark said...

    ugh lucky critics being able to release their top ten lists now.
    Still have to see Mother, Easy A, Another Year, Blue Valentine, Rabbit Hole, The Fighter, and True Grit before I can make a top ten.

  • 19 12-13-2010 at 2:10 pm

    Kevin K. said...

    I haven’t really sorted out my top ten yet, and there are still a small handful of films to see. I’m seeing True Grit tomorrow night, and The King’s Speech and The Fighter Friday. No clue yet when I will see Another Year, so I may just have to make my list without that film (really unfortunate). If I were to kind of rank what I’ve seen so far, it would be

    1. (tie) Black Swan & Inception
    2. The Social Network
    3. Shutter Island
    4. 127 Hours
    5. How To Train Your Dragon
    6. Blue Valentine
    7. A Prophet
    8. Toy Story 3
    9. The Town
    10. The American
    11. Winter’s Bone
    12. Let Me In

    That leaves True Grit, The King’s Speech, The Fighter, Another Year, Biutiful, The Illusionist, and Rabbit Hole that I haven’t seen in terms of buzzy films this year. Can’t wait to see True Grit tomorrow and hopefully be blow away. Great list Kris, I always appreciate the uniqueness of your choices, even if I don’t always agree with them. But Team Shutter Island for sure!

  • 20 12-13-2010 at 2:23 pm

    JJ1 said...

    Kevin K., your 1’s through 3 is mine. That’s so funny.

  • 21 12-13-2010 at 2:28 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Keil, I took the visions and the title to be more metaphorical than anything, this cunning man so quick and ahead of the game he’s practically prophetic. So yeah, not literally, no supernatural elements. Just refers to his savvy.

    Although I have to say, my problems with the film were much greater. I found the first half tight, exciting, and genuinely well made, but the middle sagged so much for me I honestly started to doze off. Maybe another watch would improve things.

  • 22 12-13-2010 at 2:28 pm

    Kevin K. said...

    I noticed that after I posted it. We just really synced up with our preferences this year lol.

  • 23 12-13-2010 at 2:31 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Two of these will definitely make my top 10. Possibly 3.

  • 24 12-13-2010 at 2:55 pm

    Mike_M said...

    Speaking English, that makes sense, but I don’t recall him being so cunning at that point in the film, he was a noob of a gangster with the deer. Then I guess the visions of his first kill was just his conscience which he abandoned after a certain point?

  • 25 12-13-2010 at 3:28 pm

    Michael said...

    I love your list Kris! In fact it might by my favorite of your year-end lists yet. I honestly think there will be 5 possibly 6 of these on my own top ten list and I don’t think I have ever shared that many with you before. I think this year was absolutely fascinating but I always end up finding quite a lot of movies that I either enjoyed or loved. I will wait until an end of the year cinejabber to post my 10 favorite films b/c I still have like 8 movies to try to catch up on if I can.

  • 26 12-13-2010 at 3:35 pm

    Chuck said...

    Kris, will you be doing the Great Shots column again this season?

  • 27 12-13-2010 at 3:57 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    I knew I had to brace myself for Shutter Island, but seeing it at #4 over The Social Network and Toy Story 3 was REALLY painful. Ah! The pains of seeing a disaster where others assert brilliance. I guess it happens to all of us from time to time. But, your #1 choice was very interesting and quite great.

    I haven’t seen enough films to confidently put a top ten yet, but Exit Through the Gift Shop, The Social Network and White Material will certainly be near the top.

  • 28 12-13-2010 at 4:15 pm

    Lance McCallion said...

    Black Swan is easily my favorite of the films mentioned thus far, possibly my favorite of the year. Additionally,

    Uncle Boonmee
    Certified Copy
    White Material

    all leagues ahead of anything else mentioned in the article. Hahaha, Mother, Heartbeats, Scott Pilgrim also deserving of mention.

  • 29 12-13-2010 at 4:19 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Chuck: Yes I will and I hope I don’t get a ton of comments asking for it again! Sometime in January.

  • 30 12-13-2010 at 4:24 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’m getting various emails and tweets asking me about this, so let me just quickly mention that my own Top Ten will be ready early next week.

  • 31 12-13-2010 at 4:59 pm

    Keil Shults said...


    I’d like to hear your thoughts on my (minor) issues with A Prophet (when you have time).

  • 32 12-13-2010 at 5:43 pm

    Ben M. said...

    I still have a number of December releases to see, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a new film joins this list. But I feel fairly good about this list and have a feeling their won’t be the change that there was last year (when Crazy Heart, Avatar, and The Messenger all made my top ten after I hadn’t seen them by this point)

    1. The Secret in their Eyes
    2. Toy Story 3
    3. Let Me In
    4. Another Year
    5. The Ghost Writer
    6. Red Riding
    7. The Tillman Story
    8. Tangled
    9. The Kids Are All Right
    10. A Prophet

  • 33 12-13-2010 at 5:45 pm

    Kevin K. said...

    Can’t wait to see the Top Shots column. One of the coolest things you do here Kris. As always, I really appreciate the unique voice you and Guy bring to your Top Ten lists. Can’t wait to read Guy’s next week!

  • 34 12-13-2010 at 9:50 pm

    Colin said...

    Solid list, though I do miss King’s Speech. This is how AFI should have done it!

  • 35 12-13-2010 at 11:22 pm

    Rashad said...

    True Grit
    The Town

    best 3 all year

  • 36 12-14-2010 at 5:11 am

    Eli said...

    Kris, I noticed that all ten of your Best Picture nominee predictions are either in your top ten or mentioned in this column of films that nearly made it. Has that happened before, or is this year just unusually matching up (at least to an extent) with your preferences?

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