Better late than never: My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2010

13 Sep

Most critics and bloggers put together their Best Of The Year lists at the end of the year. That doesn’t work for me. Many films take a long time before they arrive here in Sweden, a problem hardly alleviated by American studios scheduling a lot of quality stuff for awards season at the tail-end of the year. So by the time the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, I’ve never seen all the films I feel I need to in order to make a list that has any chance of meaning anything.

But by now I feel like I’ve caught up on a lot of my personal must-sees of last year, so the time to make my own list is at hand. That’s not to say I’ve seen all there is to see. I’m particularly underwatched in non-English language films still, not to mention documentaries which people were saying had a banner year in 2010. But the great thing about lists is that they’re never set in stone. This list only reflects my feelings today, and might well look radically different one year from now.

There isn’t a ton of surprises on this list of mine, which I’m okay with. So far I’ve mostly focused on seeing the films people are talking a lot about. As time goes on, I will hear about and track down the smaller films, the forgotten gems, the new cult classics. The further removed you are from a year and the more you see, the more eclectic your list is bound to become. Time changes everything.

So here are my ten favorite movies of 2010 (note: listed as 2010 on IMDB), a particularly strong year of cinema in my opinion. Many films were hard to leave off, but that’s the way it is. No honorable mentions, no consolation prizes, no mercy. Just ten films that I love.

10 – GREENBERG (Noah Baumbach)

“There’s a confidence in you guys that’s horrifying. You’re all ADD and carpal tunnel. You wouldn’t know Agoraphobia if it bit you in the ass, and it makes you mean.”

Some people can’t stand the quirky characters Noah Baumbach comes up with. I can’t get enough of them. In Greenberg, we’re treated to two stand-out examples. One is the titular Robert Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a man angry at the world and obsessed with his own misery. It’s arguably Stiller’s most nuanced and impressive performance, in some ways his own Punch-Drunk Love. The other is Florence (Greta Gerwig), a woman whose life is in turmoil yet she still can’t help but bend over backwards to help people. Gerwig is even better than her co-star. A grimly funny film, true to life if not the one we live.

9 – THE SOCIAL NETWORK (David Fincher)

“Did I adequately answer your condescending question?”

David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin play loose with the truth as they tell the tale of how Facebook came to be. Those wanting the real story ought to look elsewhere. The rest of us can enjoy the quick razor-sharp dialogue, the impressive performance by Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the Trent Reznor-penned score and a fascinating tale of how in the pursuit of connecting people, two friends can drift farther apart than ever.

8 – 127 HOURS (Danny Boyle)


Making a film that spends the vast majority of its running time in one place with only one actor can be a daunting task. Danny Boyle handles it as well as anyone could though, utilizing all manners of clever shots and techniques to keep things interesting. It’s a remarkable based-on-real-events story about mountain climber Aron Ralston (skillfully portrayed by 2010 it-guy James Franco) who finds himself alone in a Utah canyon with his arm trapped underneath a rock. The will to survive is strong indeed. Guaranteed to make you cringe, and probably marvel too.

7 – RABBIT HOLE (John Cameron Mitchell)

“Somewhere out there I’m having a good time.”

When tragedy strikes, we all behave in different ways. Rabbit Hole presents a couple who have lost their 4 year-old son Danny in a traffic accident. Howie (Aaron Eckhart) clings to the memory of their child but wants to have another one. Becca (Nicole Kidman) just wants to forget and move on, and rejects Howie’s advances. Director John Cameron Mitchell (whose previous work includes the uniquely sex-filled experiment Shortbus) here tells a highly moving story about grief, filled with sadness and hope, cold and warmth, and even a little bit of humor.

6 – THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (Lisa Cholodenko)

“It’s no big secret your mom and I are in hell right now, and… Bottom line is, marriage is hard. It’s really fucking hard. Just two people slogging through the shit, year after year, getting older, changing. It’s a fucking marathon, okay?”

When awards buzz starts brewing over a comedy, my ears immediately perk up as track record has shown it will often be a film I’ll love (see Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno etc.). So I fully expected to like The Kids Are All Right, and I did. What I didn’t expect was to laugh as much as I did, but this one brought on the funny in big heaps. And in the midst of all the humor, there’s an effective story about the effects infidelity can have on a family, anchored by some great performances by all the key players: Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson. The slight blemish of the premature abandonment of Ruffalo’s character can’t outweigh all the strengths this film has going for it. Did I mention that the parents in the family are lesbians? No? That’s how small a deal this film makes of it, which is quite refreshing. Also the movie that really got me into Joni Mitchell.

5 – THE GHOST WRITER (Roman Polanski)

“Be sure to make a right at the bottom of the drive. If you turn left, the road will take you deeper into the woods and you’ll never be seen again.”

A tightly-wound political thriller about a writer (Ewan McGregor) who’s assigned the task of penning the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan playing a Tony Blair substitute). Then intrigue and drama unfolds as possible conspiracies and accusations of war crime start flying. There’s an ever-present sense of danger looming, which sets it apart from (surprisingly) many of its genre brethren. But this is Roman Polanski, and if any working director today knows suspense, it’s him. The Ghost Writer deserves to rank among the Chinatowns and Rosemary’s Babys as his finest films.

4 – INCEPTION (Christopher Nolan)

“The dreamer can always remember the genesis of the idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake.”

As far as big blockbusters go, Christopher Nolan makes them smarter than most. While he weaves an intricate plot about thieves enterting dreams within dreams within dream, he holds the viewer’s hand throughout (some say too much) to keep confusion from spilling over. Add in thrilling action scenes and whoa-inducing visual effects and you have the recipe for a great time at the theater.

3 – THE AMERICAN (Anton Corbijn)

“Don’t make any friends, Jack. You used to know that.”

Here’s a film hurt by misleading marketing. The poster, DVD box art and trailer all lead one to believe this is a fast-paced action thriller. It’s not. Instead, it’s a slow-paced, low-key character study of an assassin as he settles into an Italian town to lay low and maybe pull off an easy job while he’s there. George Clooney is stunningly good in the lead. He appears calm, collected and professional at all times, even when we can sense the tension lurking beneath his skin. The American is also beautifully filmed, thanks to photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn and cinematographer Martin Ruhe. Very underrated.

2 – BLACK SWAN (Darren Aronofsky)

“Perfection is not just about control. It’s also about letting go. Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience. Transcendence!”

After the uncharacteristically down-to-earth The Wrestler, Black Swan signals Darren Aronofsky‘s return to his usual highly stylized in-your-face work. There is little subtle about this film. Natalie Portman reveals on her face every emotion her perfection-seeking ballerina Nina goes through, her descent into madness manifests in grotesque scenes of blood and body horror, and her sexual hang-ups are never shied away from either. A breathtaking film.

1 – BLUE VALENTINE (Derek Cianfrance)

“How do you trust your feelings when they can just disappear like that?”

A heartwrenching look at two different stages of a relationship: the initial falling in love and the eventual collapse. What happens inbetween is left to our imagination, but who can ever pinpoint a precise moment in time when romance fades away anyway? Blue Valentine is my favorite film not just of 2010, but of the last couple of years as well. Because of Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams delivering the year’s two best performances. Because of its frankness. Because of the shower scene. Because of all the revealing close-ups. Because of Williams’ dorky dance. Because of its clever cuts from present to past and back again. Because of the love. Because it hurts so bad.


Posted by on 13 September, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

21 responses to “Better late than never: My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2010

  1. Tyler

    13 September, 2011 at 01:22

    I agree with all of this list except for THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. Don’t get me started on that.

    Really glad to see RABBIT HOLE, BLUE VALENTINE and THE AMERICAN on here. Was not expecting to see them, so well done on that.

    • Emil

      13 September, 2011 at 09:19

      The Kids Are All Right seems to have gathered a fair share of detractors, so I know you’re not alone on disliking that one. Fair enough.

  2. Jessica

    13 September, 2011 at 07:38

    Greenberg and Blue Valentine are two movies I haven’t seen but would love to. My library is in the process of buying Blue Valentine and there are already 13 of us in the reservation queue. I’m one.

    I loved all the movies I had seen on your list – Social Network, 127 hours, The kids are alright, Black Swan, Inception, Ghost Writer, Rabbit Hole. Not sure which one of those I’d put highest to be honest. Probably Black Swan anc 127 hours on a shared top position. But it’s a close call.

    The thing with which year a movie belongs to is tricky and a bit annoying when you’re discussing movies in an international forum. More worldwide releases, please!

    • Emil

      13 September, 2011 at 09:23

      I hope you’ll enjoy Blue Valentine when you get to see it. It’s a marvellous film in my book.

      Yeah, the issue of release years can definitely be a pain. I generally just go with whatever IMDB says on the matter. Seems to be a fair compromise. But I agree: more worldwide releases!

  3. Scott Lawlor

    13 September, 2011 at 10:19

    A great list Emil. I have seen most of them, the most recent for me was Blue Valentine. Which I saw at the weekend, as you know. I am going to try and piece a review of the film together this week. But it was such an emotional roller coaster for me i really do not know where to start. Marriage is such a crazy and bonkers thing to do…I am happy to be on the good side of it though!!

    Great list my friend!

    • Emil

      13 September, 2011 at 10:40

      “Bonkers” spotting!

      Thanks for the kind words, Scott. Very much looking forward to read what you thought of Blue Valentine (and Attack the Block, for that matter).

      • Scott Lawlor

        13 September, 2011 at 18:08

        heheh Yes indeed you spotted my bonkers….(I am such a child)

        • Emil

          13 September, 2011 at 18:30

          Hey, I actually made a point to look for it after overhearing about it on Twitter, so you’re not the only one!

  4. Nostra

    14 September, 2011 at 09:51

    I’ve chosen some of the same movies, although I didn’t like Greenberg and The Kids Are Alright. Some movies you chose I think were good as well, but just didn’t end up on the list.

    Here was the list I made at the end of the year:

    • Emil

      14 September, 2011 at 10:29

      Those two films you mention disliking seem to be the ones people disagree with most of the ones on my list. Fair enough.

      I like your list too. Up in the Air would definitely have made my list if I went by release date here in Sweden, and A Prophet was another such film I found myself quite enjoying. And if I did give out honorable mentions, Four Lions would have definitely gotten one. Very darkly funny film, that one.

      • Nostra

        14 September, 2011 at 10:37

        Yeah, it seems that they are :)

        Nice to see that you mostly enjoyed the same type of movies though, makes it easier to see which ones you like I would also like. Only ones I will have to look out are the smaller indie movies I guess ;)

  5. Emil

    14 September, 2011 at 11:38

    Likewise. I haven’t heard much of Mr. Nobody before, but I’ll definitely check it out after reading your review of it. It sounds fascinating.

  6. Movies - Noir

    16 September, 2011 at 00:44

    First of all, nice list. I don’t agree with it, but it’s nice to see some surprises on it. Greenberg, Rabbit Hole and The American are the main surprises if you compare to other lists.

    Greenberg – Didn’t do much for me, I’m afraid.
    The Social Network – Not my kind of movie, but well done.
    127 Hours – Well acted by James Franco and pretty good, but not top ten material for me.
    Rabbit Hole – I was actually more impressed with Aaron Eckhart than Nicole Kidman in this one, but the movie never picked it up.
    The Kids Are All Right – I actually liked it better the second time around, but I mainly didn’t like Bening’s character.
    The Ghost Writer – Worked better the first time around, but I like Polanski’s storytelling and it works well here.
    Inception – First time I saw it I thought it had too much action and less storytelling. But after I re-watched it I liked it far better, very good.
    The American – I liked the mood and it had some very good parts, but was also a bit slow at times. Still, nice to see it on your list as I know many didn’t like it at all.
    Black Swan – Watched it twice and I really liked most of it both times, but also felt it went too far towards the end, which was a pity.
    Blue Valentine – Great choice, and my #1 movie of 2010 as well actually. It really made me feel and there wasn’t much you could complain about. Both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were Oscar-worthy.

    My list looks something like this (but I must admit I have a difficult time sticking to the order when I re-watch movies):

    Blue Valentine – Possibly the easiest choice on the list.
    Shutter Island – Seen it twice and it works well both times. Not a Di Caprio fan, but he also works well.
    Das letzte Schweigen / The Silence – German movie I really enjoyed and look forward re-watching. Moody, dark, well photographed and acted.
    Animal Kingdom – I enjoyed this Australian crime/drama based on actual events. Got better and better.
    Inception – One of the years best, but took me a second viewing to really enjoy it for what it is.
    Never Let Me Go – Wasn’t at all what I had expected, but in a good way.
    Megamind – I really enjoyed this animated picture and had a lot of fun watching it.
    Incendies – A toss up between this one and the eventual winner of Best Foreign Picture at the Oscars, Hævnen.
    Hævnen – Good all around even though I probably enjoyed Incendies a bit more.
    The Ghost Writer – Dropped down the list after the second viewing, but still a good mystery that deserves to be on the list.

    PS: Sorry for the long post ;)

    • Emil

      16 September, 2011 at 01:15

      Thanks! Quite a few films on your list are ones I’m still meaning to check out. Animal Kingdom and Never Let Me Go being the two big ones, but also Incendies and Hævnen. And Megamind, I suppose, but that one has lower priority for me. Haven’t heard of The Silence, so that one I’ll have to look up. And Shutter Island was one of those films that just barely missed out on my list. Loved the art direction and cinematography in that one, and a fun story too.

      • Movies - Noir

        16 September, 2011 at 16:08

        You’ve got a lot of great movies ahead of you then. I’m sure a couple of them could end up in your top 10.

        Keep up the great work !

  7. Sammy V

    16 September, 2011 at 07:06

    A very interesting list. I loved most of the films on there, but your addition of Greenberg surprised me. I enjoyed it, but it definitely wouldn’t have made my top ten. I have yet to see The American. I really need to.
    Oh, and your blog looks great!

    • Emil

      16 September, 2011 at 08:21

      Thank you for the kind words! I hope you’ll like The American as much as I did when you get around to it.

  8. NeverTooEarlyMP

    20 September, 2011 at 01:59

    Great to see Blue Valentine on the top of this list.

    Welcome to the LAMB!

    • Emil

      20 September, 2011 at 08:10

      Thank you! Feels good to be a part. :)

  9. Joel Burman

    24 September, 2011 at 23:25

    Totally with you on Blue Valentine. I miss Toy Story 3 on your list though!

    • Emil

      25 September, 2011 at 00:02

      It was a crowded field of very fine films battling for spot #10. Toy Story 3 almost made the cut. I watched all three films for the first time within a few weeks of each other. TS3 was my favorite of the bunch. Loved the way it played to both young and old viewers, and the climax is one of the year’s best. I reckon the film would probably have had an even stronger effect on me if I had seen the first two films back when I was younger, though. The nostalgia effect was mostly lost on me. Nonetheless, Toy Story 3 is up there with The Incredibles and Wall-E as my favorite Pixars.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: