Top 10 Films of 2010

     December 31, 2010


I won’t deny the vanity of year-end lists.  Most professional critics will sit through over 100 new films per year and the year-end list is a badge of honor that says, “These are the films I appreciated the most.  Behold.”  Despite the vanity, I continue to think that the year-end Top 10 provides a valuable service to the average moviegoer.  Most folks don’t have the time, cash, or inclination to see every movie released in a given year and a Top 10 list says, “Here are the must-see films from the past 365 days.  Netflix them or something.”  I didn’t get to see every film that could have potentially made this list, but I feel confident in my choices.  So forgive my indulgence and hit the jump for my Top 10 films of 2010.



Knowledge is power and financial institutions have retained their power in part because it’s difficult to understand how they brought the American economy to its knees.  Controversial issues like the gay marriage or abortion are fairly simply to grasp, but most folks don’t know the difference between a credit-default swap and a collateralized debt obligation.  Inside Job provides not only the best way to understand what happened to our financial system, but the problems that continue to plague it.  The documentary is so smart and well-constructed that you’ll forget to be consumed by white-hot rage and unbearable sadness until after you leave the theater.


There’s nothing quite like a strong ensemble piece.  While the story of real-life boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward could have easily devolved into maudlin sentiment, writer-director David O. Russell keeps the film gritty, heartfelt, and surprisingly funny.  Christian Bale gives a phenomenal performance as Dicky Eklund, Mickey’s brother, trainer, and perpetual fuck-up.  Melissa Leo and Amy Adams also turn in strong supporting work and credit is due to Mark Wahlberg for understanding that even though he’s the lead character, he’s part of an ensemble and doesn’t need to over-act or match the intensity of his co-stars.  The Fighter not only provides an honest, unsentimental take on the strengths and weaknesses of families, but also made me want my own Greek chorus of big-haired harpy sisters.



In terms of Best Cinematic Moments of 2010 (don’t worry, I’m not making another list this year), not much comes close to the finale of The King’s Speech.  Hearing King Edward VI (Colin Firth) triumphantly deliver a rousing speech to his nation in the face of imminent war is the culmination of a film that is humorous, warm, and uplifting.  After giving a tremendous performance last year in A Single Man, Firth shows once again that he’s a force to be reckoned with as he not only perfects a convincing stammer, but never makes Edward VI a pitiable figure.  “Bertie” is at times unlikable, prickly, and arrogant, but it all comes from a real, relatable place that keeps you on the character’s side.  Bolstered by a strong script and a wonderful supporting performance from Geoffrey Rush, director Tom Hooper delivers a feel-great film that never felt sappy.



“Do I have your attention?”  And thus began one of the greatest monologues/exchanges of the past decade, let alone 2010.  Those who went in to The Social Network looking for a treatise on the nature of the Internet and social networking in the 21st century were most likely sorely disappointed (they should have gone to see Catfish instead).  Instead, director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin used the tale of Facebook’s creation to explore themes of success, betrayal, ownership, friendship, and loss.  While we can debate to death if Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg is factually accurate, it’s undeniable that the performance itself was witty, nefarious, pathetic, angry, and utterly captivating.  The Social Network doesn’t just grasp the Zeitgeist while simultaneously exploring universal themes in a thought-provoking manner.  It also shows Fincher and Sorkin operating at the top of their game as Eisenberg proves he’s one of the best young actors working today.  “Do I have your attention?”  Absolutely.



I’m still amazed that this film managed to meet my unfairly high level of expectations.  It was one of my favorite directors helming an adaptation of one of my favorite comics.  And yet somehow Edgar Wright managed to not only blow my mind with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, he made a film that gets better every time I see it.  It takes a certain kind of mad genius to create a hilarious movie that brilliantly weaves in video game tropes while maturely handling the emotional baggage that break-ups leave in their wake.  It’s an honest film that challenges the cinematic language and visual effects we’ve come to expect from Hollywood films.  It deserves millions of points and coins and will find an extra life on home video.


Christopher Nolan’s Inception is blockbuster moviemaking at its finest and I’m so happy that people actually went to see it.  Studios aren’t going to stop with big-budget fare based on established properties any time soon, so it’s good to know that at least Warner Bros. had the courage to give a trusted filmmaker a ridiculous amount of money so that he could deliver a movie that doesn’t lend itself easily to a one-line synopsis.  When the film was first announced, I derisively laughed at the cryptic logline about “being set in the architecture of the mind,” but that actually turned out to be a fair description.  Whether you were marveling at the zero-gravity fight scene, arguing how much of the film was actually a dream, or just waiting for that damn top to fall over, Inception burrowed into your mind and refused to leave.



How to Train Your Dragon had me soaring from start to finish.  The film is painfully funny, the voice acting is charming, and the relationship between Hiccup and his dragon Toothless warmed my cold, dead critic heart.  And while everyone was ooh-ing and aah-ing over Avatar‘s 3D, How to Train Your Dragon easily bested James Cameron’s film when it came to taking flight.  While I’m not the biggest fan of 3D, watching Hiccup and Tootheless take flight was one of the best moments I had in a theater this year.  The ending is particularly bold for a family film, but it works because How to Train Your Dragon never hits a false note.



Darren Aronofsky continues to be one of the best filmmakers working today with his haunting meditation on the sacrifice of health, identity, and sanity for the sake of art.  The film manages to feel both like a classic 70s psychological horror film and a fresh take on the genre by brilliantly utilizing a handheld camera that dips, dives, and dances with the actors.  Natalie Portman’s transformation is stunning as we see the fragile, delicate Nina mentally fall apart.  Her performance and the film that are tragic, beautiful, and compelling.



I had such high hopes for a straight-up Western from the Coen Brothers and they didn’t disappoint in the slightest.  True Grit is wickedly funny and dialogue that felt muddled in the original John Wayne adaptation became snappy, acerbic, and memorable in the Coens’ capable hands.  They have once again shown their mastery of tone as they effortlessly move from deadpan humor, cold retribution, buffoonery, pulse-pounding action, and everything in between.  The film kicks off with a biblical proverb, ends with the sad line, “Time just gets away from us,” and yet absolutely kills with Jeff Bridges aptly noting of his bungled plan, “That did not pan out.”  The Coen Brothers have come out with four films in the last four years and each one has landed on my Top 10.  Their greatness isn’t surprising, but it’s always appreciated.



What is art?  Who should be allowed to create it?  Who owns it?  What is the purpose of art?  Banksy’s magnificent documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop asks these questions but never in a pretentious or dull manner.  The mysterious street artist found not only a way to tell the story of his world and the other street artists who inhabit it, but found a fascinating star in Thierry Guetta, a bizarre Frenchman who started out as the documenter and ended being the subject.  The film is a slip-and-slide of a Möbius strip as it turns the camera on Guetta and we gain a better appreciation of good street art when compared with Guetta’s derivative, brain-dead product that still ends up making Guetta (who takes the name “Mr. Brainwash”) a fortune.  But does good art matter if you have collectors leaving it in their closets or the unwashed masses shelling out hundreds of dollars for just another variation on celebrity + Marilyn Monroe design?  Banksy asks all of these questions but does so in a fun, light-hearted matter that not only keeps his mystique alive, but enhances it without being self-congratulatory.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is one of the best works of art about art ever made and it’s my choice for the best film of 2010.

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): Blue Valentine, Easy A, Kick-Ass, A Prophet, Shutter Island

Monday: Top 10 Posters of 2010

Tuesday: Top 10 Trailers of 2010

Wednesday: Best Performances, Directors, and Other Miscellany of 2010

Thursday: Worst 5 Films of 2010

Friday: Top 10 Films of 2010

Around The Web
  • Travman93

    Absolutely great list. A bit surprising to see Exit Through the Gift Shop and Scott Pilgrim in the top 10, although those were also two of my favourite movies of the year.

    • Peter

      Absolutely the WORST list, where is Toy Story 3 ??

      • Travman93

        I wouldn’t say that the lack of Toy Story 3 makes the list “the WORST”. The writer is stating HIS best movies of 2010. If you would like to see Toy Story 3 up there, go write your own article.

  • adrian

    are you stupid, where is Toy Story 3
    HTTYD above the social network and Inception
    HTTYD was the story of the iron giant + ET
    never again I will visit this movie page

    • Valentina

      100% agree, what was the editor thinking when he made this crap list, the worst top 10 out there in the internet,,,,,,Scott Pilgrim and Dragon are above Inception, The Fighter, The King’s Speech,,,,,, and NO toys in the list, WTF

  • Sveppi

    Calm down, the list is the writer’s opinion. I quite like this list, even though my personal list has Toy Story 3 on it.

  • Billy

    You completely forgot Toy Story 3. Not even an honorable mention? Its easily one of the best movies of the year! Not to sound like an ass, but I think we at least deserve an explanation of why you didn’t add it.

  • Sean Luhks

    Great choices and well-done explanations. In particular, your description of why The Fighter works so well is dead-on. Scott Pilgrim is the only choice that I would question, but it’s definitely a well-done adaptation by Edgar Wright. I guess I wouldn’t be fond of the source material, either. (Also, Kick-Ass would rank at the absolute bottom of my rankings, but I don’t hold that against you.) I have not seen Exit Through the Gift Shop yet, but I have heard good word of mouth and it just jumped near the top of my Netflix Instant Queue.

    Black Swan, Shutter Island, A Prophet, and The Fighter would rank at the top of my own list. My personal, against-the-grain choice would be Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (you heard me!), then perhaps The Social Network, Inception, King’s Speech, and Ghost Writer. I still need to watch Dragon, 127 Hours, True Grit, The Town, and Winter’s Bone. But now I’m descending into my own vanity. Anyway, thanks.

  • Angry Internet

    Yes! How dare you not explain why Toy Story 3 is not on your list! We are entitled to know these things! We spend a good two minutes reading this page, and thus deserve to know why!

  • Matt Goldberg

    Sigh. Here’s why Toy Story 3 didn’t make the list:

    It’s the same escape/rescue narrative they did with the first two films. I’ve also never been able to get past the incinerator scene. It’s not only ridiculously dark, but the biblical connotation that these characters are going to burn in hell implies that they did something to deserve fiery damnation.

    I still think Toy Story 3 is a great film, but I liked all of these films more.

    • Billy

      I can respect that opinion, even if I don’t agree with it. Thanks for explaining, that’s all I really wanted.

    • chuck norris

      how did it imply they were gonna burn in hell? it was just the logical place to end up in the incinerator.

  • chill

    jesus christ everybody, chill out, yeah Toy story was ok but it wasn’t as good as everyone is yelling about, just because it was the last in the series doesn’t make it amazing, to me, Toy Story was a sequel reaching for a plot anyway, it didnt have a chance against the quality of inception and black swan.

  • Junierizzle

    IM really glad someone had Scott Pilgrim on their list. It is that rare type of film that gets better everytime you see it. I have Exit T Giftshop on my list too. Not number 1 though. I have to see more movies but for me right now, Scott Pilgrim is my No 1. But that could change.

  • Johann

    A Prophet is way up on my favorites of the year. Just a word of advice NEVER order a list of films because then people start questioning the order. “Why is Scott pilgrim ahead of The Social Network?” it’s unneeded complaints, trust me. Overall good list.

  • chuck

    I would put Let Me In and Kick Ass in my top 5. Also loved Black Swan.
    I liked True Grit but didnt love it and I didnt like The Fighter at all. 2 hrs with crack addicts didnt do it for me.

  • Davy

    Great list! My number 1 would probably be Black Swan but I loved Exit Through The Gift Shop. Saw it twice in theatre (along with Black Swan).

  • brenda

    I haven’t see, “Black Swan” and “Never let me go”, but my top 5 films of 2010 is:
    1. Toy Story 3
    2. Inception
    3. The Social Network
    4. Easy A
    5. How to train your dragon

  • FoiegnExport

    Matt this is a good list, specially with a great no. 1 but I am disappointed that you did not include a single foreign language title.

    Even though this is a shit year for English language films and a banner year for foreign language films, you completely ignored them. Can I ask why?

  • jaime

    Anyone who puts the social network in there top 10 need’s to be shot.

    • Fitz

      You and Tucker Carlson would get along. He wants the death penalty for killing dogs, and you want it for liking The Social Network. Maybe you should get a show together, and call it something catchy like “Disproportional Punishments.”

      Oh, and settle down.

    • Race

      That’s funny. I think anyone who puts Inception on their
      list should be shot. And it’s not cuz “I didn’t get it” — but because it had to have Ellen Page show up every time you blinked to laboriously explain everything that was going on, every single second, on every single level.

  • Madelynn ynn

    herry potter is best movie 2010 .

  • christophercantos

    sigh. people always complain of lack of good english films, and always praise international films. HELLO!. this year had plenty of not even good movies, BUT GREAT!. i mean, it doesn’t make you smart if you think every year is a bad year for movies. i could name 20 great films this year. and there are even films i haven’t seen yet(i live in the Philippines). it just bugs me when people always say that it’s a bad year for movies. WTF, just because it was released RIGHT NOW, doesn’t make it inferior to great films that was released BEFORE. just because The Godfather was release in 1972 doesn’t make it much superior to a film like No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood because it was released in 2008. or if a film like The Social Network is released in 2010, it’s no way better than the film released in 1974. WTF man!.

    PS. i think there a some truly great international films this year, but just because it has subtitles, and just because it’s not in english, doesn’t make it better than other great films this year.

    also, FOREIGN EXPORT, if you think it’s a bad year for English films, watch the ff to know what you’re missing.

    The Social Network
    Shutter Island
    The Ghost Writer
    The American(it’s an american film)
    Toy Story 3
    The Fighter
    The Town
    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows(part 1)
    How to train your dragon

    and i haven’t even seen Black Swan, True Grit, 127 Hours, Somewhere, Blue Valentine and a lot of films with Oscar Buzz

    • ForiegnExport

      I mean comparatively. I have seen almost all the films you have mentioned, Black Swan, Somewhere as well. I just don’t think any stand-out or truly great English language films were made besides Toy Story 3 and The Kids Are All Right and by extension, Social Network and Winter’s Bone. Both Black Swan and Inception I found to be painfully second-rate.

      Foreign language cinema on the other hand literally produced a parade of modern and future classics. A Prophet, I Am Love, Carlos, Everyone Else, Dogtooth, Wild Grass, Enter The Void (it is in English), White Material, Secret Sunshine, Mother, Vincere, etc etc. These films are just ultimately stronger (IMO) in every regard and handily trump the English language films.

      Lots of decent middle-brow stuff doesn’t equal a great year for English language cinema. I’d be hard pressed to include more than two English language films in my 2010 Top 10.

  • sofasobad

    Matt, what didn’t you like about 127 Hours? (Not yet released where I live.)

  • Josh

    OH NO HE DIDN’T PUT TOY STORY 3 ON THE LIST OH NO! Who. Cares. It’s his list for the year. Of course there will be several films we agree with, but there’s going to be films we don’t agree with. Deal with it. Do I agree with Toy Story 3 not on the list? Considering it’s his opinion, yes, I do. Would it be on my list? Without a doubt. But that’s why we debate films. Since there’s many different opinions out there, and we all have a voice. So let him speak his and accept it.

  • João Paulo

    Another Creppy list were is Toy Story 3 and ho cares about movie name Inside Job really please and EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP no no no…………….the rest i agree.

  • raymondS.

    Its not an awful list, it has it’s positives and negatives imo. For one I am happy that finally someone left the overrated toy story 3 off their top 10 for once. Second im glad someone included Scott Pilgrim in their list because it was truly a great movie. The bad things were how in the world is social network 7th?! social network is EASILY top 5 material and to put scott pilgrim above social network is a joke… second of all i HATED true grit so I personally think it shouldn’t even be on the list. Everything else is pretty solid but personally I would have included Tron: Legacy i really did like it.
    My favorites of the list were The Social Network and Inception. I thought you had a good list you should just change the order a bit…

  • Edmund Goh

    I have a new introduction to the list which I would like to introduce everyone to take a look.

    Korean film “Ajushi” or translated “Uncle” is one of my favourite films this year. It boasts an incredible actor Won Bin who won multiple awards in Korea for his hearthrobbing acting in the thriller film that puts you on your edge of your seat.

    In relation to the article, the list you provided was a good read and interesting but slightly off target for me.

    To be honest, it indeed is a down for 2010 as compared to the fantastic and amazing 2009 with the likes of Avatar, Hurt Locker, District 9 and many others. I can’t even name the Oscar list for this year as I don’t really like watching films more chereographed and aligned towards Oscar and Globe nominations. I skipped the Black Swan as I found the critics and reviews really polarised.

    I am a comedy lover and 2010 was a disappointing year for comedy. Grossing comedy movies saw their plots and punchlines drowning in the sea of mediocrity and boredom. Name me a good comedy film anyone, honestly speaking, one that you ever remembered the jokes and gags?

    Scott pilgrim is a niche movie that resonates for the avid lovers of comic film art and humor but detonates for commoners seeking commercial entertainment and enjoyment. I liked how the movie and story is portrayed but would I have watched it if I had known it would have been like that? I guess the answer would be no. It was really queer for me.

    Animation was the hit category this year and sure it delivered splendid results with great storytelling and imagination. I totally enjoyed how to train your dragon and despicable me. Although I am not saying the latter is a great movie but one that I enjoyed because I am a Steve carell fan. Being an avid pixar movie follower, Toy Story 3 though lacked originality and creativity as its predecessors, it’s charismatic storytelling and mesmerizing and familiar context and characters are the real strengths of the movie. People watch the film to reconnect with their childhood memory or a movie that relates to the tender child-like soul. The film grossed more than a billion dollars and credit has to be given to it. (Though not the same for Alice in the Wonderland).

    If I were to name the top 5 of my list, it would have been like this:
    1) The Social Network
    2) Inception
    3) Ajushi (Korean movie)
    4) How to train your dragon
    5) Toy Story 3

    It’s a personal choice and like everyone has their cup of tea. Wouldn’t you all agree?

  • dingle96

    Do people not realize Exit Through the Gift Shop is a mockumentary? Mr. Brainwash is a character Banksy created.

  • The Smoke

    Ok guys let me know what you think of my top 10 movies of 2010:

    2.- TRUE GRIT
    3.- KICK-ASS
    8.-IRON-MAN 2

    These are the films that had me ready to go out and fight super villan-alien-drug-lords that are wanted by the law!!!!

    • Clayton

      My opinion is that your list is not very good. Either that or it’s the list of a 13 year old. If that’s the case, it’s fine.

  • Nick

    If you don’t like that Toy Story 3 is not on the list, then don’t look at the list anymore. It isn’t a crime, just an opinion. Simple. Also, props for including A Prophet in the honorable mentions. More people should check that one out. And I really need to see Exit Through the Gift Shop. Two of my favorite critics have put that as their best of the year. Didn’t see that one coming. Thanks for the list Matt

  • Mike

    Any Top10 Movie of 2010 list without “Kick-Ass” somewhere on it can’t be serious.

  • Cai

    Toy Story was really not that good, i enjoyed it alot, but more because it was closure to my childhood. I couldn’t even sit through it all on a second viewing. Really happy to see Scott Pilgrim and Black Swan on here, top 2 favorite movies of the year.

  • Aaronssmith ynn

    Top five movie list
    3 -TRUE GRIT.

  • Diana

    The Karate Kid was the best movie this year and where is a nod for Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith? Really sad this movie will be/has been overlooked for the same old white wash trash. And people wonder why the Oscar ratings are down. Same crap every year.

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  • jamesyd

    good list, although social network was #1 for me! check out my list if you want