Best (and worst) of 2010
From social-media gurus to street-art pranksters, this was the year of the screen misfit.
Tue Dec 21 2010
The Social Network
Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench
Red Riding Trilogy
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I
Exit Through the Gift Shop
The Ghost Writer
David Fear, film editor
1 Winter's Bone Debra Granik's airtight adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's novel turns a world of Southern inhospitality into a proving ground for a steadfast, steel-spined young woman. Pitch-perfect, start to finish.
2 The Social Network From status-seeker to the billionaire who made "status update" part of the cultural lexicon; David Fincher's funny, tragic look at Facebook's creator is a modern classic.
3 Red Riding Trilogy A trio of directors follow a decade of power, corruption and lies in Yorkshire, England, essaying one damning three-part portrait of social rot. "This is the North; we do what we want."
4 Another Year Lesley Manville delivers a devastating performance in Mike Leigh's subtle sociological dispatch on family, failure and the grandeur of daily delusions.
5 Exit Through the Gift Shop Who cares if it's real or staged? Banksy's chronicle of today's postgraffiti scene makes the question irrelevant, exposing the naked-emperor art world.
6 Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench Combining microbudget, lo-fi dramatics with high-energy MGM-style musical numbers sounds clever on paper; onscreen, however, this urban valentine is positively divine.
7 The Exploding Girl Bradley Rust Gray's off-the-cuff indie follows an epileptic Brooklynite during her summer break, and gives us a tender story on today's transient twentysomethings. Kudos, Zoe Kazan.
8 Last Train Home What starts as a wide-angle view of Chinese workers making their holiday pilgrimage home ends up irising into a personal tale of familial and economic fracturing. Essential viewing.
9 I Am Love In one glorious swoop, Italian director Luca Guadagnino resurrected the sensual excessiveness of yesteryear's foreign-film epics. Can Tilda Swinton star in every movie from now on?
10 Enter the Void Death is just the beginning in Gaspar No's first-person mind-fuck; this druggy tour filters happy memories and terrible traumas through a postmortem pleasuredome. Trippy, man.
Tie: Hereafter and Biutiful Two remarkably tone-deaf films by two major directors—Clint Eastwood and Alejandro Gonzlez Irittu—both of whom tested our tolerance for enduring cringeworthy, half-wit notions about redemption and watching talented actors talking to dead people. The horrors, the horrors!
Joshua Rothkopf, senior film writer
1 The Social Network A movie torn out of the here and now (yet poised at a wary distance from the digital gospel), David Fincher's cryptic masterpiece won't be fully understood for years.
2 Exit Through the Gift Shop The illegal phenomenon of street art would have made a brilliant doc on its own. Mysterious director Banksy went a step further, indicting the trend's sellout moment.
3 Carlos Those who labeled it a five-hour terrorist epic got this sprawling biopic only half right; it's also a stealth comedy about the sham of professional radicalism.
4 Another Year Never take British veteran Mike Leigh for granted—his latest, a tender treatise on aging and resignation, may very well be his most sophisticated effort yet.
5 Winter's Bone A bracing plunge into an Ozarks-set nightmare, this one-of-a-kind thriller turned our attention to the scary backwoods and, redemptively, a major new star in feisty Jennifer Lawrence.
6 Dogtooth Perhaps the world is ending outside the walls of Yorgos Lanthimos's happy home. But the rituals of teenage captivity bring a queasy pain all their own. Unshakable.
7 The Kids Are All Right A sumptuous spread of acting—and in hindsight, Julianne Moore seems like the real dazzler here—spices up a satisfying how-our-family-survived-its-meltdown drama.
8 Lourdes If you missed it, you can't truly say you saw the year's best arrogance. (Sorry, Jesse Eisenberg.) France's ridiculously gifted Sylvie Testud experiences a medical miracle, but refuses to get all churchy about it.
9 A Prophet Ask a guy's guy what a real movie's supposed to be like, and he'll tell you a prison flick, preferably one about escaping, but surviving works too. Like this one.
10 127 Hours One scene was hard to hack (heh), but the rewards of Danny Boyle's survivalist epic were more transcendental than initially thought. Reach out while you can.
The Human Centipede (First Sequence) Other flicks might have stank more rank, but this one's combo of scalpel-happy vileness and pretension (it set up shop at one of the city's premier indie theaters) made it an especially sad phenomenon.
Keith Uhlich, film writer
1 Wild Grass Alain Resnais's stalker romance brilliantly confounds at every turn. The wry final passage raises it from comic to cosmic statement—what glorious fools we mortals be.
2 The Ghost Writer From its dark-and-stormy-night opening to its hilariously morbid punch line, Roman Polanski's latest reminds us what an expertly executed thriller is supposed to be.
3 Step Up 3-D Who'd have thought the third installment in a well-worn Disney musical franchise would one-up the overpraised stereoscopic advancements of Avatar? The dancing is awesome too.
4 Boxing Gym Frederick Wiseman applies his keen observational eye to the pugilist patrons of an Austin gymnasium. For all the willful blood sport, you've never felt such a sense of peace and harmony.
5 Shutter Island Martin Scorsese's paranoid thriller may seem like a hoary amalgam of insane-asylum clichs. Then you see the bracing light: It's about the lies we tell ourselves to keep going.
6 The Strange Case of Angelica The most recent feature by the spry, sly Manoel de Oliveira is the greatest man-falls-in-love-with-a-ghost story ever directed by a 101-year-old.
7 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I Dark times descend on the boy wizard and his friends in this elatingly downbeat blockbuster. Those of you who need a happy ending can wait until summer.
8 Another Year Both the seasons and the characters change in Mike Leigh's superb drama; anyone who's ever drifted apart from friends or family will nod with recognition at the harsh truths on display.
9 You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger Which Woody Allen is this? Not the vaudeville jokester or art-cinema imitator, but the wise, bitter sage casting a caustic glance at death. Laugh if you dare.
10 Have You Heard from Johannesburg? The history and legacy of South African apartheid gets the sprawling, multifaceted portrait it deserves. Here's to documentarian Connie Field, whose efforts deserve more of a spotlight.
Catfish Some callous camera-wielders go in search of a mysterious Facebook friend. Hollywood hack, and eventual producer, Brett Ratner comes calling. It's the lowest of the low among this year's crop of is-it-real-or-isn't-it? faux docs.
It's appropriate that one of the most talked-about movies—involving a young man, a broken heart and a world-changing website—suggested that technology can be alienating and communal; 2010 was the tipping point in which stereoscopic movies went from being novelties to the financially lucrative norm. (Scorsese and Spielberg both have 3-D movies coming 'atcha soon, so the process may shortly be used for something other than providing eye candy. Now if only people can figure out what to do with Twitter...) But this year also took brainy chances, with blockbusters like Inception and Toy Story 3. Heck, even the Harry Potter films went extra dark 'n' bleak! Both humanistic Amerindies (Winter's Bone, The Kids Are All Right) and challenging, complex foreign films (Dogtooth, Carlos) returned in a big way, while semi-hoax documentaries officially became a subgenre. But the real deal is: It was a very good year.