Looking Back: Ethan's Picks for the Top Ten Best Films of 2010

January 10, 2011

Top Ten Best Films of 2010

We've already looked back at the ten biggest box office earners of 2010, and I also highlighted my favorite movie posters and least favorite films from last year as well. But now it's time to finish up my retrospective business with my Top 10 Best Films of 2010. While plenty of you have pointed out the fact that there was a lot of garbage sent into theaters last year, there was still plenty of spectacular filmmaking on display, and believe it or not, figuring out which films would make the cut was rather difficult. While many of my choices are in line with other year-end lists, I think there's a couple surprises in there. Check out my full list below!

#10 - Let Me In

Let Me In

For a film that had both myself and fans of Let the Right One In skeptical from the beginning, director Matt Reeves successfully helped people put their feet in their mouths with this wholly unique vampire story. While the film shares its style, tone and obviously story with the original Swedish film, Reeves did some great work to make the film his own. Using New Mexico in the early 80's as the backdrop for this unconventional coming-of-age tale, Let Me In makes you forget that vampires have been overexposed and highlights two of the best performances from child actors (Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee) in 2010 not to mention an astounding supporting performance from Richard Jenkins. If you've been stubborn in seeing this because of your love for the original film - please give it a chance!

#9 - True Grit

True Grit

Who says Westerns are dead? The Coen Brothers make a return to the genre after No Country for Old Men snagged them a Best Picture win, but this time they're remaking a John Wayne classic. Fortunately they brought Jeff Bridges with them as Rooster Cogburn in one of the best leading performances of 2010. But no matter how good Bridges stumbles and mumbles in this, some major kudos goes to newcomer Hailee Steinfeld for holding her own with the likes of Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. She's a feisty, truly inspiring heroine whose strength and prowess is right up there with Ellen Ripley and Clarice Starling despite only being 14-years old.

#8 - Buried


Not only did 127 Hours fail to make my Top 10 of 2010 (it was a tough choice), but I found this similar story of isolation and desperation to be far more engaging, captivating and daring in its storytelling. Without utilizing flashbacks, cutaways or a space larger than a pine wood box, Rodrigo Cortés crafts a suspenseful story that seems like your average horror thriller on the surface. However, buried with Ryan Reynolds is all the frustration every single one of us has with bureaucratic bullshit, especially when our very life depends on it. Reynolds performance isn't quite as perfected as James Franco in 127 Hours, but considering some of his physical feats inside the pine box, I have to give him a lot of credit. If you need more evidence of my love for this flick, you can read my review here.

#7 - Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone

If you loved Brick, then I imagine you'll be just as impressed with Winter's Bone. While Rian Johnson's film noir was set in high school, Debra Granik sets this detective-like story in the middle of nowhere. Another strong female character takes the spotlight with Jennifer Lawrence delivering a breakthrough performance as Ree Dolly, a tough, determined girl wiser than her years who sets out to find her deadbeat meth dealer father or risk losing her family's house. Complete with great performances from John Hawkes and a compelling mystery, this film came out of nowhere to impress me on every level.

#6 - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

A movie that was surely unappreciated at the box office by general audiences and will likely become a cult classic amongst geek culture, this was one of the most bold, visually striking and unique films to hit the big screen in a long time. With the incredible talent of Edgar Wright behind an adaptation of the six-volume graphic novel, this ink-and-paper story translates beautifully to live-action with some of the most spot-on casting I've seen in a long time. Aside from Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Jason Scwartzman, even criticized Superman actor Brandon Routh were pitch-perfect in this fun, video game inspired action flick. Very rarely do I watch a flick and want to watch it again immediately after the credits.

#5 - The King's Speech

The King's Speech

Though many of called this film "Oscar bait," this story isn't in the same vein as some period dramas. Like Shakespeare in Love before it, the film doesn't intently focus on historical times just to recollect the achievements and events in history, but instead focuses on the touching relationships between people caught up events of the past. In this case, we get a view at one of the earliest bromances between King George VI of Britain (Colin Firth) and speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) as they become friends while attempting to cure His Highness of a terrible stammer. A friendship blossoms beautifully along with great performances from Rush and Firth who seem like they've been friends for years.

#4 - Black Swan

Black Swan

Hauntingly beautiful and darkly twisted, Darren Aronofsky delivers his best film to date with Natalie Portman falling from white porcelain grace into a visceral, erotic darkness. In a visually striking, and mind-melting story, Aronofsky delivers what is essentially a sinister, psychologically thrilling adaptation of Swan Lake in with an almost Charlie Kaufman-level of meta storytelling as Portman attempts to become both the Black and White Swan in the famous ballet. Clint Mansell only makes things better with his beautiful score, and just adds more greatness to this unforgettable masterpiece.

#3 - Inception


One of only two original films to crack the Top 10 box office earners of 2010, director Christopher Nolan earns every penny with this heist of the mind that will leave you lost in thought even after multiple viewings. Layers of dream levels and manipulated environments always keep you guessing as to what is real and what is part of the dream. I don't remember the last time being so frustrated and enamored with the last shot of a film as Cobb's totem begins to tilt before a cut to black leaves us on the edge of our seat. Sheer brilliance!

#2 - Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3

Saying goodbye to Woody, Buzz and the rest Andy's toys since being introduced to them when I was a young lad back in 1995 was one of the most heart-wrenching experiences of 2010. All three times that I journeyed to theaters for Pixar's amazing finale, I had tears in my eyes. Looking back, it's absolutely amazing that I found myself moved by the loss of toys that I never owned when I was a kid and only experienced by way of a screen (both large and small). Thank you Lee Unkrich for one of the most simultaneously difficult and touching screenings of my life.

#1 - The Social Network

The Social Network

Though it seems like the hype machine has already started to invoke the rage of baffled parties who aren't on board the high speed praise train for David Fincher's story about the founding of Facebook, it was still my favorite film of 2010. Jesse Eisenberg was born to play this role, and if anyone mistakes him for Michael Cera after this film, that person should be punched. As a matter of fact, Aaron Sorkin's amazing writing talents immensely contributed to my complete 180 on a film that I was vehemently opposed to when it was announced about a couple years back.

The Social Network both glorifies the process of invention and growth behind Facebook and criticizes its effect on interpersonal relationships and how it's become a substitute for developing a personality. The same can be said for our achievements that no matter how great, may have been spawned out of spite for an ex-significant other. I loved this film beyond belief, and will be first in line to buy it on Blu-Ray when its released on Tuesday, January 11th - this week!

In addition, here are some extra Honorable Mentions that were in consideration for my Top Ten list this year, but didn't make it in the end: Waking Sleeping Beauty, Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop, The Fighter, 127 Hours, Shutter Island, How to Train Your Dragon, Greenberg and Tangled. Some other purportedly great films that I've yet to see like Blue Valentine and Somewhere could very well be good enough for the Top 10, but I'm quite pleased with my current choices.

As for the lack of any documentaries on my Top 10, I've always enjoyed a great doc but I find traditional narrative features to be more captivating. I've also found that documentaries have less rewatchability (no that's not a real word), but that's something I take into consideration when picking my favorite films. We'd love to find out what your own Top 10 Films of 2010 are, so let the hopefully civilized discussion begin!

Find more posts: Editorial, Feat, Opinions, Pixar



whoa you really got this list spot on. and i love you for putting buried in there

Logan on Jan 10, 2011


this list is trash!

Ferley on Jan 10, 2011


if you have different opinions, speak up... so others can comment on you.

Derek on Jan 10, 2011


my opinion is this list is trash!!!!!!!!!!! How do you not understand that.

Ferley on Jan 10, 2011


Give us your artsy-fartsy superior list, then.

Numbphuck on Jan 10, 2011


A solid-safe list! Although I haven't seen a couple of those movies, I definitely say yes on most of the ones I've seen. Particularly Inception, Toy Story 3 and Scott Pilgrim, I couldn't agree more! The social network... well... don't know. I wouldn't put it in the # 1 spot, that's for sure, bute hey, the whole ranking thing is a subjective business after all...

Leinergroove on Jan 10, 2011


Did you see Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives?

Lumix on Jan 10, 2011


Great list, Social Network all the way.

moon on Jan 10, 2011


Thank god someone finally respects Let Me In!

Mountain Top Movies on Jan 10, 2011


Was this actually good / better than the original though?

Anonymous on Jan 10, 2011


good, yes. better than the original, no.

Dan on Jan 10, 2011


much better

Rashad on Jan 10, 2011


Totally agree, one of my favorites this year too!

Alex Billington on Jan 11, 2011


Am I the only one that thinks Black Swan was waaayyy better than Social Network?

Anonymous on Jan 10, 2011



Derek on Jan 10, 2011


i would have replaced Scott Pilgrim, Buried, & Let Me In with Animal Kingdom, The Fighter, & The Town... ...Also, lets give the King's Speech a little more credit... it was the best movie of the year, Colin Firth was the best actor, & Geoffrey Rush was the best supporting...!

Derek on Jan 10, 2011


Toy story 3 was good, but top ten? Where is 127 hours? 🙁

Knawx on Jan 10, 2011


Respectable choices, Ethan.

Jon A. on Jan 10, 2011


Great list! Mine is pretty close to this one... I have yet to see some movies so I can't make a list because it would be incomplete. But Inception would take the top spot and The Social Network would make the top 5 perhaps. Some films that aren't on this list will be in mine: The Town, The Book of Eli (I don't care, it's a great film; it's my choice and I can choose whatever I want 😀 ), How to Train Your Dragon. Again, it's a good list. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous on Jan 10, 2011


My Top Ten 1. Inception 2. Let Me In 3. Shutter Island 4. True Grit 5. The Town 6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 7. Black Swan 8. 127 Hours 9. How To Train Your Dragon 10. Winter's Bone

CLAW on Jan 10, 2011


Good list. I would put Inception as my number one choice though. The last point you made in your write-up becomes even more interesting and textured when you think back a second; and realize that the spinning totem actually originated as Cobb's wife's totem. It adds another whole vein of significance to that shot. I, too, loved that Nolan faded out just as the totem only began to slightly waver. It allows the audience to fill in their own emotional conclusion. An all around great film to view repeatedly. Christopher Nolan has supplanted Steven Spielberg as the Stanley Kubrick of big-budget popcorn filmmaking.

Anonymous on Jan 10, 2011


I'm not trying to invalidate your opinion, Dave, everything is in the eye of the beholder and all that... But I don't know if I'd suggest that Steven Spielberg had supplanted Stanley Kubrick in any genre or style of filmmaking... let along 'big-budget popcorn' films... I can't see any elements of A Clockwork Orange, The Killing, Lolita, The Shining, 2001, Eyes Wide Shut, or even Full Metal Jacket - in any of Spielberg's filmography. The stories and emotions they focussed on, the way they expressed them, were quite disparate. Furthermore, I'd suggest that a better way to describe Nolan's style would be a combination of the focussed and methodical nature of Michael Mann, with the block-buster sense of scale of someone like Richard Donner.

Bogart on Jan 11, 2011


No problem Bogart. I was trying to make more of a broad analogy than a direct comparison, between Nolan and Spielberg's work and the work of Kubrick. When it comes to serious films, nothing I've seen outdoes the artistic level of Stanley Kubrick. He can have scenes with lots of dialog or entire films that have very little dialog; and they are still captivating works of art. In the last two weeks I've watched both 2001 and Eyes Wide Shut. The beautiful use of color and the framing of shots as well as the attention to detail in those films has never been done better in anything else I've ever seen. Kubrick's films as works of visual art are really unparalleled; mind you I have not to date had opportunity to dig into bodies of work by Fellini or Kurosawa, so bear that in mind. In my clumsy analogy, I was just trying to suggest how far ahead Nolan and Spielberg are compared to some very poor big-budget directors like Brett Ratner, McG, Michael Bay etc... who churn out cookie cutter garbage that isn't worth anyone's time. Nolan and Spielberg have both raised the bar in the realm of summertime big budget popcorn films. They may not approach the level of high cinematic art of a Stanley Kubrick; but they do make us expect more of studio tent pole films that are thrown at us each summer. By the way, I forgot to mention that I think the Mann/Donner analogy is a good one.

Anonymous on Jan 11, 2011


Cheers. I completely agree more on Kubrick... a true artist who was always pushing the boundaries of cinema.

Bogart on Jan 11, 2011


"Lost in thought" with Inception? Try INLAND EMPIRE.

David Perretta on Jan 10, 2011


10. Tangled 9. How to Train Your Dragon 8. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole 7. The Town 6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 5. Toy Story 3 4. Kick-Ass 3. Scott Pilgrim vs The World 2. Inception 1. The Social Network I live in Australia, so I have not yet seen Black Swan, The King's Speech, The Fighter. True Grit or 127 Hours.

John.E on Jan 10, 2011


Inception, Black Swan, True Grit, 127 Hours, The Town, The Kings Speech, The Social Network, The Fighter, Toy Story 3.

one on Jan 10, 2011


10. The Illusionist - Beautifully messy and simply captivating 9. Inside Job - with villains of Shakespearean proportions, it's all the more scary because it's all so real 8. Cyrus - hilarious one moment, heartfelt the next - Jonah Hill has got some acting chops 7. Black Swan - Portman and Cassel are great, the cinematography is great, the score (Clint Mansell is always interesting) is fantastic, but I felt it was held back because of it's weak middle act that just kept repeating the same scares and even the same lines of dialogue (I get it, she just "needs to let go") 6. Animal Kingdom - eerie and detached, it's a calculated yet lateral look at a Crime Family imploding from within 5. Inception - a wonderfully cerebral action flick with the directors emboldened sense of big-budget confidence on display 4. Winter's Bone - drenched in the atmosphere of it's locations, littered with wonderful character actor performances, yet anchored by a star making performance 3. Exit Through The Gift Shop - a fascinating doco that becomes a mesmerising character study of an extreme individual 2. A Prophet - Scarface by way of Cassavetes. A crime sage about the metamorphosis of the soul 1. Enter The Void - has completely changed my view of cinema as a form of art... as abstract and hypnotic as any of the fine arts greatest victories. I'd like to see The Social Network again before I make a full judgement, but I was not blown away upon my initial viewing. It's execution and delivery was superb (as to be expected of Fincher) but I found the story lacking. The script and dialogue all crackle and whip along, but whether it's based on a true story or not, if something feels clichéd and inevitable about where these characters are going - then I'm can't buy into the world. I'm yet to see True Grit, Buried or Blue Valentine - as from what I've read they could all potentially be in this list somewhere.

Bogart on Jan 10, 2011


really happy to see Cyrus get some love. Such a underrated movie IMO.

Greg on Jan 11, 2011


10. true Grit ( now you may not agree with me on this one with putting it behind some other movies, don't get me wrong the story and acting was great, but in the end it just felt very dry) 9.Iron Man 2 (not as good as the first but i still liked it 8. The A-Team (one of the funnest action movies i've seen in a long time) 7.Tron Legacy (say what you will about the acting and story, but this was one fun helluva ride) 6.The Other Guys 5.Harry Potter and the Deahtly Hallows Pt 1 4.Scott Pilgrim 3.Toy Story 3 1.The Social Network 1.Inception I didn't see some of the other movies like black swan, the fighter, and 127 hours, so cut me some slack and i'm sorry but for me inception and the social network are a tie for me i just can't decide, and this list is coming from a 14 year old so also with that cut me some slack. I based this list solely on the rewatchability and how much fun i had watching these movies, this is not an oscar list, this is just the movies i enjoyed most this year

max s. on Jan 11, 2011


actually switch numbers 8 and 7

max s. on Jan 11, 2011


toy story 3 & inception ftw!!!!

A5J4DX on Jan 10, 2011


Here's my top 10. A few strange choices maybe compared to most top 10's out there but it is my list afterall. I must note I haven't seen winter's bone, black swan or 127 hours or even king's speech yet. For some reason over here in the UK they're being released in january this year 2011 so I need to get round to watching them. 10. The Rebound (Crazy, i know, but it was surprisingly refreshing and one of the better rom-coms of the year) 9. The Way Back 8. The Town 7. Easy A 6. The Social Network 5. Bad Lieutenant 4. Kick-Ass 3. Inception 2. Four Lions 1. Toy Story 3

Dal on Jan 11, 2011


Have not seen "The Social Network" yet. Will most likely see it in the next few days. Anyway this is my top ten list for the year. 10. Kick Ass 9. The Other Guys 8. Tron: Legacy 7. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World 6. True Grit 5. How To Train Your Dragon 4. Toy Story 3 3. Shutter Island 2. Let Me In 1. Inception (BEST FILM by far. Nothing comes close to Inception) Christopher Nolan is the best filmmaker working today.) This is the 4th time his films have made it to the no# 1 spot of my top ten list in the last ten years. Can't wait to see "TDKR" next year. My biggest let down for the year was "Ironman 2". I really loved the original and this sequal was really not that good at all. I watched it for a second time a couple of weeks ago thinking It might have been better than I originally thought, but it was not the case. Hopefully this film is not a sign of things to come from Marvel over the next two years.

Last Son on Jan 11, 2011


Inception is #1...The Social Network was good but not great. Inception is the movie people are going to still be talking about in a few years.

Geoff on Jan 11, 2011


I do respect your opinion, but I believe that the social network will take away best picture of 2010 hands down. As much as I love inception, I know that most people would agree with me that the social network is on a higher platform in terms of how oscars these days are decided.

Thenetbook on Jan 11, 2011


Disagree to the Nth degree. Not to be totally mean or critical but if your IQ is below 100 then sure, I can see how Inception was mysterious and confusing. Casually it was nice, the acting, good, but the story like others and there was nothing to it. Oh wait, that shocking troublesome ending that elft us guessing and that we never saw coming!!!! OMG!!! Seriously, Inception was the biggest let down. I'm not saying it wasn't good in the same way I despise Avatar but it wasn't spectacular. It was a good movie and if I take the time to do a Top 10 then maybe...no doubt 15 but still, just wasn't anything overly special besides the fact it wasn't a remake/reboot/etc.

Tra la la la la di da on Jan 12, 2011


1) The Social Network (Director) (Editing) 2) Inception (Visual Effects) (Score) 3) The King's Speech (Actor) (SupActor) (Cinematography) 4) Animal Kingdom (SupActress) 5) Winter's Bone (Actress) 6) True Grit 7) The Fighter 8) The Town 9) The Kids Are Alright 10) Toy Story 3 NOTE: i have not seen 127 Hours, Black Swan, or Inside Job... yet...!

Derek on Jan 11, 2011


10. Kick-Ass 9. Dogtooth 8. 127 Hours 7. Mother 6. True Grit 5. Toy Story 3 4. The Fighter 3. Black Swan 2. Inception 1. The Social Network

AlecVonDoh on Jan 11, 2011


10. Rabbit Hole 9. All Good Things 8. Buried 7. The Ghost Writer 6. The Fighter 5. True Grit 4. The Social Network 3. Black Swan 2. Toy Story 3 1. Inception

areohbezee on Jan 11, 2011


"For a film that had both myself and fans of Let the Right One In skeptical from the beginning, director Matt Reeves successfully helped people put their feet in their mouths with this wholly unique vampire story" Most wrong statement ever. Anyways this list is mind numbingly generic. As are most lists up here, actually.

Googergieger on Jan 13, 2011


Ethan, Thank you for your list. I respect your opinion, and since I haven't seen many of these films, it helps me decide what next to rent. I do disagree with your top choice. While the hype around Social Network makes my stomach churn, it's tough to say anything negative about the film, especially having seen it only once. In my opinion, the story itself was rather flat. Were it not a vehicle for commentary on the shallowness of today's relationships, I doubt it'd be number 1 on anyone's list. Then again, perhaps the statement makes the film. In regards to your comment about confusing Eisenberg with Cera, as I may have done before The Social Network, I agree: This movie was quite the differentiator. In response to Tra la la la la di da's comment on Inception, you might consider proofreading your posts before making comments about others' IQ scores: "Casually it was nice, the acting, good, but the story like others and there was nothing to it. Oh wait, that shocking troublesome ending that elft us guessing and that we never saw coming!!!! OMG!!!" I can't say for sure what my IQ is, but my guess is something above 100. Nevertheless, I certainly found something to the story. Inception "elft" me entertained, asking questions, and excited to watch it again. In my opinion, the idea was cleverly conceived, deftly written, and well directed - top notch storytelling regardless of IQ.

Joe on Jan 16, 2011


mayn nowun cares if u havent seen socil network yet internet trolls smoke sumn

Maynholup on Mar 11, 2011

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