The Best Films of 2010: The Staff Picks

By  · Published on December 31st, 2010

As I expressed earlier in the week as our 2010 Year in Review began, I take it as a great honor that I am able to put together my list of the Best Films of the Year as part of my Editor’s Picks entry. And while I’m a massive fan of my own perspective and opinions, I’m an even bigger fan of the writing and ever-diverse tastes of the Film School Rejects reviewing staff. These are the folks who, through their sensational (and often divisive) review-writing, keep you coming back for more each and every day. They travel the world and brave the crowds at festivals, conventions, preview screenings and special events to bring you some of the industry’s sharpest, most honest film coverage. And I for one am honored to have them all on this team.

Just as I did last year, I couldn’t wait to see which films each writer would put on their Top 5 lists as the best films of the year. And just as they did last year, they didn’t disappoint with their unique, ever-fascinating selections.

So read on dear reader, as we present the crown jewel of our 2010 Year in Review: The Staff Picks.

Robert Fure

Associate Editor, Los Angeles

The Losers // The Losers was a pleasant surprise for me in 2010. I walked into it knowing nothing about the property and expecting very little but within the first action scene I was treated to a fun movie with great action scenes that still managed to ratchet up a body count. Mere hours after seeing the film, I purchased the graphic novels, which were good – but the film managed to improve upon several aspects. Still a fun film to me.

The Town // There have only been two years when the name Ben Affleck didn’t merit chuckling: 1997 and 2010. With a great turn behind the camera and an equally impressive one in front of it, Affleck helmed a movie that merged family, crime, shoot-outs, Boston accents, and creepy nun masks to great effect.

Middle Men // A little seen, inspired by true events film carried by the charisma of star Luke Wilson. Detailing the rise of internet commerce on the back of a porno inspired idea from a couple of functioning morons, Middle Men mixes boobs with mob violence and plenty of humor. Do yourself a favor and find this sleeper on home video.

The Crazies // Everyone knows I have a soft spot for horror and at least a tolerance for remakes. What I’m not a huge fan of, though, is George Romero. Sue me, most of his work sucks. Taking a middling old film and remaking it with Timothy Olyphant, however, will always get my attention, because I love Olyphant. With a respectable body count, a bunch of scares, and some stellar performances, The Crazies kicked ass on the horror front.

Edge of Darkness // When compiling a year end list, I like to shift my true order around just a touch to highlight some films that might otherwise get ignored. In either unusually strong or weak years, often times most lists are too much the same. While Edge of Darkness might not have blown everyone away, I was pleased with the mature handling of this thriller and the return of Mel Gibson to the big screen. Full of great performances, a smart story, and moments of mind shattering violence, Edge of Darkness felt like a call back to a smarter and more eloquent time period.

Lauren Flanagan

Critic, Toronto

The King’s Speech // This witty, clever, and totally charming film proves once again that the British monarchy is an unending resource for delicious film fodder. Colin Firth as the reluctant monarch trying to overcome his speech impediment and Geoffrey Rush as his unorthodox teacher play beautifully off each other, while Helena Bonham Carter is delightful as the loving and committed Queen Mother. It’s obvious Oscar bait, but I don’t care. This is one of those rare films you can take your grandmother to and you’ll both walk away satisfied.

The Social Network // Biased or not, it’s a compelling look at the emergence of what would become a global phenomenon and the intriguing people behind it. It’s beautifully crafted by Sorkin and Fincher with terrific work from an exceptional cast – particularly Eisenberg and Garfield. But while I still think he’s just the cutest thing ever, JT’s performance was overrated.

Winter’s Bone // This chilling look at poverty in rural America pulls you in tight and doesn’t let go until long after the credits have rolled. It’s bleak, devastating, poetic and just a little bit beautiful. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as the prodigal daughter searching for answers puts almost every other young actress out there to shame.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo // A terrifically stylish noir thriller featuring one of the most kick-ass female heroines in recent memory. At times the savagely violent scenes seem almost gratuitous, but the classic whodunit-style storytelling and immensely satisfying ending make the brutal scenes worth enduring.

Inception // For a movie all about being asleep you certainly have to stay alert and focused to know what the eff is going on, but those who do are rewarded with an innovative labyrinthine plot, cunning thrills and eye-popping visuals. The zero-gravity fight scene alone is worth the price of admission. An intelligent blockbuster, what a novelty.

Read on to the next page to view the picks of Robert Levin, Landon Palmer and more. Or click “View All” to see the entire list at once (Warning: May cause the page to load slower…)

Robert Levin

Critic, New York City

Another Year // The most emotionally stimulating movie of the year lacked a single stuttering king or tech genius. Under the guise of an everyday depiction of a couple’s ordinary year, Mike Leigh – masterful chronicler of the hopes, dreams and foibles of the British working class – has made a film rife with deep insight into the human soul and a keen eye for evoking the drama in the mundane. In a cinematic year full of noisy technological distractions, it’s quiet, timeless grace stands out.

The Last Play at Shea // Though it’s centered on Billy Joel’s final performances at the old Shea Stadium, this documentary is more than just a concert film. Paralleling Joel’s story with that of the perennially overshadowed New York Mets and the blue collar, working class borough of Queens the team calls home, the film gets to the heart of sports fandom, evoking the strong, spiritual tug that attaches us to our teams.

The King’s Speech // A portrait of a monarch battling his deep-rooted sense of inadequacy, Tom Hooper’s King’s Speech strips the pomp and circumstance out of the royal life. In so doing, the film brilliantly reclaims George VI from the history books, transforming a powerful figurehead into a classic underdog and the story of a king grappling with his burdensome duties into a relatable depiction of a man triumphing over serious obstacles. Of course, it helps to sport actors as terrific as Colin Firth (as George), Geoffrey Rush (as speech therapist Lionel Logue) and Helena Bonham Carter (Queen Elizabeth).

127 Hours // Danny Boyle makes you feel every bit of the agony suffered by hiker Aron Ralston (James Franco), as he spends days submerged in a steep canyon somewhere in the Utah desert, trapped beneath an enormous boulder. You thirst as he thirsts, starve as he starves and disappear into his headspace along with him. The filmmaker ably finds his way into a difficult story, transitioning from the sweeping, energized feel of its early scenes to the suffocating, hallucinatory torment of Ralston’s inner ordeal.

City Island // An ensemble comedy about a boisterous Bronx Italian family sounds like a recipe for disaster, or, at best, My Big Fat Italian Wedding. Thanks to his terrific cast (headlined by Andy Garcia and Julianna Marguiles), spurred by an overarching, appealing warmth and a sharp comic sensibility, filmmaker Raymond De Felitta ably navigates such treacherous terrain, crafting a film that blends broad ethnic humor and a healthy dose of nostalgia into one of the year’s richest cinematic experiences.

Landon Palmer

Columnist and Critic, Somewhere in Indiana

Please Give // Nicole Holofcener’s light and clever rumination on privilege, materialism, generational division, and white liberal guilt was probably the year’s biggest surprise for me. It’s insightful while unpretentious, and as intelligent as it is laugh-out-loud funny. Holofcener here creates some of the most thoroughly envisioned characters of the year, achieving what Greenberg and Tiny Furniture didn’t in focusing on occasionally despicable people with whom she empathizes and finds humor in rather than condescends.

True Grit // What’s the most unexpected thing the Coens can do after making a thematically heavy trilogy of annually released films that are, essentially, all about nihilism? Make one of the most accessible and purely entertaining films of their career, as it turns out. Using convention without preoccupying itself with meta-referencing while still harnessing that signature touch which makes their movies so uniquely their own, as far as audiences are concerned True Grit is nearly the perfect Coen brothers film to an almost miraculous degree. I’ve loved all of their work since No Country, but it’s a relief and a surprise to see an example of genuine, solid Hollywood entertainment as the furthest thing one could get from selling out.

The Social Network // Following a promotional campaign that hammered the film’s aura of greatness into our brains, the surface simplicity of The Social Network is quite deceiving. The irony of the advertising campaign is that the film itself is about the complex construction of greatness and genius, a meditation on the process by which one acquires and owns the American dream. Instead of being a film about the difference of the Millennial generation, The Social Network focuses on the politics at play behind the scenes of the history books and the dominant narratives that have followed invention through every generation.

Exit Through the Gift Shop // In a year where the question of a documentary’s veracity has posed as depth (I’m looking at you I’m Still Here), Exit Through the Gift Shop uses the is-it-or-isn’t-it documentary platform to actually say something about ownership and credibility in 21st century art. But the movie itself is great even without its surrounding questions of authenticity. The long lost son of Orson Welles’s F for Fake, Gift Shop is as brilliant as it is hilarious.

Dogtooth // This movie is not for everyone, but if you thought Michael Haneke’s work needs more pitch-black comedy, then this Greek wonder was made specifically for you. I like to reserve my top spot for something truly original that challenged me as a viewer, something really unique that I’ve never seen onscreen before, and this homeschooling-horrorshow/poststructuralist farce gave me things that I’ve been scratching my head over ever since. As far as I’m concerned, filmmaking this innovative is all too rare.

Read on to the next page to view the picks of Rob Hunter, Luke Mullen and more. Or click “View All” to see the entire list at once (Warning: May cause the page to load slower…)

Rob Hunter

Associate Editor, San Francisco

I Love You Phillip Morris // This pseudo romantic comedy defies genre expectations with a combination of wit, warmth, and just the right amount of physical gags. Jim Carrey plays a man who falls in love with another man (played by Ewan McGregor) while in prison and then proceeds to do everything and anything he can to stay together. The “everything and anything” usually involves illegal activity, but hey, we all do crazy things for love right? The film is funny, sweet, and serious in all the right ways, and even if it wasn’t as good as it is the movie almost earns a spot here for the struggle it’s had trying to reach US audiences.

Inception // Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to The Dark Knight is big, smart, and beautiful entertainment. There are some logical issues visible if you squint hard enough, but the film manages to transcend the usual blockbuster aesthetic by investing as much energy into the story as it puts into the incredible visuals. Well, almost as much anyway. The film also manages that rare feat of becoming a hot topic of debate and discussion after the credits have rolled. Does the top fall or does it spin forever? I’ve read coherent arguments supporting both positions, and that’s a strong sign of a film with staying power. Or of a film with no internal logic.

The Kids Are All Right // Had I known in advance that Landon Palmer was going to cause an uproar with his incredibly controversial stance on the treatment of gays in Hollywood films I would have avoided including two pro-gay propaganda titles in my top five. Or would I? Only Jim Nolte knows for sure. What I do know is that while Lisa Cholodenko’s film features a family with two moms it’s not about lesbians or an agenda of any kind… it’s about family. Period. It’s about holding on and letting go and finding value in those around you. Besides being a smart and very funny look at what it means to be a family these days the film also features an incredibly strong performance by Annette Bening (that in any other year that didn’t feature a tour de force turn by a former child assassin would have won her the Oscar).

Bedevilled // 2010 was a fantastic year for Korean cinema as evidenced by the three slots they filled in my best foreign films list, but the one that stands out the most for me is this brutal and dramatic tale of revenge and responsibility. A city woman heads to the island where she grew up and finds her childhood friend living a painful existence. What follows is part genre exercise and part emotional evisceration, and it’s accomplished with a fantastic lead performance. Fans of bloody revenge tales will get a solid fix (via a vicious and cathartic third act), but unlike most such films they’ll also get a valuable lesson on what it means to be a friend to those in need. Preachy? Not at all. Brutal and bloody? Most definitely.

Rubber // There were funnier films than this in 2010. Others more suspenseful, better acted, more dramatic. But there were none as consistently surprising, fresh, and utterly entertaining as Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber. The crazy DJ has crafted something original here that seized my interest in the first minutes and never let go. A discarded tire (named Robert) comes to life and discovers a talent for telekinesis. Naturally it uses this power for evil and begins exploding heads throughout a small desert town. The movie plays with the audience in unexpected and often hilarious ways and succeeds in creating a unique world we’ve never quite seen before. Highly recommended… but only for viewers with open minds.

Luke Mullen

Critic, Austin

A Serbian Film // This was the one film this year that really knocked me on my ass. It has stayed with me for the last 9 months, ever since its world premiere in the Fantastic Fest slate at SXSW this year. I still think about it today and it hasn’t lost any of its power or potency. Obviously a controversial and divisive film, this powder keg from first-time director Srdjan Spasojevic is probably already doomed by widely publicized accounts of its infamous content. But as my good friend Drew McWeeny mentioned in his top 10 list over at HitFix, A Serbian Film proves moreso than ever that context absolutely does matter and it’s a true shame that this film will be pre-judged and villified by those who haven’t seen particular scenes in context.

While I found it almost overwhelmingly powerful and flat out amazing, I can totally see why others may not share that opinion. But perhaps the greatest quality of A Serbian Film is the level of intelligent debate and discussion it provokes for those who take a chance on it. And isn’t that a big part of why we love cinema in the first place? Love it or hate it or even somewhere in between, it’s hard to imagine someone not having plenty to say after experiencing this cinematic punch in the gut.

Black Swan // Are you f*&king kidding me? This movie is absolutely incredible. Don’t be fooled by all the Oscar buzz, this ain’t The King’s Speech, there’s nothing heartwarming here. It’s a deep, dark, mature film that will blow you away. The sexual tension is palpable and Mila Kunis in particular really shines, exuding a raw, almost animal sexuality that sets the screen ablaze. But this is Natalie Portman’s film and she handles the lead role with poise and strength, commanding the audience’s attention. There are a handful of truly horrific and terrifying scenes that will stick with you as well as some fantastic scenes of body horror, reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s best work. Black Swan is a marvel, a startling portrait of obsession proving once again that Darren Aronofsky is one of the most intriguing filmmakers working today.

Winter’s Bone // This Sundance hit about a young girl searching for her father whipped the festival circuit into a frenzy. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic in the lead role, delivering a powerhouse performance that turned more than a few heads. But it’s character actor John Hawkes who really shines here, stealing virtually every scene he’s in. A cold, dark rural noir set in the Ozarks, Winter’s Bone provides an intimate glimpse into a world of poverty and crime presented as inevitable and unavoidable ways of life.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale // This Scandanavian feature turns Christmas completely on its head. It’s an older kid’s film for the most part but with the kind of hard edge and realism seldom seen since the 80s. There’s a seriousness and a dark tone to it, but there are also plenty of laughs and the knowledge that the whole film is sort of one big joke that keeps things light. A new holiday classic at my house, Rare Exports is a fun and engaging film that’s worth revisiting.

Myth of the American Sleepover // While the other films on this list are all assaults on the senses in one way or another, this is quiet, somewhat simple film. But boy does it strike a chord. Myth is an old-fashioned film following several different kids in a small town on a warm summer night that owes more than a little to American Graffiti. It’s the authenticity that comes through that really stands out allowing the viewer to connect with several of the kids dealing with typical problems at different points in high school and just beyond. Myth of the American Sleepover is a well-crafted film that transports you back to those nights full of promise and possibility, reminding you what it was like to be young and a little naive. Search this film out, it’s well worth your time.

Read on to the next page to view the picks of Brian Salisbury and Cole Abaius. Or click “View All” to see the entire list at once (Warning: May cause the page to load slower…)

Brian Salisbury

Columnist and Critic, Austin

Black Swan // Darren Aronofsky does something no filmmaker has done in a long time, made me give a flying crap about ballet. Black Swan is a beautifully dark, sinfully captivating film that blends the grandeur of high art with the often undervalued horror genre. Borrowing heavily from Dario Argento, while injecting his own flair for absolutely gorgeous cinematography, Aronofsky’s film is as scary as it is lovely. Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis turn in stellar performances and the ending of the film is the definition of a grand finale.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World // Some movies just fit you like a glove. These films hit all the right notes and celebrate all the things you love in a way that not only reminds you of your love for them but validates the time you’ve spent, some would argue wasted, in their worship. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World takes all the familiar metaphors and intangibles of young love and amplifies them with an unabashed reverence for early 90s Nintendo and arcade games. The cast is phenomenal, the writing is razor sharp, and the action scenes are far better than have any right to be. Edgar Wright proves himself once again as one of my all time favorite directors.

Toy Story 3 // No one, but no one, does animated films like Pixar. In Toy Story 3, Pixar officially comes of age. The film is witty, beautiful, and has more heart than Andre the Giant (he may very well have been a nice guy but that joke is based more on the sheer size of the man). Few trilogies are able to wrap up with such perfection as Toy Story 3; hitting on everything that made the first two films great while establishing its own voice in the process. The ending is not simply Andy saying goodbye to his toys, but Pixar bidding a tearful farewell to the franchise that put them on the map. Oh god, here come the waterworks.

Inception // Christopher Nolan manages to create a film that perfectly bridges the complex cerebral thrillers of his early career with the crowd pleasing, still artistically impressive action films of his Batman era. With innovative cinematography, strong performances by both its principals and incredible supporting cast, and action scenes that are both wholly original and thrilling, Inception is endlessly watchable. The ending is enough of a conclusion to avoid feeling lazy while giving the audience enough credit to make an appropriate conclusion without spelling it out completely.

Let Me In // As an enormous fan of Let the Right One In, I was as skeptical towards the idea of remake as everyone else. But when I heard director Matt Reeves discuss, at length, his vision for the film and how it would be a second adaptation of the novel and not a remake at all during a SxSW panel, my fears were somewhat assuaged. Then, at Fantastic Fest, I saw his beautiful ode to young love and the nightmare of finding one’s identity during adolescence. Let Me In plays up the loneliness and pain of Owen’s (formerly Oskar’s) existence and how he would welcome the friendship of Abby (Eli) no matter how dangerous it may be. All the things that make the original film work are here because Reeves was drawing from the same well, but there is no denying that it is his film or that it is uniquely enchanting.

Cole Abaius

Managing Editor, Tucson

The Last Circus // The sheer amount of balls on this movie is reason enough for anyone to admire it, and the artistic achievement here is one of delicate beauty that’s been lit on fire and used to glue asses into theater seats. Alex de la Iglesia’s parable about two dangerous psychopath clowns in love with a troubled acrobat is grotesque, poetic, and takes chances that other films wouldn’t have even considered.

Never Let Me Go // If the mark of a great drama is its ability to create scenes which tug emotion from the viewer, Never Let Me Go manages to do so consistently throughout its run time. It’s the other side of science fiction on display – the truly human side which takes into consideration the highest cost of advancement (and it does so without showing off any shiny machines). Each character is perfectly tuned, and the performances from the entire cast are stellar – creating a bittersweet commentary on friendship, love, and the fact that each and everyone of us, someday, will die.

13 Assassins // The first half of Takashi Miike’s samurai film quietly promises an impending blood bath. The second half delivers that blood bath – a frenetically choreographed hell that’s been transplanted into a small rural village and descended upon by hundreds of soldiers and thirteen assassins. It manages to be thoughtful, calculated, and traditional while also shoving the audience into the soft mud of a half hour of violence that’s gorgeous and possibly unmatched.

Four Lions // By far the funniest film of the year featuring suicide bombers. Also, by far the funniest film of the year period. With so much laziness in comedy these days, it’s good to know that there are filmmakers out there like Chris Morris who can create smart humor that still aims for the gut. What’s even better? After the roaring laughter dies down, the heavy thinking begins. It’s daring, original, hilarious, and sharp as an IED.

Inception // The perfect blend of everything good and wondrous about filmmaking, Christopher Nolan has achieved something monumental here. It was recently called the Most Overrated Movie of the Year in a very informal poll done by the Los Angeles Times, and it’s probably because it was the only movie to receive enormous praise from an enormous amount of people. What other film did that in 2010? It was a thinking man’s action movie with a relatable science fiction angle that delivered breathtaking sequences in both its design and its characters. Nolan took classic tropes and cliches and re-purposed them to create something new in this weary world. It will continue to be talked about, puzzled over, studied, and imitated, but beyond over thinking it (which is easy to do), Inception was just damned entertaining.

Want to see how we fell on other categories, such as Best Foreign Films, Horror Films, Action Films, Performances and Worst Films? It’s all in the rest of our 2010 Year in Review.

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)