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Top 10 Movies of 2010

The Best Films Released in 2010

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It was a real toss-up as to which of four films would wind up in first place on my Top 10 list, with the decision hanging in the air until the very last minute. Christopher Nolan's Inception is unique, thought-provoking and visually stunning, The Fighter's a powerful underdog story, and what Winter's Bone accomplished on a bare-bones budget puts major studio productions to shame. But ultimately it was David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin's riveting exploration of the creation of Facebook as revealed in The Social Network that won out (ask me tomorrow and one of the other films could easily vault into first place).

Keep in mind these are my personal favorites. You're free to disagree with any or all of them. Also, this list doesn't include any foreign language films in order to keep it manageable and in line with the 'Hollywood Movies' topic.

Honorable Mentions: How to Train Your Dragon, 127 Hours, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Kick-Ass, Ondine, and The Way Back

1. 'The Social Network'

The Social Network
© Columbia Pictures
Are you at the point where if you hear one more person say they "liked" (say it out loud with air quotes to get the full effect) The Social Network you'll unfriend them? Thankfully bad puns have had no effect on the entertainment value of The Social Network, one of 2010's critical and box office success stories. Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin delved into the juicy details behind the controversial origin of Facebook, shedding light on Mark Zuckerberg's (played by Jesse Eisenberg) legal battle with former best friend and business associate Eduardo Saverin (played by Andrew Garfield) as well as the lawsuit brought by Harvard students Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (played by Armie Hammer pulling double duty) who claimed he used their idea for a social media website and turned it into Facebook.

From my review: "The Social Network is the perfect meshing of screenwriter, director, actors and subject matter. David Fincher's visual genius combined with Aaron Sorkin's brilliant script combined with the best performances from a group of 20-something actors this year, and backed by Trent Reznor's remarkable score, meld together to create an unforgettable, conversation-provoking, ballsy film."

2. 'Winter's Bone'

Winter's Bone
© Roadside Attractions
If it weren't for the awards season thrusting it back into the spotlight, Winter's Bone would have come and gone from theaters with hardly anyone noticing. Instead, the dark thriller set in the Ozarks and featuring the stunning breakthrough performance of Jennifer Lawrence has been heralded as this year's 'little film that could'. Directed by Debra Granik and based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, Winter's Bone is harsh and beautiful, a haunting morality tale that lingers with you long after the credits have rolled.

Getting back to the film's young star, enough can not be said about the performance of Lawrence as an optionless 17 year old shoved into being the provider for her family. The New York Times calls her take on the character of Ree "watchful, precise and quietly heroic" while USA Today says she's "subtle and heart-wrenching." And Lawrence isn't alone in making Winter's Bone a must-see experience as each member of the cast completely embodies these tough mountain people, ensuring the film feels completely genuine.

3. 'The Fighter'

The Fighter
© Paramount Pictures
Mark Wahlberg fought tenaciously to bring Irish Micky Ward's story to the big screen, sticking with the project over the years through thick and thin. The Fighter lost a director and co-star or two along the way, but ultimately Wahlberg's perseverance paid off big time. Reuniting with director David O Russell for the third time (they previously worked together on Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees), Wahlberg and his co-star Christian Bale deliver a knock-out blow with this moving tale of two boxing brothers from Massachusetts.

Much has been made of Christian Bale's extreme weight loss (he's known for dropping dozens of pounds for roles, and does so again for The Fighter) and he deserves every accolade he's collecting for his performance. The way Bale transforms into the jittery, crack-addicted Dicky Eklund (Micky Ward's half-brother) is nothing short of brilliant. But what Bale accomplishes doesn't take away from Wahlberg's commitment to playing boxer Micky Ward as authentically as possible. Wahlberg and Bale work well off of each other, and ultimately it's the way they connect onscreen as brothers that makes The Fighter so emotionally powerful.

4. 'Inception'

Inception
© Warner Bros Pictures
Christopher Nolan is a genius and Inception is a masterpiece. And this is coming from a person unafraid of admitting I'm not 100% sure what the ending means. That damned spinning top... The fact I'm still trying to figure out all the intricacies of this film five months after its release speaks volumes for the storytelling skills of the multi-talented Nolan.

Combining Nolan's unconventional plot with stunning visuals, extraordinary stunts, and an ensemble cast who operated as a team in bringing this unique story to life, Inception is a film that served up a thought-provoking movie-going experience like none other this year. Nolan never let character development play second fiddle to the visual effects and complicated stunts, and the entire cast - led by Leonardo DiCaprio and including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Marion Cotillard, and Lukas Haas - deliver terrific performances.

Inception requires...make that demands...multiple viewings in order to fully appreciate what Nolan's accomplished with this trippy action-thriller.

5. 'True Grit'

True Grit
© Paramount Pictures
This is not a remake. I repeat, this is not a remake. Glad we've got that squared away (repeating it helped, didn't it?). This is how I describe the new True Grit in my 5 out of 5 star review of the film: "What the Coen Brothers have done with the 2010 True Grit is make a Western for the ages. Old-time cowboys and the Wild West come alive once more in this beautifully shot, brilliantly cast, classically told Western. Infused with humor and lifting a large portion of the lyrically magical words straight from [Charles] Portis' book, True Grit is a real departure for the Coens in terms of tone, but it's truer to the traditional Western than any film of the past 30 years."

With the exception of A Serious Man which everyone I know loved but I thought was about as entertaining as watching paint dry, the Coen Brothers with their distinctive flair for storytelling have consistently delivered high quality, memorable movies. Bravo once again, Brothers Coen.

6. 'The King's Speech'

The King's Speech
© The Weinstein Company
Tom Hooper (The Damned United) directs this fascinating true story about the relationship between King George VI (played by Colin Firth) and Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Born Albert Frederick Arthur George, the second son of King George V was never expected to become King. However when his brother Edward (Guy Pearce) abdicated the throne due to his relationship with American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), George reluctantly ascended to power.

Ashamed of his stutter and terrified of delivering speeches to his people, King George VI approached microphones as though he was presenting himself to a firing squad. But with the assistance of Logue, a self-taught therapist, the King was eventually able to control his stammer and unify his people during wartime. And if this doesn't sound like a riveting tale you'd spend two hours watching unfold onscreen, put your doubts aside and give it a try. The King's Speech is a compelling drama about an improbable friendship between a King and the man who gave him back his confidence by helping him find his voice.

7. 'Toy Story 3'

Toy Story 3
© Disney/Pixar
Seriously, how does Pixar manage to keep delivering animated films that feature better acting and more emotional depth than its films' live-action contemporaries? Toy Story broke new ground and Toy Story 2 not only lived up to its predecessor but is one of the best reviewed movies of all time, which made returning to the well for a third time extremely risky. But the filmmakers who call Pixar home haven't let us down yet, and Toy Story 3 continues the studio's tradition of excellence. The enormous amount of heart and soul poured into the third film is evident in each and every animated frame.

8. 'Easy A'

Easy A
© Screen Gems
Before you blast me for my decision to include Easy A - a film I'll wager few if any other critics have placed on their top 10 lists - hear me out. We need more intelligent, well-written, well-acted films for teenagers and if we don't support the few that exist, we'll forever be subjected to teen comedies in which pee and penis jokes are considered the height of hilarity.

Easy A, a contemporary take on The Scarlett Letter, evokes the same emotional reactions the classic '80s films from John Hughes evoked. And just as Hughes always managed to do with his creations, Easy A doesn't talk down to its target audience. It's a classy comedy, even though it involves a little white lie about the loss of the central character's virginity, and is one of the few teen-oriented films that will stand the test of time and still deliver laughs a decade or two down the road. Plus, Emma Stone is irresistible as the girl who pretends to be easy. And in a year when comedies in general were disappointing, Easy A was a surprisingly funny little gem.

9. 'Black Swan'

Black Swan
© Fox Searchlight
Leave it to Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler) to bring us the psychologically twisted tale of a ballerina who doesn't just dance the role of the Black Swan in Swan Lake but who's so in touch with her dark side that she becomes the Black Swan. Natalie Portman is absolutely mesmerizing as the dancer so obsessed with perfection, so controlled by dance that she loses the ability to separate reality from fantasy. With outstanding performances by Mila Kunis as a rival dancer, Vincent Cassel as the ballet company's fiery director, and Barbara Hershey as Portman's domineering mother, Black Swan is an engrossing peek inside a world seldom seen in films.

10. 'The Town'

The Town
© Warner Bros Pictures
Ben Affleck may not have always made the smartest choices with his acting career (Gigli, anyone?), but when it comes to stepping behind the camera to direct Affleck's batting 2 for 2. As with Gone Baby Gone, the 38 year old filmmaker shows real talent for being able to not only choose the right actor for each role but to then guide them into delivering first-rate performances. Gone Baby Gone earned Amy Ryan her first Oscar nomination in the supporting actress category and The Town's Jeremy Renner has been turning up on nearly every critics' list for his outstanding portrayal of a bank robber who lets his fists/guns do the talking for him. Renner's being singled out, but the entire cast of The Town performs at the top of their games.

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