2010 was certainly a big year for movies. While I didn't come close to seeing everything that hit the big screens, there was more than enough at my fingertips to compose a very strong list of films. All of these might not appeal to you, but many of these capture a very significant slice of our culture in a way that seems unique to this year.
Christopher Nolan is back in action. After two popular mainstream directorial entries in his catalog, some people had doubts that Inception could succeed. One trailer later, it became one of the most anticipated films of the year. With some excellent performances across the board, beautifully shot scenes in a variety of vistas, truly unique special effects, and a smart story to boot, Inception lands my top spot simply because it'll stay in my mind through sheer force of cinematic will.
#2: True Grit
The Coen Brothers always seem to deliver an experience that's more than the sum of its wonderful, specific little parts. This trend remains true with True Grit, a western film telling the story of a young woman who attempts the completely unexpected task of avenging her father's death by a notorious outlaw. This movie excels almost exclusively through the honest, enjoyable moments that the Coens manage to find with each of the characters - leading me to think that the year's strongest male and female performances came from True Grit's own Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld.
#3: The Social Network
Egregious to some and intriguing to others, The Social Network managed to dive into the quickly growing technology landscape of the early aughts through a dramatized origin story of Facebook. While some of the finer points of the film were clearly fabricated for the sake of drama, director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin's masterpiece undoubtedly managed to bottle up the genuine mood of our time and put it on the big screen.
#4: The Town
Against all odds, Ben Affleck did it again. I loved his directorial debut in Gone Baby Gone and I wasn't sure what to think about his choice to act in his next movie. My doubts were quickly dissolved after sitting in that uncomfortable theater seat for a little while, as The Town pushed hard and fast into my favorite heist movie list. Each robbery was planned with a swift, deliberate touch that propelled the plot even through the slower parts in between. There's no doubt in my mind that I'll check out Affleck's next project, especially if it's in the same crime genre as his first two.
#5: How to Train Your Dragon
I'm usually not very impressed by animated movies in any given year; Pixar's movies in particular tend to be quite enjoyable, but simply can't compete pound for pound against movies by the Coen Brothers or David Fincher in my mind. Fortunately, two movies rose above the rest this year in a way I couldn't have expected. How To Train Your Dragon presented a non-stop rollercoaster of fun with a strong story framework that didn't make me cringe in the heavy-handed way that most animated movies do. There's something admirable about a movie that does just about everything right with just the right amount of ambition and that's ultimately what catapulted this film onto my list.
I went into Kick-Ass with no expectations. While the original graphic novel writer Mark Millar usually strikes me as a little off-putting, the director Matthew Vaughn had enough of a solid history to balance to scales. Deep characters are typically what draws me into films and Kick-Ass actually doesn't deliver on that front, with few memorable characters and no particularly strong performances. Luckily, the movie delivers brutal, entertaining action scenes and a clever plot in spades, which was more than enough to buckle me in my seat. It's due to these aspects in particular that I'm looking forward to Kick-Ass 2, circumventing my usual lack of interest in comic book-based movie sequels.
#7: Toy Story 3
As the second animated film on my list this year, Toy Story 3 hits completely different notes from How To Train Your Dragon and still manages to impress. While the fun opening sequence and subsequent toy-specific gags kept me laughing most of the way through, Pixar's latest was most impressive in how it managed to satisfyingly wrap up the franchise's story and evolve the characters in measurable, significant ways. I can shamelessly say that Toy Story 3 made the room a little dusty in the final scene, which ultimately delivered the film onto my top films list on a stream of my totally masculine tears.
#8: The Kids Are All Right
The Kids Are All Right came out of nowhere to land on my list, only having watched it at the eleventh hour on DVD. The slice of life style plot comes into the lives of a family headed by two lesbians, with their kids on the brink of adulthood. Consequently, the kids build up some curiosity about their sperm donor "father", who they manage to track down at their mothers' eventual disdain. Despite this unique situation, the relationship at the head of this film is treated with total normalcy and the problems introduced by the "father" seem not too distant from those of us with traditional parents. The characters are completely sold by the solid performances by Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo, easily creating grounds for one of the most unexpectedly believable films of the year.
#9: Scott Pilgrim vs The World
It must be fairly clear by now that each of these films managed to impress me either on multiple levels or with one particularly strong aspect that stuck in my mind. In the case of Scott Pilgrim vs The World, the visual style is easily the main draw. There's something immediately attractive about a movie that is both dedicated to the culture surrounding video games and manages to do so without insulting that very same culture.
#10: The American
While I certainly enjoyed the Bourne series and its ilk, there's always an aspect to modern spy movies that's subtly off-putting. Not every operation goes well and not every killer's life is fraught with high speed car chases. The American observes the life of an assassin who has already done his fair share of killing and seeks isolation after a job gone wrong. In completing his final, low-risk job, he finds himself embedded in a quiet hamlet in Italy and begins to savor a life with friends and women that are more than just lovers. This movie has a difficult to describe ambiance that rises from the considered, slow-paced actions that George Clooney takes throughout, ultimately wrapping up my list simply because it was a nice change from the norm.