Here it is, folks: my picks for the best films of 2010. Ten appears to be the number by which these lists are grouped, so ten it is. Eligible films must have had either a theatrical release or a straight to DVD release in Australia sometime during 2010 (films that screened exclusively at festivals do not count).

What were your favourite films of the year? Have I left any out? Want to take me to town for any of my choices? Be sure to leave a comment.

So, without further ado, here are the top ten 2010 films according to the scriptures of Cinetology. My pick for best film of the year is right down the bottom; other than that they’re in no particular order.

Animal Kingdom (dir: David Michôd)

Animal Kingdom

Debut director David Michôd’s Melbourne-set crime opus about a dysfunctional underworld family is the sort of film in which the quality of acting is so high even pieces of furniture seem to contribute carefully nuanced performances. Ben Mendelsohn and Jacki Weaver are eerily brilliant in one of the finest Australian films of this – or any – year.

Toy Story 3 (dir: Lee Unkich)

Toy Story 3

There’s plenty of reasons why Pixar’s second sequel to the movie that kicked off the studio’s string of family friendly hits has generated stories the world over about grown men reduced to blubbering wrecks. Pinpointing those reasons, however, isn’t so easy, because director Lee Unkich has triumphantly pulled off the seemingly contradictory feat of making a deeply personal movie designed for everybody. These days audiences have come to expect eye boggling animation, our aesthetic standards raised to the point at which it has become almost redundant for a film reviewer to point out that Toy Story 3 looks, well, great. But we’ve never come to expect such a rich emotional core from mainstream animation and this is where Unkich and co’s story about toys that come alive when nobody is watching creates something very special.

Blue Valentine (dir: Derek Cianfrance)

Blue Valentine

It’s rare for a film to employ a non-linear multi timeline narrative as effectively as director Derek Cianfrance’s equal parts heart warming and heart wrenching story about a couple (Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling) meeting and falling in love in one time period and enduring a bitter falling out in another. In hindsight Blue Valentine probably should have felt like two separate films – the parallel timelines are even shot differently – but the plot meshes into one unforgettable romantic picture that has the emotionally unsettling effect of being funny and sweet one moment and devastating the next. Williams and Gosling deserve a large part of the credit for two sophisticated, charming and at times pulverising performances. Expect Williams to run against Jennifer Lawrence (The Winter’s Bone) at the Oscars in February.

The World’s Greatest Dad (dir: Bobcat Goldthwait)

The World's Greatest Dad

Unfairly sentenced to a straight to DVD release in Australia, The World’s Greatest Dad was ignored by the critics and seen by virtually no one despite the star power and gravity of Robin Williams’ unforgettable performance as a mild mannered father caught in a tangled web of white lies and moral dilemmas. The World’s Greatest Dad is by turn sad, hilarious, quirky and grim. It is a dark shining gem of a film; a social allegory with a morbid sense of humour and a big heart behind its toothy, biting approach. The message of the film is poignant – that it’s better being lonely than being surrounded by people who make you feel alone – but it’s delivered in full throttle American indie mode, and the result is an unpredictable and unusually original black comedy/morality play.

Inception (dir: Christopher Nolan)

Inception - Leonardo DiCaprio

White hot writer/director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Returns, The Prestige) singed the eyebrows of everyone in Hollywood with – gasp! – a brainy blockbuster littered with interesting ideas. Nolan’s Inception screenplay, about a team of mercenaries who steal secrets by visiting people in their dreams, feels like it was written by some kind of super-programmed cyborg from Akihabara and presents a gutsy SCI-FI slant on Edgar Allan Poe’s timeless question “is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?” The central concept affords the director innumerable opportunities for visual chutzpah, granting himself a pass card for endless opportunities to toy with spatial properties. The special effects are great, and, importantly, used in moderation. The ice fortress segment was a little tough to stomach but the film gets away with it, and boasts a perfectly open-ended final shot destined to generate movie geek debate for years.

The Social Network (dir: David Fincher)

The Social Network

The consensus choice for best film of the year is a strange beast: not quite a character study, not a rags to riches story, not a litigation drama or a courtroom thriller. Coming to terms with what The Social Network actually is is part of its odd appeal, and that’s before viewers ask themselves the $60,000 question: is protagonist Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) an asshole? It is a testament to the film’s elusive qualities that audience opinions are many and varied; ace screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, most famous for penning TV’s The West Wing, was never interested in telling audiences what to think. Sorkin’s spit polished dialogue carries The Social Network into the year’s top ten: the film’s verbosity comes on like gangbusters and gels bizarrely well with director David Fincher, a filmmaker renowned for visual bravado.

Machete (dirs: Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis)

Machete - Danny Trejo

The most relentlessly entertaining film of the year – the quickest, meanest, leanest good time for adrenaline addicts – is this deliriously exploitative neo grind house scorcher from director Robert Rodriguez and long-time collaborator Ethan Maniquis. Don’t be fooled by the marketing materials that present Machete as expendable low brow entertainment. It’s far from it.

The biggest and kookiest cast of the year (Danny Trejo, Robert DeNiro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan, Tom Savini, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin and more) nitro accelerate a social commentary about border control and immigration laws in America. Rodriguez and Maniquis have epitomised what post-modern filmmaking is all about: drawing attention to conventions without over-weening the distinction between old and new and folding together an experience that works on its own merits but couldn’t have been made without a rich history preceding it.
 Under the banner of “bad” movies the challenge was to make a good one. They didn’t just achieve that. They made a great one.

Winter’s Bone (dir: Debra Granik)

The Winter's Bone

The hands. The hands. The hands. Watch director Debra Granik’s sublimely shot and hauntingly emotional mystery/drama/noir The Winter’s Bone and you’ll be of no doubt about which scene those words describe. It is the most harrowing moment in cinema in 2010: you can’t watch but you can’t take your eyes off it. However, Granik’s Missouri-set story about a teenager on a desperate journey to find her father (dead or alive) in order to save her family home from being taken by the banks isn’t as a complete experience something aptly described as shocking or horrific. Critics have fallen into a vat of superlatives to describe the brilliant central performance from Jennifer Lawrence, who was 17 years old at the time of filming. You’ll be hearing more about her come Oscar time.

I’m Still Here (dir: Casey Affleck)

I'm Still Here

The “is it real or not?” hype surrounding the release of Casey Affleck’s “meltdown-umentary” about actor-cum-(alleged)rapper Joaquin Phoenix always threatened to swallow the film whole, but given the kind of PR the filmmakers very deliberately sought to generate from the get-go you can’t exactly argue they didn’t bring it upon themselves. The question, however, of whether Phoenix’s rebellion against the creative constraints of Hollywood is “real” or not ultimately misses the point and distracts viewers from some of this film’s momentous achievements.

Phoenix’s gobsmacking “performance” inverts the transformative process usually touted as evidence of good acting: instead of leaping into a character and groping around inside a different skin, he behaves like a man trying to leap out of one – daring audiences not to believe in a different person but to believe he is precisely the person he presents himself to be. I’m Still Here is a rotten, perverse, terrific film that dots a unique blotch on a postmodern cultural landscape where audiences are forced into doublethink, to simultaneously believe and disbelieve what they see and hear, to try and comprehend where fact and fiction collide into an indistinguishable mesh, and to criticize the processes throughout.

In the Loop (dir: Armando Iannucci)

In the Loop - Malcolm Tucker

If you thought The Social Network had great dialogue but you haven’t experienced the perverse pleasure of nursing yourself back to normality after a screening of director Armando Iannucci’s expletive-riddled classic In the Loop then, well, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet. The best film of 2010 is a ferociously intelligent farce in which a cast of cranky characters – mostly politicians, spin doctors and their frame-chewing insult-hurling iconic leader Malcolm Tucker (played with apoplectic aplomb by Peter Capaldi) – trade volleys of verbal venom as they walk the corridors of 10 Downing Street and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Dialogue doesn’t get much tighter or sharper than the exhaustive brilliance of In the Loops’s Oscar nominated screenplay, which is the cinematic culmination of TV’s In the Thick of It, though the film is very much a standalone experience.

In a medium in which virtually every film invites comparisons to dozens of others, In the Loop is a truly unique once-off – there is just nothing else like it. It’s razor sharp, hilarious, mordantly witty and acted with frenetic teeth grinding pizzazz, as if lines of methamphetamine the size of hot dogs were mandatory for the cast in between takes. And it gets better and better with repeat viewings.

Honorable mentions

Exit Through the Gift Shop, Let Me In, The King’s Speech, Fish Tank, Un Prophète, The Secret in their Eyes, Red Hill, Fantastic Mr Fox.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.