The Best Films of 2010

Top 10 of the Year

1. The Social NetworkDavid Fincher
2. InceptionChristopher Nolan
3. Black SwanDarren Aronofsky
4. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past LivesApichatpong Weerasethakul
5. Certified CopyAbbas Kiarostami
6. Blue ValentineDerek Cianfrance
7. The Ghost WriterRoman Polanski
8. Shutter IslandMartin Scorsese
9. SubmarineRichard Ayoade
10. True GritThe Coen Brothers

Best Film

The Social Network. In pairing with Aaron Sorkin, David Fincher works with his best script yet, turning his eye away from serial killers and focusing on a sociopath of a different kind. In pairing with David Fincher, Aaron Sorkin’s prescient writing is given the direction it deserves, drenched in a dim, yellow lighting which underscores the shadiness of these backstabbing tech bros. It is a film that only seems to improve and grow more relevant as the years go on, which itself speaks to the brilliance of these characters.

The Social Network is a slight change of pace for David Fincher, but it is still drenched in his trademark lighting and cynical worldview.

Most Underrated

The Ghost Writer. #20 of the year is too low for this gripping political thriller. There are several highlights that one could point to as evidence of its greatness, but none that linger in the mind so much as the final scene. The utter powerlessness of any whistle blower against the government’s tyrannical forces is succinctly captured in a single depressing shot, leaving us with papers of evidence blowing down a street.

Roman Polanski’s haunting final shot in The Ghost Writer, as papers scatter away on the wind.

Most Overrated

Toy Story 3. This is a funny, moving, and at times scary third part to Pixar’s greatest series, but #5 of the year on the TSPDT list is bit too lofty given the competition. For comparison, Certified Copy sits in the equivalent spot in my list, and though it may not hold the same mainstream appeal, it is a far more formally complex work.

Toy Story may be Pixar’s only franchise which is consistently excellent through each instalment, with Toy Story 3 especially pulling the heart strings.

Best Directorial Debut

Submarine. Richard Ayoade emerges from a class of comedic British directors like Paul King and Edgar Wright who use their mise-en-scène and editing to tell gags in dry, deadpan tones, and who themselves are influenced by Wes Anderson. He was primarily a comedian before this, starring in television shows like The IT Crowd and The Mighty Boosh, though his transition to the cinema screen is smooth and self-assured. Throw in a few French New Wave techniques like freeze frames, irises, zooms, and kaleidoscopic imagery, and you get a film which fizzes with playful, romantic energy.

Submarine, a playful, subversively off-kilter coming-of-age story, is Richard Ayoade’s superb film debut.

Gem to Spotlight

Incendies. Admirers of Denis Villeneuve who have only seen his blockbusters need to go back and watch this. After their mother suddenly passes away, two siblings are left with the task of going to her home country in the Middle East, tracking down a father and brother they have never met, and delivering her final letters to both. It is a decent narrative with some solid cinematography, but it is the final, gut-wrenching twist that will stick in your mind.

Denis Villeneuve lands Incendies with a gut-wrenching twist ending.

Best Male Performances

Jesse Eisenberg and Leonardo DiCaprio give the two best performances of the year respectively in The Social Network and Inception. Both display an intense focus in their roles as experts in their fields, though Eisenberg gets the slight edge for playing the thorniness of his part to perfection. As unlikeable as Mark Zuckerberg is, somehow we still find empathy for him. Andrew Garfield is his equal in many scenes and even gets a few where he comes out on top – “I’m coming back for everything.”

Ryan Gosling starts his excellent 2010s run with Blue Valentine, playing the same character in time periods set five years apart and showing his disintegration over time. Next, William Shimell goes toe-to-toe with Juliette Binoche in Certified Copy and pulls off an elusive transformation, becoming a jaded married man over the course of the film.

Finally, Ewan McGregor wins a spot for his leading role in The Ghost Writer, essentially becoming a paranoid 1970s thriller protagonist like Warren Beaty in The Parallax View.

Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, playing a young Mark Zuckerberg as an isolated, lonely asshole.

Best Female Performances

There aren’t as many actresses getting mentions in 2010 as there are actors, but none of Natalie Portman’s male counterparts can match her transcendent performance in Black Swan – the best female performance of the decade. Like her character Nina, a lot is asked of her in as she plays dual roles and simultaneously pulls off challenging ballet routines, but she is also perfectly suited to this portrait of dedicated obsession. The camera hangs on her for much of the film, giving her close-ups that capture a huge range of emotion, from vulnerable fragility to severe, intimidating confidence.

After her, it is Juliette Binoche in Certified Copy, who just slightly outdoes her co-star’s work with a subtle transition from one character to another over the course of the film. Known only as ‘She’, this character is laden with formal complexities, and Binoche’s focus on those tiny shifting details makes for a mesmerising performance.

In the other marital drama of 2010, Blue Valentine, Michelle Williams goes up against Ryan Gosling and shows a different kind of transformation, while Marion Cottilard’s neo-femme fatale in Inception brings both personal stakes and a visceral threat to the central mission.

Natalie Portman in Black Swan, a study of obsession, femininity, and perfectionism.

Best Cinematography: Inception

1. InceptionWally Pfister
2. Black SwanMatthew Libatique
3. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past LivesSayombhu Mukdeeprom, Yukontorn Mingmongkon, Charin Pengpanich
4. The Social NetworkJeff Cronenworth
5. Blue ValentineAndrij Parekh
6. Certified CopyLuca Bigazzi
7. Scott Pilgrim vs The WorldBill Pope
Inception’s mind-bending illusions and clean mise-en-scène shot by Wally Pfister in IMAX.

Best Editing: Inception

1. InceptionLee Smith
2. Black SwanAndrew Weisblum
3. SubmarineChris Dickens, Nick Fenton
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. The WorldPaul Machliss, Jonathan Amos
5. The Social NetworkAngus Wall, Kirk Baxter
6. Blue ValentineJim Helton, Ron Patane
7. Shutter IslandThelma Schoonmaker
Lee Smith is one of our great working editors, and Inception is one of his greatest works – a fine display of parallel editing that only sits behind Dunkirk in grandeur and intricacy.

Best Screenplay: The Social Network

1. The Social NetworkAaron Sorkin
2. InceptionChristopher Nolan
3. Certified CopyAbbas Kiarostami
4. The Ghost WriterRobert Harris, Roman Polanski
5. Shutter IslandLaeta Kalogridis
6. Blue ValentineDerek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne, Joey Curtis
7. Black SwanMark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin
8. True GritThe Coen Brothers
9. SubmarineRichard Ayoade
There are few writers who can write dialogue like Aaron Sorkin, and The Social Network is the greatest showcase of his talent.

Best Original Music Score: Inception

1. InceptionHans Zimmer
2. The Social NetworkTrent Reznor, Atticus Ross
3. Black SwanClint Mansell
4. The King’s SpeechAlexandre Desplat
5. True GritCarter Burwell
6. The Ghost WriterAlexandre Desplat
7. SubmarineAlex Turner

Year Breakdown

In the very first year of the new decade, Aaron Sorkin would pen a landmark of screenwriting which hasn’t been topped since. He is virtually peerless in today’s film industry when it comes to writing dialogue, and The Social Network necessarily relies on the fast-paced back-and-forth between Mark Zuckerberg and virtually everyone he rubs up against. The writing achievement of Inception is worth a huge amount of praise as well for its narrative ingenuity and nesting-doll structure. In fact, 2010 is just a great year for screenplays in general when you consider the thrilling twists of both Shutter Island, The Ghost Writer, and Incendies, as well as the pair of marital sparring dramas in Certified Copy and Blue Valentine.

When it comes to the box office, Pixar wins big with Toy Story 3 coming out on top. Not far below, we find Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter too. It is always worth singling out where popularity and art intersect though, and this year it was in Inception. This is a project of Kubrickian ambition, seeking to dazzle audiences with spectacles they had never seen before, only made possible by way of the cinema screen.

Tom Hooper finds artistic success in the sumptuously-directed The King’s Speech, and awards success by nabbing Best Picture for it at the Oscars. Even more praiseworthy though is this year’s Palme d’Or winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. This is Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s follow-up to the incredibly formal work of Syndromes and a Century in 2006, and though it isn’t quite at the same level, this profoundly Buddhist, magical realist meditation on reincarnation is worth the time of any cinephile looking to expand their viewing.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives wins the Palme d’Or in 2010 – a hypnotic, tropical fever dream.

Film Archives

Alice in WonderlandTim BurtonR
Black SwanDarren AronofskyMP
Blue ValentineDerek CianfranceMS
Certified CopyAbbas KiarostamiMS
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1David YatesR
How To Train Your DragonChris Sanders, Dean DeBloisR
IncendiesDenis VilleneuveR
InceptionChristopher NolanMP
Scott Pilgrim vs. The WorldEdgar WrightHR
Shutter IslandMartin ScorseseHR
SubmarineRichard AyoadeHR
The Ghost WriterRoman PolanskiMS
The King’s SpeechTom HooperHR
The Social NetworkDavid FincherMP
Toy Story 3Lee UnkrichR
True GritThe Coen BrothersHR
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past LivesApichatpong WeerasethakulMS
Abbas Kiarostami creates a formally complex work in Certified Copy, with Juliette Binoche and William Shimell going head to head.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s