#1. Inception (2010)
I can’t begin to say how much I love this movie. Its poor showing in the official awards ceremonies, especially the Oscars, was a slap in the face to films. How do you not celebrate when someone like Christopher Nolan, who has already made at least two timeless movies (Memento, The Dark Knight, which ranked at #7 and #4, respectively, in the 500 countdown), has just made what he calls his passion project? To put this in perspective, it’d be like saying the Mona Lisa was a minor accomplishment, or the Sistine Chapel, or Moby Dick, or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The sheer imaginative scale of it alone, from the idea of dreams being the last true place to exploit in the human psyche, to the visualization of it, to how the dreams are actually experienced, to how they fold into numerous plots…This is postmodern filmmaking. And to say nothing of the Hans Zimmer score. And to say nothing of the cast, any one of whom I could mention here, but I’ll settle on two: Leonardo DiCaprio, still among the hungriest actors to ever land in Hollywood, and Tom Hardy, finally receiving the recognition he’s been working on a decade to earn. If you can’t find at least one movie every year that would have a good shot at entering your favorite-ever experiences, you are probably not trying very hard to enjoy movies. Not that a movie like Inception is much of an effort. Unless you really want it to be.
#2. Robin Hood (2010)
Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, together again (Gladiator, A Good Year, American Gangster), bringing a terrific sense of reality to the Robin Hood legend. Critics seemed to hate this one, mostly because Gladiator is still something they’re trying to figure out. They hated it so much they kept insisting that Robin’s Merry Men weren’t very merry. I honestly have no idea what movie they were watching! Great Big Sea, a favorite Celtic rock band of mine and Crowe’s (he’s listening to them on the radio in State of Play), contributes Alan Doyle to play some of the best music any Merry Man has ever played. Cate Blanchett also appears, playing a fiercely independent Maid Marion, perhaps the only actress capable of matching wits with Crowe. Mark Strong, who has quickly become the unsung darling of supporting actors, contributes a strong hand to the unusual villainy afoot.
#3. Shutter Island (2010)
Martin Scorsese and Leo DiCaprio (Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed) knock the socks off the Dennis Lehane book, with Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley, among others, turning in strong supporting performances.
#4. Get Him to the Greek (2010)
Russell Brand reprises his supporting role from Forgetting Sarah Marshall to help justify the huge amount of hype he’s gotten in recent years. The songs, played mostly for laughs last time, are more integral and better this time around, and a lot of the reason I love this movie so much. I also enjoyed Colm Meaney, marking something of a resurgence in recent years, as Brand’s dad. Rose Byrne, who normally fades into the background, is another surprise as Brand’s estranged lover, and the source of more memorable music.
#5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
This is the full-geek version of (500) Days of Summer, with Michael Cera strong enough to pull off both the unlikely romantic and comic lead performance. There’s a lot of stuff going on around him, but he never gets lost in it. Good stuff all around.
#6. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
Oliver Stone has become a critical afterthought, so it was no surprise that his follow-up to one of the defining movies of the 1980s was almost completely overlooked, even though it’s as important to today’s world as the original was to its own time. Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, and Frank Langella are all excellent. This is the version of The Social Network that doesn’t get lost in its own sense of self-importance (which is ironically what that movie was supposed to be about).
#7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010)
It’s always hard for me to rank a Harry Potter. Even more than a Star Wars, you’re constantly aware that there’s another movie that continues the story (that was the main problem of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings). There’s always something unique about them, but you can’t help but wonder what it would be like if the filmmakers could truly cut loose. They’re still infinitely better than every other movie they inspired, though. The problem with this one? It’s literally the first of two.
#8. The Warrior’s Way (2010)
I loved Ninja Assassin, but this was like that movie, improved maybe a thousand percent, with a whole world built around another mystical figure stepping out of one world and spinning into another. It really helps that Kate Bosworth has a chance to steal the show, a performance that comes out of nowhere, especially since she’s been virtually absent from the screen for the last few years.
#9. The Next Three Days (2010)
Remember when everyone was going nuts over Paul Haggis? Well, he’s another classic backlash case, and this is the latest victim. Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks try to figure their way out of a bad situation, and it doesn’t get a lot more thrilling than how it all plays out. Olivia Wilde has a supporting role.
#10. I Love You, Phillip Morris (2010)
Based on real events, this is the next evolution of Jim Carrey, which is really strange, since the more he grows as an actor, the smaller his audience gets. Ewan McGregor plays Carrey’s lover. Maybe that explains why you didn’t hear about this one.
#11. True Grit (2010)
Jeff Bridges completes his transformation into one of Hollywood’s undisputed titans, claiming the role of Rooster Cogburn for his own. Matt Damon and Josh Brolin are equally memorable in supporting roles. May also be the Coens’ most complete movie experience.
#12. Remember Me (2010)
Robert Pattinson and Emilie de Ravin star in this heartbreaking journey that unexpectedly ends in the tragic events of 9/11. Like Orlando Bloom in Elizabethtown, Pattinson is liberated as an actor by completely breaking free of his usual persona.
#13. The Town (2010)
Ben Affleck completes his Hollywood comeback by making his version of The Departed, starring as a habitual bank robber looking to start over. Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively are among the excellent supporting cast.
#14. The Losers (2010)
The biggest action thrills of the year came from this ensemble flick headlined by Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jason Patric that’s basically an American version of Desperado.
#15. The Way Back (2010)
Peter Weir directs this absorbing drama about the unlikely journey to escape the legacy of WWII, though from a perspective that’s rarely tapped in Hollywood, so that the only American we meet is Ed Harris, and everyone else is some other nationality, whether hero Jim Sturges (whom I’ve been following since Across the Universe), whose betrayal in Poland lands him in a Russian gulag, where he meets, among others, Colin Farrell, putting a new spin in his character credentials as a selfish thug who doesn’t have to be in the whole movie to leave a lasting impression.
#16. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
The best animated movie of the year was a strong message of tolerance set in unlikely circumstances. The portrayal of dragons as dogs is a novel one, and helps to give the story unexpected depth. Craig Ferguson and Gerard Butler are effective Vikings.
#17. Valentine’s Day (2010)
Like He’s Just Not That Into You, but better, with a strong central performance from Ashton Kutcher, and a huge heaping of supporting efforts, including Jennifer Garner, who’s just one of many participants in surprising romantic situations.
#18. The Social Network (2010)
If anything was going to win Best Picture at the Oscars and not be Inception (True Grit was less likely to win because the Coens had previously won with No Country for Old Men), it should have been this one, which takes a smattering of mostly unlikable people and tries to make you sympathize with them. Jesse Eisenberg, a scowling version of Shia LaBeouf, makes Mark Zuckerberg into an insufferable genius douchebag. Andrew Garfield, a previous standout in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and the future Spider-man, is probably the only likable figure in the movie.
#19. Hereafter (2010)
Critics burned out on tapestry filmmaking years ago, which is mostly why this powerful and Dickensian flick from Clint Eastwood was all but completely ignored. They didn’t even need the recent tragedies in Japan to downplay the tsunami that serves as the dramatic spectacle here for no real reason. Matt Damon is an actor whom I appreciate more and more, and he does a standout job as the anchor of three narratives.
#20. Cairo Time (2010)
I know Patricia Clarkson has gotten the bulk of the praise (and attention) for this one, but I prefer to focus on Alexander Siddig, an actor I admittedly first noticed in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. But he has since become one of film’s great unsung treasures, popping up in supporting roles all over the place, mostly as the sympathetic Arab (Kingdom of Heaven, Syriana). This is his first starring role, which is something to celebrate.
#21. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)
Woody Allen is yet another accomplished and talented filmmaker critics like to downplay at their convenience (and to their loss of credibility). I’ve grown to admire him in recent years (Match Point, Cassandra’s Dream), and this is another strong entry, revolving around struggling author Josh Brolin, with a lot of fun pieces moving around him, including an unusually appealing Naomi Watts, the luminous Freida Pinto, and Antonio Banderas.
#22. Cop Out (2010)
Kevin Smith disowned it, but he really shouldn’t have. Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, and Seann William Scott all shine in this buddy cop parody.
#23. Death at a Funeral (2010)
Chris Rock actually grounds this farce, with an outstanding supporting cast around him, so that at times, you may actually forget that Chris is sharing the screen. At times.
#24. Megamind (2010)
Will Ferrell has a signature role here with his “giant blue head.” Brad Pitt shines every time Metro Man appears, too.
#25. Machete (2010)
Robert Rodriquez is like the indy version of Christopher Nolan, never failing to bring anything less than a complete vision to the screen. He also manages to corral some of the best casts anyone has ever seen for his movies. Here you get Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriquez, Robert De Niro, and Don Johnson, who makes (except within this film’s credits), an unappreciated comeback after several years away from the screen.
#26. Unstoppable (2010)
This is like a factual version of Speed, with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine, getting his first starring role since Star Trek, swapping in for Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. Standout supporting roles go to Rosario Dawson, who’s always awesome, and Kevin Corrigan, who also steals every scene he has in a recurring Fringe gig.
#27. Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Tim Burton, who normally has a tendency to spin a little out of control, is one of the few directors who seems to completely appreciate the advances of technology and the increased ability to step, well, into Wonderland.
#28. Devil (2010)
M. Night Shyamalan attempts to become a brand, renting out this story about a group of strangers who wind up in a dilly of a pickle.
#29. The Last Airbender (2010)
He also adapts the Nickelodeon cartoon and steeps his own impulses deep into mythology, allowing some of the visuals to do what he normally does psychologically, which is to immerse his audience into a breathtaking situation.
#30. The Book of Eli (2010)
Denzel Washington and Mila Kunis survive in a post-apocalyptic world by being awesome.
#31. Clash of the Titans (2010)
There’s any number of reasons why I loved this movie that was tanked by 3D backlash: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Greek mythology. The last thing I cared about was that this was basically a remake of a flawed 1980s experience.
#32. RED (2010)
Bruce Willis and a strong supporting cast, and I will choose to spotlight Karl Urban over several eminently worthy names, in another fine action adventure.
#33. Tron: Legacy (2010)
As much as anything else, it’s almost as if this movie was made to redeem the 1980s as a legitimate source of material that was not originally a cartoon and/or action figure. Jeff Bridges and Olivia Wilde are standouts.
#34. Despicable Me (2010)
Steve Carrell and Jason Segel engage in an epic feud and create distinctive character voices in a movie that’s basically Monsters, Inc. made by someone other than Pixar.
#35. Takers (2010)
This is one of those movies that seemed to taunt me for months with some preview or another, and so I was just glad that it was finally released, and ended up being worth the wait.
#36. Jonah Hex (2010)
Given how low it is on this list and that it landed on a list of 500 overall favorites previously, you might think that I reevaluated my interest in this one, but that’s just how things sometimes work out. For the record, I stand by it.
#37. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Better than the first one, with more interesting things for Robert Downey, Jr. to do, and better supporting stars around him, aside from the steady presence of Gwyneth Paltrow. This time around, Mickey Rourke and a boisterous Sam Rockwell lend their support. Scarlet Johansson, surprisingly, falls a little flat here, though she’s basically competing with Jennifer Garner’s untoppable performance from Daredevil, so it’s not such a surprise.
#38. Shrek Forever After (2010)
The fourth Shrek rebounds from a somewhat pointless third entry by bringing the focus back directly onto Shrek himself. Basically the ogre version of It’s a Wonderful Life.
#39. Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
I think they finally figured out how to make a really good Resident Evil movie. Milla Jovovich is joined by the returning Ali Larter and Wentworth Miller, marking his first significant role since Prison Break, playing far more ambiguously, and with a sinister edge, than Michael Scofield.
#40. Gulliver’s Travels (2010)
A silly modern update of Jonathan Swift’s classic featuring Jack Black being Jack Black. Jason Segel and Emily Blunt are among the supporting cast who help parody expectations.
#41. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)
Surprisingly effective, what I would call an American version of Harry Potter. Nicholas Cage may appear to be fairly indiscriminant, but I think he has a better eye than most people give him credit for.
#42. Predators (2010)
I have never seen any other film with said Predators in it, whether the originals in the series this ostensibly continues, or the mash-ups with Aliens that a bunch of comics helped make possible. Adrien Brody and Topher Grace are among a strong cast that gets to try and survive.
#43. Skyline (2010)
Speaking of survival, this was like the American version of District 9, in that it was made on a shoestring budget, and you’d hardly know it. While lacking as effective a story, it still features an engaging alien problem with a transcendent final sequence that effectively eliminates the need for any of the actual actors to appear.
#44. Toy Story 3 (2010)
Everyone loved this movie, the latest Pixar movie to redefine the possibilities of animated movies. Everyone except me. Pretty much a rehash of the second movie, with less engaging additions, and a less compelling obstacle. The only thing that redeems it is the element that everyone else was busy concentrating on, the fact that for the first time, Andy isn’t a complete afterthought. In fact, it’s mostly his scenes that give this entry any meaning at all, and they’re worth the hype.
#45. The Other Guys (2010)
Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell engage in a fairly standard oddball pairing flick that also features Eva Mendes, Samuel L. Jackson, and Dwayne Johnson.
#46. Knight and Day (2010)
Tom Cruise attempts his big comeback, and while the charisma is there in spades, I guess audience interest wasn’t, even though this is thoroughly enjoyable material. Cameron Diaz has a fairly routine supporting performance, mostly reacting to what happens around her.
#47. Salt (2010)
This was basically Angelina Jolie’s Knight and Day, an enjoyable ride, but with more of an edge. Liev Schreiber co-stars.
#48. The A-Team (2010)
Joe Carnahan gets a little lost in the spectacle he creates around the personalities he helps revisit with actors like Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, and Sharlto Copley. Jessica Biel and Gerald McRainey put in additional layers.
#49. The Wolfman (2010)
I was hoping for a more potent combination from Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, and Emily Blunt. Maybe I’ll just have to revisit this one at some point.
#50. The Bounty Hunter (2010)
People like to shit on Gerard Butler, mostly because he presents a dynamic that’s almost completely unfamiliar from the standard Hollywood tropes. He’s incredibly masculine, but in a relatable way. It seems like an impossible contradiction, but there he is. Jennifer Aniston gets to play with that.