MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Top Ten Feature Films 2010

I really struggled over my top ten list this year. There were maybe six films that were pretty hard locks early on, which only left four open slots for the rest of a field of strong contenders — not a lot of wiggle room in a year with a good many solid films rightfully in contention for top ten lists.

For the most part, I think the films that made the final cut onto my top ten list will not come as a surprise if you know me and the types of films I tend to like more than others.

Some of the films that did not make the final cut for me, though, may surprise you, and I’d like to say a few words about that. First, there were several other films to which I gave thoughtful consideration (and if this had been a Top 20 list, they likely would have been on it); some of them are smaller films, and not all have distribution, so I’d like to recognize their excellence.

They are, in no particular order: For the Good of Others, Secret Sunshine, Father of My Children, The Vicious Kind, The Illusionist, and Shutter Island. I Saw the Devil, which was one of my favorite films at TIFF, would have made my top ten, but since it’s supposed to be released here in March, I’ll hold off and include it next year.

And it might come as a surprise, given the number of artsy films on my list, to learn that the two films that came closest to making my Top Ten list but just missed are Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.

And while I haven’t done a lot of Oscar prognosticating yet, I will say right now that The Illusionist is my pick for Best Animated Film over Toy Story 3, fond as I am of Woody, Buzz and the gang.

There are not any documentaries on my top ten, not because there were no good docs this year, but because I find it very hard to compare features to docs; there’s a reason fests and the various awards separate the categories. So I will have a Top 5 (maybe 10) Docs list in a day or so. Yes, yes, it’s a bit of a cop-out. Sorry. I’d rather put the spotlight on the docs separately, though.

The most notably absent of the major awards-contending feature films on my final list are The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, and The Social Network. Of these, The Fighter came the closest to making the cut, but in the end I found that the acting, for me, was stronger than the writing, and that it was problematic for the supporting characters in the film (particularly Dickie and Alice) to be more flawed and interesting on the surface (which is what the script and director chose to show us) than the main character.

Mark Wahlberg’s younger brother Mickey was the more psychologically complex character in his quieter way, but he wasn’t as showy as Christian Bale’s malnourished crack addict or Melissa Leo’s flamboyant stage mother; that’s a writing and directorial decision that made it hard to know who we were supposed to be rooting for — Mickey? Or Dickie? Or both? Or all of them? That said, there was a subtlety to Mark Wahlberg’s performance that I found very moving, and Amy Adams, reaching outside her comfort zone, is excellent.

I enjoyed The Kids Are All Right, for the most part, but again, for me it was a film driven more by the excellent performances by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore than by the direction or script. I applaud Lisa Cholodenko for her handling of the subject matter and for the originality of the idea, but the execution I found problematic. I already devoted an entire column to this subject, though, so I’ll leave it at that.

And then we have The Social Network by far the most popular kid in the Top Ten lunchroom this year. There’s some good acting in there, and it’s an entertaining enough film, although I still take issue with the way Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed — not so much with Jesse Eisenberg’s performance, which is solid, but with the way the character is scripted by Aaron Sorkin. There are some cleverly edited scenes in there (but if you put them side-be-side with similar scenes from Wall Street 2, are they really head-and-shoulders above?).

I suppose Social Network reflects the “cultural zeitgeist,” and critics love them some cultural zeitgeist about as much as they love seeing reflections of themselves in a movie. It’s certainly true that the last 15 years or so have been a remarkable bit of our societal growth to be a part of. I get that. And as a regular Facebook user, I admit it was kind of cool watching this film and seeing the birth of a website that’s become a regular tool I use in my own work and life to stay connected with friends, family and colleagues scattered far and wide.

But Social Network did not, for me, represent David Fincher’s best effort as a director, particularly when I compare it to the sheer balls of Darren Aronofsky in making the crazy, beautiful Black Swan as a follow-up to The Wrestler, or the brilliance of Chris Nolan in conceiving and bringing to life a starkly daring and creative bit of genius like Inception. It doesn’t match the artistry with which Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy attacked what could have been a Lifetime Movie of the Week in 127 Hours, spinning a a compelling, gorgeously shot film out of a story about a guy stuck alone in a crevice in the wilderness with his arm pinned by a rock. It cannot stand against the meticulous process with which Mike Leigh worked with his cast in crafting Another Year, or the poignant honesty and deep sadness of Rabbit Hole, or the rich, full exploration of what it means to live and to die in Biutiful. These films captured raw, honest, flawed and deeply human characters acting and reacting to each other in ways that make us feel like we have been gifted with a rare and insightful mirrors that reflect back to us our own humanity.

There are some solid performances in Social Network, yes . But even looking at the acting, there’s not a performance in The Social Network that has the depth and soul of Javier Bardem’s dying father in Biutiful, the sheer guts of Natalie Portman’s tragic perfectionist in Black Swan, the anguished loneliness of Lesley Manville in Another Year, the clarity and honesty of Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit. Or for that matter, the chemistry of Chloe Moretz and Nic Cage in Kick-Ass.

You, of course, are free to disagree with what made my list and what did not, and no doubt many of you have your own thoughts to share on why you disagree with my choices and reasoning. That’s the best thing, to me, about top tens — they provide an opportunity to hone down the year and then engage in energetic debate about our choices. My top docs list is coming soon, and after the holidays I’ll break it down further with my picks for who should win at the Oscars, all political BS aside.

All that said, here are my Top Ten Feature Films of 2010:

1. Biutiful
2. Another Year
3. Black Swan
4. 127 Hours
5. True Grit
6. Winter’s Bone
7. Rabbit Hole
8. Inception
9. Blue Valentine
10. Dogtooth

22 Responses to “Top Ten Feature Films 2010”

  1. Jack says:

    Nice list of movies nobody went to see…

  2. Robert Hamer says:

    Um, Jack? Inception and Black Swan made her list.

    There are *so* many films that I want to see but haven’t yet (like Carlos, Dogtooth, The King’s Speech, True Grit, etc.). If I had to create a tentative top ten list, it would probably be:

    1. White Material
    2. The Social Network
    3. Toy Story 3
    4. The Fighter
    5. A Prophet
    6. Exit Through the Gift Shop
    7. Animal Kingdom
    8. How to Train Your Dragon
    9. The Ghost Writer
    10. The Town

    As for your criticisms of The Social Network, I agree that it’s not necessarily Fincher’s absolute best work, or even most appropriate to his strengths. However, no other film made more poignant observations about today’s American life than this one, at least in recent memory. From how we interact, perceptions, conflicts and friendships, all told through a classic-type of story of human frailty.

    Aronofsky, by contrast, reverted to his Requiem style of “let’s use crazy technique to pound my protagonist into submission,” this time to campy results, while Christopher Nolan took the intriguing concept of dream states and reduced their complexity to the routines of a typical action movie.

  3. yancyskancy says:

    Your point, Jack? Should Kim’s personal top ten list have included only films that “everybody” saw?

  4. harry says:

    Anybody else think The Social Network stole more than a little from The Rules of Attraction?

  5. Princess of Peace says:

    I really like Kim’s list. It is different than most people’s. Having films such as Biutiful, Another Year, Blue Valentine and Rabbit Hole is wonderful. They are getting overlooked by so many critics. I am glad someone is giviing them some recognition.

    As for The Social Network, that film didn’t move me at all.

  6. Tyler says:

    Dogtooth is amazing, glad to see it make your list.

  7. KNSat says:

    Glad to see a critic who didn’t think The Social Network was God’s gift to mankind.

  8. Krillian says:

    That’d be pretty funny actually. Forcing critics to choose the top ten from only movies that grossed $50 million or more. (I have to choose from THESE? Am I really about to make a list that has “Top” and “Alice in Wonderland” in the same sentence? What do I look like, a HFCA voter?) Many lists feel like there’s a token blockbuster in the top ten and a token arthouse flop in the worst ten.

    Looks like a good list, Kim, but I’ve only seen four of those.

  9. Kim Voynar says:

    Jack, what’s your point exactly? It’s hard to decipher snark through text.

    It’s not the job of a critic (or at least, it’s not my job here at at MCN, or any job I would have, I hope) to make a top ten list that tells you which films had the biggest box office draw. We have a weekend box office report to tell you that, and the best films of the year are at the bottom of it more often than not.

    The purpose of writing a top ten list is to give readers a thumbnail view of what I personally thought were the best films of the year. Which films moved me, surprised me, made me care most about the characters, impressed me with the director’s style, technique, emotional investment or passion? Which films did I find most artistic in the way the story was told, the visual style, the use of sound and music, the uniqueness of the characters or the situation they’re put in?

    There are films that made my list for all those reasons and more. There is not, however, a single film on my list because millions of people thought it was awesome, dude. Or because it broke $50 million at the box office. On the other hand, neither is there a single film on here because another critic or critics’ group loved it.

  10. Kim Voynar says:

    Robert,

    That’s a diverse top ten! I can’t argue against your points as to the social relevance of Social Network; I acknowledged many of those points in the column, actually.

    I was working in tech during the height of the internet bubble, and one of the things Fincher did well with that film was to capture the excitement, the urgency, of being a part of working in tech at that particular point in time. You could smell the social change the internet was bringing in the air, and I have fond memories of working for the Kodak website in the mid-90s, at the beginning of digital taking over imaging.

    But. But, but, but … effectively capturing the cultural zeitgeist of a time and place (gods help me, I just used “cultural zeitgeist” twice in one day) was not enough for me, especially from this director. There were solid performances, I loved the way this film was edited (it would be in my top five for editing), I related to the story, and yet it failed to move me, in part because it just pissed me off how Sorkin’s script painted Zuckerberg in this very one-dimensional way. His story needed a villain, so he chose a side and made Zuckerberg that guy.

    And we’re just gonna have to agree to disagree on Black Swan and Inception. :-)

  11. Jack says:

    Kim, thank you for pointing me to the weekend boxoffice, that’s exactly my point. In your opinion, “the best films of the year are at the bottom of it more often than not.” And why is that? Aren’t films supposed to be entertaining? Robert’s list is much more what I would expect from a critic, good films that appeal to and can be found by a broad audience.

  12. Kim Voynar says:

    Jack,

    In my view, the job of a critic overall and the purpose of a year-end top ten list are not the same thing. A critic should certainly review films that appeal to and can be found by a broad audience, and I review mainsteam, box office films year-round here, in addition to more art house fare that I cover heavily at fests.

    But a top ten list has a different purpose: to tell my readers not which films the box office numbers say are “best,” but which I personally felt were best. It’s completely subjective, which is why most top ten lists are not exactly alike — they are supposed to reflect the personal cinematic taste of the person writing the list.

    You’re assuming that bigger box office numbers (“Look! All these people paid to see this action-blockbuster-rom-com!”) equal better quality, when the opposite is generally more true. Why? Because the kind of movies that appeal to a broad audience, by definition, have to aim for a low-to-mid-average watermark to draw in the oddly large sector of the moviegoing audience that finds mediocrity entertaining.

    It’s a sad but true fact, Jack, that more average folks actually find lots of cool-ass special effects and boobs oozing out of cleavage, or yet another rom com with the same recycled meet cute-misunderstanding/disagreement-make up plot line to be more objectively “entertaining” than the elements of the kinds of films I personally tend to find objectively “entertaining.”

    I can tolerate eating McDonald’s in a pinch, but I much prefer to eat at a nice restaurant where attention is paid to the culinary details, and I wouldn’t put McDonald’s on my top ten restaurants list, no matter how many millions of Happy Meals they’ve sold in the past year. And when I’m evaluating the year’s best films, I look for things like literary merit, artistic value, character development, original, engaging plots and skilled direction and acting.

    This is MY top ten of the year, the films I would most recommend, which are not necessarily the top ten films average moviegoers paid to see. It reflects my taste, which you are free to agree with, or not.

    You’re very welcome, though, to give us your own Top Ten list. If you were making a year end list of “good” films that appeal to that broad audience, what films would we see there?

  13. Princess of Peace says:

    The fact that Kim has Biutiful as her number one says a lot. Many people will be afraid to see this film. I guess it might be too real for them. They just want to stay in a fantasy about life (and death).

    The Social Network is based on a lie. In the film Zuckerberg is upset because his girlfriend dumped him. So he creates Facebook. In real life he has been with the same woman for many years.

  14. wat says:

    Wow great pick on The Vicious Kind. <3 that movie.

  15. Jack says:

    Kim,

    You assume I mean a list of the top 10 boxoffice films, which I do not. And I certainly don’t believe that bigger boxoffice means better quality. However, I do believe there are filmmakers out there making “good” films that appeal to a broad audience, not just the arthouse gang. You are entitled to your opinion, and since you consider yourself above the average movie going folk, your selections make sense.

    You believe that popular movies, “by definition, have to aim for a low-to-mid-average watermark to draw in the oddly large sector of the moviegoing audience that finds mediocrity entertaining.” Really? That’s a sad comment, but one that’s not surprising coming from someone who has the wildly pretentious “Black Swan” on their list and not the brilliant “Toy Story 3,” both the #1 critical and boxoffice movie of the year. Thankfully, the “average moviegoer” doesn’t reflect your taste.

    As requested, here’s my Top Ten list of “good” movies. At least half of them grossed over $90 million, showing their ability to attract the Happy Meal crowd. And only one, which is also on your list, has “lots of cool-ass special effects and boobs oozing out of cleavage.” Happy Holidays!

    1. Toy Story 3
    2. The Social Network
    3. Inception
    4. Carlos
    5. Shutter Island
    6. The King’s Speech
    7. The Town
    8. 127 Hours
    9. How to Train Your Dragon
    10. The Kids are All Right

  16. Kim Voynar says:

    Jack,

    That’s not a bad list, actually. I liked Toy Story 3 just fine, but I personally wouldn’t put it on my top ten of the year, and I wouldn’t rank it above The Illusionist, which I thought was beautiful. It deals with similar themes, but in a very different way. My kids love all the Toy Story films, and they’re certainly among my fave kid movies. For me, Toy Story 3 didn’t quite hold up to Toy Story 2, which is probably my favorite sequel ever. Shutter Island, as mentioned in my column, very nearly made my list. Inception and 127 Hours are on it, and I’d include Nolan and Boyle in my top 5 best directors of the year.

    Black Swan was by far the most divisive film I saw at TIFF. People either completely loved it or completely hated it. I respect your right to fall on the “hate” side, you’re certainly not alone in that. Personally, I thought it was a ballsy movie for Aronofsky to choose in following up the more mainstream The Wrestler, and I felt he had a better handle on the artsy elements than he did with The Fountain, which was gorgeous but very flawed. He’s an interesting, smart director who’s not afraid to handle challenging material, and I give him props for that.

    Social Network and The Kids Are All Right I’ve already discussed; I respect that other people think they’re the bees’ knees, I just think they’re both overrated.

    Seeing your list reminded me that I should have disclaimed in the column that I haven’t seen either Carlos or The King’s Speech, and it’s entirely possible that either or both would have made the cut if I’d been able to catch them, but I don’t have screeners of either (my own fault, not the studios, for letting one of my critics lists go out without updating my mailing address).

    It’s an unfortunate but true fact, though, that most critics end up missing at least a couple of solid films before the end of the year. But I can’t include films I haven’t seen, no matter how much other folks like them. King’s Speech doesn’t open here in Seattle until Christmas Day, and I’m planning to catch it over the holidays. My review at that time will note whether I think it would have made my top ten.

    And lastly, I’d like to say that I don’t think my taste is “better” than the average person, just that the nature of my job has exposed me to more arthouse or harder-to-find films than I would otherwise probably see. It’s likely I would hunt out some of them anyhow, but would I see as many as I do now if it weren’t for my job? Probably not, but I like to think that if I wasn’t a critic for a living and I’d read about Dogtooth or Blue Valentine or The Vicious Kind on someone’s top ten list it might have compelled me to check them out.

    I think that Hollywood generally tends to think the average person has pretty mundane taste when it comes to movies, and they make movies that reflect that belief. And unfortunately, enough people open their wallets to lousy movies to perpetuate the crap factory.

    There’s not a film on your list that falls to what I would consider the “crap” level (with the possible exception of The Town, which was pretty average stuff). You’ve cherry-picked, for the most part, those few films that are actually good that have enough marketing muscle behind them to bring in good box office (and two of them are family films, which tend to do well anyhow).

    I don’t believe most people are as stupid as Hollywood thinks they are, Jack. I believe that if films like Biutiful, Blue Valentine, Dogtooth, The Vicious Kind, Father of My Children, Secret Sunshine, For the Good of Others, Another Year and Rabbit Hole had the benefit of the marketing dollars behind them that a Toy Story 3 or an Inception or even a Transformers or Spidey flick get, maybe more people would know about them and check them out and even like them. But they aren’t safe, they aren’t familiar, and given a choice between something that might be really different and challenging that they haven’t heard about, and the Easy A or Expendables, more people tend to go with what they know. (This, by the way, is one of the reasons critics are still relevant: they tell their readers about films that they might otherwise never hear about … which arguably also makes us part of the publicity machine, but so it goes. That’s an argument for another day.)

    People have not come out in droves to see 127 Hours because they think it’s just about a guy who cuts off his arm; the film Boyle and Beaufoy made is SO much more than that, but most folks just will never know it. But I’ve not seen a single commercial for 127 Hours or Rabbit Hole or Blue Valentine (certainly none for Dogtooth!), and I’ve seen about 89,000 for Gulliver’s Travels. Money poured into marketing tends to pay off.

    And lastly (for now), it’s also true that my top ten list this year is very much reflective of where I am personally at this point in my life. A lot of them deal with growing older, with dying and dealing with death. I don’t know if Biutiful would have resonated quite so strongly with me if I hadn’t just been through a year of facing serious illness while having young kids to worry about, but Javier Bardem’s performance in that film is astounding, and he absolutely deserves the Oscar for it. He won’t get it, but he deserves it.

    Thanks for the passionate, inspired discussion.

  17. Pat2 says:

    Did you really “struggle” with a top ten list? People struggle to put food on the table or get their kids insured. If there were 16 great films that you wanted to showcase in your year-end article, then make it a Top 16 list. Is the number 10 holding a gun to everybody’s head?

    I’m sorry. I really don’t mean to sound obnoxious, but I just had a strong reaction to your first line.

  18. harry aponte says:

    i have 13 of them for this year

    13)SEX AND DRUGS AND ROCK AND ROLL (UK)
    12)HARRY BROWN (UK)
    11)THE MISSING PERSON
    10)THE AMERICAN
    9)127 HOURS
    8)PRODIGAL SONS
    7)BEETLE QUEEN CONQUERS TOKYO (Japan)
    6)45365 (a great documentary on Sidney, OH w/ that zip code)
    5)THE EXPENDABLES
    4)THE TOWN
    3)yep i cried on this one, TOY STORY 3
    2)THE SOCIAL NETWORK

    #1 = INCEPTION

  19. Kim Voynar says:

    Pat, have you ever noticed that when someone says “I didn’t mean to sound obnoxious, but…” that it generally means they are being obnoxious? Kind of like, “No offense, but …,” “Not to be an asshole, but …” etc. So yeah, you are being obnoxious.

    As most people are aware, “struggle” means different things in different contexts, but since you seem to be struggling with understanding this, I’ll be more specific for you.

    “Struggle” can be used to mean a physical battle, as in “They struggled over the knife.” Or in the sense that one worked hard to complete a challenging physical task, as in, “She struggled to cross the finish line in the 10K race.” It can be used also to describe a challenging intellectual task, as in struggling to finish writing thousands of lines of code on a tight deadline, struggling to complete a final edit of a book or screenplay, struggling to edit thousands of hours of footage into a coherent documentary. Etc.

    It can further be used to mean things like struggling to put food on your table (been there, done that) or to get your kids insured (been there, done that too … just a couple years ago, actually). Or struggling with telling your kids you’re seriously ill, or struggling to not lose your home when you’re laid off and the economy sucks, or struggling to rebuild a country after a devastating war, or struggling to rebuild the economy after a bunch of rich men decided to play fast and loose with the rules and screwed things up for a lot of people.

    The fact that the word “struggle” can be used to mean those particular things does not negate its use in what you obviously consider to be a lesser sense. I could have just randomly plopped any number of “good” films into ten slots and called it a top ten. I could have just copied from what a lot of other people have done with their top tens, blended in with the crowd, and likely no one would know that I didn’t put an iota of real thought into what films ended up there. Or, really, cared.

    However, because there is a possibility that some people who read my top ten list might NOT attend film festivals or have access to press screenings and awards consideration screeners, one of the things I hope that my top ten list (and the accompanying column) accomplishes is to put the names of some great, but underseen films, out there for them to consider checking out. So toward that end, Pat, yes, I do “struggle” over my list, by which I mean this, specifically:

    I start my Top Ten list in January of each year. To that list, as I see them, I add every film that I think might possibly merit end of year consideration. As the year goes on, I go back to that list at least monthly and filter films into sub-lists, “likely,” “possible,” “particularly interesting,” and the like. This larger list includes everything from blockbusters to small artsy films, from films that played in your big megaplex to films that only ever played at fests.

    Then, starting right after Thanksgiving, I devote as much time as I possibly can in between homeschooling four kids and also parenting two stepsons, editing features here every week, writing, and occasionally sleeping, to watching as many awards consideration screeners as I can possibly squeeze in, so as to hopefully overlook as few films as possible. In fact, in order to respond to your snarky comment, I’ve paused a documentary that I need to finish watching before I can finish my docs list. As I watch screeners, I continue to hone my list.

    When it finally gets down to the end of December, I start to seriously cull that list down to 20-25, and then from there I get it usually down to maybe 15 or 16 and then start ordering them. Sometimes, I film that I took out of the running at one point ends up making the list upon further consideration. I’ll get a tentative list made, sleep on it, then go back to it the next day and fine-tune some more until I finally have it down to a final ten, in an order that I hope, sincerely, I will look back on a year or two later and be more or less satisfied with. Even though I know I’ll still second-guess myself down the road and agonize (yes, AGONIZE, which can also be used in reference to things more objectively important than a top ten list) over whether I should have made room for a film like The Vicious Kind or even Toy Story 3.

    So. Not to be a condescending asshole, Pat, but yes, I struggled, in an intellectual sense, with which films to include in my top ten list. If that answer doesn’t clarify sufficiently for you my use of the word “struggled” in this particular sense, I’m sorry. Not really “sorry” in the sense of “feels badly for doing something wrong,” but more sorry in the sense of “sorry if you still don’t get it, but it’s my top ten list and I stand by my use of that particular word.”

  20. Kim Voynar says:

    Harry, that’s quite a list. I forgot 45365 was out this year, I believe it won at SXSW in 2009. Nice pick. Props for including Beetle Queen, too.

  21. Krillian says:

    Haven’t seen True Grit, Biutiful, Black Swan, The Fighter, Blue Valentine, etc., etc., but of the 101 titles I have seen, my top eight right now are Inception, Toy Story 3, The Town, The Social Network, How to Train Your Dragon, Scott Pilgrim v. the World, 127 Hours and Winter’s Bone.

  22. joshua black says:

    lol, love the struggle bit

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