2010 was an interesting time in the film industry. Franchises like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings were dormant for the time being. “Cinematic universe” had yet to become a Hollywood buzzword. It was a great year for independent filmmaking, which makes for ranking the best movies of 2010 an interesting endeavor.
We’ve had plenty of time to let these films gestate. Sometimes it’s better to wait before ranking films to see how they fully impact the zeitgeist and to see how some films age better than others. This list is the first part of an exciting series from StudioBinder where we’ll look back and rank the best films of each year in the 2010s, culminating in a single list ranking the best films of the decade. See where your favorites landed. These lists may just remind you what you should go back and watch.
THE BEST FILMS OF 2010
On first glance, Greenberg doesn’t seem to be about anything at all. It’s largely plotless with the film mostly following Ben Stiller’s character, still recovering from a nervous breakdown, as he ventures to Los Angeles and strikes up a relationship with an insecure woman. Despite the plot, you still find yourself captivated by it even after watching.
The film encapsulates a kind of stasis far too many adults find themselves in. It embodies the mindset that you’re no longer in your 20s with your entire life in front of you to attain your goals. Time has passed you by, and what do you have to show for it? The thematic resonance is still palpable to this day, and the film is further elevated from the glorious cinematography work of Harris Savides, which makes Los Angeles pop like few films can manage.
TOP MOVIES 2010
With Modern Family debuting in 2009, the unconventional family dynamic really went into full swing. Families portrayed in films and TV no longer needed a mom, dad, and 2.5 kids. While 2010 had numerous films about unconventional procreation (Mother and Child, The Back-Up Plan), none hit all the right notes like The Kids Are All Right.
Julianne Moore and Annette Bening star as a lesbian couple whose children finally want to meet their sperm donor. What follows is an intriguing character study where everyone is simultaneously charming yet fallible. It’s a heartwarming watch, and it will make you wish there were more adult dramas like this.
TOP MOVIES 2010S
18. The Town
In the mid-2000s, Ben Affleck was more of a punchline than an actor. He successfully proved he could reinvent himself as a director with the fantastic Gone Baby Gone. With The Town, he proved he wasn’t a one-trick pony, and he delivered one of the most exciting heist thrillers of the last decade.
What makes the film standout is how the heist often comes second to developing characters. He grounds these people in the gritty realism of modern-day Boston, which is of course Affleck’s home turf, and he gives the town all the gravitas it needs. In this film, when the engine fires on all cylinders, it’s a thrilling ride with more to chew on than your average heist movie.
GOOD MOVIES 2010
17. Fish Tank
Fish Tank thrives on bringing out a sense of British realism. The independent film focuses on Mia, a 15-year old girl who has to deal with her mom bringing home a new boyfriend. Katie Jarvis shines as Mia, and Michael Fassbender’s role as Connor gives the young actress plenty to play off, leading to ample great moments.
The gritty nature of the shots are appropriate for the realistic setting. The story may not be overly complex, but the characters have layers upon layers, constantly engaging you and making you wonder what someone’s ulterior motive may be. It’s a coming-of-age film that stands above the rest, and if nothing else, it may make you realize how nice your teenage years were by comparison.
BEST MOVIES OF 2010
16. Let Me In
The original Swedish Let the Right One In is one of the best vampire movies ever made. While you would think an American remake would trample over its legacy, Let Me In takes everything great in the original while adding its own sensibilities to create a rare, worthy remake.As a horror film, there are plenty of scares for horror enthusiasts. However, the film excels in portraying the melancholy of being a 12-year old in today’s world. Future Batman director Matt Reeves offers enough visceral tension and despondent pacing to bring you into the horrors of the film. It never detracts too much from the romance present within.
RANKING THE BEST MOVIES OF 2010
15. Rabbit Hole
Few films of the last decade have captured grief quite as well as Rabbit Hole. The film stars Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as parents whose four-year old son died in a car accident. The film picks up eight months later and sees the parents handling his death very differently. There are few stylistic flourishes in the film, and that serves as an advantage.
The film puts the two performances front and center, so you’re forced to deal with the same reality as our protagonists. The film comes in at a taut 91 minutes where every piece of dialogue matters. You’ll hang onto their every word, and even if you don’t always agree with the characters’ choices, you 100% know where they are coming from.
THE BEST FILMS OF 2010, RANKED
14. The Fighter
Boxing dramas are among the most predictable in the sports genre. While The Fighter hits familiar beats, it’s elevated thanks to the outstanding performances offered by Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams, and Mark Wahlberg. Bale, in particular stands out, as a boxer past his prime who works with his brother to help him to attain the same level of fame he did.
The film grapples with people who have made mistakes in their lives and how they’ve handled those setbacks. In some cases, the characters become the very people they despise most. Ultimately, the film shows how you can still triumph even if your damages won’t go away.
LIST OF THE BEST MOVIES OF 2010
One of the most intriguing themes that came out of 2010 was the concept of deciphering between reality and illusion, which would become all the more pertinent in our time of “fake news.” From Inception to Black Swan, moviegoers frequently left theaters in 2010 scratching their heads, wondering what they actually saw. Exit Through the Gift Shop does a phenomenal job of capturing those themes.
The documentary captures the life of street artists and why they do what they do. While you think you’re getting a look inside the life of Banksy, the film flips and turns its attention on Thierry Guetta instead. Deception is just part of the game, and while the film leaves some lingering questions, those questions are ultimately the point.
POPULAR MOVIES 2010
What if you were buried alive in a coffin? It’s a terrifying what-if question, and director Rodrigo Cortés provides a scary yet engaging answer with Buried. The film stars Ryan Reynolds as an American working in Iraq who finds himself trapped in a coffin with only a lighter and a Blackberry. He only has a limited amount of time to contact someone who can pay the ransom so that he can be saved.
Minus a short video call, there’s only one character we see the entire time. One disaster builds upon the next, providing you with moments of terror slightly intersected with beats of hope. It’s some of the most brutal filmmaking you’ll see out of 2010. It gets the most out of its simple premise, and while the film was (ironically) buried upon release, it’s worthy of a watch today.
TOP GROSSING MOVIES 2010
11. 127 Hours
Much like Buried, 127 Hours is a claustrophobic film. A mountain climber becomes trapped with no one knowing where he is, so he’s forced to amputate a limb to survive. It’s a gut-wrenching film not for the faint of heart, but it has a message still true in today’s world.
James Franco’s character is a loner, and the movie repeatedly makes it clear that even the loneliest of wolves still need other people in their lives. As we become more and more isolated from one another, it’s important to have these reminders that no one is an island. Although the ending is already known, it doesn’t make it any less impactful.
TOP 10 MOVIES 2010
10. Blue Valentine
Blue Valentine drew controversy upon its release for receiving an NC-17 rating that the MPAA ultimately withdrew. Years away from the controversy, the film still stands as a devastating portrayal of a doomed relationship. No matter how hard the two try to make it work, the audience knows they’re simply not meant to be together.
The non-sequential ordering of the plot offers insight into how mistakes in the past can impact a relationship in the present. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s essential viewing. Just make sure your partner’s away from the house before you pop it in.
THE BEST FILMS OF 2010
9. Toy Story 3
A belated Toy Story 3 turned out to be one of the best moves Pixar could make. The generation that grew up with Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the gang were now heading off to college themselves. Seeing Andy have to put away childish things as he heads off onto the next chapter of his life was devastating. Many times, the third film of a trilogy falls off in quality, but in this instance, Toy Story 3 proved to be a worthwhile coda to beloved characters.It’s funny. It’s heartfelt. It’s hard to forget the one-two punch of watching toys accept their demise and then be handed off to the next generation. Toy Story 3 expertly blends family fun with weighty themes people of any age can still learn from.
BEST MOVIES OF 2010 LIST
If there’s anyone who understands the inner machinations of being a young person in Hollywood, it’s Sofia Coppola. Her film Somewhere explores the life of a newly famous actor after he suffers an injury and then has to look after his estranged 11-year old daughter.The film is a wonderful showcase of Coppola’s craft. She makes you see what she wants you to see and feel how she wants you to feel. You’re transported into the world of the film to the point you’ll feel just as aimless as Johnny. Somewhere perfectly captures the essence of celebrity ennui and how you can have everything a normal person would ever dream about and still feel empty.
TOP MOVIES OF THE 2010S
7. True Grit
The Coen Brothers took a very different approach to adapting True Grit than you would expect. Instead of drawing from the 1969 film, they look more toward the novel. The result is a far grittier take on the Western movie, proving the long-dormant genre still has some life in it from the right filmmakers.
Roger Deakins proves he’s a master of his craft by filming some of the most perfectly shot frames of his career. Then, there’s the litany of fine performances, most notably from Hailee Steinfeld. What follows is a character-driven masterpiece that’s a different, but welcome, addition to the Coen Brothers’ filmography.
LIST OF TOP 10 MOVIES 2010
Dogtooth follows a mother and father who keep their three kids isolated from the outside world, only teaching them what they want to know. It’s as disturbing as it sounds, and it makes for a stunning showcase of what director Yorgos Lanthimos would accomplish later in his career.Like many films of the 2010s, Dogtooth has a strong focus on isolationism. However, there’s so much more at play. After the credits roll, you’ll have a hard time returning to any sense of normality for a while, somehow feeling as though you don’t deserve such a normal life. You’ll wonder whether you should laugh or cringe at what you’re witnessing, making it transcend typical critiques.
FUNNY AND GOOD MOVIES 2010
How this movie was so slept on during its release is beyond me. With quippy dialogue and stylish flourishes to spare, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World entertains and delights in the best way possible. Sure, there’s a message in there about needing to respect yourself before you can get into a new relationship, but ultimately, Scott Pilgrim is just a fun ride you want to go on again and again.
What makes the film so entertaining is how you notice little details with each re-watch. Edgar Wright packs the film with so many Easter eggs and jokes, they may fly over your head at first watch. The movie draws upon video game, comic book, and cartoon influences to deliver something wholly unique that has thankfully found an audience in the years since.
THE BEST MOVIES OF 2010, RANKED
4. Black Swan
What begins as the tale of a dancer vying for the dual role of White Swan/Black Swan turns into psychological horror in a way only Darren Aronofsky could manage. Black Swan deftly juggles pertinent themes, such as reality vs. illusion. It also showcases the pain artists have to make for their art.
All of this comes together in Natalie Portman’s amazing performance. Juggling between light and dark as well as experiencing hallucinations means the performance could’ve went off the rails at any moment. But Portman grounds Nina, and much like the ballet the movie is based off of, you can’t take your eyes away.
REVIEWING THE BEST MOVIES OF 2010
Winter’s Bone plays like a detective story with Jennifer Lawrence’s character on the hunt for her father. All this has the hauntingly gorgeous backdrop of the Ozarks with all of the supporting characters she runs into fleshed out and seemingly real. As a result, it shows a side of the country unknown to most but a chilling reality to many.
The film offers insights into a life Ree could have. She could join the Army and get away from the struggle of life in the Ozarks. But she’s bound by family and has to remain for her siblings. It’s a film about tough choices and insight into how drugs can devastate communities.
ONE OF THE TOP GROSSING MOVIES 2010
Despite people’s insistence Inception is overly complicated, it’s a fairly straightforward heist movie that gives you everything a filmmaker could possibly salivate for. Again, it deals with concepts of reality vs. illusion, best exemplified by the famous last shot of the top continuing to spin. But in addition to dealing with themes of reality, Inception also functions as a reflection of the filmmaking process itself with each member of the team taking on the role of a film crew member. Cobb embodies a director influenced by his muse (Mal) whom he has to let go of if he’s to live.
Themes aside, Inception is action filmmaking at its best. It’s the kind of action blockbuster that’s hard to come by, delivering on both exciting action set pieces and weighty philosophy. The hallway fight scene with Joseph Gordon-Levitt is still just as impressive today as it was nine years ago.
THE BEST FILM OF 2010
The King’s Speech winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards over The Social Network has only become more baffling over the years. Indeed, as Facebook has become an ever-growing presence in people’s lives and on democratic elections, David Fincher’s film remains not just the best films of 2010, but one of the most important movies of the modern era.The writing, directing, and acting all come together perfectly. There’s not a single moment that feels out of place as we witness Mark Zuckerberg’s rise from outcast to innovator. And in a world where Zuckerberg will insist Facebook occurred as a result of the Iraq War, we have The Social Network to remind us that Zuckerberg was just a nerd who wanted to create a hot-or-not website.
The Best Movies of 2011
Films like The Social Network and Inception started the decade off right. How did 2011 carry on themes such as isolation and delusion? Check out our next list in this series to see which film from 2011 came out on top.