The ten best movies of 2010

In 2010, 3D movies broke through big – and started to show signs of being a fad. Psycho turned 50, Facebook got a movie and documentaries continued to blur the line between fact and fiction, making it difficult to separate truth from invention. Toy Story 3 was the biggest hit of the year ($415 million in the U.S.), deservedly so. Franchises such as Twilight, Iron Man and Harry Potter proved they’re still as popular as ever, even if no one really seemed to love the actual movies much. Leonardo DiCaprio starred in two of the year’s best mind-benders (Shutter Island and Inception), Ben Affleck demonstrated serious chops as a director with The Town and studios learned films that geeks drool over (Kick-Ass, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) don’t necessarily cross over into the mainstream. One of the crummiest summer movie seasons in history still drew large audiences, but next year can’t help but be better. There’s no way it could be worse.

Here’s a list of the ten best movies I saw this year (two of them are scheduled to open locally in January):

1) The Social Network: The inspired combination of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and his rat-tat-tat dialogue with director David Fincher, a master of dark, stylish mood, resulted in the year’s most engrossing and resonant movie about alienation, ethics, friendship, ambition and dysfunction. Impeccably shot and acted, and utterly absorbing from start to finish – regardless of whether or not you own a computer.

2) The Fighter: What could have degenerated into a giant pile of Rocky clichés – the true story of a working-class boxer (Mark Wahlberg) from Massachusetts who became a world champion – was instead made fresh and exhilarating by director David O. Russell and his superb cast, with Christian Bale standing out in a supporting turn as a former boxer turned crack addict that is destined to bring him an Oscar.

3) Black Swan: Natalie Portman gave a career-high performance in Darren Aronofsky’s hallucinatory drama about a ballerina slowly going insane – and taking the viewer down the rabbit hole of her mind with her. The moody, elliptical movie is a love-hate proposition: I loved it.

4) Carlos: Olivier Assayas’ whopping 330-minute epic about the notorious terrorist Carlos the Jackal, with 100 speaking parts and told in eight languages, moved so quickly that sitting through it felt like two hours (OK, maybe three).

5) I Am Love: The inestimable Tilda Swinton delivered yet another knockout performance as the Russian wife of an Italian tycoon who upends her posh life for an unexpected romance. A strikingly shot, stirring melodrama that turned the previously unknown director Luca Guadagnino into a cinematic talent to be reckoned with.

6) Inception: With this what-the-hell? Escher-sketch of a movie, director Christopher Nolan proved moviegoers aren’t as stupid as Hollywood thinks they are, and will turn out in large numbers for a complicated, sometimes impenetrable puzzle of a film – as long as it’s as superbly made and acted as this one. A bonus: The movie gets better with every viewing. Watch it again.

7) Animal Kingdom: It’s a jungle out there, especially when you’re a 17 year-old whose mother has just overdosed and you are forced to move in with your cheery, murderous grandma and a clan of drug-addicted, thieving uncles. In his debut, Aussie writer-director David Michod turns one teen’s rites of adolescence into a life-or-death struggle with an unsparing, sometimes cruel hand. Growing up has never seemed this hard – or dangerous

8) Exit Through the Gift Shop: In a year packed with documentaries whose veracity was sometimes questionable, none was more transfixing – or entertaining – than the directorial debut of British graffitti king Banksy, a study of an obsessive self-made artist who achieved fame and fortune through sheer hype. Or did he really?

9) Blue Valentine: The most romantic – and heartbreaking – love story of the year, cutting back and forth between the courtship of a young couple (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, both delivering ferocious performances) and the gradual dissolution of their marriage years later. Sometimes, love fades away. (Opens in January)

10) Somewhere: Writer-director Sofia Coppola’s study of a famous Hollywood actor (Stephen Dorff) forced to reconnect with his 11 year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) is a sweet, delicate, tender, gossamer thing – the most minimalist, self-conscious picture Coppola has ever made, an art film with a capital A, and also her funniest and most affecting. (Opens Jan. 21)

Honorable mentions: 127 Hours, A Prophet, The American, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Greenberg, I’m Still Here, Kick-Ass, The Kids are All Right, The King’s Speech, Mesrine (Parts I and II), Never Let Me Go, The Secret in Their Eyes, Shutter Island, Toy Story 3, Winter’s Bone.