Stephanie Zacharek's 10 Best Movies of 2010

There's probably no good reason to read any movie critic's Top 10 list, but lots of people -- including myself -- read them anyway. Let's not be falsely modest about it: It's an honor to be able to compile a list and to have a place, online or otherwise, to moor it. But everyone who cares about movies has his or her own private list, posted online or not, which may include some or all of the usual suspects in a given year (like The Social Network or The King's Speech, pictures which lots of people, though not all people, seem to love) as well as a selection of fiercely protected personal favorites.

It's the personal favorites that I think are most important, because for most of us those choices suggest the ways movies can reach us in ways that go beyond our sense of whether movies are "good" or "bad" in some technical, pre-ordained sense. Sometimes those choices might make us seem silly to our friends (or to our audience). We have to drop our guard to include them in the first place; then we have to steel ourselves for the howls of derision that might follow.

But why bother with movies at all if we're only allowed to love from a list of approved, reasonable choices? I enjoy looking at other critics' top-10 lists, but I almost always find the choices at the bottom -- including "honorable mentions," if a critic has included them -- the most interesting. At the top of the list, the pressure is really on: I always start with the movie I simply loved best, and then deal with the inevitable criticism that it cannot possibly be the "best" movie out there in a given year. (The only way to "deal with" such criticism is to ignore it.)

But the end of a critic's, or a moviegoer's, list is where the oddball magic really happens. The movies here are the stragglers, the drifters, the hobos that not all of society loves. These are movies that may have been kicked off the list, put back on and kicked off again -- they don't ask for easy membership in any club. These are movies that may have reached us in ways we can't quite parse, even after we've spent hours or days thinking and/or writing about them. If all top-10 lists are subjective (and all are, no matter how pompous some critics may be in presenting their choices), the tail end of the average list is truly the untamed wilderness, the place for inexplicable passions, for wooliness, for massive quantities of "What the f---itude?" And so, before I give you my list, I invite you to compile -- and please post -- your own, and please throw caution to the wind at the end. Because once moviegoing starts being more about caution than about love, we're truly sunk.

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  • Drew says:

    I liked what you had to say about top-10 lists. I think the personal choices are what's most important. I love reading as many as I can, seeing how many of the usual suspects critics included, and finding the more interesting lists that have those personal choices not liked by the majority critics and audiences. I make top 20 lists and send them to people I know. I haven't seen every title I am interested in, so it will take me until Feb before I put mine together.

  • Lee Ann says:

    I would submit 'Animal Kingdom' to this list---devastating performances, particularly by Jacki Weaver and Ben Mendolsohn. It stayed with me for days, especially since it is a true story.

  • kudos says:

    "I’m baffled that more critics didn’t see, for instance, the wit in the idea of a woman boarding a train for another country with only a tiny clutch bag"
    Are you serious? Is that really witty to you?? Do you have a college degree or is this a job you're doing to pay through it?
    If this site hired better writers there may be better feedback. My two cents. -

  • Sid says:

    Nice list and I certainly prefer a personal best list to the critics' choice ususal suspects lists which are all over with the numerous Odcar blogs.
    The American was not warmly received by audiences since it had a "D" CinemaScore and only made $35M domestic. But I agree with you that many critics didn't appreciate the wit and escapist intent of The Tourist and focused too much on some of the failings of the director/writer. In enjoyed it and found it a pleasurable 2 hours even though I could write a long list of what I thought von Donnersmarck did wrong. It's the sort of movie that would be an easy choice when I'm looking for light, escapist entertainment.

  • Peg Aloi says:

    Nice list Stephanie!
    My own (which will be posted on the Phoenix blog this week): Another Year, True Grit, The Red Riding Trilogy, Winter's Bone, The American, Sweetgrass, Toy Story 3, Marwencol, Please Give, Never Let Me Go.
    I had a long list of Honorable mentions, too, including Let Me In, Carlos, Ondine, I am Love, 127 Hours, Chloe, Blue Valentine, Client 9, Nowhere Boy, Hereafter, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Biutiful, Monsters, Wasteland, Shutter Island, and Exit Through the Gift Shop.
    I appreciate your comments about Somewhere. I'm going to give it another chance.

  • Bonnie says:

    Ah, in spite of what "Kudos" says, Stephanie Zacharek is a very good film reviewer - and she writes with a lot of wit - but sorry, *The Tourist* is a witless wonder.

  • Sally shimmin says:

    I would add The Killer Inside Me and The Road. Otherwise completely agree.

  • Brian says:

    I thought The Tourist was pleasant, but not one of the year's best movies.
    There are a few 2010 movies that I still need to see (True Grit, Somewhere, Company Men) but my list so far is: Ghost Writer, The Town, The Fighter, Fair Game, The King's Speech, The American, Let Me In, Unstoppable, Easy A, and Harry Brown. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Chloe, Salt, and Hot Tub Time Machine were pretty good as well.

  • Peg Aloi says:

    Sally, THe Road was form 2009, but, yes one of last year's best, I thought.

  • Gilgamesh37 says:

    I far prefer personal best lists to the "good for you," purportedly objective lists some critics make, especially when, as this critic notes, such lists are inherently subjective anyway. Even when I don't agree with you, your columns are always wonderfully written and terrific to read. So thank you, Stephanie--all the best for 2011.

  • Ralph says:

    She liked the Fucking Tourist and hated Inception she should never review movies.

  • Gilgamesh37 says:

    Because she doesn't agree with you on 2 specific films, she should never review movies? Really? Look, whether you agreed with her assessment of those two films or not (and for full disclosure, I haven't seen Tourist, and I was frankly kind of bored by Inception, I didn't care about anyone in it and the thought of trying to sit through it again to catch all the "subtleties and nuance" holds zero appeal) the fact is that Ms. Zacharek has a depth and breadth of knowledge about film that very few people do. It's why--along with being an excellent and witty writer--she's a paid critic. Critics aren't supposed to just go along with the masses (or worse yet, with the studio publicity machines)--they're supposed to analyze, parse, compare, view and dissect in a way that the average viewer probably won't and almost certainly cannot. They can do all that AND also engage on the level of pleasure, which, hey, whaddya know? Is basically what she says in this piece. I just can't believe people are still questioning her obvious skills and tenure as a critic just because she wasn't wowed by Inception--a position, incidentally, which she ably and extensively defended, which is more than I can say of most of hte backlash, which seemed more on the line of "It was great, if you didn't like it, you're stupid." Yeah, that's well reasoned debate, folks. Move on, people.

  • Charles says:

    In reply to Ralph: Stephanie should have hated BOTH The Tourist and Inception. I understand she has an Angelina fixation, but to cite the wonderful Charade in comparison to The Tourist is a joke. However, I don't think Inception (or, for that matter, last year's grossly overrated Batman movie) is any better. In fact, they might even be worse.

  • Charles says:

    Oh, and since Stephanie invited us to list our own top 10, here are mine:
    1. Social Network; 2. The Kids Are All Right; 3. The King's Speech; 4. Ghost Writer; 5. 127 Hours; 6. The American; 7. Unstoppable; 8. The Town; 9. True Grit.
    Make that top 9. Oh, and I haven't seen Somewhere yet.

  • Patrick says:

    played superbly by French pop star Johnny Hallyday?
    you really don't know what you are talking about, do you? That was probably the worst piece of "acting" ever seen in a J-TO movie !!!! (seen any other than this one?)
    On the other hand, nice picking for the female cast (Mezzogiorno - who played also in "La Prima Linea" this year - and Swinton (who apparently has to be producing something to get roles that truly emphasize her talent, though "Julia" was nice too but not in a "butterfly" way as you put it beautifully)
    The American? is this an hormonal choice? (that, I would understand =D)

  • Nick says:

    Alphabetically: Black Swan, Blue Valentine, The Exploding Girl, Greenberg, I Am Love, Never Let Me Go, Shutter Island, The Social Network and Somewhere.
    If I had to put one at the top, it'd probably be Somewhere, with I Am Love and Greenberg a close second and third.

  • Nick says:

    And Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Musn't forget that.

  • jamesyd says:

    nice list, social network and inception are my fav's. check out my list if you're interested

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