My Picks For The Best 15 Films of 2010

A year ago I had a lot to say when it came to great films. Not only did I post My Picks For The Best Films of 2009 (a list of 15 films and 5 documentaries), but I also produced the monster of all posts: My Picks For The Top 100 Films of The Decade.

Well, this year things are a little simpler, as all I've got is a list of my favorite 15 films of the past year. A list that does not include Black Swan, 127 Hours, The King's Speech, Carlos, Another Year, or Blue Valentine, as I've yet to see any of those supposedly terrific films.

And rather than a numbered list, this year I'm simply offering up three groups of five films, starting with my picks for the top 5 films of the year:

TOP 5 FILMS OF 2010:

FILMS #1-5 (in alphabetical order)

The Fighter
Director David O. Russell (Flirting With Disaster, Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees) returns with his first film in six years and it's a thing of beauty. Not only does he get career performances from both Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg, but everyone else in this film about real-life brothers "Irish" Micky Ward and Dickie Eklund, is superb as well, particularly Amy Adams and Melissa Leo. You don't even have to like boxing, this is a film for anyone who simply loves great filmmaking and sublime acting.

The Kids Are All Right
Another film featuring some pretty stellar acting, in this case from Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson. This comedy/drama from director and co-writer Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon) takes a look at a modern American family that just happens to have two moms and no dads... until Sperm Donor Dad shows up and throws everything off balance. An incredibly fun, enjoyable film.

The Secret In Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos)
This perfectly-crafted Argentinian film from director and co-writer Juan José Campanella touches on many common themes - love, longing, loss, grief, vengeance and justice - without ever feeling clichéd or anything less than original and fresh. A great film in every way.

The Social Network
Not quite as great as his masterpiece, Fight Club, but another work of pure brilliance from director David Fincher. And not to forget screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. And the entire cast. A thrilling ride. Yeah, it's a metaphor for our modern (dis)connected society and all that, but who really thought a movie about the founding of Facebook could possibly be this entertaining and so damn fun?

Winter's Bone
The biggest surprise of the year. Haunting and intense, this gritty, realistic thriller from director and co-writer Debra Granik (based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell) is set in the stark rural poverty of the Ozarks and features Jennifer Lawrence in one of the best-written female roles I've seen on screen in years. And Lawrence is absolutely mesmerizing - she gives what just may be the finest performance of 2010. The other films in my top 5 are all quite well known, but not this one. And, compared to films like The Social Network, this was made on a relatively tiny budget of just $2 million. Yet, if I had to pick just one film that impressed me - and blew me away - the most this year, I'd have to choose this one. And if you're in any way a lover of film and you haven't yet seen this thing, you simply have to go out and rent it today.


FILMS #6-10 (in alphabetical order)

A documentary unlike any other I've ever seen. Funny, sad, heart-warming, suspenseful, intriguing, and outright bizarre, this film from directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost follows Ariel's brother, Nev, into an online relationship that turns out to be something altogether different from what it at first appears.

Kick Ass
Perhaps the most polarizing film of the year. Puritans were shocked - shocked! - to see 13-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz (playing an 11-year-old character) in such a violent Tarantino-esque bloodbath. And using filthy language to boot. True lovers of film, however, sat back and enjoyed this hilarious take on a modern-day wannabe hero with no particular powers... and the aforementioned young girl and her dad (Nicolas Cage, at his freaky-weird best) who come into his life with a nasty lust for vengeance (and an uncanny ability - in complete contrast to our hero - to actually kick some ass). Directed with zeal by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake).

A Prophet (Un prophète)
Powerful, intense - and quite graphic - French prison drama from director and co-writer Jacques Audiard. Definitely not for the faint-hearted. A stunning performance from Tahar Rahim in the lead role.

The Town
Ben Affleck's directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, was one damn fine film, but this one, also set in Affleck's hometown of Boston, is perhaps even better. One thing's for certain, the guy has sure proven he can direct. And he puts in a great performance here to boot. Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Blake Lively and, especially, Jeremy Renner are all terrific as well.

True Grit
The Coen Brothers do it again. After last year's fantastic A Serious Man, they try their hand at a western. And, as with every other genre they've tried over the years, they give it their very own brilliant Coen twist. Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon are terrific, but the surprise here is 13-year-old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who, as the central character, has to carry the picture and does so with ease (what's with 13-year-old girls giving awesome performances in great flicks this year?).


FILMS #11-15 (in alphabetical order)

Animal Kingdom
The best Australian film I've seen in years. An incredible debut from writer/director David Michôd, featuring some terrific acting from the entire cast. Based on the real-life Pettingill family, an infamous Melbourne-based criminal family ("family" as in mother and sons, not as in a mafia family). I hadn't even heard of this film until I saw it on Quentin Tarantino's list of the best films of 2010, where he had it as his #3 film of the year. I didn't think it was quite that good, but it was sure a fantastic film.

The Ghost Writer
From a master director and featuring a riveting performance from Ewan McGregor, this is one of the best political thrillers in years. Whatever you may think of Roman Polanski as a person, there's no denying his greatness as a filmmaker (Chinatown, The Pianist, etc).

Noah Baumbach, the writer/director who brought us The Squid And The Whale, gives us another great work of subtle humor and poignant drama. Starring Ben Stiller as a 40-year-old man going through a mid-life crisis, but in no way your typical Ben Stiller film. Some people don't much care for Baumbach's take on things (nor his buddy Wes Anderson's, with whom he wrote The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Fantastic Mr. Fox), but to me he is amazing - I absolutely love his take on life, relationships, people, and the world.

A great film - featuring a wonderfully-intense performance from the always-great Leonardo DiCaprio - but both times I saw it I couldn't help thinking that it could have been so much better if writer/director Christopher Nolan had made it right after Memento, back in 2000 (at which time he wrote the original script). That is to say, if he hadn't had such a large budget the film probably would have been more focused on the story and less on the sometimes overdone action sequences (get rid of that whole pointless chase through the snow!). Still, it's about 100 times more intelligent, exciting, and well-acted than your typical summer blockbuster.

Shutter Island
Another riveting, intense performance from Leonardo DiCaprio in yet another great film from Martin Scorsese (his fourth starring Leo, so far).

And A Very Special Mention:

Water On The Table
Seeing that it's directed by my sister, Liz Marshall, and I could be accused of being somewhat biased, I've left this great Canadian documentary to my "Special Mentions" section. The film follows "international water-warrior" Maude Barlow as she campaigns to have water declared a human right, rather than a commercial good. Read more here.

And, finally, Another Very Special Mention, one year late:

An Education
I didn't get to see this gem of a film from 2009 until a couple of months after I'd already posted my list of the best films of 2009, so I just wanted to quickly mention it here, since it was, without question, one of the best films of that year.

Oh, and for those of you who wonder about such things, the last two films to be cut from the above list were the Italian film from writer/director Luca Guadagnino, I Am Love, and the Austro-German film from writer/director Michael Haneke, The White Ribbon.

Feel free to post any comments and/or your own list of the best films of the past year below.

Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Friday, January 21st, 2011


POSTSCRIPT: Thursday, February 3rd, 2011: I just saw The King's Speech today and it definitely deserves a place on this list, though I'm not exactly sure where and I don't know which film would have to be dropped in its place. One thing's for sure, Colin Firth's performance is a tour de force; a master class in subtle, emotive acting. A truly great actor gives his greatest performance yet. And Geoffrey Rush is superb as well.

Now check out: My Picks For The Top 15 Albums and 5 Songs of 2010


And, in case you missed them, here are My Picks For The Top 100 Films of The Decade


And then check out my picks for the best music of the past ten years: The Top Albums, Songs and Artists of the Decade 


And here are:


My Picks For The Best Films of 2009 


My Picks For The Best 25 Films of 2008


My Picks For The Best Films of 2007


For more on film click here: MikesAndDislikes Film: Home


Or here: Film: General


Or here: Film: Raves & Reviews


MikesAndDislikes Home

The King's Speech

This is the finest film from my point of view, which is coloured in part by the fact that I am a psychotherapist. The sensitive and deeply insightful way that Geoffrey Rush's character helped the future King to overcome such a major and humiliating disability was truly inspiring! And the acting was superb!

Winter's Bone

I saw Winter's Bone when it first came out here in Toronto last fall. AMAZING! Everything about that film worked for me...direction, cinematography, acting, story. I am glad that it is getting some recognition on the awards circuit, although we all know that it doesn't have a hope in hell of winning. None the less, RENT IT! Lorena

No Toy Story 3?

Shame on you Cowie... just because it's animated doesn't mean you can't connect with it. Such a live action snob... ;) Other than that... great list as always.


Well, I actually really enjoyed "Toy Story 3", but I just didn't think it was one of the best films of the year.


And I'm definitely no anti-animation snob. I've had both "Wall-E" and "Up" in my Top 15 Films of The Year over the past two years. And I had "Fantastic Mr. Fox" as my #4 film last year.


By the way, Tarantino had "Toy Story 3" as his #1 film of the year!

Mike Cowie

Great List

Hi Mike, Another great list with awesome recommendations. I really need to get caught up. As a filmmaker sometimes there isn't enough time to see movies!!!


Thanks for including my film Water On The Table. It is just being released in the US, Asia and Australia by my US based distributor Bullfrog Films, you can see some great US reviews here on their site:


A documentary that is incredibly good that I would recommend to you and to all of your readers/fans/friends is Wasteland, it is incredibly moving and positive:


Also, make sure that you see You Don't Know Jack, starring Al Pacino. It is an excellent understated drama about the life and work of doctor-assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian. Al is a genius (of course).


And, some shameless promotion!!! People can buy the Water On The Table DVD here, via PayPal:


Really about DiCaprio?

Very interesting Mike, we may have to look at some of these. Probably pass on Greenberg, I did not care for The Squid and the Whale. Also, "the always-great Leonardo DiCaprio," really?!?!? I admit I haven't seen many of his movies, but he was dreadful in the Man in the Iron Mask, not to mention Titanic which was just overall dreadful and melodramatic.


Those two films you mentioned are from 1997 and '98, but even though I'd strongly argue that DiCaprio was a great actor even before that (see "This Boy's Life" and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" both from 1993, and "The Basketball Diaries" from 1995, just to name 3 great performances), he's made 12 films since that time and he's been amazing in just about every one of them.


In fact, I'd argue that he's one of the greatest actors working today. Check out his performances in "Gangs of New York", "Catch Me If You Can", "The Aviator", "The Departed", "Blood Diamond" and "Revolutionary Road" and try to tell me he's not one heck of a talented actor.


Oh and, by the way, I fully agree that "The Man in the Iron Mask" was a horrible film. But you've definitely got to see him in a few more films.

       Mike Cowie

Best films 2010

An interesting list which I'll take to heart in choosing films to see. Sorry you missed "The King's Speech" though, which I thought was superb. Thanks for the background notes concerning directors -- most informative! Toronto admirer