Top Ten Films of 2010

Top ten films with a theatrical release in Melbourne, Australia in 2010


1. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)
This almost clinical and mechanical representation of the human subconscious facilitated an extraordinary exploration of cinematic space in order to deliver an intriguing heist story with wonderfully thrilling action sequences. This year’s masterpiece.

2. Enter The Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009)
This mesmerising assault on the senses by the director of Irréversible was a strange, brilliant and audacious first-person head-trip into drugs, death, sex and the neon lit metropolis of Tokyo.

3. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)
Martin Scorsese’s latest film was a typically brilliant example of subjective filmmaking, but where the point-of-view belongs to an unreliable protagonist. A sophisticated exercise in film style dressed up as a pulp thriller. So much more than a spot-the-twist film.

4. Animal Kingdom (David Michôd, 2010)
The Australian film to receive the most hype this year was also the most deserving. The low-key filmmaking resulted in a tense, gritty and at times horrifying crime drama.

Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3

5. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)
The combination of tight writing, powerful sentiment, humour and characters with so much heart delivered one of the greatest animated films ever made. Possibly the most perfect resolution to a trilogy too. Not a dry eye in the house.

6. Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)
An extraordinarily empathetic film about the everyday and commonplace tragedy that love doesn’t always prevail. Contains the year’s strongest performances from Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.

7. The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos, Juan José Campanella, 2009)
The surprise winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year, this Argentinean murder mystery/romance contains hidden depth. A thrilling and intriguing genre film in its own right but also a moving representation of Argentina’s history of political turmoil.

8. The American (Anton Corbijn, 2010)
To reduce this to merely a generic hit man film ignores how immaculately crafted Corbijn’s second film is. The rich use of style and homage offers multiple rewards for a visually literate audience.

9. The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)
Another great example of subjective filmmaking where the film gets increasingly deranged as its psychopathic protagonist increasingly loses his grip on reality. A superb adaptation of Jim Thompson’s hardboiled novel featuring some incredibly upsetting acts of violence.

10. Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2009)
It wasn’t an old-school David Cronenberg film but the glorious blend of science-fiction, horror, melodrama and psycho-sexual thriller made it feel like one. Transgressive wicked fun.

Honourable mentions

11. The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009)
12. Boy (Taika Waititi, 2010)
13. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
14. Kick-Ass (Matthew Vaughn, 2010)
15. Crazy Heart (Scott Cooper, 2009)
16. The Messenger (Oren Moverman, 2009)
17. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Edgar Wright, 2010)
18. The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko, 2010)
19. A Prophet (Un prophète, Jacques Audiard, 2009)
20. Let Me In (Matt Reeves, 2010)

Top ten unreleased films

Son of Babylon
Son of Babylon

(Films with either very short seasons or only festival screenings, and to the best of my knowledge aren’t scheduled for a general release in 2011).

1. Son of Babylon (Mohamed Al Daradji, 2009)
2. I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Reque, 2009)
3. Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, 2010)
4. The Illusionist (L’illusionniste, Sylvain Chomet, 2010)
5. Poetry (Shi, Lee Chang-dong, 2010)
6. Nobody’s Perfect (Niko von Glasow, 2008)
7. William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe (Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, 2009)
8. When You’re Strange (Tom DiCillo, 2009)
9. World’s Greatest Dad (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2009)
10. The Army of Crime (L’armée du crime, Robert Guédiguian, 2009)


Tim Burton: The Exhibition
Tim Burton: The Exhibition

1. The Red Shoes (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1948) at the Astor Theatre.
2. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) with a live orchestra at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
3. Tim Burton: The Exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.
4. The Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa and Jacques Demy seasons plus the Max Ophuls and Tod Browning nights at the Melbourne Cinémathèque.
5. The experience of seeing The Room (Tommy Wiseau, 2003) as part of the on-going Cult Cravings program at Cinema Nova.

Also appears here on Senses of Cinema.

An earlier (and since revised) version of the top ten film list originally appeared in the December 2010 edition of the Triple R magazine The Trip (online here).

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010


  1. Nice list Thomas! Mine is similar although i haven’t seen Enter the Void, or Splice. And I also wasn’t so impressed with The Killer Inside Me. Mine stands as:

    1. The Social Network
    2. Inception
    3. The Kids are All Right
    4. Exit Through the Gift Shop
    5. Blue Valentine
    6. Toy Story 3
    7. Winter’s Bone
    8. Shutter Island
    9. The Secret in Their Eyes
    10. Let Me In

    Honorable Mentions: I Am Love, The American and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

  2. Good on you for including Shutter Island, the most overlooked film among critics this year, IMHO. Good list overall.

  3. @Andrew – That’s a fine list too! It’s interesting that you’ve included Exit Through the Gift Shop, Winter’s Bone and I Am Love because they are all films that I really liked but feel that I saw them in circumstances that prevented me from really embracing them. I’m hoping to therefore revisit them all.

    @PQ – Cheers, and I agree that Shutter Island was grossly overlooked. Curiously, when I did a poll on Film Buff’s Forecast on the best and most under-appreciated films of 2010, a lot of listeners and guest reviewers on the show mentioned Shutter Island in both categories.

  4. Good God, Thomas! I generally like your reviews, but looking over this list I realise we’re miles apart in taste.

    I thought Inception was the most over-rated film of the year. Nothing more than a pretentious chase movie, for me. And a very noisy and boring one.

    Shutter Island I found irritating and tedious. By the time it had untwisted its convoluted little self at the end, I was so bored I didn’t care about the resolution (which I thought was cheap, in any case).

    There was, indeed, a dry eye in the house at the end of Toy Story 3 – two actually. Mine. Vastly overrated IMO. In fact I found myself nodding 3/4 of the way through. I rate Invincible Me way above it. Not as spectacular in terms of the animation, but far superior story and characterisation.

    Blue Valentine featuring the acting performances of the year? Wha? What’s all this fuss about Michelle Williams? Her cutesy-pie knock-kneed stuff annoyed me, and I found her post-mumble-core ‘realism’ more than a little self-conscious. “This is Michelle Williams doing cinema verite and aren’t I good at it?”. Hmmm. More often than not, for me cinema verite ends up feeling contrived, which is, of course, the exact opposite of the intention. And I don’t understand why so many critics found this angsty rambling relationship drama emotionally powerful. It left me cold.

    The American was stylish, but built hollow IMO. Crap ending.

    I HATED The Killer Inside Me. Not only was the scene in which Jessica Alba is beaten to a pulp sickening – it was gratuitous IMO, serving only to sensationalise the movie and grab attention. I know we’ll disagree on this, and that scene has been discussed to death, but that’s my truth. I thought the rest of the movie was humdrum, psychologically vacuous, and the ending was too silly to countenance. Pulp is one thing – dumb is another.

    Didn’t see Enter The Void, The Secret In Their Eyes or Splice, so can’t comment there.

    Agree with your assessment of Animal Kingdom, although I rated it higher than you.

    I am philosophically opposed to the notion of ‘Best Film’ or ‘Best Actor’ etc, or attempting to order a Top 10, but going along with the exercise, there are only 8 contenders that pop into my head for 2010. They are, in no particular order:

    Animal Kingdom
    Black Swan
    The King’s Speech
    The Social Network
    The Kids Are Alright
    Me and Orson Welles
    Fish Tank
    Invincible Me

    The first 6 pick themselves as far as I’m concerned, and for me, are essential inclusions in any Top 10 for 2010.

    Best of the rest: Gainsbourg, Brothers, Crazy Heart, Made In Dagenham, Exit Through The Gift Shop

    I didn’t see Winter’s Bone – regrettably.

    Other than those of yours I’ve already commented on, I wouldn’t rate any of the following as worthy of inclusion in a Top 10: A Prophet, Please Give, Four Lions, I Am Love, Let Me In.

    It’s been a source of fascination for me in recent months that the assessments of the circle of people I know who are avid movie viewers and have well-developed critical faculties should differ so widely much of the time. We often disagree entirely, although we tend to group into little knots who generally have similar taste and percpectives. Vive la difference! If we all saw things in the same way, half the fun would be lost.

    Nevertheless, variation in critical reception like this does make a nonsense of any notion of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in film criticism. Rather, good criticism is all about providing evidence to back up and explain one’s views. But of course, I don’t have time or space to do that here. In most cases, like you, I’ve already done that part of it in my reviews.

    Happy New Year!

  5. Wow. Thanks for all that! Good call on Me and Orson Welles, The King’s Speech and Please Give as they are also films that I rate highly. Fish Tank is yet another film that I really liked but feel that I didn’t respond to it as sufficiently as I should have due to the conditions I saw it under.

    Black Swan doesn’t get released in Australia until 2011 so it doesn’t qualify for my list (plus I’m yet to see it!)

    Finally, what’s Invincible Me? Do you mean Despicable Me?

  6. Oh sheisse – sorry. Yes, I meant Despicable Me.

    Uh-HUH. Quite right re Black Swan. At this time of year seeing preview screenings can mess up yer lists!

    On that basis, I think Up In The Air would qualify as a 2010 release, then? In which case, that would go into my top picks. But I may be misremembering when it was released.

    Pls note: I don’t rate Please Give highly.

    I know exactly what you mean, Thomas, when you mention not responding to some movies as you might under different viewing conditions. I certainly bring personal baggage to movies from time to time, or expectations or foreknowledge that preclude a ‘pure’ viewing. That’s one thing I agree with David Stratton on – preferring to see a movie without having any idea of its style or content, or its critical or box office reception. Not always possible, but ideally, I think all viewings should be ‘pure’.


  7. R did you mean Despicable Me? Because I don’t know how it can be mentioned in the same breath as Toy Story 3. I didn’t like it at all. Just my opinion.

  8. @rolanstein – Sorry, re-reading your comment I see that you weren’t impressed with Please Give. My misunderstanding. Usually when I do these types of favourite films posts people usually contribute by mentioning the films that they like rather than dwell on the ones they did not, hence my confusion.

    @Andrew – yes, he did mean Despicable Me but I hadn’t approved his last comment for you to see before you made yours. Being New Year’s Eve and all I’ve been mostly away from the computer!

  9. Thomas,

    Well, I did contribute by mentioning the films I like – in some detail! In responding to your post, I also identified some you liked that I didn’t. Not sure how you interpret that as “dwelling” on films I didn’t like rather than those I did. In seeking to fully respond to your post, I was merely seeking to include comments on all your listed films.

    Each to his own. I’ve briefly indicated the areas in which I found Despicable Me markedly superior to Toy Story 3 and I stand by that. Happy to expand and discuss if you wish to elaborate on WHY you “don’t know how [they] can be mentioned in the same breath.”

    If it was practical and of sufficient interest – which it surely isn’t – I’d propose reading the two scripts and comparing the merits of each. Of course, that’s not the same as comparing the movies, but it would highlight the areas I am focusing on in my assessment. I come from a literary background, and tend to focus on the dramatic fundamentals. That may explain our differences here, at least in part.

    And now, I’d better take me and my head full of NY’s Eve cheer off to ze land of zzeds.

  10. I very much come from a cinematic background, where I regard film as primarily a visual art form where film style among other things is a crucial part of storytelling, so yes I think that certainly explains our differences.

    All the best for 2011 and I hope we both discover plenty of films that we can enjoy and get excited by – even if they are not the same ones!

  11. Good list! Inception, Toy Story 3, Animal Kingdom and Shutter Island all made my Top 10 also.

    Can’t say I liked either Enter the Void or The Killer Inside Me though, and I thought The Secret in Their Eyes and Splice were only pretty good.

    I am glad The American got a mention – a very high honourable mention for me, and seriously underrated by most.

    My Top Ten:

    10. Black Swan (saw it in a preview screening, so I’m counting it)
    9. Animal Kingdom
    8. Predators (my requsite curveball)
    7. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
    6. Exit Through the Gift Shop
    5. Four Lions
    4. Toy Story 3
    3. Shutter Island
    2. Inception
    1. The Social Network

  12. Thomas, your list annoyed me greatly.

    It’s not the selection of films, for they are excellent (even the ones I disagree with, I know you have in there for good reasons).

    It’s not your justification of why you’ve included them, for those justifications are typically articulate and reasoned.

    No, it’s your inclusion of Lourdes, which served to remind me that even though I did a top fifty — linked above in my name — I managed to forget that one. Would have just edged The Messenger out, too. Urgh! How did I forget it? Lourdes was beautiful!

    That very subjective complaint aside, wonderful list! (And I feel extremely chuffed at being the one who recommended the William Kunstler doco to you!) :)

  13. Some interesting stuff here. There are a few titles listed that I’ll have to put on my ‘must watch’ list.

    Enter The Void was far too long and slow for me to get into.

    The Killer Inside Me just didnt grab me like it has others.

    Scott Pilgrim, A Prophet, Shutter Island, Exit Through the Giftshop and The American were all films I loved that had very little attention. Nice to see them in people’s lists.

    I really feel I missed the boat on Inception. It just didnt wow me like it did others.

    Black Swan is an incredible movie so it’s sure to appear on a lot of lists next year.

    Great comments on ‘pure’ viewings too Rolanstein. I certainly feel blockbusters suffer from that problem with all the market saturation that goes on.

  14. @Tom – great list and I’m glad to see you included Predators! It was great fun and I love it when people are honest and include their curveball choices on lists like this. It keeps things interesting. I realise that I am substantially alone for loving both Splice and The Killer Inside Me to the extent that I do so they are clearly my curveball choices.

    @Lee – LOL Sorry to annoy you! Your top 50 list is extraordinarily extensive (and recommended reading) so I was surprised that Lourdes didn’t appear. Like you I see a ridiculous number of films each year (far more than I review) so I now actually maintain a database to ensure I keep track of them all. That gets increasingly difficult to maintain during festivals though. And thanks again for recommending the William Kunstler doco as it was indeed an excellent film – despite being such a problematic name to pronounce on live radio as you demonstrated!

    @Benicio – My issues with sometimes not getting a ‘pure’ viewing more stems from seeing too many films in a day and being too tired for the last one, or having to occasionally resort to watching films on DVD screeners rather than seeing them properly on the big screen. I’ve written about this before but I believe critics should pay no attention to things like marketing and box office figures. I know I try not to and neither do most other decent critics (well the ones I read anyway). Besides, we often see the films before they are released and without trailers so we are shielded from all that to an extent.

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