The conventional wisdom says 2010 was a bad year for good movies, and the clever retort is it was a good year for movies that made us feel bad—but really, the year's best films offered the deep satisfaction of watching other people having the bad times we knew they deserved. Call it comeuppance cinema. There was hostility at the root of even our glossiest entertainments, an intramural antagonism to replace last year's battlefield release. Everything is wrong, somebody is to blame, and that somebody is very near. We have met the enemy, and he is us. But fuck him.
1. Four Lions
Chris Morris' mujahideen slapstick succeeded at two things nobody else would dare attempt: It treated Islamic suicide bombers as clowns, then forced us to see the wasted humanity under the ridiculous costumes.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK: Brenda Song and Jesse Eisenberg. IMAGE: Columbia Pictures
2. The Social Network
While Four Lions laughed at sympathetic destroyers, the Mark Zuckerberg advent calendar snarled with unlovable creators. The mystery embedded in the computer code that created Facebook: Why are these young men so angry?
3. Valhalla Rising
Imagine Terrence Malick's The New World performed by Led Zeppelin in a fjord. Not the most violent thing Nicolas Winding Refn has ever done—though a chap's intestines are removed by hand—but the craziest and best.
Another movie in which men scurry like distressed ants across a colossal landscape, this time in a documentary, chaperoning bleating sheep. The great joke is how they're surrounded by majesty, and they can't stand it.
Why would anybody watch five more hours of bungled terrorism? Because Olivier Assayas' marathon globe-hopper—the first of two films on this list to originate on European television—is a spellbinding portrait of narcissism masquerading as history.
Noah Baumbach's dissection of unappreciated beauty and compulsive self-sabotage placed us squarely inside the resentments of Ben Stiller's entitled kvetcher—but let us escape his ride long enough to embrace the people he threw away.
7. True Grit
A very Coen Christmas present: A frontier vignette that's delicate and deathly, like a cameo brooch engraved with a murder scene.
8. Red Riding Trilogy
Everything those Stieg Larsson Tattoo snoozes should have been, and everything James Ellroy could hope for his "Underworld USA" books to become: a sickening plunge into a police-sponsored dunk tank of innocent blood.
9. Winter's Bone
In a great year for noir (see above), the one figure who remained unsullied and shatterproof was Jennifer Lawrence as a teenager with her own true Ozark grit.
10. Flooding With Love for the Kid
A giddily sincere one-man staging of First Blood, made for $96. But it could stand in for the entire year in movies: a solitary guy, face twisted in rage, running through his apartment shooting at himself.
Best Disreputable Entertainment: Unstoppable was a chugging engine of perfectly engineered kinetic energy. Oh, you thought it was stupid? I'm sorry you don't enjoy movies.
Oedipal complexes, child murder, crumbling marriages, bumbling terrorists, billionaire sociopaths…2010 was pretty grim. At least we had
although the scene in which Ned Beatty's Lots-o-Huggin' Bear made Woody squeal like a pig seemed a bit much.
Bong Joon-ho combines Hitchcock, Lynch and his own twisted vision into the eerie and darkly comic tale of a morally imbalanced and overprotective matron playing gumshoe. Kim Hye-ja nails a complex lead performance in a film that blurs the line between innocence and guilt and sticks with you long after its haunting conclusion.
2. The Social Network
David Fincher's tale of torn friendships and digital dictatorship is both a celebration and indictment of digital self-absorption, a film on par with The Graduate for its relevance to its time.
3. Blue Valentine
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams turn in career-best performances in a torturous autopsy of a failed marriage, a devastating film where sweet moments only serve to make the rest more bitter. It has yet to open in Portland, but the year's most terrible film is also among the best.
4. Toy Story 3
After a 10-year absence, Pixar resurrects the Toy Story team with a sharp, triumphantly sweet prison-break flick tailored for the generation that grew up with its characters as much as for tykes. It's pure cinematic magic.
5. Four Lions
Rubber dinghy rapids, bro.
6. Red Riding Trilogy
Based loosely on the true story of the Yorkshire Ripper, the glum, three-part Brit horror show is a ghastly stew of mangled bodies and incomprehensible accents, a searing exercise in procedural suspense and small-town corruption.
7. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Edgar Wright circumnavigates an irritating combination of comic book geeks, gamers and hipsters to craft the year's most creative and hyperkinetic film—one where you actually believe in Michael Cera as a man of action.
Documentarians Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger emerge from a year embedded with soldiers in Afghanistan with something once thought a casualty of Vietnam: wartime docu-journalism at its most intimate, where the camera—and the viewer—seem like part of the squadron rather than intruders.
9. Valhalla Rising
To date, the best broodingly psychological and psychedelic film about Christian Vikings prone to disemboweling and raping one another while accidently landing in the Americas.
Jay and Mark Duplass bring mumblecore to the masses with the sweet and twisted tale of a lonely man (John C. Reilly) facing off against his girlfriend's New Age Norman Bates of a son (Jonah Hill). The Kids Are All Right got more attention. Cyrus gets dysfunction right.
Best Reason to Suspend Disbelief: Machete. With adrenaline pumping, it seems perfectly plausible when Danny Trejo uses a man's intestines to rappel from a building—and Steven Seagal is somehow a feasible Mexican, despite neither sounding nor looking Mexican.
If there is a theme here, then it is chaos. The best films of 2010 survey collapse in various forms: minds caught between life and death, bodies dancing on the edge of reason, cities eaten away by crime, the whole damned world unspooling. Each of these movies is a tiny apocalypse, a necessary act of creation through destruction.
1. Enter the Void
A beautiful drug: mesmerizing, sort of dumb, transcendent, sexy, violently unsexy, maddeningly addictive, and something you will ramble on and on about to friends who are justifiably fed up with your descriptions of a trip they'll just have to take to understand.
Olivier Assayas finally finds a towering subject worthy of his talent as a polyglot interpreter of global maladies, while Edgar Martinez delivers the performance of the year as the titular terrorist playboy. Carlos is a sprawling electric sketch of Cold War conflict and confusion, and far too few people saw it.
3. Valhalla Rising
The best black metal album of the year that was not a black metal album, Nicolas Winding Refn's muddy and bloody nightmare of primal violence recalls the crazier moments from the Herzog-Kinski canon and the most despairing stretches of Bergman's protracted argument with God. Like the best harsh music, it made me want to beat up my couch and run naked through the streets.
4. Wild Grass
This loopy, elusive ode to obsessive senescence and movie madness is the best thing Resnais has made in ages, and it joins the recent work of Philip Roth in the pantheon of great art about old dudes with impossible boners.
5. Jackass 3-D
It's tamer than the first two installments, but the Jackasses, idiot heirs to Abramovic and Burden, are older now, and time is taking its toll. Wherever shit and pathos meet, there I will be, giggling through my tears.
6. White Material
Claire Denis, perhaps the most consistently brilliant filmmaker working today, conjures a lucid dream of sublime beauty and terror. White Material somehow unravels and coheres simultaneously, tightens its grip as everything falls apart.
7. A Town Called Panic
What I want but will never get from the Toy Story franchise: animated whimsy and wonder with more anarchy and less sappy Hallmark sentiment.
8. Life During Wartime
Todd Solondz revisits Happiness to find out what happens after the worst has already happened. And shit—sometimes life finds a way to be even more unbelievably sad. A shattering and moving glimpse of psychic hell.
A glinting dagger of a film and a welcome return to form by Catherine Breillat, this expertly deconstructed fairy tale rips the chintz from Bresson's Lancelot of the Lake and manages to sustain an otherworldy Renaissance Faire vibe (creepy, trust me) through to a cruel and perfect climax.
10. Red Riding Trilogy
Three directors tackle three books from David Peace's outstanding Red Riding quartet, and the result is one epic tumble in the muck—five hours of unrelenting doom and gloom about the perversity of power. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.
Most Essential Revival: Hausu. Watching it for the first time is like discovering a new species, some monstrous missing link between Godard and Miike. Please see it.
I had a wonderful time at the movies in 2010. I laughed, I cried, I learned about other people and myself. I find the challenge is resisting the hype, what Manny Farber called "white elephant art" and what I think of as "sugar mama art." Long before you say "I do," you're drawn in by advertising, all the fancy money being thrown around. But when you finally get to the bedroom, you have to keep your eyes on the chandelier if you want to fulfill your expectations. The feeling doesn't last. Until Mama offers you some new expensive thing. Or you grow up. I'm trying to grow up.
Marco Bellocchio's Passion of Mussolini captures the danger of falling in love with the Leader.
2. Wild Grass
That pubic title is the first Freudian slip in Alain Resnais' psycho-romance: Your mind is the scene of the sublime.
3. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Generation Y gets a roundhouse kick in the pants. Charlie Brown vs. King Arthur, Round One: Fight!
4. The Yellow Handkerchief
William Hurt takes that same generation on a road trip to romantic redemption, in Udayan Prasad's Southern reverie.
5. I Love You Phillip Morris
Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor are here, they're queer, and they will not get used to it. Neither will you.
6. Nowhere Boy
John Lennon has two mommies: Isn't he a bit like you and me?
7. The Fighter
Some of the year's best male casting: Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale as modern America's Castor and Pollux.
8. Mother and Child
Some of the year's best female casting: Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington, as modern America's Lady of Sorrows.
9. Despicable Me
Steve Carell and Jason Segel put Pixar to shame in this brilliant slapstick cartoon about the joys of parenthood and shooting the moon.
10. Jonah Hex
Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor show how Americans face death. In their comic-book screenplay, Josh Brolin's gunslinger rises to the occasion.
Most Overpromoted Hits: Inception and The Social Network sound like the inventions of business majors, and they are. As overprescribed as Prozac and Ritalin, both films sold young moviegoers on the inevitability of selfishness.
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