Top Ten Films of 2010: Dark Fantasy Cinema

This list is accurate as of post-date. So many films and not enough time to see them all—141 seen is this year’s number—the potential for future change is inevitable, but as of today here are the best …

I remember thinking around April that there hadn’t been a truly great film released yet. After summer came and went with little to cheer about, I feared 2010 would be a gigantic bust containing a ton of decent to good films, but only a handful of great ones. And then—like it seems to be the norm now—came the festival circuit inclusions and the world saw what was being hidden from view. So many of the memorable works possess a subtle slant towards the surreal, fantastical, or hyper-real, putting us into video game universes, the mind of a woman going insane, the heavy weight of emotion within a clone bred for organ harvesting, or a disturbing estate of children with parents playing God. Toronto, Sundance, and Tribeca all proved to have a wealth of talent and intrigue, saving filmgoers from the noise and vomit-inducing edits of Hollywood—with some exceptions of course. 2010 started slow, but it finished strong and proved to hold a collection of greats worth taking note.

Films not seen yet that have potential of creeping into the top 10:
44 Inch Chest; Applaus [Applause]; Barney’s Version; City Island; Le concert [The Concert]; Get Low; Hævnen [In a Better World]; Hors-la-loi [Outside the Law]; Incendies; Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work; Made In Dagenham; Le père de mes enfants [Father of My Children]; Snabba Cash [Easy Money]; Tamara Drewe; The Tempest; The Tillman Story; Tiny Furniture; Vincere; You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Honorable Mention:

15. L’illusionniste [The Illusionist], review: Sylvain Chomet re-enters theatres with another of his uniquely stylized animations to appeal both in story and visuals, again with sparse to no words at all. Utilizing an unproduced script from Frenchman Jacques Tati, this tale of an Illusionist searching for a place that will appreciate his craft shows we all have the capacity to change lives with each passing second. The best animated film of the year by leaps and bounds.

14. 127 Hours, review: Leave it to Danny Boyle to create a one man show that is so captivating, you’ll be amazed at its quick pace and tense suspense. James Franco runs the gamut with humor, horror, excitement, and repentance, proving he’s as talented as his Renaissance man persona hints. Dream-like delusions of words left unsaid propel him to the climactic moment of pure grit and it’s a release you’ll want to rise up and applaud.

13. Carlos, review: The ‘is it/isn’t it’ debate on whether to include Olivier Assayas‘s epic look into the life of one of the world’s most infamous terrorists—Carlos The Jackel—on a best films list aside, this almost six-hour work delivers. Édgar Ramírez finally breaks out to show his ability to demand attention and have the presence necessary to carry a film by himself. There are highs and lows, but the middle act’s tension during the 1975 OPEC attack warrants its inclusion here. Even as a miniseries.

12. Lebanon, review: One of the best depictions of war I’ve ever seen, you as the viewer become embroiled in the First Lebanon War, trapped helplessly in a claustrophobic Israeli tank. You’ll watch the maneuverings in tight quarters, the trepidation of being in a foreign land with a language you can’t understand, and the horror of finding out how humanity could be your worst enemy on the frontlines.

11. The Fighter, review: A true life Rocky-esque story of a fighter, thought to be washed up, finding love and the mettle to get back up and try one more time. With a downright crazy family of conniving sisters, a guilt inducing mother, and a junkie brother who saw his own dream of boxing greatness thrown away, the fact Micky Ward can even have an original thought is a miracle. It’s a feel good movie with top-notch talent in front of and behind the camera. And a worthy dark horse choice for Oscar glory—the Academy loves boxing flicks.

The Top Ten of 2010:

10. Io sono l’amore [I Am Love], review: Director Luca Guadagnino and star Tilda Swinton had been planning this massive melodrama for quite some time, and it doesn’t disappoint. Infidelity, sexual orientation, and any other soap opera trope you can think of—besides vampires of course—are involved, all set to a soaring score by John Adams. The climactic finale crescendoes so high, only the abrupt blackness of the end credits can release you. Powerful stuff.

9. The Social Network, review: At first thought of as extremely overrated, I warmed up to the subtly nuanced story of a youthful generation’s sense of entitlement quickly upon reflection. It appears to be less than it actually is because everyone does such a wonderful job. Authenticity replaces showy performances, rat-a-tat moments of conversation show Aaron Sorkin‘s handle on forceful storytelling, and, yes, David Fincher‘s usual dark tone is included to enhance the backstabbing and cutthroat attitudes needed to excel in today’s technology-driven society.

8. Rabbit Hole, review: Like a play onscreen, John Cameron Mitchell films David Lindsay-Abaire‘s script with care towards showing two actors at their best. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart will move you by their disparate ways in handling the grief of a dead four-year old son. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare and while love can be the bond to keep your heads and get through the tragedy, it can also be the thing that breaks you irrevocably.

7. Kynodontas [Dogtooth], review: Is it another world? Is it an experimental society? Are there aliens among us? When the film opens to siblings learning the definitions of words like ‘sea’, ‘highway’, and ‘roadtrip’ as ‘chair’, ‘strong wind’, and ‘durable metal’, you begin to wonder what exactly is happening. The fact it’s all an allegory on how we shelter our children and imprison them from learning what’s out in the world will come soon, and it will hit hard. Yorgos Lanthimos has given us an uncompromising vision of horror because it could be depicting what’s happening in the house next door.

6. Contractor’s Routine, review: Is there anyway for anyone to see this film if they didn’t already at one of the festivals it was selected for? No. Does that make it any less thought provoking? No again. Reminding me of a live action version of Waking Life, the pithy remarks about life’s pluses and minuses culminating in a stunning revelation remains one of the best experiences I had in a 2010 theatre, now ten months later. Nothing is as it seems and the details play into the twist, so pay attention. Very intelligent filmmaking.

5. Inception, review: The popcorn blockbuster of the year, Christopher Nolan shows us again that his Insomnia remake was an aberration to his oeuvre. There are holes, there are shortcuts, and there are aspects you can pick apart and refute for days on end, but at the end of the day, there are few movies I would continuously stick in my DVD player to discover new details. With fantastic acting, superb directing, and astonishing special effects, it’s a very quick 150 minutes. I wanted to see it again right after the credits rolled.

4. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, review: Jury is still out on how Simon Pegg and Nick Frost do without their steward Edgar Wright, but the director showed us all he could perform magic without them. A comic book adaptation that gets videogame aesthetic down perfectly, Scott Pilgrim is the best-directed film of the year and one of the funniest. It’s a genre flick with a very specific fanbase and unfortunately that hurt it, but you know the cult status will make it a common name ten years from now. Even Michael Cera was able to rise above his typecasting and give a performance worthy of the material. Gets even better on repeated viewings too.

3. Blue Valentine, review: Love in all its glory and failure, cross cut into a film about the creation and dissolution of a relationship. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are pitch perfect and director Derek Cianfrance nails the authenticity he feared would be impossible to garner after toiling for 12 years to get it just right. The end has more to do with how they started then what’s happening in the present and the layers are slowly peeled away to show there was more than just love at the foundation. Gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking and I cannot get “You and Me” from Penny & The Quarters out of my head.

2. Never Let Me Go, review: The wait for Mark Romanek‘s follow up to One Hour Photo may have been longer than desired or expected, but boy did he come back with a masterpiece. I’m sure a lot of the success comes from writer Kazuo Ishiguro‘s original novel, but you can’t deny the emotive power the film’s director gets from his trio of stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield. The so-called ‘twist’ is given away to us before the first image is shown and to the characters shortly thereafter. It’s not about the world these kids inhabit or their place in it; Never Let Me Go is about how they reconcile their fate and what they do with the time leading up to the end.

1. Black Swan, review: Darren Aronofsky has done it again and crafted the most mind-blowing film of the year. So powerful in its lead performance by Natalie Portman, complemented with a wealth of strong turns from the likes of Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, and Barbara Hershey, you’ll be mesmerized by the choreography right from the opening sequence. It’s up to you to decide what is real and what isn’t, but, in the end, this allegorical surrealist nightmare is something we can all relate to. Genius comes with a price and the cost of success can often be your very soul. This is what happens when life becomes art and vice versa, and it will stay with you days after.

Top Ten

Foreign Films:

1. Kynodontas [Dogtooth], review
2. Io sono l’amore [I Am Love], review
3. Lebanon, review
4. Carlos, review
5. L’illusionniste [The Illusionist], review
6. Biutiful, review
7. Alle Anderen [Everyone Else], review
8. Micmacs à tire-larigot [Micmacs], review
9. Srpski film [A Serbian Film], review
10. White Material, review

Top Five


1. Exit Through the Gift Shop, review
2. Catfish, review
3. Restrepo, review
4. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, review
5. Autism: Made in the USA, review

Top Five

Animated Films:

1. L’illusionniste [The Illusionist], review
2. Tangled, review
3. How to Train Your Dragon, review
4. Toy Story 3, review
5. Despicable Me, review

Top Five


1. Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
2. Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
3. Luca Guadagnino, Io sono l’amore [I Am Love]
4. David Fincher, The Social Network
5. Christopher Nolan, Inception

Top Five

Supporting Actresses:

1. Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
2. Mila Kunis, Black Swan
3. Lesley Manville, Another Year
4. Dianne Wiest, Rabbit Hole
5. Melissa Leo, The Fighter

Top Five

Supporting Actors:

1. Christian Bale, The Fighter
2. John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
3. Ed Harris, The Way Back
4. Jeremy Renner, The Town
5. Sam Rockwell, Conviction

Top Five

Lead Actresses:

1. Natalie Portman, Black Swan
2. Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
3. Tilda Swinton, Io sono l’amore [I Am Love]
4. Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
5. Birgit Minichmayr, Alle Anderen [Everyone Else]

Top Five

Lead Actors:

1. Javier Bardem, Biutiful
2. Édgar Ramírez, Carlos
3. Aaron Eckhart, Rabbit Hole
4. James Franco, 127 Hours
5. Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine

3 Thoughts to “Top Ten Films of 2010: Dark Fantasy Cinema”

  1. Hi Jared! Well, a BIG thank YOU for placing my movie in the top ten films of 2010!!! I am truly flattered and excited. I play Jacob Borchevski in Contractor’s Routine. (#6)
    Yuri has gotten a short theater release in San Francisco at The Lumiere, a Landmark Theaters Group venue. June 3rd through the 9th; so YES, you CAN see this movie outside of the festival circuit! On top of that…to get some press etc, Yuri got Tom Sizemore to play some scenes and do some needed voice-over in the final cut. I was worried at first he would wreck the film but I am very happy to say I have seen it and the latest cut is even better than all the previous cuts. I’m sure we’ll be planning some sort of red carpet affair but with or without the glitz factor…you would be an honored guest.

  2. yes! very cool Kevin. i saw the announcement of San Fran on Yuri’s Facebook. i hope everyone who has the opportunity to attend does to give your film the audience it deserves. i know i would if i wasn’t all the way in Buffalo, NY.

    and awesome to hear the new cut works. i’ll admit to being worried when i heard about the Sizemore scenes being added since i loved the version i saw, so it’s good to know the name not only helps build recognition, but that the addition also helps the film.

    good luck with the (sans)glitzy opening!

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