FEATURE: 2010 Year in Review

Another year at the movies fades to black. In keeping with the critical tradition it’s time to roll credits and briefly recap some of 2010’s most memorable releases. Rather than attempt to rank the year’s Best films (arguably a futile and impossible task since I wasn’t able to see everything), I instead present to you a selection of my Top Cinematic Recommendations of 2010 (listed alphabetically):

Blue Valentine

This late year release depicting an imploding marriage earns an instant recommendation on the strength of Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’ performances alone. But Blue Valentine is more than just an actor’s film. With its taut script and interweaving flashback structure, director Derek Cianfrance’s complex exposition of a relationship in decline is a raw and heartfelt triumph, and remarkably ends with neither a bang nor a whimper but both at the same time.


Over the years, Australia has taken credit for a fair share of successful New Zealanders. Writer/director/actor Taika Waititi’s second feature made me want to leap across the Tasman and claim Kiwi citizenship. With its accomplished blend of humour and pathos, this coming-of-age tale of two brothers and their returning ex-con father was a heartfelt gem. With excellent performances from the three leads, Boy’s depiction of familial absence and loss rendered this an emotionally resonant experience.


After the disappointment of Doomsday (2008) Neil Marshall returned to form with this historical epic set in 117 A.D. about a group of Roman soldiers on the run from a tribe of vengeful Picts. With its unmistakable allegorical resonances to contemporary conflict, Centurion traded of the generic characteristics of the war film and the result was an engrossing bloody spectacle. If you missed this in its limited cinematic release track it down, least of all for Michael Fassbender’s excellent turn in the lead role.

Easy A

This film probably won’t feature on too many Top 10 lists and that’s a shame because Will Gluck’s teen movie about a virgin who assumes a harlot’s reputation is one of the genre’s recent best. Taking its cue from Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and the films of John Hughes, Easy A is steeped in schoolyard sex politics, and takes aim at various institutional hypocrisies embedded within religion and education. Emma Stone deserves significant praise for her charismatic performance in the lead role. She’s a star in the making.

Enter the Void

Gasper Noe’s distinctive blend of psychedelic imagery, existential pulp and sexual melodrama set amidst the neon jungle of Tokyo’s underside veers between exhilarating and tedious but it’s nothing if not memorable. Even if the film strays more toward the latter in its closing stages, the first ninety minutes of Enter the Void’s drug-hazed rumination on limbo and the afterlife is enough to warrant a firm viewing recommendation and preferably on the big screen.

I’m Still Here

Casey Affleck’s appearances in front of the camera already outshine anything older brother Ben has done but with I’m Still Here, Affleck’s pseudo-documentary on the fall of Joaquin Phoenix, he proves himself equally adept in the directing stakes. An ambitious and daring project, underneath the footage of Phoenix’ jackass misadventures and incoherent babble is an intelligent critique of celebrity culture that toys with constructions of reality and questions the nature of the star persona. Deserved to be taken more seriously.


Accused by some of being too confusing and others for not being confusing enough, the only major flaw in Christopher Nolan’s visually arresting psychological trip was that it apparently appealed to too wide an audience. Ostensibly a ‘thinking person’s James Bond’ film, Inception proved that blockbusters melding brawn and brains could still be successful. And it was. Backed by an absorbing score and a top cast, Nolan extended his winning streak of engaging cinematic fare.


In a year that continued the recent trend of superhero narratives, Matthew Vaughan’s Kick-Ass was the most deceptively satirical and intelligent of the lot. Centring on a teen fanboy (Aaron Johnson) who attempts to bring vigilante justice into reality, Kick-Ass traded off the generic traits of the comic book hero as a way of engaging the fantasmatic violence and sexual undertones at the core of such representations. And it did with a joyous transgression of social taboo in the form of fellow crime-fighters Big Daddy (Nic Cage) and his 11 year-old daughter, Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz).

Un Prophète (A Prophet)

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards, this French prison drama from director Jacques Audiard was one of the year’s most compelling pieces of cinema. With its pointed depiction of incarcerated politics and wonderfully understated acting from Tahar Rahim as the young Arab attempting to the rise through the ranks of power, A Prophet deserved all the praise it received.

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

Few films have matched the dizzying energy that Edgar Wright brought to the screen with Scott Pilgrim. A postmodern pastiche of pop cultural references, this comic book adaptation sees lovelorn Pilgrim (Michael Cera) forced to do battle with the seven evil ex-partners of rock chick Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in order to win her affection. Hyperkinetic filmmaking at its most electrifying, Wright proves that even without the talents of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost he’s still a cinematic tour de force. Game Over!

Shutter Island

Critics who rebuked Martin Scorsese’s brooding thriller for being a simple ‘twist’ narrative missed the point of this wonderfully executed film based on the novel by Dennis Lehane. Scorsese’s most enigmatic work in years about a U.S. Marshal (Leonardo DiCaprio) on the hunt for a missing patient inside a psychiatric asylum was a visually striking and haunting psychological exploration of violence and trauma. An under-appreciated classic of 2010.

Toy Story 3

The third instalment of the Toy Story franchise produced three indisputable truths. Pixar rightfully deserves its reputation as the leading animation studio. Nostalgia for imaginative childhood play provides a powerful narrative foundation. And 3D glasses offer little defence against a torrent of tears. The equal of its predecessors, Toy Story 3’s dramatisation of growing up and moving on (as Andy prepares to leave home) affected adult audiences as much as kids. And it did so without indulging faux sentimentality. “Hay un amigo en mi”!

In addition to those films listed above I want to briefly make mention of some other selected highlights from this year. Broadly dismissed by critics and the general public alike, Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation of the Jim Thompson pulp novel, The Killer Inside Me was a coldly realised yet provocative depiction of a sexually violent small-town serial killer that warranted further consideration. Alejandro Amenábar’s Agora was a standout in terms of Rachel Weisz’s dignified performance in the lead role and for overturning the traditional patriarchal Christian ideologies that underpin most historical epics. As was Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik’s stark vision of a daughter’s search for her missing father set in the Missouri Ozarks. Tom Hooper’s The Kings Speech, another late year release, provided two excellent performances in Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in this accomplished bio-pic film about King George VI.

Anton Corbijn’s meditative second feature The American, starring George Clooney as an assassin in hiding, deserved praise for its stylistic revision of the kind of 1960s European existentialist narratives undertaken by Godard or Melville. Likewise, with its echoes of Hitchcock, Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried, set entirely within a coffin, pulled off the high concept film with a degree of flair and restated Ryan Reynolds’ serious acting credentials. And lastly, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t signal out Jeff Tremaine’s wonderfully carnivalesque Jackass 3D and Robert Rodriguez’ sexy, action-packed, and racially-aware exploitation film Machete; both sources of absolute cinematic joy.

Roll cameras on 2011.

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6 Responses to “FEATURE: 2010 Year in Review”

  1. Mark says:

    Hi Josh,

    Great work and an interesting piece mate. Looks like I’ve got some work to do. I’ve obviously missed a few good movies. Can’t wait for Yogi Bear in a couple of weeks. Might make your list for 2011.



  2. Josh Nelson says:

    Cheers Mark! Was a tough task and I’m sure I’ve overlooked at least one or two others that deserved an honourable mention.

    Here’s to 2011!

  3. Lee says:

    Very nice work, Mr Nelson. EASY A’s inclusion in your list has cemented it as one I really need to track down…

  4. Josh Nelson says:

    Why thank you, Lee. It’s actually Dr Nelson but as I’m not the type to to correct such blatant disregard for titles I’ll happily let that pass.

    EASY A is a controversial inclusion I’ll admit, but given the tide of empty-minded teen movies of late, to finally see one with such heart and intelligence prompted the recommendation. Will be interested in your thoughts, Sir Zachariah!

  5. Rohan Spong says:

    ZOMG I have watched Easy A, like, 6 times in 8 days. Admittedly I dont have many films on my laptop and it has been in airports…. but… seriously… what a brilliantly clever and funny script… 🙂

    • Josh Nelson says:

      So Rohan, have you managed to get “Pocketful of Sunshine” out of your head after all those viewings? Great film though – definitely in the under-appreciated category.

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