#20 - THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED
For all that some critics talked up the disappointing Buried as a taut thriller that made impressive use of limited cast and location, there's another film that did those things and did them far, far better (and unfortunately it made even less than Buried at the domestic box office, topping off at $166,980). The Disappearance of Alice Creed is, boiled down, the story of two men holding a young woman captive in an apartment until they receive a ransom payment. But it's also so much more than that, throwing out twist after twist that I dare not reveal. It's a raw, violent, dirty piece of work, crime cinema done right using only three actors and a couple locations, and after giving some of the blandest performances ever in Prince of Persia and Clash of the Titans Gemma Arterton reveals herself to actually have real acting chops. Even the movie's seemingly straightforward title turns out to have a supremely clever hidden meaning. A perfect Netflix rental.
#19 - HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1
I said when reviewing the seventh and penultimate Potter that I wished they had just done the entirety of Deathly Hallows as one Return of the King-length mega-epic rather than chopping it in half, and I stand by that and will continue to do so even if Part 2 ends up being really good. But despite some ambivalence about the pacing I found this to be the most enjoyable Harry Potter since Goblet of Fire back in 2005, in no small part because it dumps the academic setting and turns into a chase movie — think less Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, more The Fugitive — with Voldemort and the newly fascist Ministry of Magic hunting our terrific trio to capture dead or alive. DP Eduardo Serra's gorgeous cinematography doesn't hurt either. The series' amazing adult cast gets less screentime sans Hogwarts, but on the other hand the film does against all odds manage to redeem the character of Dobby. Maybe in an alternate world, Jar Jar Binks could have been redeemed too. Well, probably not.
#18 - THE KING'S SPEECH
Sure, the fact that it's about dead British people, the World War II-era settings, the swelling orchestral score, the unabashedly inspirational narrative and the warm, agreeable tone make it clear that The King's Speech was gunning for Oscar gold from the greenlight on, and that they were so rewarded was somewhat frustratingly predictable. But none of that takes away from how good the movie actually is. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush give really great performances (not to mention Michael Gambon in his few minutes of screentime), and watching them work through King George's stammer makes for an engaging, likable, and occasionally even unexpectedly funny cinematic experience. The titular scene is gripping. Also, while this may be tangential to the movie's quality, David Seidler gave the classiest and most understated speech of the Academy Awards upon winning Best Original Screenplay.
#17 - SHUTTER ISLAND
If this were a top 25 best screenplays list, Shutter Island would be nowhere near it. The movie is very predictable and written in the broadest strokes. I bet most people could accurately guess the ending from the trailer alone, despite said trailer showing very little beyond the halfway point. But god damn does Martin Scorsese put on a great show behind the camera, crafting a truly stylish piece of modern noir pulp and making the titular setting — drenched in shadow, wracked by oppressive thunder and hurricanes, surrounded by jagged cliffs and angry oceans — into one of the most enjoyable horror locales of recent years. Shutter Island is probably the purest popcorn-muncher of Scorsese's career, a movie that honestly isn't a hell of a lot more subtle than Machete, but it's just a good solid time at the pictures and a much better representation of what the horror genre can and should be than Generic Teenage Slasher Flick #1138.
#16 - HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON
DreamWorks has never matched Pixar in poignancy, but that's okay, because in How to Train Your Dragon they've produced the best high fantasy flick of 2010, an energetic, freewheeling vikings-and-dragons adventure yarn that calls to mind the spirit of (a more family-friendly) Willow or Conan the Barbarian and is simply a blast to watch. The flying scenes have a breathtaking sense of freedom and while the central dragon-dragonslayer friendship does feel a bit like yet another spin on the Dances with Wolves / Last Samurai / Avatar "befriending the enemy" narrative, that doesn't make it any less charming. The rightly Oscar-nominated score is great and the end of the movie has this gargantuan fuck-off mountain-sized megadragon who could kick Cloverfield's ass and is definitely one of the coolest things I saw on the big screen last year.