#15 - 127 HOURS
Like The Disappearance of Alice Creed, 127 Hours is another 2010 film that tackles the limited cast / limited location concept with considerably more aplomb than Buried. Difference is that this one actually did achieve widespread critical acclaim, even securing a deserved Best Picture nomination. And the difference between 127 Hours and both those other movies is that rather than human antagonists, our hero here faces down Mother Earth herself in the form of a big ol' damn boulder that crushes his arm and leaves him wasting away in the middle of nowhere for the eponymous timeframe. James Franco is incredible as Aron Ralston and while director Danny Boyle arguably overcompensates for the restricted setting with a few too many flashbacks and fantasy sequences, he makes the scene where (spoilers for real life) Ralston severs his own arm with a dull pocket knife into one of the most visceral and painful cinematic sequences damn near ever. It's up to you to decide whether Franco appeared to be in more peril here or hosting the Academy Awards.
#14 - ANIMAL KINGDOM
One of the best organized crime films since The Departed — less stylized yet quite a bit more harrowing and filled with dread — Animal Kingdom is an Australian flick that presents a crime family at the cusp of their downfall as seen through the eyes of one young, unwitting member who wants out. Despite the presence of Guy Pearce as a good cop (the noblest I've ever seen him) and an intimidating Ben Mendelsohn, it's Jacki Weaver who dominates as the outwardly warm and loving yet intensely creepy family matriarch. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and I wouldn't have minded if she'd won. The teenaged protagonist played by James Frecheville is a bit of a cipher and probably the least interesting character, but on the other hand this movie has the most sudden, shocking, and brutal onscreen deaths of 2010. Not just one but a few. My jaw hit the floor multiple times.
#13 - SOLITARY MAN
Now here's a good one that seemed to fly under everyone's radars ($4.3 million domestic box office) and was tragically overshadowed as the year's Michael Douglas film by the embarrassing and unnecessary Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Douglas plays a man who starts out not particularly unlike Gordon Gekko — smooth, wealthy, callous — and then proceeds to lose everything, from his health to his wealth to his family. It sounds and is occasionally crushing, but at the same time Solitary Man is a surprisingly breezy and enjoyable watch, largely thanks to its killer lineup for such a small film: Douglas, but also Susan Sarandon, Jesse Eisenberg, Danny DeVito, Mary-Louise Parker, Olivia Thirlby, The Office's Jenna Fischer, The West Wing's Richard Schiff in a small role; even Britta from Community makes a cameo if you watch closely. As of this posting it's one of five films on this top 25 (along with The Karate Kid, Shutter Island, and two upcoming entries) on Netflix Watch Instantly, so assuming you haven't seen it I'd highly recommend it.
#12 - THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES
I'll say upfront that I don't think The Secret in Their Eyes deserved the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar it picked up a year ago (and we'll talk more about the film that did later on), but that don't change what an elegant and classy little murder mystery it is. Visually impressive, too: smack in the middle of the film is a one-shot, five-minute chase all through a stadium utilizing hundreds of extras and a plethora of complex camera moves that's easily the coolest single-shot scene since Children of Men. The film is relatively unpredictable, well-acted, soulful, just a little romantic, and even a touch funny here and there. And it's one of the other two films on Netflix Watch Instantly I mentioned a minute ago, so check it out. (Oh, and I'm aware that it came out way back in 2009 in Argentina, but it didn't hit theaters in the States and I didn't see it until summer of 2010, so I count it as a 2010 film. Apologies to my Argentinian fanbase.)
#11 - MACGRUBER
MacGruber is one of only two 2010 films that stacks up to the high points of last year's best TV comedies — Community, Parks and Recreation, Party Down, Louie — in terms of laugh count and is effortlessly the greatest Saturday Night Live film adaptation since Wayne's World in 1992. But Wayne's World is less the film I'd compare it to than Austin Powers, doing for American 80s action flicks what that film did for late 60s and early 70s secret agent movies. It's a shockingly hilarious and spot-on parody — a couple MacGruber-free scenes with the villains and military brass feel like they could be seamlessly inserted into real 80s action films — that you'll like more the more familiar you are with what it's mocking. At least make sure you've seen Rambo III first.