#10 - THE AMERICAN
The American is one of the most hilarious bait-and-switch jobs pulled on the masses in recent years: a methodically paced, introspective art film that was marketed as a Bourne-style action thriller, resulting in many profoundly unhappy filmgoers. But for those who aren't counting the days until Transformers: Dark of the Moon, there was a lot to love about this moody, fascinating character study. George Clooney plays an assassin hiding out and building a custom sniper rifle in a small Italian village, and his performance is notable for cranking the typical Clooney glib likability down to zero. In fact, it's made clear minutes in that this is not a good guy we're dealing with, which makes his romance with an Italian prostitute played by Violante Placido all the more fascinating to watch unfold. And the most ironic thing about the "omg, no explosions, so boring!" crowd is that this movie's final act is one of the most tense and nerve-racking I've seen in ages, a master class on making a thriller thrilling with little obvious action.
#9 - TRUE GRIT
Watching True Grit feels like stepping through time to an era long before Unforgiven (and long, long before Deadwood) when Westerns weren't necessarily deconstructions of the genre or drenched in R-rated violence and could just as easily be breezy adventure movies about heroic lawmen taking down nasty outlaws. Difference being that it's directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, so it's a hell of a lot better than almost all of those movies were. You can tell that the Coens are in love with the genre and having immense fun working with the Old West settings and especially the stylized, vaguely poetic Old West dialogue, and that fun is contagious. The entire cast is superb — Jeff Bridges may not be the iconic American cowboy that John Wayne was, but he's definitely a better actor — but it's little Hailee Steinfeld who walks away with the thing, managing to come across as badass while sharing the screen with armed men three to five times her age.
#8 - THE TOWN
The Town may have the worst title of the year, but that's handily made up for by what an awesome bit of cops 'n' robbers pulp it is, not as good (and definitely not as subtle or intelligent) as Ben Affleck's first directorial effort Gone Baby Gone, but more than enough to officially declare him an exciting filmmaker to watch. Great car chase, great shootout, great monologue from Jon Hamm that ends with him telling Affleck to "go fuck yourself." A less than 100% convincing love story, but hey, no movie's perfect. It's not on the same level as The Departed or Heat as far as American crime thrillers go, but I'd say it's a solid second tier down. Jeremy Renner is a scary, badass mofo as Affleck's volatile best frenemy.
#7 - TOY STORY 3
The thing I really admire about Toy Story 3 is that it's actually two movies in one. One of those movies, which occupies the middle section of the complete film, is an exciting, self-contained prison break movie for all ages. And I don't mean that it's kind of like a prison break movie if you think about it long enough, I mean that's just flat-out what it is. It's an entry into the prison break subgenre. That by itself sort of kicks ass because I don't think it's what anyone expected from Pixar. I know I sure didn't. And then the second movie, found at the beginning and end of the whole of Toy Story 3, is a very warm, poignant and moving wrapping up of the trilogy as a whole, putting a supremely satisfying bow on the relationship between Andy and his toys. You could watch it even removed from the prison break middle segment and you'd still have one of the year's great films. Rock on, Pixar. Well, once you get done with this year's soulless corporate cash-in, anyway.
#6 - KICK-ASS
Kick-Ass is. Aside from one more film coming up in my top five it's the most pure, giddy, unapologetic fun I had sitting in a movie theater in 2010. It's just so goofy and so violent, and the sociopathic preteen vigilante Hit-Girl in particular is probably the year's most entertaining new movie character (and the brief cultural outrage that sprung up around her was hilarious). There's no debating that the film's first act ambitions of showing what it would actually be like if you put on a costume and went out to fight crime fall to pieces as soon as the eleven-year-old ninjas, rocket launchers, and jetpacks show up, but that doesn't derail Kick-Ass being 2010's best "turn off your brain" pop entertainment. I look forward to seeing what else director Matthew Vaughn can pull off with the superhero genre in X-Men: First Class.