As always, this list is purely my personal choices. It's short of art films and foreign films, for various reasons, the main one being that I am leery of art films and I am highly skeptical of any foreign film where they don't speak Chinese. Or with an Australian accent. You will also notice that there are none of the summer's big tentpole superhero movies. This does not mean that I did not enjoy them. I did very much (except maybe for Green Lantern). But I just liked these others more. So, in no real order.
1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - David Fincher
I enjoyed both the book and the Swedish film, but Fincher manages to bring his own almost peerless eye for scene composition to the thing, creating a slow-burning, indescribably icky, dark crime thriller. I'm a little confused how the thing escaped without an NC-17 rating, but if you can handle it, this comes very highly recommended.
2. Warrior - Gavin O'Connor
It's something of a critical darling, and with reason. It's a very good film and it actually has some decent fight scenes in it. I was not entirely on board with Nick Nolte's portrayal of an alcoholic father - it just seems to scream "gimme an award!" - but the two leads are stellar, solidly dependable thespians despite being relatively unknown to the cinema-going public. It's predictable, but it's a compelling drama.
3. Hanna - Joe Wright
This one kind of grew on me, especially when I watched it again overseas. It's a strange movie, a modern fairy tale retold as a Bourne-style thriller, but it's very entertaining and boasts solid, colorful performances. Eric Bana's single take action sequence, or the entire opening in the snowbound north are highlights that could almost carry the movie by themselves.
4. Drive - Nicolas Winding Refn
A word that springs to mind whenever you see one of Refn's movies is "Pretentious." A phrase that sprang to mind when I watched Drive was, "Real people talk a lot more." But regardless of what he does, and how strange it is, Refn's movies tend to hold your attention (even his train-wreck Vikings/man-rape/apocalypse/disembowling epic Valhalla Rising). Drive is a perfect example, showcasing Refn's surprisingly masterful ability to shoot an action scene, and telling a story about old-school tough guys in a terrifyingly dangerous world of bad men, all under an old-school movie vibe. You feel like the movie could star Paul Newman or a young Clint Eastwood, although Ryan Gosling holds the screen just like those worthy giants of cinematic yore. Of note however, as with Valhalla Rising, Refn goes to town with the Red, including a memorable scene where a fellow has his head stomped apart.
5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Rupert Wyatt
Surprised? So was I. When I learned this movie was being made, it struck me as a waste of time, money and actors. Lo and behold, when I actually saw the movie, I was pleasantly surprised to find a gripping spectacle boasting a strong story and one of the most empathetic CGI characters seen yet in film. Andy Serkis is really racking them up, and here he returns to Apehood (after 2005's King Kong) as Ceasar, a genetically engineered genius ape. Unfortunately, mistreatment and loneliness lead to...A MADHOUSE!!! The story is strong, the characters (human and ape) are well-drawn, and the final action scene (though slightly unrealistic) is a lot of fun to watch.
6. Your Highness - David Gordon Green
Okay. Nothing funnier came out during the year. Unsurprising, given that this movie (which is oddly reviled by critics) is a nonstop parade of side-splitting raunchiness, one liners, and impressively rendered CGI shenanigans. Every actor brings their comic A game to this one, whether it's James Franco's childlike hero-prince, Danny McBride's dimwit warrior, Zooey Deschanel's airhead princess, or Justin Theroux's petulant evil sorcerer. I can't speak for everyone, but I thought it was hilarious.
7. Black Death - Christopher Smith
So this one might actually count as a 2010 movie. But regardless it's the only horror movie on here, and it might only sort of be a horror flick. A group of knights led by a senior warrior (Sean Bean) are dispatched to a town that has been untouched by the Plague due to a deal with the Devil, if rumors are to be believed. This is a mean-spirited, gory little flick that manages to be absolutely scathing in its portrayal of both the medieval church and paganism, while depicting both as being uncompromising and fearless in their beliefs. Sean Bean again shows that he is the most under-appreciated aging badass in the movies.
8. Crazy, Stupid, Love - Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
I feel a little hypocritical. Despite my avowed dislike of chick flicks and romantic films, one of the suckers ends up on this list pretty much every year. I guess I just can't say no to a good one. It could be the stellar cast (Carrell, Gosling, Stone, Moore and Bacon), it could be the hilarious script, and it could be the deftly twisting plot that propels you forward from one side-splitting moment to the next. It may be substantially less gory than everything else on this list, but it's ridiculously entertaining.
9. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol - Brad Bird
I have always thought of the Mission Impossible movies as a wannabe spy franchise, simply propelled by Tom Cruise's force of will into a multi-movie property. Well, Pixar's Brad Bird wants to change that, and he succeeds past all expectations. Ghost Protocol is a thrilling old-school spy caper, reveling in improbable gadgets and death-defying stunts as it leaps from one set piece to the next, any one of which would have held up one of the previous M:I movies. I never, ever, ever thought I would say this...but I kind of want to see a Mission: Impossible 5 now.
10. Source Code - Duncan Jones
Groundhog day as a sci-fi thriller. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a Soldier forced to live and relive the last ten minutes of a train as it is destroyed by terrorist attack. As he goes about using the knowledge he gains from each successive life on the train to bring him closer to the terrorist, he uncovers deeper mysteries. Jones loves messing with our heads, and he does it again here, playing with ideas about alternate timelines, universes, and personas. The best science fiction movie of the year.