All in all, I thought this year was a good one for film. Although there are only a couple of ‘elite’ films, the amount of films worthy of mention this year runs relatively deep. For those who are uninitiated, I am a big film buff and do these rankings every year. Here’s a quick look at my ratings from the last couple of years– you can find my 2009 rankings here, and my 2008 rankings here. Sometimes I rank 10 films, 15 films, 20, or some other number, such as this year’s 18– it all depends on how many films I feel are worth recommending in a given year.

Without further ado, here are the best movies of 2010, ranked from last to first (the links lead to the film’s trailer). Also, I criticize some of the films at the top of this list mostly to justify their worse ranking; but all films on this list are still worth seeing and at least partially exceptional.

(18) The Way Back

Although the film fell short of my high hopes, Peter Weir’s latest is still worth a spot on this list. Based on a true story of escapees from a Siberian prison camp who walked over mountains and deserts, as well as through history, all the way to India for their freedom, “The Way Back” could have been as epic as the story it portrays. Unfortunately, the characters are stoic and largely expressionless for most of the film (until a young woman joins their ranks), leading to a pervasive lack of real connection to their individual plotlines. And too much time was spent early in the movie regarding their escape, when it would have been better spent focusing on the trials of their inspiring journey. Nevertheless, this film will inspire you.

(17) Fair Game

Well done, accurate dramatization of the Valerie Plame leak scandal, and how WMD ‘evidence’ used to bring the USA to war with Iraq was done so fraudulently and deliberately. Bush administration apologists will undoubtedly find some fault with it. Sean Penn delivers a fantastic performance.

(16) Never Let Me Go

The depth of the content of this film can be far better appreciated in Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel of the same name, which the film is based on. The film seems to border on this depth throughout, but never seems to shove the viewer fully in. Instead, the movie has a slow pace and a depressing payoff which will likely leave a lot of viewers feeling let down. This is a depressing movie, and it does seem to be missing something essential that’s difficult to articulate, but Carey Mulligan puts together a fantastic performance and the film has subtle, beautiful connection to the human condition that will impact you long after the credits roll. You will probably forget that this is a sci-fi film entirely.

(15) Rabbit Hole

A movie about dealing with grief, “Rabbit Hole” is a well-constructed script and Nicole Kidman delivers a fantastic performance. The film can be difficult to watch in parts due to its content; it’s a film about learning how to move on without completely having to let go. I’m still not really sold on Aaron Eckhart, but overall he does a pretty good job here.

(14) Kick-Ass

This film might seem out of place on this list, but for me it was quietly one of the biggest surprises of the year. It’s a bit of a spoof of the comic book/superhero genre, and much in the spirit of the charming ’99 movie, “Galaxy Quest,” it manages to be incredibly funny and entertaining, with a genuine heart, despite its outlandish premise. Though it is meant as a spoof, this film may quietly be one of the best superhero movies ever made. You heard me right.

(13) Barney’s Version

A delightful script and excellent performance from Paul Giamatti make Barney’s version of his own passionate life shrewdly entertaining and, in parts, touching.

(12) Biutiful

Beautiful cinematography pulls this character study and story of atonement together. Javier Bardem delivers one of the best performances of the year.

(11) True Grit

When the Coen Brothers make a movie, it’s almost always a shoe-in for my top 10 of the year. Though True Grit falls just outside of the top 10 this year, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t still a damn good flick. It just means it’s not up to snuff for the Coens. Jeff Bridges, one of the best actors in the business, offers a fantastic performance which might have landed him the Oscar for Best Actor this year if it weren’t for a certain stuttering Brit (to be mentioned later in this list). Hailee Steinfeld also delivered one of the best performances from a young actress of all time, as the sharp-witted, and revenge-driven Mattie Ross.

(10) Hereafter

This was one of the best constructed films of the year. The subtlety and pace of the character development is pure poetry– and I mean that with the highest praise possible. That character development is the movie’s shining strength; the film only falls short in its rather bland payoff in the end and the seriousness with which it takes its metaphysical and spiritual aspects. Those aspects would have been just fine as metaphors, but ultimately the film’s payoff seems to rely heavily upon its viewers taking its metaphysics literally. Nevertheless, don’t let this discourage you– the way this film develops its characters is like a subtle, elegant, perfectly paced dance. Really beautiful.

(9) The Fighter

This film probably contains the best overall acting of the year. Look for “The Fighter” to sweep the Oscars for all the supporting actor/actress awards this year. Christian Bale is almost certainly going to win the supporting actor award, and Melissa Leo is probably going to take the supporting actress award. Amy Adams is also nominated here; outshined only by Leo. These are fantastic characters, and they make the movie what it is.

(8) Winter’s Bone

One of the indie film surprises of the year, “Winter’s Bone” is a very real film with excellent performances from everyone involved, particularly Leo and Lawrence. Chilling, frightening, intriguing and brave, the movie will takes you into the corrupt culture of meth dealing, economically depressed Appalachia, a culture just as sick the addicts it manifests.

(7) Somewhere

Don’t get me wrong, this is no “Lost in Translation”, but anyone that enjoyed Sofia Coppola’s masterpiece will immediately find “Somewhere” recognizable. Coppola is simply a master at subtlety. The beauty found in the most ordinary and simple moments throughout this film not only make it exceptional, but those unexpected scenes are also the places where its characters make the most sense. Like with “Lost in Translation”, Coppola somehow finds an untranslatable, subtle understanding in what almost seem like accidental moments. She lingers on those moments, once found, as if to let them speak entirely for themselves. To me, it demonstrates incredible conceptual control.

(6) 127 Hours

I’m still surprised an entire feature film could have been made from this story, but Boyle pulled it off. Brilliantly directed and edited (this film deserves to win the Oscar for best film editing), with a great performance from Franco, “127 Hours” is an inspiring testament to life. It’s worth at least one of your arms to see.

(5) Blue Valentine

This film piqued my interest when it was initially given an NC-17 rating– a sign that it was quite a bit braver and more poignant than the cheesy hipster romance I first assumed it would be. Even though Gosling’s hipster lameness was painful to endure in parts, this film impressed me in every other way. Of course, it’s not really a film about romance– it’s a film about a relationship, and a marriage, that has run its course. It’s brilliantly real and poignant in its portrayal– a very well constructed film. Michele Williams makes up for Gosling’s woes– it’s time to recognize her as one of the best young actresses in the business.

(4) The King’s Speech

Colin Firth should easily win the Oscar for best actor for his exceptional portrayal of stuttering royalty in this incredibly well-constructed film. There are really no flaws in this movie at all, and it is one of only three real competitors for the best film of the year by Oscar measures (along with two others to be mentioned later in this list). The speech at the end of the film is truly breathtaking, and so well acted that this might actually be one of the best performances of the decade. Firth should finally get recognition from the Academy for this role.

(3) The Social Network

I never thought a film about Facebook could draw such a great script and such great talent, but somehow this might be the first iconic film that belongs solely to the 21st century. This is Fincher’s best work since “Fight Club” and “Seven”, a great improvement over the disappointing “Benjamin Button”, and probably the best movie of his career. He should win the Oscar for best director. Although I personally rank it as the third best movie of the year, I predict that “The Social Network” will also win the Oscar for best picture.

(2) The Kids Are All Right

My favorite movies usually have the best scripts– I’m a screenplay-oriented movie goer– and “The Kids Are All Right” had the best script of the year. It helps that all of its actors delivered brilliant performances– the best overall acting of the year, maybe only behind “The Fighter”. Annette Bening is a serious contender to win the best actress Oscar, and Julianne Moore deserved (though didn’t get) a nomination too. Mark Ruffalo is also deservedly nominated for supporting actor, and he was superbly cast. But this film truly shines in its script and its story; it is endlessly witty with extremely well-imagined characters, and genuine heart.

(1) Black Swan

Not only the best film of the year, “Black Swan” is also probably one of the best films of the decade. I’m not sure everyone who sees it will fully appreciate the ambition of what this film is doing artistically. The film ends with its main character experiencing “artistic perfection”. For that to work, the film itself needs to portray that sense of artistic perfection too– and it succeeds. Surrealism done to perfection, this movie is also the best horror film in years. Portman delivers the best performance of her career, and deserves to win the Oscar for best lead actress. I didn’t think Aronofsky could ever outdo “The Wrestler”, but now I think it’s time to consider him one of the best directors in the business. He, and this film, deserves to win at the Oscars, but I suspect it will go to Fincher and “The Social Network” instead.