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The 25 Best Films of 2010

Call it the Year of the Woman, as 2010 featured more standout lead female performances than any 12-month stretch in recent memory.

The 25 Best Films of 2010
Photo: Summit Entertainment

20. 45365 (Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross)

Brothers Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross are literally transfixed by the idea of communication as the essence to rural life in America. In their quiet hometown of Sidney, Ohio—zip code 45365—they freely skulk around capturing poetic glimpses of people simply going about their everyday lives. Essentially a series of fragments, 45365 begins with fireworks lighting up Sidney’s sky and ends with snow dusting its ground. In between, a football season and political campaign runs its course, a cop hilariously assesses a disgruntled man’s cable connection, and an Elvis impersonator takes to the stage at the local carnival. Gorgeously scored, intuitively filmed, this condescension-free documentary finds something gloriously alive in seemingly mundane Americana. Ed Gonzalez

19. Hadewijch (Bruno Dumont)

There’s no point in Bruno Dumont’s Hadewijch that viewers can feel completely safe in the knowledge that they know what’s coming next. The emotional tumult that Julie Sokolowski’s teenage Celine subjects herself to is, after a point, indecipherable. Celine’s age and privilege make her a prime target for all kinds of predators but her conviction prevents attentive viewers from patronizing her as a babe lost in the secular woods. Sex, religious crisis, and the omnipresent threat of imminent violent conflate to the point where the film threatens to implode at every turn. Dumont courts cynicism at every turn because of his immediately distant treatment of Celine’s unfathomable secular pilgrimage to find faith in the physical. Impenetrable and devastating, the film is a real modern mystery play. Simon Abrams

18. Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton)

We’re introduced in Samson and Delilah, as if waking from a hard sleep, to a village in a hyper-sensualized Australian outback, and lulled into its circadian rhythms—the painfully sharp sunbeams, the inebriating aroma of petrol, the lazy ska rehearsals chopping through the aridity. And we watch, as if from a nearby tin shack, the brain-dulled Samson (Rowan McNamara) court local beauty Delilah (Marissa Gibson), but the kid can’t even build a fire; we shake our heads when the two clumsily steal a truck and light out for the city after a violent altercation. But we eventually realize that the post-colonial crack left on aboriginal culture (c.f. Nick Roeg’s Walkabout) has formed an endemic fault line. Tribal heritage has become so alien that its denial is apolitical—and the guns, FM country stations, and paint thinner are wearily anesthetic consolation prizes. Lanthier

17. Prodigal Songs (Kimberly Reed)

A heart-wrenching portrait of family dysfunction, transformation, madness, and forgiveness, Kimberly Reed’s Prodigal Sons rebukes your average hermetical reflection on gender identity—a too-prominent fixture of the doc-film circuit. Reed, born Paul McKerrow, returns to her hometown of Helena, Montana for her high school’s reunion, reconnecting with the community that knew her only as a basketball-playing jock. Her crisis of self-definition soon collides with that of her mentally ill adopted brother, Marc, who learns he’s the biological grandson of no less than Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, in effect throwing Reed’s notions of queer identity for a dizzying loop. By the film’s openhearted finale, Rosebud is given a whole new meaning. Gonzalez

16. Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)

Way down in the Ozarks of southern Missouri, Debra Granik’s sophomore feature uses the mystery-suspense genre to survey the damage of rural drug culture on family and community. As 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) shakes off clannish intimidation to search for her missing crank-dealing father, whose absence has endangered the home she struggles to maintain with two young siblings and a near-catatonic mother, Winter’s Bone’s bleak tale unfolds with classical precision and benefits from lived-in, flinty character work by John Hawkes and Dale Dickey. Drawing parallels between gutting an edible squirrel and bucking the cruelty of the local outlaws, Lawrence’s unyielding heroine tells her brother with both compassion and severity, “There’s a bunch of stuff you’re gonna have to get over bein’ scared of.” Bill Weber

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