First let me say that I would really appreciate it, if you like this article and find it to be helpful, to promote it through your Facebook and Twitter accounts. These are big articles for us every year and I think it’s a good starting point for new readers to get an idea of what each writer’s personal tastes and reasoning for their taste is. These lists aren’t just thrown together, so help us out if you can.

Now, this is my top fifteen of the year. There are quite a few films I’d like to mention. Solitary Man. Let Me In. Oceans. Daybreakers. Hereafter. Green Zone. Kick-Ass. Shutter Island. Animal Kingdom. The Kids are Alright. Toy Story 3. Red Riding. Mesrine. Very good stuff, but for one reason or another didn’t make my personal cut. Though I never fail to completely disagree with the order of my lists as I revisit them after some time has passed, these lists are for me. Not to appease other critics or appear scholarly. They’re for me. No ulterior motives. I hope that registers. Now let’s get started, and be sure to take advantage of the many links in the article to further the experience.

My lists from 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Nick on The Ghost Writer:

I had no reason to like this movie. Roman Polanski is a very hit or miss guy with me. I don’t give a fuck about his freedom or incarceration. He’s made a few great movies and some shitty ones but him releasing a film doesn’t make it an event in the same way it does Malick or Scorsese or even Spielberg. More than not, I am not a big fan of his work. Additionally, there is no one thing about The Ghost Writer that sticks out above most other movies in recent memory. It’s somewhat unremarkable. But there’s this weird “it” to it that is impossible to ignore. I knew this was going to click with me when I saw the opening moments where Jim Belushi, Timothy Hutton, and Ewan McGregor were haggling the deal that sets the story into motion. It was awesome in a way I couldn’t describe. Then the movie got into the meat of what was to happen and it’s never remarkable. Just crisp. Different. Indifferent to expectations. There’s not a big moment in it, and that’s kind of cool.

Current rating: 8.0 out of 10

Contributing factors: Nice work by the leads, with even the typically annoying Kim Cattrall not taking me out of the movie with her British accent. Very nice production design and photography. The music is way too big and overt but otherwise it’s a really special little tiny movie.

Performance to savor: No one in particular, really. It’s a good enough ensemble but one of those ‘better than the sum of its parts’ kind of films. Pull Quote: “Even Shane from The Walking Dead can’t ruin The Ghost Writer!”

Nick on The Town:

There’s something very special about mainstream movies that work. Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone wasn’t a big movie and there was the fear he wouldn’t be able to escalate. He did, and though this isn’t a crime classic by any stretch of the imagination it’s a very well made and well conceived film. We need these kind of films every year to balance the really vacant stuff we’re handed as well as the more intricate and less superficially entertaining fare. This as they say, hit the spot.

Current rating: 8.0 out of 10

Contributing factors: Nice pacing. A good mixture of character work and medium to large scale set pieces. Affleck’s skill and knowing which films to learn film and which genre pitfalls to avoid.

Performance to savor: Renner is amazing. Cooper shines in his little scene, but Affleck carries this on his shoulders and does it real well. He doesn’t get enough credit for his work as an actor here. Pull Quote: “The best sip of soda in film history!”

Nick on 127 Hours:

I’d tried to read the book this film was based on years ago during my “sucker for people cutting their hands off” phase and got tired of it. If someone were to ask me if it could be made into a film I’d have told them to take a long piss. Danny Boyle did it anyway, and why the heck not? He made zombies interesting. Made Who Wants to Be a Millionaire interesting. He made me think Christopher Eccelston was great. Of course he made this film work. And that he did. The result is as alive as any film this year.

Current rating: 8.5 out of 10

Contributing factors: Danny Boyle shooting the living shit out of this flick. Franco’s phenomenal central performance. The sound design. Kate Mara being cute.

Performance to savor: Franco. If he’s not nominated I’ll punch a kitten. Pull Quote: “You’ve got to give Aron Ralston a hand!”

Nick on Winter’s Bone:

This has become one of those films everyone is championing and I put off seeing it for a long time. I’m glad I did. It makes my loving of it that more genuine. It should have sunk under the hype and it didn’t. A great leading performance by a young lady is a great conduit into a scary and all-too-real backwoods world of interesting characters and terrifying possibilities and the great John Hawkes only solidifies his depth, range, and required chair in character actor Heaven.

Current rating: 8.5 out of 10

Contributing factors: Great photography. A couple of superb performances, and a style and feel unlike any other film around.

Performance to savor: Jennifer Lawrence carries this film like a champion. Pull Quote: “Bad title, great film!”

Nick on A Prophet:

Since it wasn’t released here until 2010 it qualifies for my needs. This spot was either going to Animal Kingdom or A Prophet, two excellent and vicious crime flicks from across one pond or another. This is a brutal and chilling and epic crime flick. A great prison flick, and one of the best mob films of all time regardless of its mother tongue. It’s not a short film and it has a lot on its plate and juggles them all so well. There is not doubt this is one that’ll only gain weight and luster over time.

Current rating: 8.8 out of 10

Contributing factors: Great acting work by folks who my filthy American eyes weren’t familiar with. Amazing editing and flow considering how epic this is. A keen eye to what genre staples to exploit and subvert.

Performance to savor: Niels Arestrup is powerful and dangerous and chillingly effective. Pull Quote: “The best messy murder of the year!”

Nick on The American:

The more I think about this movie the more I love it. It is a very special film, taking one of the most recognizable actors and still bankable guys in the business and taking away a lot of his charms. It works fantastically as Clooney goes deep into new places as a dangerous man trying to live under the radar. Some would say it’s too minimalist for the actor to pull off, but it works. He totally sells a guy who lives his craft to a monk-like pinpoint. This is a spy flick. A crime flick. A hitman flick. But it’s not, except when it is. Regardless it’s compelling and it’s hard to mention how good it is without mentioning that it also has the sexiest woman onscreen this year and whether she’s clothed or not, it is a wonderful time to be alive and at the movies.

Current rating: 9.0 out of 10

Contributing factors: Deliberate pacing. Excellent photography and buildup. Great work by all the actors involved, and when it does get bloody it is supremely effective..

Performance to savor: Clooney. More subtle than ever before. Pull Quote: “Do you like amazing tits, sir?”

Nick on Monsters:

This is a movie some will simply not get. It has very few moments where the cool monster action would even give a damn about competing with other genre efforts. It lives in a similar filmic space as stuff like Cloverfield and District 9 but is nothing like them. The leading characters are different and at times difficult to like. There’s a calmness to the film that is alien, lending the film a “drama that just happens to feature giant monsters” vibe. Which is why I love it. This is a really smart and unique movie and one that reminds us that there are not only a bunch of ways to skin a cat but that the cat’s flesh destruction isn’t even the point.

Current rating: 9.0 out of 10

Contributing factors: Stillness. In a monster movie. Amazing Jon Hopkins music. A really cool blend of genres.

Performance to savor: Both leads are good, but the star of this film is Edwards. Pull Quote: “The best gas station sex scene in four galaxies!”

Nick on Scott Pilgrim vs. World:

People are tired of us talking about this movie on this site but nothing has changed as the film arrives on home video. It’s still great. It’s still electrifying. it’s still proof that Edgar Wright is only tapping into his potential as a director. This is everything a cult movie should be: smart, gorgeous, inventive, quotable, loaded with cool music. Problem is, it’s also everything a crowd pleaser should be, which makes it one of those films we’ll be saying “I told you so” about for many years to come.

Current rating: 9.0 out of 10

Contributing factors: An orgy of visual and aural and editorial prowess unloaded into our eyes, ears, and tits. A sense of romance that embraces how blind it can sometimes be. Dialogue to die for. Video game references out the ass. So many great little performances gathered around the one Michael Cera was born to deliver. Edgar Wright, a guy who we will be in awe for for decades.

Performance to savor: Cera’s on fire, but I was really impressed with the whole ensemble. Brandon Routh and Ellen Wong especially. Pull Quote: “The only film that will earn you the power of self respect!”

Nick on The Fighter:

David O. Russell picks up Darren Aronofsky’s project and weaves gold with it. Great work by nearly every cast member elevates a pretty “movie of the week” kind of tale into something good enough to be considered just about great. A tale of a family torn apart by their own failures and greed as one of their own is given a chance to succeed, it’s hard not to fall in line with the underdog vibe throughout this story. It’s a winner.

Current rating: 9.0 out of 10

Contributing factors: Grit and reality set against the most generic feel-good type of story in a way that works just right. Great performances don’t hurt, either.

Performance to savor: Christian Bale. On fire. Pull Quote: “Tom Savini couldn’t cook up broads this horrific!”

Nick on Exit Through the Gift Shop:

This film is great as a look at obsession, at art, or at the weird way something goes from being brave and guerilla to scarily mainstream. It’s a weird movie but it always has some merit whether as a look at the art form that street art has become or at how someone can be so lost and misguided and somehow come out on top, or how someone can turn the tables and turn madness into high entertainment. Regardless it works. Famously.

Current rating: 9.0 out of 10

Contributing factors: Insanely compelling subject matter. Amazing art. A great look at what art is and isn’t, and then how what isn’t sorta is. And that it doesn’t matter what the definition is, but rather how it’s used.

Performance to savor: Banksy is either a genius or a really clever villain. Or hero. Or all of the above. Pull Quote: “You will instantly fall in love with art that is powered by sewer wind!”

Nick on Black Swan:

This is Darren Aronofsky’s best film. By far. His most singular. Most interestingly married to films of old. Most brave. It’s the one that seems like he is completely at ease with his creative spirit and the demonic skill that drives him. There’s an awesome uncertainty to his best work where you can see him pushing his limits and those of his audience. This one feels like a dance between his boundaries until it metamorphs just like its lead and becomes something timeless and ferocious and beautiful in a way reserved only for those most dangerous things.

Current rating: 9.0 out of 10

Contributing factors: Elegantly shot and edited, expertly acted, and terrifyingly executed amalgam of art film, horror film, and experiment.

Performance to savor: Portman. I thought she was pretty good until act three and then she redefined what a good Natalie Portman performance is. Pull Quote: “The best masturbation scene in years!”

Nick on Inception:

We’ve blathered enough about Inception here. Suffice it to say that while the experience is much difference on viewing five than it was for one, it’s no less rewarding and in many ways more confounding and enriching.

Current rating: 9.0 out of 10

Contributing factors: You know. You’ve seen it. Everyone has.

Performance to savor: Tom Hardy. Pull Quote: “It may not be a mindfuck, but it’ll at least heavily pet your mind!”

Nick on The King’s Speech:

You read the logline for this film and fall asleep. You watch the movie and all you can do is be amazed at how it flows, how fun it is, and how broadly its reach is. How can this subject with these kind of stuffy trappings be so much damn fun? I have no idea but this is a very special movie. If I’d made it my number one of the year, I’d have been fine with that. It’s a classic and it will go down for all time as a classic.

Current rating: 9.0 out of 10

Contributing factors: Deft tonal balance. Beautiful photography married to a surprisingly nimble and and entertaining script acted by amazing performers.

Performance to savor: Both leads are phenomenal. You can’t lose. Pull Quote: “A great Knight at the movies!”

Nick on True Grit:

Joel and Ethan Coen are unfair. They’re too good at what they do. The best D.P. in the universe. Their pick of the best actors and personalities in the universe. The best fictional editor in the universe. They reach both to the cosmos and into the trash bin and somehow still find stardust. They take a movie no one wanted a remake of and made a non-remake of it that still manages to coast on the goodwill of the original while carving its own persona. Difficult work that they pull off perfectly, surprising no one.

Current rating: 9.0 out of 10

Contributing factors: You name it and it’s great.

Performance to savor: The girl is a revelation but it’s Barry Pepper who took me by surprise. Pull Quote: “John Wayne is spinning in his grave… to get a better view of this amazing movie!”

Nick on The Social Network:

The first time I saw this I loved it but knew that it wasn’t some time capsule look at our culture and world at a certain age. This film doesn’t define a generation. It’s a movie that could have been about anything. It didn’t have some big emotional connection, and while that could be considered a mirror to now it’s semantics. The second time I saw it I loved it and just sat back and enjoyed a filmmaker just owning something and letting the words and performers be equal conspirators. This is David Fincher maturing further than ever before, the culmination of a lot of great directorly films. This is a weird flick that is hard to pin down as one thing. It’s everything. And nothing. And delightfully imperfect at times. It’ll stand the test of time and I wasn’t sure whether to make this number one or ten or three but it’s singular and that won out.

Current rating: 9.0 out of 10

Contributing factors: Amazingly clear editing and straightforward filmmaking. Very confident and appropriately annoying work by Jesse Eisenberg. Just a total winning combination of elements that have no right working. Crackerjack work by Sorkin too.

Performance to savor: Armie Hammer as the Winklevii. Pull Quote: “Even MySpace’s Tom has to be applauding this one!”

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