Please Give, Nicole Holofcener. Nobody else makes movies like Holofcener's: movies that open with a title sequence pairing a peppy Roches song with the image of middle-aged female breasts being squished into mammography machines. Movies that ask hard questions about class and wealth without caricaturing the rich or sentimentalizing the less rich. Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt play a pair of married Manhattan furniture dealers who are waiting for their aged neighbor to die so they can combine their apartment with hers. They're awful, but they know they're awful, and the film chronicles their struggle, and that of the other excellently drawn characters, with the simple, impossible question: How should we live? Keener has long been Holofcener's muse, and no director is as in tune with that actress's peculiar brand of brainy, knotty charm.
The Social Network, David Fincher. I wouldn't have believed a film about out-of-court mediation and intellectual property theft—the essential subject matter of Fincher's drum-tight, masterfully paced drama—could nail me to my chair the way this one did for two closely spaced viewings in a row. This isn't a perfect movie: The woman problem is a legitimate concern (if not a movie-ruining one) and that Edvard Grieg-scored rowing scene is hokum. But The Social Network is as densely layered with sharp writing and great acting as anything I've seen this year. Jesse Eisenberg (whom I've had a crush on since before it was legal to do so) takes an already promising career to the next level as the brilliant, impenetrable, backstabbing, but never simply villainous creator of Facebook. Eisenberg has already won the Oscar in my mind.
Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich. The exigencies of the alphabet place this at the end of the list, but had I been forced to rank them (by some obscure enforcer of 10-best-list bylaws) this would probably have been No. 1. There wasn't another movie I walked out of this year saying not just "That was really good" but "I wouldn't have changed a thing." Everything was perfect: the animation; the voicework; the countless flourishes of visual and verbal wit; and the sheer emotional range of the story, a full palette of melancholy and terror and joy. A great Pixar film is like a Gothic cathedral, fashioned by the hands of countless skilled craftspeople working toward a single collective vision.
Runners-up include the Coen brothers' funny, sweeping and—rare for them—warmhearted Western, True Grit, and Luca Guadagnino's exquisitely beautiful, certifiably crazy melodrama I Am Love. Also Chris Morris' Four Lions, for its weird comic courage; Claire Denis' White Material, for its pitiless rigor; and Glen Ficarra and John Requa's I Love You, Phillip Morris, for its scabrous liveliness.
Finally, there are those movies worth mentioning because they gave the viewers of 2010 something to disagree about. These would include both Black Swan, which I mostly didn't like, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which I mostly did. The aforementioned I Am Love is another surefire fight-starter. But I think the single-most fun movie to argue about this year was Greenberg, which went way beyond the love/hate dialectic: There were 150 different ways to feel ambivalent about that movie. We'll sample many flavors of love, hate, and ambivalence in the Slate Movie Club, beginning the week after New Year's.