Year in Review: The Best Films You Didn’t See in 2010

By  · Published on December 31st, 2010

As with any other cinematic year, many of the best movies of 2010 flew so far under the mainstream, 3D-centric radar that there was almost no way to catch them in theaters, unless you live in New York or L.A., or are blessed by a local arthouse.

Now, then, is an appropriate time to thank the movie gods for Netflix (and, to a lesser extent, video on demand), where these ten terrific movies will be given the shelf-life denied them on the theatrical circuit. Without further ado, here are our picks for the year’s best movies you didn’t see.

10. A Film Unfinished

Israeli filmmaker Yael Hersonski devastatingly analyzes the found-footage of a Nazi propaganda film about the Warsaw Ghetto to depict the inner machinations of an enormously comprehensive deception. Uncompromisingly, Hersonski reveals the Nazi apparatus at work, manifested in glaring inconsistencies, small enlightening moments and the harrowing images of living corpses strewn, near death, across the Ghetto’s streets.

9. Wild Target

Unfairly maligned by critics, Jonathan Lynn’s hitman-satire starring Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt and Rupert Grint is a perfectly-pitched, mannered black comedy with an appealing blend of broad, visual humor and oddball interplay between its leads. It’s not illuminating or intellectually stimulating, just great old-fashioned comic fun.

8. Off and Running

A documentary about the adopted African-American daughter of Jewish lesbians might not sound like the most exciting of movies, but Nicole Opper’s Off and Running is a terrifically compelling work that embraces the realities and challenges of life in a post-racial family and the universal desire to understand our pasts.

7. Last Train Home

If you’ve ever wondered why China has passed the U.S. in many of the key areas that determine a nation’s continuing viability as a super power, this documentary will clear things up fast. In following a family of migrant workers forced to make major sacrifices over the course of several years, filmmaker Lixin Fan depicts a society that values education, hard work and perseverance in the face of dehumanizing obstacles.

6. Fish Tank

With a keen eye for the rhythms of life on the Essex estate, writer-director Andrea Arnold crafts an affecting coming of age story centered on 15-year-old Mia (Kate Jarvis) and imbued with a hormonal teenage girl’s throbbing, full-throttled passion. Newcomer Jarvis has a star’s screen presence, driving home her character’s yearning to grow up and break free.

Click through to the next page to see the final five, or click ‘View All’ to see the entire list.

5. Marwencol

After a vicious beating robbed him of his memory, Kingston, N.Y. resident Mark Hogancamp devised his own unique form of grief therapy: projecting his hopes and fears onto the figurines occupying Marwencol, an enormous 1/6 scale World War II era Belgian village he built in his backyard. The documentary about this complex, fascinating man and the world he created is a portrait of true courage, rife with the thrill of watching an artist being [re]born.

4. Secret Sunshine

Lead actress Jean Do-yeon is the top reason to see this remarkable, Cannes-award winning South Korean drama, the story of a woman tested by tragedies and desperate to understand God’s role in causing them. Writer-director Lee Chang-dong crafts a devastating portrait of the struggle to confront all-encompassing grief.

3. Prince of Broadway

Neo-realism is alive and well in American cinema. For proof, one need look no further than Sean Baker’s terrifically authentic portrait of a hustler working in New York’s fashion district. It’s a compelling, no-frills depiction of a man living at breakneck speed forced to slow down by an unexpected obstacle: the baby he didn’t know he had.

2. Daddy Longlegs

The Safdie brothers ‐ Benny and Josh ‐ pay loving tribute to their father with this appealing, deceptively simple semi-autobiographical valentine to the burdens and rewards of parenthood in New York. It’s an inspirational depiction of the timeless struggle to transcend the limitations of the past.

1. The Oath

Critics and pundits routinely designate films as being “of the moment,” movies about the way we live now. None in recent memory, not even The Social Network, compare to Laura Poitras’ documentary chronicle of Abu Jandal, a Yemeni taxi driver and former bodyguard to Osama Bin Laden, interspersed with the trial of Salim Hamdan, the first U.S. military tribunal defendant. Thanks to the extroverted Jandal, who is bestowed with natural screen presence and a willingness to open up for the cameras, the film offers the illuminating, invaluable “other” perspective on the post-9/11 world.

For some lists that chronicle the best and worst movies that you did see this year, check out the rest of our 2010 Year in Review.