2010: The Year in Non-Audience-Friendly Movies

It's that time of year when critics get all nostalgic -- or up on their high horses, depending -- about the year that is rapidly drawing to a close.

I've been writing 10-best lists for longer than I care to think about. But this year it seems less important than it has in a long time.

Maybe it's that there are so many of us now posting these things -- how many hundred will wind up in that graph on the Movie City News website? And so many of them will be significantly the same, featuring the titles you expect to see: The King's Speech, The Social Network, 127 Hours, Inception, Inside Job, Toy Story 3, True Grit, The Black Swan, Carlos and a couple of others. Not all of the ones I've just mentioned would be on my list, but many of them would.

Last year I posted a 10-best list, along with a 10-worst list, a list of 10 terrific-but-unseen films and another 10 that I thought were fun but wouldn't make the top 10. I could probably have also made a 10-best list of documentaries. I certainly could this year.

But, frankly, I'm tired of thinking about the movies of 2010. There were some terrific ones. There were some godawful ones. Let's leave it at that and focus on the fact that 2011 is almost upon us.

What follows is NOT a 10-best list. Rather, it's my list of the best movies of 2010 that you probably didn't see, didn't want to see or didn't know about. But they were all movies that challenged the viewer in one way or another. Which is why, for the most part, they went (or will go) unseen.

Yes, I know: To the average person, movies are about escapism. People buy tickets to movies to take themselves out of their everyday lives and plunge them into someone else's. It doesn't matter whether it's the gross-out hilarity of The Hangover or the sci-fi trippiness of Inception and Avatar or the superhero antics of Iron Man and all the other comic-book movies (a genre that threatens to run away with the movie industry).

The point is that, generally speaking, the mass audience of people doesn't want movies that force them to think. People want movies that make thinking superfluous, that do the thinking for them, that tell them what to think and feel.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not averse to escapism. I was a fan of all those movies I just mentioned (notice that I said Iron Man, not Iron Man 2). It's just that there are so many bad versions of the popcorn flick that, when a movie stops me in my tracks, makes me pay really close attention, doesn't answer all of its own questions, doesn't even tell me what the questions are - well, then I take notice.

Not that all of them do it for me. As I said when I reviewed Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, it's the kind of film that usually drives me crazy -- a movie in which nothing happens. I hated Rahmin Bahrani's Goodbye, Solo, one of the best reviewed films of 2008, for exactly that reason. Indeed, most of what passes for "world cinema" leaves me cold.

But this year seemed to be a particularly strong one for movies that managed to be fulfilling without attempting to be audience-friendly. By which I mean: They don't tell a linear story or even have much of a plot; they focus on characters who are often unlikable or vague; they force the viewer to figure out what is going on.

And so here you go, my year's 10-best unseen or unacknowledged films -- think of it as the downer-dozen-minus-two. Not all of them fit that description completely, but most could easily be considered either under-appreciated, under-attended or both.