My Top Picks of 2010 - The Best Indies of the Year As 2010 comes to a close, it's time to take stock of the year in cinema and post the requisite "Best of" list. However, this one won't look like any other you may see. And for good reason. Rules, disclaimers, and those good reasons follow for those who are as passionate about the subject as I am.

My world revolves around independent films and festivals so this list includes only indies which I saw at film festivals for the first time in 2010. I specify "first time" because there are several which I saw in 2009 but were still on the festival circuit this year and saw again. Obviously I don't count those even though they may still have been among the best I saw at those particular 2010 festivals. Next, defining an independent film is something else entirely. I try to avoid including films produced and/or distributed by Hollywood studios or major studio specialty arms like Fox Searchlight, even though I may have seen them at festivals. However, in some cases there are truly independent films which were acquired for distribution just prior to, during, or after the festival in which I saw it. In those cases I simply use my best judgment.

It follows from the above that while many of these films do not yet have distribution (and, perhaps, never will) there are some which have already been released in theaters. So you may see some of these films on other critics' lists. But you'll find that this list can be quite different from others because most critics use date of theatrical distribution as a rule. Therefore, you may see some films being nominated and winning awards now which were actually on my list last year because they weren't released until this year. For example, I Killed My Mother (J'ai tu ma mere) played dozens of film festivals this year and is just now appearing on some critics' lists because it took over a year to get released in many parts of the world. But it was on my 2009 list. There are even films which are released two years later (Alpha Dog), or three (Fierce People), or even more after they've debuted at festivals which had been on my Top Picks in the years I first saw them. So my lists are often quite ahead of the curve.

While I do choose a list of Top Picks for each individual festival I attend, taking a list from one and comparing it to another is like apples and oranges. First, the quantity of films at each festival is different. I might see as many as 40 films or more at a particular festival (e.g., Philadelphia) or as few as one and then choose up to 10 or more Top Picks per festival depending on how many I saw. Sometimes I don't pick any at all. Second, the quality of the lineup can vary greatly from one festival to another. For example, my #1 Top Pick from one festival might not even make a list of Top 10 Picks from another. So to then compile some sort of grand list becomes quite difficult. At first glance it would seem to make the most sense to slice off the cream of the crop for each festival to come up with an overall list of Top Picks. But, alas, some festivals simply fall short when compared to others. I'll leave it to the reader to do some research and read between the lines.

So those are my criteria. Now my job is to tally up all my 2010 film festival Top Picks and see what stood out. But forcing an artificial limit of 10 films begs the question -- why 10? Looking back, I posted a Top 20 at the end of 2006. In 2007, I attended 11 festivals, saw 200 films, and narrowed that down to 25. In 2008, I attended 10 festivals and saw about 150 films. I did manage to choose 10 but only with great difficulty. (I'm still not sure why I didn't just do what I did the year before -- maybe it was just a bad year overall.) Last year I attended nine festivals and saw around 125 films. I thought the smartest thing to do was to go back to my 2008 criteria and simply pick the ones with the biggest "wow" factor, so I chose 16.

So do I chop them down to 10 as I used to do? Or do I do what I've done in the past two years and just go with my gut? It's a dilemma -- and I'm not alone. Even such esteemed critics as The New York Times' A.O. Scott has not limited his Ten Best list to ten. Several years ago he chose 19 films for the same reason.

There's no doubt in my mind that this year's overall crop of films was better than in 2009. But I've managed to narrow down the list to 16 as I did last year. I've also selected two documentaries and 15 Honorable Mentions.

These are the festivals I attended this year:

Slamdance Film Festival
Sundance Film Festival
SXSW Film Festival
Gen Art Film Festival
Tribeca Film Festival
Los Angeles Film Festival
Toronto International Film Festival
Fantastic Fest
Philadelphia Film Festival

I saw approximately 175 films at those festivals, from which I selected 63 movies collectively as Top Picks. This list comes from that universe of favorites.

Here are my Top Picks of 2010 (countries of origin in parentheses). Titles link to their respective reviews:

Narratives (in alphabetical order):

Beautiful Boy (US)
Black Swan (US)
Brotherhood (US)
Cherry (US)
Every Day (US)
Girlfriend (US)
Hesher (US)
It's Kind of a Funny Story (US)
The Kids Are All Right (US)
Let Me In (US/UK/Sweden)
The Myth of the American Sleepover (US)
The Runaways (US)
Skateland (US)
Stake Land (US)
Waiting for Forever (US)
Welcome to the Rileys (US)


Garbo: The Spy (Spain)
LennonNYC (US)

Here are a few that were "on the bubble." Keep in mind that just because a film is an Honorable Mention shouldn't take away from the fact that I loved it. Remember, I saw over 140 other films which you don't see listed in this article at all, including 30 that I selected as Top Picks from their respective festivals.

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):

Beneath the Dark (formerly Wake) (US)
Daydream Nation (Canada)
Dog Pound (France/Canada/UK)
Heartless (UK/US)
Insidious (US)
Lebanon, Pa. (US)
Never Let Me Go (UK)
Rammbock (Germany)
Rubber (France)
Submarine (UK)
Tanner Hall (US)
Undocumented (US)

My Top Picks of 2010 have all been reviewed here on this blog, and I invite my readers to click the links and read them.

Some of these films have already played theaters and come out on DVD or are awaiting home video release, others are playing now or will be soon, and the rest don't yet have distribution in the States or overseas or both. But all are worth your time. Try to see them if you can -- I guarantee you won't be disappointed.


Larry Richman

Larry Richman

For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at

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  • Author: Larry Richman
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