1) There Will Be Blood
dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson is not the new Robert Altman. He’s not the new Martin Scorsese. He’s the first Paul Thomas Anderson. With this unforgettable epic Anderson has forged the most blisteringly original American film in decades. This is a classic pure and simple: ferocious, hilarious, apocalyptic, and above all, timeless.
dir. David Fincher
I was a little annoyed when David Fincher announced his next project would be about the Zodiac Killer. Why would the man who squeezed brilliance out of the banal serial killer genre with Seven repeat himself? But in the end, Zodiac couldn’t be further from the hip, stylized, gratuitous celebration of violence I expected. It’s the best police procedural ever made, a film about scrappy unlikely heroes, conspiracy theories and obsession that establishes Fincher as an undisputed master of his craft.
3) No Country For Old Men
dir. The Coen Brothers
Not much can be said about the Coens’ film that hasn’t already been said, but unlike some overrated critical darlings (hello, Atonement) No Country For Old Men’s hypnotic pull lasts long after you leave the theater. Its brilliant but divisive structure is an act of expectation-defying audaciousness that only the greatest filmmakers have the guts to attempt, let alone pull off.
dir. Brad Bird
I don’t know if kids liked Ratatouille. I loved it, though, and it continues to show that Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant) doesn’t just make some of today’s best animated films, he makes some of today’s best films, period.
5) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
dir. Andrew Dominik
It’s long, it’s slow, it’s a western, it has an unmarketable title that only seems longer as an acronym and it sat on a shelf for two years before being dumped in five theaters in the big-ticket season of late September. This movie isn’t for everyone, but if you’re willing to give yourself over to this majestic murder ballad, you’re unlikely to forget Casey Affleck’s haunting performance as the titular coward or Roger Deakins’ breathtaking cinematography.
6) Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead
dir. Sidney Lumet
About halfway through this heavily hyped crime saga I wondered what the big deal was. Then Philip Seymour Hoffman comes along and delivers one of the most intense, unique and devastating performances in screen history. Forget awards season, this is one for the time capsules.
7) Hot Fuzz,
dir. Edgar Wright
The secret to the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Edgar Wright formula is that their films are spoofs of a formula while being a superb example of that formula. So while Hot Fuzz is an unbelievably funny, pitch-perfect mockery of action movies, it’s also one of the best action movies in years, complete with every cliché imaginable. I can never get enough John Woo-esque slow motion sideways jumps while firing two handguns.
dir. Jafar Panahi
The setup couldn’t be simpler: a handful of girls try to sneak into a World Cup qualifying game. But along the way, in the subtlest way possible, we see the overwhelming sense of national unity that sports can inspire.
9) The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
dir. Julian Schnabel
We’ve all seen countless Oscar-bait movies about sick people and their inspirational struggles to succeed. This is clearly being marketed as such, but the film itself couldn’t be more different. People known for one art form who attempt directing a movie almost always fail (just ask Maya Angelou or Cindy Sherman) but Julian Schnabel’s unique vision turns the story of a man fully conscious but unable to move or speak into a moving exploration of the human soul.
dir. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino
Admittedly, it’s depressing that Quentin Tarantino continues to use his cinematic gifts to remake the films he liked when he was 12. That being said, seeing the original version of Grindhouse (not the separated DVD release) was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had at a movie theater. Have you ever been part of an audience where literally everyone got out of their seats and cheered at the final shot?