10. "The Royal Tenenbaums" (2001)
Aside from featuring his best cast to date, the third film from Wes Anderson solidified his knack for dark but optimistic stories, and his endearing, neatly comedic, highly detail-oriented style.
9. "Ratatouille" (2007)
Rats and critics have never had it as good onscreen as they do in Brad Bird's delicious animated ode to the appreciation of great food.
8. "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000)
It's a toe-tapping, fat-free, bona fide charmer from the Coen brothers, and its dialogue gets funnier the more you hear it.
7. "Mulholland Drive" (2001)
So lushly cinematic and defiantly strange, David Lynch's fractured dream narrative still puzzles viewers, but always fascinates regardless of how many times the head works it over.
6. "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" (2008)
Between director Cristian Mungiu's taut simplicity and costar Anamaria Marinca's outstanding performance, this story of two women seeking an illegal abortion in Ceausescu's Romania becomes a riveting, pulse-quickening thriller.
5. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (2007)
A film about stroke-paralyzed French Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby could've gone wrong in so many ways - too soapy, too depressing, too desperately inspirational - but the touch of artist-filmmaker Julian Schnabel yields an extraordinary thing of beauty.
4. "The Lives of Others" (2007)
Though it's set in the East Germany of over two decades ago, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's encounter between a conflicted spy and his innocent, unknowing target eliminates the time and distance, putting you squarely in the shoes of its characters. The experience is unforgettable.
3. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004)
Of the many surprises in this delightfully original film about taking the bad with the good in human relationships - a high-water mark for director Michel Gondry, writer Charlie Kaufman and star Jim Carrey - the biggest may be its capacity to satisfy in very old-fashioned ways.
2. "There Will Be Blood" (2008)
Like we knew he would eventually, Paul Thomas Anderson graduated from cult favorite to major creative force with this Oscar-winning epic driven by humankind's lesser instincts. It slips easily into the pantheon of American classics, due in part to Daniel Day-Lewis' lead performance and Robert Elswit's cinematography, but has a contemporary pulse all its own, for which composer Jonny Greenwood can take some credit.
1. "Children of Men" (2007)
Between an opening-scene bomb blast and all that shaky handheld camerawork, I was left a little shell-shocked by my first exposure to Alfonso Cuaron's near-futuristic dystopia.
It stuns more deeply with successive viewings through its connections to our own time, its merciful underpinnings of hope, its heartfelt performances (Clive Owen hasn't made anything nearly as good since) and Cuaron's meaty technical precision.
While handheld generally went from novel style to cheap gimmick in the aughts, here it establishes a world bereft of stability, smoothing out only in places where the wealthy and powerful still put up a respectable front.