1. James Cameron’s Avatar
An instant classic that transports us to a whole new world and introduces us to a fascinating alien people, both of which are brilliantly realized with groundbreaking special effects and most importantly, endless imagination, intelligence and soul. Even if it wasn’t for the breathtakingly exciting and fun action sequences, this would be the best picture of the year.
2. Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Thing Are
From the magic hour cinematography to the equally urgent and sentimental score and the most lovable imaginary creatures ever shown on screen, this simultaneously naturalistic and lyrical ode to childhood is utterly pleasing to the senses.
3. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds
An irreverent World War 2 spaghetti western that doubles as a tribute to the power of cinéma and mise en scène, this taut, hilarious and exhilarating film is filled with unforgettable performances, notably from Christoph Waltz as the villainous Col. Landa.
4. Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer
Two words: Zooey Deschanel. But really, this anti-romantic comedy is also achingly heartfelt and sincere, cleverly written and directed, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is amazingly convincing and relatable as the guy in love with the Zooey.
5. Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker
One of the most suspenseful movies I’ve ever seen, this bomb squad tale features half a dozen nerve-wrecking set pieces and a note perfect, totally badass performance from Jeremy Renner.
6. Neill Blomkamp’s District 9
This was the best sci-fi flick in years until “Avatar” came along, but even though it was overshadowed by Cameron’s film, Neill Blomkamp’s debut remains wildly entertaining, smart and well crafted.
7. Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox
Like Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson didn’t seem like the obvious choice to adapt a beloved children’s book, yet in the process he delivered one of his most personal, idiosyncratic and enjoyable films.
8. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen
Zack Snyder’s detractors say that all he did here was slavishly translate Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel masterpiece to the screen. They’re right, and the result is pure comic book geek bliss.
9. Lars von Trier’s Antichrist
A Grand Guignol exercise in excess and provocation that almost dares you to reject it, but even when it goes off the rails, it remains captivating. Chaos reigns.
10. Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man
Through the sheer power of their filmmaking style, the Coen take the miserable life of a mild-mannered Jewish professor and turn it into an offbeat, surreal and affecting experience.