1. No Country for Old Men (No 1 for 2007) — This breathtaking saga of crime and carnage along the Rio Grande emerges as the Coen brothers’ masterwork among their bold and eclectic filmography. In adapting Cormac McCarthy’s novel about the repercussions of a ruined drug deal, Joel and Ethan Coen (and the great cinematographer Roger Deakins) have created an evocative, beautifully bleak landscape. Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones both give subtly powerful performances, but Javier Bardem is chilling in his Oscar-winning supporting turn as an eccentric serial killer.
2. There Will Be Blood (No 6 for 2007) — An inventively gorgeous yet wildly weird epic about greed, lies, manipulation and insanity, with a terrifying leading performance from Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis as a ruthless California oil man. With inescapable intensity, focused on character and storytelling, it leaves you gasping.
3. American Splendor (No 1 for 2003) — A film unlike any other that year, and perhaps unlike any other, period. Wildly ambitious and imaginative, and consistently successful. Part feature and part documentary with some animation tossed in, the story of cranky comic book writer Harvey Pekar is full of sharp comic observations..
4. Far From Heaven (No 1 for 2002) — This would have been one of the best films of 2002 based solely on its exquisite cinematography and production design. Add Julianne Moore’s complex performance and writer-director Todd Haynes’ keenly observant script, both Oscar-nominated, and you have a movie that’s nearly flawless..
5. Sideways (No 1 for 2004) — Also starring Paul Giamatti, further proving that beneath his character-actor looks lie the talent and versatility of a leading man. Disarmingly written and beautifully cast, with equal amounts of humor and heart, Alexander Payne’s middle-aged, coming-of-age tale of loneliness, love of wine and unlikely relationships resonates long after the lights go up.
6. Memento (No 3 for 2001) — Told backward, writer-director Christopher Nolan’s revenge thriller leaves you reeling over what you just saw — or didn’t see. Its narrative approach is ingenious (and turned out to be hugely influential), and it must have been incredibly hard to craft and make all the details fit. As a man seeking revenge for his wife’s murder, Guy Pearce is dark and tormented. .
7. Mystic River (No 7 for 2003) — A modern-day Shakespearean tragedy, this is one of Clint Eastwood’s best ever as director, more haunting over time than even his 2004 best-picture winner, Million Dollar Baby. A gripping, gorgeous film about revenge, friendship and lost innocence in a richly detailed Boston setting.
8. The Squid and the Whale (No 1 for 2005) — There isn’t a false note in this darkly funny story about married writers who are divorcing, and how the split affects their sons. Writer-director Noah Baumbach’s film, loosely based on his own ’80s adolescence in Brooklyn, is poignant and observant, hilarious and achingly sad.
9. WALL-E (No 5 for 2008) — Pixar’s masterpiece. The animation company maintains its impeccable track record with this irresistible, visually marvelous tale of the last robot on Earth. It’s groundbreaking in its simplicity. 10. Wonder Boys (No 10 for 2000) — Michael Douglas shines in the unlikely role of an English professor and novelist who’s stuck, personally and professionally. The acting is categorically strong from a talented ensemble cast, especially Robert Downey Jr. The dialogue is insightful, the characters feel achingly real.