Since, I'm an incessant list-maker, I couldn't resist the chance to make my own. My own list is more centered around American films, and no documentaries made my list (while I like them, they almost never move me quite as much as a great narrative film). I also couldn't resist double-dipping with several of my favorite directors: Richard Linklater, Todd Haynes, Alfonso Cuaron, P.T. Anderson, and the Coens.
Without further ado, here's my list. I've seen almost all of them more than once, and love them all with great passion:
Amour ( 2012): An intensely moving portrait of love in all its forms. Both big-hearted and unsparing.
Before Sunset (2004): My favorite film in a great trilogy.
Boyhood (2014): Another Linklater, a film whose form (filming the same characters over 12 years) gives it an enormous power.
Carol (2015): Todd Haynes’ story of midcentury same-sex love is meticulous from start to finish, the kind of movie that improves upon each viewing. Cate Blanchett and Roony Mara are perfect.
Children of Men (2006): Devastating with just a glimmer of necessary hope, Children of Men is a gripping dystopian film.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000): Innovative, enthralling, and enjoyable. Ang Lee’s return to his Eastern roots works perfectly as both an action film and (2!) romances.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): What a perfect and creative film, perhaps my favorite on this whole list. Speculative science-fiction draped in rich and real emotions.
Far From Heaven (2002): Another deeply empathetic movie from Todd Haynes, this one using the style of 1950s melodrama without being joky. Exquisite.
Frances Ha (2013): Perhaps the lightest film on my list. It’s a short, quirky, endlessly watchable film about finding your way in your 20s. Noah Baumbach’s best.
Gosford Park (2001): A movie I could watch over and over. Great director Robert Altman directs an absolutely incredible cast in a murder mystery which deepens into a study of social class.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013): A perfect film, willing to find sympathy for an often-unlikable protagonist. And those songs! Tied with Fargo for my favorite Coen Brothers film.
Lost in Translation (2003): A dreamy, moody tale of two lost souls connecting in a foreign land. Both Bill Murray’s and Scarlett Johnannson's best performances.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): A feminist tale with action so gripping it almost works like a silent film. One of the best times I’ve had in a theater this decade.
The Master (2012): P.T. Anderson’s movie starts as a tale of scientology, but deepens into a look into the sickness of American culture. A complicated and difficult movie, but enormously fascinating.
Moonlight (2016): Last year’s Best Picture winner is a three-act masterpiece, artfully showing the coming of age of a lost soul.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012): I love Wes Anderson, and this just might be my favorite. A movie that looks back on young love with humor, heart, and a wistful nostalgia.
Mulholland Drive (2001): A dream that turns into a nightmare, this movie haunts me every time I watch it. The perfect distillation of David Lynch’s filmmaking.
No Country for Old Men (2007): Another Coen Brothers movie. This one is a harrowing masterpiece about characters facing an evil that doesn’t make sense.
Rachel Getting Married (2008): Jonathan Demme’s humanist drama, about a broken family coming together to celebrate a wedding. Equal parts charming and painful.
Talk to Her (2002): The great Pedro Almodovar’s masterpiece about the line between love and obsession. Provocative and moving, it’s a great film.
There Will Be Blood (2007): This one topped the NY Times list, and for good reason. It’s a modern Citizen Kane, finding much to say about American greed in its story of a corrupt oilman. Daniel Day-Lewis give one of the greatest performances every put on film.
Toy Story 3 (2010): I could have picked Wall-E or Ratatouille, but in the end this is my favorite Pixar. The perfect end to a great trilogy, with so much to say about the memories and love that remain even as we grow up.
The Tree of Life (2011): A religious experience, a movie so daring it slips in dinosaurs and the creation of the universe in a story about a boy growing up.
12 Years a Slave (2013): Steve McQueen's movie eschews any narrative tropes and points its camera directly at one man’s experience of slavery as a visceral horror, a sickness with no easy cure. A great act of empathy and witness.
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002): This story of two teenagers going to the beach with a beautiful older woman moves past its veneer of sex comedy to become an aching portrait of youth, desire, and regret.