This was my first decade reviewing movies full-time, which means I saw a lot of films in the last 10 years (more than you, probably). That made compiling this list much harder than I anticipated. I was originally going to keep it to 10 movies, then 20, but finally had to go with 25 (+1). That was the number I was most comfortable with in terms of what got left out.
Here's the list, in descending order:
25) Talk To Her (Hable con ella) (2002): Out of all the latter-period Pedro Almodovar masterpieces, this one was the best, with Volver a close second.
24) Finding Nemo (2003): I'm a sucker for all things Pixar (except Cars; sorry, Oliver!), but Finding Nemo is the one that remains as fresh today as it did seven years ago - the textbook definition of timeless.
23) Dancer in the Dark (2000): In deciding between this and Dogville, I opted for Dancer in the Dark for the same reasons so many people hate it: Bjork's caterwauling, the discordant musical numbers, the last half-hour in which director Lars Von Trier puts you through such an emotional wringer you almost grow to hate him. Being shamelessly manipulated never felt so good.
22) Requiem For a Dream (2000): I have vivid memories of having to attend a screening of Darren Aronofsky's soul-wrenching drama about drug addiction the same night the last episode of the first season of Survivor was airing and not being happy about this at all. By the time the movie was over, missing Survivor didn't matter quite as much. Another memory: I was sitting next to this huge (like 6'5) tough guy at the screening who was so pummelled by the film, he started groaning when Aronofsky began to turn the screws. And kept turning. And turning.
21) Zodiac (2007): The more you watch director David Fincher's recreation of the hunt for the San Francisco Zodiac killer, the more you become like the newspaper cartoonist played by Jake Gyllenhaal: Completely obsessed.
20) Almost Famous (2000): "The only true currency in this bankrupt world ... is what you share with someone else when you're uncool." Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman).
19) Inglourious Basterds (2009): Quentin Tarantino's talky World War II fantasy is the most recent film on this list, and it is too early to tell how the movie will weather the years. My guess: It will become a classic.
18) In the Mood for Love (2000): The art of the mood film, amped up to delirious extremes.
17) The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005): The funniest comedy of the last 10 years gets funnier every time I watch it.
16) Match Point (2005): Woody Allen's first film in exile - on par with his best work from the 1970s - reawakened the director's spirit and creativity. Naysayers complained they liked this story better the first time he told it (in Crimes and Misdemeanors), as if filmmakers aren't allowed to revisit themes from different angles. Someone should inform Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman, Steven Spielberg and John Ford of this, pronto.
15) Cache (Hidden) (2005): It takes a while - or better yet, a couple of viewings - to fully appreciate the depth and complexity of director Michael Haneke's rich stew about the human instinct to repress the past in order to shun responsibility, all wrapped up in a corker of a thriller. Also: Best closing shot of the decade, which put the answer to the film's central riddle right in front of your face - literally - but many people still didn't see it.
14) Elephant (2003): Gus Van Sant's ethereal meditation on the Columbine shootings was less about the particulars of that tragedy and more about the sensation of high school - the sights, sounds, rituals, emotions.
13) Amores Perros (2000): Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu took the interlocking structure of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and used it for something far graver and more dramatic.
12) The Dark Knight (2008) / Spider-Man 2 (2004): How do you like your comic-book movies: Dark and brooding or bright and bouncy? Either way, these two superhero epics proved there is serious populist art to be had from those funny pages. (OK, so I cheated with this one. I just couldn't decide.)
11) Spirited Away (2001): The great Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece is a work of pure unbridled imagination. One of the hardest movies I've ever had to review, because the magical spell Miyazaki weaves defies description.
10) Million Dollar Baby (2004): "Frankie, I've seen you at Mass almost every day for 23 years. The only person comes to church that much is the kind who can't forgive himself for something." - Father Horvak (Brian F. O'Byrne) to boxing trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood).
9) City of God (Cidade de Deus) (2002): Fernando Meirelles beat Martin Scorsese at his own game with this exhilarating - and terrifying - look at life in the most dangerous slums of Rio de Janeiro. The rare kind of movie that is once seen, never forgotten.
8) Brokeback Mountain (2005): I happened to be interviewing Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in a hotel suite at the Toronto Film Festival when director Ang Lee burst in, clutching the Golden Lion statuette the movie had just won a day before at the Venice Film Festival. The three men traded hugs, congratulations and somewhat relieved smiles: They had a hunch, but until that moment, they still didn't know they had made a masterpiece.
7) There Will Be Blood (2007): "I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people ... There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money [so] I can get away from everyone." - Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel Day-Lewis in the performance of the decade.
6) Pan's Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno) (2006): The fantasy genre came of age in this decade, demanding to be taken seriously with Peter Jackson's momentous Lord of the Rings trilogy. But Guillermo Del Toro's story of a little girl who disappears into a magical, terrible world to escape her dreary reality outdid even Jackson's phenomenal achievement in sheer imagination, adventure and drama.
5) The Departed (2006): Martin Scorsese has made weightier, more important films, but he's never made a better movie-movie - a more absorbing entertainment than this cops-and-robbers drama that dared to stomp on all the rules of the genre. Even if you had seen the Hong Kong original this film was based on, The Departed made every other crime drama of the decade seem lightweight and trivial.
4) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): "This is it, Joel. It's going to be gone soon." "I know." "What do we do?" "Enjoy it." - Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Joel (Jim Carrey) in the love story of the decade.
3) No Country For Old Men (2007): How do you make sense of a crazy, violent world that seems to have lost its bearings? The melancholy answer - according to Cormac McCarthy and Joel and Ethan Coen - is you can't.
2) Adaptation (2002): In turning Susan Orlean's seemingly unfilmable book The Orchid Thief into a film, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze built a cinematic hall of mirrors that gave me a profound, brain-tickling thrill unlike any movie I had ever seen. Adaptation got loopier and nuttier as it went along, but Kaufman and Jonze never lost control of their one-of-a-kind contraption. Here, truly, is a movie like no other.
1) Mulholland Dr. (2000): If you believe that movies, at their best, are the equivalent of dreaming with your eyes wide open, then there was no more hypnotic reverie this past decade than David Lynch's poisonous ode to Hollywood, the city of - yes - dreams. Reshaped from an unaired TV pilot into a Moebius strip of a film, Mulholland Dr. was beguiling, sensual, terrifying and elusive. Every time you watch it, it feels like a slightly different movie. In dreams, Lynch waits for you.