What is it: Two British soldiers in WWI are assigned a mission to get to the front and call off a doomed charge before it begins.
MVP: George MacKay, grounding a technical achievement in real emotion.
Why it's here: It gets how useless WWI was, and refuses to give the viewer any cheap catharsis. Some people died in vain, some people's lives weren't tossed into the meat grinder, and tomorrow's another day.
What is it: A family on a ski vacation encounters a fake avalanche and a real recalibration of what they can expect from their patriarch.
MVP: Ruben Ostlund, concocting this premise and following it through to its awkward end.
Why it's here: No one really knows how they'll react in the heat of an emergency. Force Majeure provocatively imagines the worst-case scenario, and what a failure to protect even means in modern society.
What is it: A young girl enlists a US Marshall and a Texas Ranger to find the man who killed her father.
MVP: Hailee Steinfeld, dominating the film as a tween whirlwind while still acting her age.
Why it's here: The Coen brothers at their most accessible, True Grit is a dead-center bullseye, a shot that drunk Rooster Cogburn has a hard time making in his old age.
What is it: The only musically-inclined boy in his family finds himself trapped in the underworld, where he meets dead relatives who share his interests.
MVP: Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, directing a visually complicated world and distilling it down to a boy and his grandma.
Why it's here: So many sniffles in a packed theater, including my own. Pixar went to the sequel well seven times in the 2010's but Coco, their best of the decade, shows that their original titles are where the great stuff is.
What is it: An established handmaiden and a striving up-and-comer compete for a childish monarch's attention.
MVP: Olivia Colman, bringing pathos and empathy to the difficult and pampered character of Queen Anne.
Why it's here: Monarchy has rarely been as absurd as it is in this film, where throwing fruit at a bewigged naked man seems like a good use of one's time. Per Lord Harley, a man should look pretty, but not covered in blood orange.
What is it: An iconic director and a photographer travel through rural and industrial France, installing giant murals of ordinary people.
MVP: Agnes Varda, impossibly charming even when she's just sitting on a bench.
Why it's here: Varda and her partner JR's intergenerational chemistry is undeniable, but not as impactful as the reactions people have to seeing themselves as parts of art projects.
What is it: A virus sweeps across the earth. Government scientists spring into action, charlatans smell an opportunity, and the rest brave a decaying social order.
MVP: Scott Z. Burns, envisioning a scenario with airtight plausibility and shaming any other speculative fiction writer who thinks reality needs goosing.
Why it's here: One of the last hyperlink-style movie after movies like it dominated the previous decade, Contagion is also the best of them. It makes saints of CDC investigators and understands science like few films have.
What is it: A prima ballerina pursues dance perfection at the cost of her sanity.
MVP: Natalie Portman, descending into gonzo madness.
Why it's here: The only time a Darren Aronofsky film could be called 'fun,' Black Swan's deliriousness combines with its body horror bona fides, resulting in gleeful claps at every giant choice the cast and crew make.
What is it: In the prime of mid-century, big studio Hollywood, a star actor goes missing.
MVP: Joel and Ethan Coen, putting their twisted form of love and admiration towards a bygone era of flashy musicals and nickel Westerns.
Why it's here: Would that it were so simple to describe the charms of this underappreciated Coen brothers' film in a few lines. It contains all the charms of their comedies and the depth of their dramas.
We Are the Best!
What is it: Swedish girls in the early 80's start a punk band, primarily so they can get out of gym class.
MVP: Lucas Moodysson, prioritizing the frivolity of a joyous film over the darker interests he exhibits in his other works.
Why it's here: The film justifies a genre of music's existence in how it shows teenage insecurities and fears washed away in a thing that doesn't prize talent and hates conformity. The girls' end product, Hate the Sport, is a banger I was humming for some time after seeing this, and now I'm humming it again.
What is it: A North Dakota minister wishes to use his church as a shelter for homeless oil workers but runs into opposition from his congregation.
MVP: Jesse Moss, having the forethought to move his focus away from the wildcatters and towards the minister trying and failing to help them.
Why it's here: When Christians are gaining more and more political power, The Overnighters centers a believer willing to use what power he has in service to people in need instead of towards fetuses or believers squicked out by gay people, and the film then complicates that appealing premise with additional wrinkles.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
What is it: In the aftermath of a violent incident, the mother of the perpetrator goes back through her life and wonders what caused this to happen.
MVP: Tilda Swinton, wrung out by pregnancy and motherhood and culpability.
Why it's here: Lynne Ramsay finds the danger and foreboding in small details like a juicy lychee nut and a billowing curtain. What could be unsettling in something so innocuous, but then, who could be just as unsettled by their own baby?
How to Survive a Plague
What is it: The LGBT activists of Act Up and their allies spend a decade protesting, researching, and attending funerals as they agitate for a treatment plan for AIDS.
MVP: Director David France, finding the urgency in something so anodyne as a middle-aged nurse reading drug trial results from a podium.
Why it's here: The film communicates not only the anger of the period, but a persistent anger that all this happened in the first place. Fuck Jesse Helms. Fuck that fucking malignant revanchist, forever.
What is it: The son of Apollo Creed asks Rocky Balboa to help him claim his birthright in the ring.
MVP: Ryan Coogler, updating a franchise with shaky racial roots for the 21st century.
Why it's here: One of the best sports movies ever made, Creed combines virtuosic direction with a refined sense of place and the franchise's most powerful acting.
What is it: Cons within cons take place over the rights to a Japanese heiress' fortune.
MVP: Park Chan-wook, bringing his signature style to a colonialist, psycho-sexual, three-card monte manipulator of a film.
Why it's here: The aforementioned fortune matters far less than the freedom of the two women at the center of the ploy, and it grounds the usual Park grandness (in this case, basement octopi and black tongued horndogs) with something much more elemental.
Everybody Wants Some!!
What is it: Freshman baseball players get acquainted with their team and their classmates in the days before the school year starts.
MVP: Richard Linklater, warmly recapturing a period when the world was spread out before you and college offered a buffet of potential paths one could go down.
Why it's here: If you spent time in a fraternity house, this is a time warp back to the very best days of shooting the shit. It's benign male camaraderie captured in a plotless joy ride.
What is it: Two struggling millenials fall in with a rich and mysterious peer.
MVP: Jeon Jong-seo, reminiscent of tropes at first and then transforming into one of the most enchanting characters of the decade.
Why it's here: Mysterious and ethereal to its end, Burning could be read multiple different ways down to what is actually happening as it reaches its climax. It most resonates as a study of what it is to have a great hunger without the means or the talent to satisfy it.