What is it: A lunkheaded hitman considers his work alongside the Philly mob and labor leader Jimmy Hoffa.
MVP: Martin Scorsese, putting a reflective period on his long career depicting organized crime.
Why it's here: The titular Irishman is no schemer dreaming up new revenue sources for his underworld masters. He's an order-follower of the kind that made much of the 20th century such a disaster, and Scorsese's clear-eyed depiction of him as such means we might not need another gangster film again.
Two Days, One Night
What is it: A woman recovering from depression is told by her employer that if she wants to keep her job, she'll have to convince her coworkers to give up their bonuses.
MVP: Marion Cotillard, forcing her character to steel herself for painful interaction after painful interaction.
Why it's here: Belgian directing brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne locate the cruelty of global economics that squeeze businesses and of local mismanagement that perverts personal interactions into a zero-sum economic shell game.
20th Century Women
What is it: A single mom recruits two younger women to help her raise a rebelling teenage son at the tail end of the 70's.
MVP: Mike Mills, psychoanalyzing himself and his history to find what made his mother so special.
Why it's here: Personal and political, 20th Century Women is an intergenerational examination of a transformative time in American life, grounded in fully sculpted and beautifully acted characters.
What is it: A drummer and a jazz bandleader, terrible for everyone else, discover that they're perfect for each other.
MVP: JK Simmons, towering over the film in an iconic performance.
Why it's here: Damien Chazelle's breakout hit culminates in a showstopper that made me forget to breathe. It overpowered my autonomic nervous system. If a movie closes out so aggressively, it finds a spot on this list.
What is it: A 6-year-old boy ages into adulthood alongside his divorced parents and his older sister.
MVP: Editor Sandra Adair, forming 12 years of footage into a coherent and affecting narrative that foregrounds small moments over big ones.
Why it's here: A treatise on memory and perspective, Boyhood only chooses to be about the main family it is about. So expansive is Richard Linklater's charity, the film could've followed any of the characters that move in and out of the main family's lives and been just as great.
What is it: A documentary cinematographer looks back on her career through the edited-out footage she captured.
MVP: Kirsten Johnson, finding resonant themes in decades of material and prodding the viewer to watch more documentaries if this is what was left on the cutting room floor.
Why it's here: From boxing matches to warzones to her own home movies, Johnson is always present and watching for the money shot. Her empathetic eye keeps finding stunners and her gentle voice keeps getting subjects to speak frankly and honestly with her. Like so many movies on this list, Cameraperson simply loves people.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
What is it: An 18th century artist is called to a seaside French manor to create a painting of a young woman for her Italian fiance.
MVP: DP Claire Mathon, painting a masterpiece on the screen as surely as the characters are.
Why it's here: It communicates how intimate a process modeling can be, especially when the subject is as eye-catching as Adele Haenel. Director Celina Sciamma caps off a great decade for herself with an achingly beautiful romance.
What is it: A spiritually and mentally exhausted minister becomes enamored with doomsday environmentalism.
MVP: Paul Schrader, translating his career-long search for the transcendent in cinema to a timely parable.
Why it's here: Asking no less formidable a question than what is religion for, First Reformed chafes at comforting the comfortable and instead prods for discomfort as painfully as barb wire poking skin.
What is it: In the Irish Catholic companion piece to First Reformed, a priest is warned by a victim of sexual abuse that he'll kill the priest in a week's time.
MVP: Brendan Gleeson, striding through the ruins of what the Catholic church and other malignant forces have wrought on Ireland.
Why it's here: Weakness of all kinds runs through John Michael McDonagh's cathartic film, up to and including its weary protagonist. Calvary locates saintliness not in being perfect but by acknowledging that weakness and trying in every interaction to be better, though one might fail over and over again.
What is it: An adaptation of Emily Bronte's novel about lovers kept apart by class and background.
MVP: Andrea Arnold, providing as clear a definition of cinematic sense memory as has ever been put to screen.
Why it's here: Every clump of peat, drop of rain, and sting of the lash is so, so evocative in this sensual tour de force. To watch Wuthering Heights is to feel it on your fingertips and in your heart.
Inside Llewyn Davis
What is it: A proto-Bob Dylan alienates his way through the Greenwich Village folk scene.
MVP: Oscar Isaac, defiantly unlikable in another of the decade's best performances.
Why it's here: It alternates the comedic mastery of songs like Please Mr. Kennedy with the longing of Fare Thee Well and the melancholy of The Death of Queen Jane, and intersperses the music with typical Coen brilliance, this time about terrible luck and grief and being just a little bit too late.
What is it: A vegetarian veterinary student develops a taste for meat of all kinds.
MVP: Julia Ducournau, ratcheting up the tension in scenes that build and build to unbearable levles.
Why it's here: Body horror in its purest form, Raw provokes from its first scene and escalates from there. It's not only world-class for its genre, but has a surprising depth amidst the frequent impulses to cover one's eyes.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
What is it: A hotelier reminisces about his time as a lobby boy in one of the great luxury hotels from a bygone era.
MVP: Ralph Fiennes, finding the limits of the first class hospitality that his Gustave M. specializes in.
Why it's here: A 2019 rewatch skyrocketed this film from somewhere around the 500's to a #25 spot. Its ruefulness and bittersweet qualities were completely missed in theaters and now it's self-evidently a profound work about not knowing something's over til it's too late.
What is it: A soon-to-be empty nester strikes up a relationship with a man at the same time she's making friends with his ex-wife.
MVP: Nicole Holofcener, fleshing out adult lives that seem like they've expanded as far as they're going to and will only shrink in the coming years.
Why it's here: There's a poignancy to what could fairly be described as a romantic comedy, not only by this being one of James Gandolfini's final performances but because of how tragic the loneliness of the characters is and how hard they have to break out of their own inertias to counter it.
What is it: Neil Armstrong's life in the 60's, from burying his daughter to stepping on the moon and everything in between.
MVP: Damien Chazelle, ascending to the upper level of directors with a you-are-there, brain-rattling sensory experience.
Why it's here: First Man has everything one would expect from a Space Race film and so much more. It communicates the personal psychological costs for the astronauts and their families as well as the razor-thin margins that separated success from disaster.