1 Hero directed by Zhang Yimou Shot by Chris Doyle , Zhang's first foray into the wuxia genre after years of serious historical drama is at once an inquiry into the idea of heroism, a dazzling visual extravaganza and, with its false flashbacks, unreliable narrators and the possibility that some scenes are happening within the characters' minds, an elaborate narrative puzzle. Three scenes - the lake fight, the rain fight between Jet Li and Donnie Yen and the forest confrontation between Zhang Ziyi and Maggie Cheung - are among the most striking martial arts sequences ever committed to celluloid.
2 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind directed by Michel Gondry Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) is known for his intellectual puzzle boxes, but that description misses the emotional core of his scripts. Eternal Sunshine is an examination of heartfelt romantic obsession, and whether we would choose to forget bad relationships if we could. What keeps it from the top spot is the feeling that Jim Carrey is "acting" - his restraint just feels unnatural. Kate Winslet , on the other hand, as the mercurial Clementine, is a miracle.
3 Collateral directed by Michael Mann A supremely stylish thriller from Mann , with Tom Cruise as an overworked hit man and Jamie Foxx as the cabbie he hires to ferry him to five jobs in one night. Mann's smartest move is the application of Cruise's ruthless will to power to a character we're not expected to like or even sympathize with. His second-smartest move is the foregrounding of the late-night glitter of L.A. So many films are shot there, but it's rare to see the city brought into focus.
4 Shaun of the Dead directed by Edgar Wright A hilarious comic take on the zombie movie, in which co-scenarist Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play English guys with a slacker sensibility who wake up to find zombies on the rampage in London. Shaun's best trick is that it works both ways, as bloody horror film and comedy - there's a disembowelling worthy of Romero at his best. The funniest film of the year, it's layered with small side jokes and gags that register after they've hit. Listen closely to the soundtrack for the 28 Days Later joke.
5 Sideways directed by Alexander Payne Paul Giamatti is one of the great character actors in current American films, and Payne (About Schmidt) has written him a role that shows off his strengths, all of which are weaknesses: his insecurity, his desperation, his difficulty communicating with women. Miles decides to take off for a weekend with his best friend ( Thomas Haden Church ) in wine country, where they meet women they're unworthy of ( Virginia Madsen , Sandra Oh ). A superbly constructed four-hander about the limits of male friendship, and connoisseurship as both addiction and avoidance.
6 Infernal Affairs directed by Lau Wai Keung Infernal Affairs is a horrible title for a brilliantly constructed HK crime thriller that's less about choreographed gunplay than the psychology of betrayal, with Andy Lau (no relation to the director) and Tony Leung as moles buried in the police force and a drug gang trying to uncover each other's identity. With such an iconic cast (throw in the great Anthony Wong as Leung's superior), one goes through the film without ever being sure who will die. But you know someone will.
7 Spartan directed by David Mamet Mamet has always resisted exposition, and he may have reached the outer reaches of that approach in this astonishingly elliptical thriller. Val Kilmer stars as a Special Forces guy who's trying to find the president's missing daughter, though the film never says exactly what his job is or that the missing girl is the president's daughter. Bad rep or not, Kilmer is still capable of turning in a great performance, and he comes at Mamet's terse rhythms sideways, turning the ultra-functional dialogue into beat poetry.
8 The Triplets of Belleville directed by Sylvain Chomet This animated film offers the most relentlessly inventive 80 minutes of cinema released this year, an old-fashioned, hand-drawn comic epic about a young man, his fat dog, his grandmother and an obsession with cycling. Chomet's style, rooted in a 1930s deco sensibility, manages some astonishing visual coups - the film's gangsters reduced to gigantic blocks of squared shoulders, the lunatic gags based almost entirely on scale - and, of course, the triplets themselves, three aging sisters in cloche hats who were once the Boswell Sisters of Paris.
9 Hellboy directed by Guillermo del Toro The best comic book adaptation of the year (yes, I saw Spider-Man 2), Hellboy has tremendous effects and style, but its anchor is Ron Perlman 's sardonic romanticism as the trans-dimensional being trapped in our world. There's tremendous support from Selma Blair , John Hurt and David Hyde Pierce , and - a rare thing in the genre - it looks as if the filmmakers had carefully studied the writings of H.P. Lovecraft when designing the threat to the human world.
10 THE AVIATOR directed by Martin Scorsese After Gangs Of New York, it was hard to know what to expect from this Howard Hughes biopic, but Scorsese seems to have been allowed his own cut of the film. Casting Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes is an innovative stroke. Directors usually cast the young Hughes for strength, but Scorsese casts him for his psychological fragility, the obsessive compulsive with an unnatural fear of germs. DiCaprio is startlingly good, and Cate Blanchett offers a dazzling take on Katharine Hepburn.
Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster, Touching The Void, Closer, Lightning In A Bottle, Facing Windows, The Incredibles, We Don't Live Here Anymore
Toni Collette Japanese Story, Paul Giamatti Sideways, Val Kilmer Spartan, Andy Lau Infernal Affairs, Kate Winslet Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Zhang Ziyi House Of Flying Daggers, Tom Cruise Collateral
Best supporting performances
Angelina Jolie Alexander, Daryl Hannah Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Virginia Madsen Sideways, Alfred Molina Spider-Man 2, Anthony Wong Infernal Affairs
1 De-Lovely The Battlefield Earth of musical bio-pics, littered with singers who don't know how to sing Cole Porter.
2 Twisted The lesser of the summer crime fighter/slut pictures. Ashley Judd just passed Mira Sorvino in the Worst Taste In Scripts competition and is closing in on Cuba Gooding Jr.
3 The Day After Tomorrow Anyone else think the end of the world shouldn't be this dull?
4 Van Helsing After The Mummy, Universal let Stephen Sommers do Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman in one go. Big mistake.
5 Laws of Attraction Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore as battling lawyers looking for love. Moore , alas, cannot play comedy. Of course, there's no evidence that scenarists Aline McKenna and Robert Harling can write comedy either.