1 Before Sunset directed by Richard Linklater Romance isn't dead yet, it's just complicated and morally hazy and takes place in real time over the course of one long, convincingly awkward conversation between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy . Making a dramatically effective feature film in real time with nothing but chit-chat is a neat trick, and Delpy and Hawke are so much cuter than Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory.
2 Sideways directed by Alexander Payne Whether you read this as a subtle exploration of masculinity, ageing, failure and redemption through grace or a horror movie where poor Virginia Madsen sleepwalks down to the basement of a relationship with a narcissistic bozo, there's no getting around the brilliance of Paul Giamatti's bruised, desperate, ferociously repressed performance, for sure the most compelling in any film this year.
3 Primer directed by Shane Carruth Shane Carruth's first feature, financed (not really) with the UPC codes from Popsicle wrappers, is intriguing for its möbius-like time-travel storyline but lovable for its faithfully low-key, geeked-out portrayal of scientists at work.
4 Ryan directed by Chris Landreth Short, but essential viewing. Ryan has so much to say - not only about creativity and addiction, but also about the potential for digital animation - that it's nothing short of revolutionary.
5 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind directed by Michel Gondry Clever and touching, but its ambiguous ending acts as a sort of Cosmo-quiz litmus test for the long-term viability of your current intimate relationship. Handy!
6 Riding Giants directed by Stacy Peralta Despite the cheesy historical-background opening, this movie convinced me that surfing holds the key to the meaning of life. Stacy Peralta's as good a documentary filmmaker as he was a skateboarder.
7 Hukkle directed by György Pálfi This enchanting little puzzle of a pastoral murder mystery is Before Sunset's shadowy European counterpart. Like Before Sunset, it has old Hungarian ladies, an accumulation of subtle clues that nudge the story along almost imperceptibly and a musical number at the end that reveals all. Unlike Before Sunset, there is not a single word of dialogue, which is also a neat trick. Coincidence? Unlikely.
8 Distant directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan This taciturn Turkish drama about two middle-aged male cousins coming to terms with failure and loneliness is like what would happen if Tarkovsky made Sideways in Istanbul, with frozen cargo ships standing in for wineries and no women to redeem them. Not fun, but great, mainly because of its obsessive attention to detail.
9 Shaun of the Dead directed by Edgar Wright Funny British TV guys make a movie that pays affectionate tribute to George Romero while inviting comparison to American Werewolf-era John Landis. Brains are eaten, fun is had, the dire state of American studio horror flicks is forgotten and for a moment all is right with the world.
10 End of the Century directed by Jim Fields, Michael Grimaglia If you're not a committed punkologist or a drooling Ramones fan, it's possible that this ragged cut-and-paste-looking doc won't make you stuff your entire fist in your mouth and scream yourself hoarse. But if you are, better start stretching your jaw now. Two words: Dee Dee. Interviews.