10. “Skyfall” (2012)
Daniel Craig’s third installment as James Bond explores 007’s interior life, a typically enigmatic chapter in Bond lore. Making use of Dame Judi Dench before her imminent exit from the franchise, “Skyfall” devotes plenty of time to Bond’s relationship with M, reveling in the potential of M’s maternal instincts — or Bond’s yearning for a mother figure. It’s a weakness easily exploited by the deliciously evil Javier Bardem, who makes Raoul Silva one of the best villains since Oddjob. In addition to being directed by Sam Mendes, “Skyfall” got a little prestige bump when its title track won an Oscar, proving Adele may be the one Brit Americans love even more than 007. — Jude Dry
9. “The Last Jedi” (2017)
“The Last Jedi” is the best Star Wars movie since “The Empire Strikes Back,” but it’s also a lot more than that — it’s as much of a new hope for the eroding blockbuster culture of 2017 as “A New Hope” was for the emerging blockbuster culture of 1977. An immensely satisfying experience that doubles as an urgent call to action for mega-franchise filmmaking, “The Last Jedi” is the first installment of the monolithic space opera that’s more concerned with telling a new story than it is with burnishing an ancient myth.
Taking the reins of the most obsessive fandom in the entertainment universe (a responsibility that would scare most directors into deference), Rian Johnson mounted a bonafide insurrection against an industry that’s fueled by nostalgia, grounding his story in a simple idea that was bound to ruffle some feathers and piss off some fanboys: If you really love something, you have to let it go. It’s a notion that other massive franchises should take to heart if they want to survive. — DE
8. “Before Midnight” (2013)
The magic alchemy first conjured in 1995 by Linklater and his two stars Hawke and Delpy finds its third iteration in “Before Midnight,” which the three co-writers writers spent ten weeks scripting on location in Greece. This time, our articulate couple is 40ish with four-year-old girl twins. Over the fading days of a halcyon Greek vacation, Celine and Jesse hash out the issues in their unmarried relationship, first in a sublimely executed 14-minute uncut car shot, next over dinner with friends (shot with multiple cameras), and finally at a resort hotel, where they try to ignite some romance but wind up having the fight from hell.
The American expat writer and his French environmental activist partner clearly love each other, but the issues that trouble them — a custody battle over his son with his ex-wife, child care and housekeeping, sex, dueling careers — threaten to topple the relationship. The film never drags: the long-take man vs. woman debate is one for the ages, layered with regret, anxiety, love and intimacy. The movie earned the trio their second Oscar nomination for Original Screenplay. — Anne Thompson
7. “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” (2004)
Yeah, yeah, Tarantino claims that “Kill Bill” is actually a discrete project divided in two. But the facts speak for themselves: “Vol. 2” is stylistically distinct from its predecessor, even as it develops and expands on its themes. While the first chapter in Tarantino’s bloody revenge saga kicked off the Bride’s quest to avenge her dead child, plucking off one cartoonish baddie after another, the second one continued that journey from a new perspective. “Vol. 1” riffed and refashioned the traditions of the samurai and martial arts films, channeling Tarantino’s penchant for pastiche on a more exuberant plane than ever before. “Vol. 2” brings that same approach to Western motifs, as the Bride careens through a surrealist variation on Sergio Leone’s greatest hits with a badass feminist twist.
From the histrionic music cues to the outrageous tension build-ups that percolate through every scene — not the Bride’s capacity to gouge eyeballs, smash a coffin and stop one major villain’s heartbeat with nothing more than her hands — “Vol. 2” never ceases to be a bracing cinematic kaleidoscope on par and often even more exciting than the installment that came before. Collectively, the two movies form QT’s brilliant thesis on the modern history of the action film, and the way it exists as a synthesis of Eastern and Western traditions. It’s the wildest film history class you’ll ever endure. — EK
6. “The Dark Knight” (2008)
Welcome to a film without rules. Released just two months after “Iron Man” kicked off a certain cinematic universe, “The Dark Knight” was a genuine event in a way that few movies not set in a galaxy far, far away have been in the near-decade since it brought back the cape and cowl. It seems a distant memory now, but fans were hugely resistant to the idea of Heath Ledger playing the Joker when he was first cast; skepticism turned to excitement the moment the first trailer came out, and the actor’s tragic, untimely death six months before the film’s release made for a perfect storm of anticipation that Christopher Nolan more than delivered on. If “Batman Begins” was a pleasant surprise for the way it reimagined and reshaped the Batman mythos, then “The Dark Knight” was long-awaited proof that a superhero drama could soar higher than most ever thought possible. — Michael Nordine