If you ask me, this year was a really good year for film. Hollywood churned out a lot of demographic-based flops, but our favorite directors all came back to solidify the medium’s most powerful and basic attribute: transformative inspiration. While at first glance you can look at a lot of films on this list and write them off as retro-mimicry, each film is an honest and, in my mind, successful attempt at each filmmaker tapping into their most primal and pure reasons for sharing their dreams with us in the first place. It was a great reminder of how personal and magical films can be, while retuning the form back to art.

10. The Artist Michel Hazanavicius’ tribute to silent film is genuine, sincere, entertainment at its purest form. The entire thing is held together by two utterly charismatic leads (Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo), and Ludovic Bource’s soundtrack is pitch perfect from start to finish. Watch it and completely fall in love. Full Review

9. The Skin I Live In Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar’s done a horror movie like only he can, and it’s a twisted version of Georges Franju’s Eyes Without A Face, just with the creep factor dialed to maximum. It’s wholly unpredictable and definitely goes where you don’t expect, so be prepared to gasp and also get irreversibly traumatized by Antonio Banderas. Full Review

8. Shame To quote Ryan on this one, Shame is straight up savage. Much has been made of the film’s NC-17 rating, but what you should know is that while the film is about one man’s incapacitating sex addiction, it’s in no way played out for vapid shock. Michael Fassbender is completely fearless, and together with director Steve McQueen the two are a force of nature. Shame totally strips the human body of its allure and probes the depths that man will plummet to for the sake of avoiding a real human connection. No review available

7. The Last Circus Alex de la Iglesia’s twisted circus is one of those films that you need to recover from after watching. It’s not for everyone, but it’s deliciously disturbing mixture of clowns, automatic weapons, twisted sex, self-disfigurement, and reckless abandon will have every movie lover that can stomach it begging for more. An instant cult classic. Full Review

6. We Need To Talk About Kevin Lyne Ramsay’s foray into homicidal family dysfunction is probably the most (keyword) harrowing experience I had all of last year. Tilda Swinton is flawless in her portrayal of a woman sinking further into the abyss, and Lyne Ramsay’s subjective narrative plays like a dark, stream-of-consciousness nightmare. Together with Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography, the three are an unholy trinity that remind you what it’s like to feel. Full Review

5. War Horse The best compliment I can give War Horse is that it feels like a movie that would’ve touched Spielberg when he was a kid. It’s been bashed for being overly sentimental and heavy handed, but I think that’s absolutely its charm. While it’s not the director’s best, it represents a look into the power of bravery and innocence that could only come from the director’s current mature outlook. No review available

4. Attack The Block Cinematic bliss + potent social commentary = Attack the Block. Writer Joe Cornish’s directorial debut is one of the strongest I’ve ever seen, and despite its tough, street-wise protagonists it feels more innocent, sweet, and poignant than another similarly themed alien invasion movie to come out this year. This is hands down the funnest experience I had at the cinema this year, and it’s a film that only gets better upon repeated viewings. Believe. Full Review

3. The Tree Of Life Rightfully divisive, Terrence Malick’s existential masterpiece is the strongest emotional experience I had all year. It’s a truly ambitious epic, encompassing the creation, life and destruction of the human race, all brought to us through the relatable POV of a young boy and his simplistic childhood life as part of the all-american nuclear family. This movie doesn’t have a traditional a-b narrative, but it’s poetry, and if you can get get past the film’s atypical narrative structure you’ll be treated to something the likes of which you’ve never seen. P.S. Emmanuel Lubezki should win best cinematography, NO CONTEST. Full Review

2. Melancholia Ah, Lars von Trier. There was a lot of controversy surround the auteur’s conduct during Cannes, but his work speaks for itself. It’s a film of staggering beauty despite its dark subject matter, and the guy is one of the most gifted visual artists we’ve ever seen. In the end, it’s a deeply personal film about the acceptance of death and might be the best depiction of depression you’ve ever seen on the big screen. It’s also got great performances from both Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kirsten Dunst; yes, for real. Full Review

1. Hugo Woefully written off as children’s fluff, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is one of the most romantic films about cinema you’ve ever seen. It’s honest, semi-autobiographical, and above all is about the transformative power of film itself. As one character puts it, movies are our special place, and Scorsese’s understanding of this concept is truly magical. Full Review

Others (in no particular order): Submarine, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Kill List, Kalevet, Drive, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I Saw The Devil, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Descendants