Takashi Shimizu's Marebito: This movie gives me a deep, moving kind of chill I've never experienced anywhere else. The twist caught me off guard, and at the end I wasn't just scared of the movie... I was scared of MYSELF. Interestingly enough, Takashi Shimizu is best known for directing 6 of the 7 Ju-On/Grudge movies, making this a rather radical departure.
Sion Sono's Suicide Circle: This is the first film where I literally stood up and clapped at the end. It's a disturbing, humorous, terrifying look at a serious issue of human psychology, an enthralling mystery, and a gorehound's dream all in one. Sion Sono is, apparently, usually a director of gay pornography, making this an even more radical change of pace.
Takashi Miike's Happiness of the Katakuris: I've never seen a movie that so perfectly mixes "creepy", "hilarious", "disturbing", "fun", "musical" and "touching". I expected a comedy, and nothing more. But I got a movie that really moved me, and still does. It's also ridiculously bizarre, as usual for Takashi Miike, who is perhaps best known for Audition, Ichi the Killer, and the original Japanese version of One Missed Call.
Akira Kurosawa's Dreams: While perhaps a bit on the preachy side, this movie did something no other movie has done for me - it really made me feel as if I were having a dream as I watched it. It perfectly captured the mesmerizing "there, but not quite" feel of dreams, and coupled with strong emotional impact and wonderful cinematography, it easily earned a spot here. Akira Kurosawa is the legendary director of films such as Seven Samurai and Ran.
Walter Salles' Dark Water: A remake of an Asian horror film that had been made by the people behind Ringu. Often derided for "not really being a horror movie", that is exactly why I love it. Jennifer Connelly delivers not only the best performance I've seen from her, but the best performance I've seen, PERIOD. The atmosphere is wonderful, the way the film plays with your mind is masterful, the bleak and oppressive cinematography is darkly enchanting, and it all feels real enough that I'm constantly sucked in. Walter Salles is best known for his Che Guevara biopic The Motorcycle Diaries.
Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away: In my opinion, the best animated film ever. Touching, charming, and full of beautiful artwork, this is the animated film where I most felt for the characters - both the very human Chihiro and her supernatural comrades. Hayao Miyazaki is often hailed as the world's greatest living animation director, his other works include Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle, and My Neighbor Totoro.
Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight: Honestly, I didn't want to like this film. I've never really liked Batman. But the twisty, excellently-written script and Heath Ledger's convincingly insane performance ultimately won me over. Nolan's non-Batman works include Memento and The Prestige.
George Romero's Day of the Dead: I'm referring to the original, not the 2007 pseudo-remake. Most people cite Dawn as the best entry in the series, but I feel that this film is the best at portraying the structure of human society as it breaks down. It's also full of great FX work by Tom Savini and is the only zombie film that actually managed to scare me.
Peter Weir's The Truman Show: An awesome dramadey that is smart, funny, and surprisingly deep. It's fun to watch, makes you think, and stuck with me for quite a while. It's unexpectedly touching, a comedy that turned out to be much more, sort of like Katakuris (although way, way less weird). Peter also directed Dead Poets Society and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
Neill Blompkamp's District 9: Like all movies, it has flaws. The villains are of the "keep gloating and not killing the protagonist until something convenient happens to save him" variety, and one scene is a bit too derivative of - believe it or not - Iron Man, but it's a movie filled with good acting, great action, a nice story, and it actually makes you think, even after the credits are finished. This is Neill's first feature-length film, but it is notable that he was the director-to-be of the ill-fated Halo film.
Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies: An incredibly tragic, moving film; quite possibly the most emotionally affecting animated film of all time. Hard to watch, but absolutely essential.