This is based on browsing the top 5000 most popular films according to IMDB. I think I tried to pick films that stood out in their individual genres as well as simply being good films. I'll probably hate this list as soon as I'm finished with it.
1. The New World (Malick, 2005)
I kept trying to not make this my number film of the decade because it's already gotten so much attention from film club, but I couldn't. In some ways, it is unlike any other film I've ever seen. It stays with you.
2. O Brother Where Art Thou? (Coens, 2000)
I think the Coen Brothers are the only directors with more than one film in my list. O Brother is epic, humorous, quirky, and heartwarming.
3. LOTR-Return of the King (Jackson, 2003)
This might not have made the list had I not seen it again recently. It blew me away even more the second time through.
4. 28 Days Later (Boyle, 2002)
This may be the greatest and scariest horror film ever made.
5. No Country for Old Men (Coens, 2007)
It grabs you right in the gut and rips out your intestines.
6. Spirited Away (Miyazaki, 2001)
Not my favorite Miyazaki, but indisputably one of his best. Miyazaki has a knack for effectively reaching an all ages audience like few others.
7. Rabbit Proof Fence (Noyce, 2002)
An epic tale of injustice and survival and hope against all odds.
8. Snatch (Ritchie, 2000)
Groundbreaking cinematography, smart dialogue, great acting, and lots of plot twists. Keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole way.
9. Once (Carney, 2006)
A heart wrenching and believable love story with an awesome soundtrack.
10. Shaun of the Dead (Wright, 2004)
Manages to be a zombie film as well as a commentary on zombies films. Funny and clever, the only one of its kind.
11. Whale Rider (Caro, 2002)
A beautiful story about families and gender and destiny, and how they're all intertwined.
12. Doubt (Shanley, 2008)
Astounding acting, haunting soundtrack, thought-provoking themes.
13. Moulin Rouge (Luhrmann, 2001)
Great soundtrack, great tragedy, great choreography, great love story.
14. WALL-E (Stanton, 2008)
I surprised myself by ranking this so high. Maybe because the film itself is surprising, and surpasses any pot synopsis one could write for it. Simultaneously simple and deep.
15. Big Fish (Burton, 2003)
The story about where a man and the myth about him meet, and what it means for those who loved and had to live with him. May we all pass along a legacy so sweet.
16. Timecrimes (Vigalondo, 2007)
Hands down the best film about time travel ever made. Primer is a close second, but didn't have quite as compelling a narrative.
17. Idiocracy (Judge, 2006)
A scathing commentary on modern culture hidden by slapstick humor and potty jokes set in an astoundingly insightful and believable future society.
18. Kill Bill, vol. 1 & 2 (Tarantino 2003/2004)
These will always be one movie to me. The sum is far greater than the parts. Epic and violent and brilliant.
19. Russian Ark (Sokurov, 2002)
This may be a one-trick pony, but it is the most gorgeously decked pony you've seen. Blew me away.
20. Little Miss Sunshine (Dayton/Faris, 2006)
Great acting turns this routine road trip plot into a timeless classic.
21. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry, 2004)
A romance unlike any you will ever see that raises questions you will never be able to answer.
22. There Will Be Blood (Anderson, 2007)
Cold and stark and heartless and yet bewilderingly effective at involving its audience on a deep emotional level.
23. Waitress (Shelly, 2007)
The world is a sadder place without the talents of this young director, who seemed to have her finger on the pulse of human behavior and relationships.
24. Tideland (Gilliam, 2005)
Probably Gilliam's most underrated work, and yet one of his most thought-provoking and human.
25. Joyeaux Noel (Carion, 2005)
This film is a good example of one of the reasons I am a Mennonite. Human beings should never have to fight one another because their government tells them to.
26. Monsoon Wedding (Nair, 2001)
It's brilliant the way Nair is able to tell a universal human story and yet a specifically cultural one at the same time.
27. Pan's Labyrinth (del Toro, 2006)
A wonderful marriage of horror, fantasy, and history. And lots of unforgettable and expertly designed monsters and creatures.
28. The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008)
Could I help but add this to my list? It's Batman and the Joker and a whole lot more.
29. Quiet City (Katz, 2007)
This is how friendships really start. I mean, we're witnessing something magical.
30. Shotgun Stories (Nichols, 2007)
How do we move from darkness into light? From violence to peace? This film gives us a little bit of an idea.
Breakdown by year:
Female directors: 4
Male directors: 27
Breakdown by genre:
Horror (3) pan's, shaun, 28 days
Drama (8) shotgun, monsoon, blood, doubt, whale, rabbit, new world
Comedy (4) waitress, sunshine, idiocracy, o brother
Fantasy (3) tideland, fish, ROTK
Superhero (1) knight
Mumblecore (1) quiet
Historical (2) joyeaux, ark
Sci-Fi (2) spotless, timecrimes
Action (2) kill bill, snatch
Animated (2) wall-e, spirited
Musical (2) moulin, once
Western (1) no country