1. No Country for Old Men
In order to talk about why the Coens' Best Picture winner resonates with me so much, I really do have to spoil major plot points (so if you haven't seen it before, now's always the time). There's a moment that comes right near the end of the film that I think about constantly. By this point, we've already witnessed the impassively homicidal Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) play his deadly game of heads or tails to terrifying results. But when he faces Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald) with his stun gun and coin and asks her to pick a side, she stares him straight in the eye and says, plainly: "There is no coin. There's only you." This moment gives way to the entire meaning of the movie: The coin is a simple metaphor for the ways we divorce ourselves from morality, the way we make our actions the result of some system or something we have to do, when in reality there's only us and the impact of choices we make. Carla Jean brings this to light and for the first time, we see Anton crack. This violent, horrific man who embodies the angel of death (and derives his sense of power from doing so), can't handle the simple observation that he is to blame for what he does. Anton sits in the chair, wincing, showing real emotion for the first time. We cut outside, fearing the worst that has been done (and it has), and as he gets into his car, still shaken, he looks in the rear view mirror and… SMASH! He's instantly hit by a car -- immediate punishment for briefly taking his eyes off the prize and thinking about his past actions.
Hating himself for this moment of weakness, he recovers quickly and moves forward. Anton has to stay the shark. He has to be inhuman. He can never crack. That's the terrifying truth of how to win in the world of man, an idea crystallized in the end as Tommy Lee Jones' sheriff recounts his two dreams, revealing the sad, unjust world that's passed him by. It's true: There is no country for old men… Not in this world.
I have never seen as acute a dramatization of movie violence and its human cost. It has arguably the best gun fight of all time but tears apart the trope, eschewing empowerment in favor of terrifying drama, highlighting "action" in a way we rarely see. (Usually, action films make shooting and getting shot at cool, but here it's as real and scary as it would be in life.) And so No Country unpacks the entirety of action films and their relative meaninglessness, all en route to becoming a movie about our larger fight for morality within a broken world -- and sadly, the ways we simply have to let it go. It's as heartbreaking, scary, and honest a film as I can think of.