13. “Syriana” (2005) Confusing was a word a lot of people used to describe this movie, but that might have been by the filmmakers’ design. It’s as if writer/director Stephen Gaghan tried to take in the whole solar mass of the Middle East and ended up speaking in tongues about sheiks and oilmen and suicide bombers who all have their reasons. The source material, Robert Baer’s memoir about life at the CIA, shines through in the revelation that pretty much all American maneuvering boils down to oil profits.
14. “Milk” (2008)
If only gay rights activists would pay more attention to Harvey Milk, we would all be better off. The pioneering politician’s warning not to go looking in the closet for equal opportunity is as relevant now as ever.
15. “Waltz With Bashir” (2008)
This unique animated documentary is hard to pin down, but one word for it is breathtaking.
16. “Michael Clayton” (2007)
Fight lawyers with a lawyer. “Michael Clayton” really nails what’s wrong with this country—people simply don’t risk their asses anymore. So what if your employers are poisoning people? Are you supposed to lose your job and your Mercedes turning them in? Yes!
17. “The Queen” (2006)
It’s good to remember Tony Blair before the fall, when he was the wide-eyed young prime minister who fell for Her Majesty.
18. “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006)
Oh my God, global warming is real? Can we do something about this? The Gore-bot has never been more expressive—or convincing.
19. “Good Night, and Good Luck” (2005)
It took almost as much chutzpah to take on Joe McCarthy in the 1950s as it did to make a black-and-white movie in the 21st century. This film was less a condemnation of the blacklist than a bitch-slap to The New York Times and CNN and everyone else who kept the great Ed Murrow spinning in his grave in those early Bush years.
20. “Outfoxed” (2004)
Robert Greenwald’s timely-documentary factory scored an early hit with “Outfoxed,” a point-by-point breakdown of Fox News that didn’t just vent, but exposed the most popular news network’s most devilish techniques.