The movie industry is in an interesting position right now, straddling two generations of filmmakers. One one side, we still have legendary filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese continuing to make films. On the other side, younger directors have stepped up to take the medium in new directions. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the best films of the past year would contain examples from both generations. These are the movies that stood out.

The Departed
Many reviewers have referred to this Boston crime drama as "lesser Scorsese." And it probably is . The movie is so busy moving along its thrilling yet complicated plot that the characters are seldom at the forefront of the drama. But Scorsese knows how to weave the characterization in at the most unlikely of places, so that even Mark Wahlberg's character, Sergeant Dignam, who only appears in the film for 20 minutes total, is allowed to be a full-blooded person. Unlike Scorsese's more well-known pictures, such as "Taxi Driver" or "Raging Bull," "The Departed" is not a study of one lone character, but a slew of characters, portrayed by a brilliant ensemble. And while no character measures up to Travis Bickle or Jake La Motta, all together, they create a thrilling film.
A Prarie Home Companion
Sadly, this film turned out to be Robert Altman's last. But even before he died, "A Prarie Home Companion" seemed to be a fitting end to Altman's filmography. It deals with the same themes that many Altman films have dealt with, but places its focus on death and finality. Both heartening and saddening, the film is about the final broadcast of a country radio program. The characters go about their normal routine, even though this is the last time they will do so. Similarly, Altman seems to be going about his normal routine, as nothing he displays here is new or innovative, but his direction suggests a finality and resignation that suggests he may have realized this was the last film he would make.
The Prestige
Christopher Nolan clearly thinks that filmmakers are like magicians. In "The Prestige," a film about magicians at the turn of the 20th Century, Nolan displays that belief. Like some of his other films, "The Prestige" contains some last-minute twists. But on a second viewing, these twists were clearly there from the beginning of the film. When the wife of one of the magicians in the film discovers the secret to one of his tricks, she scoffs, "Once you know, it's really quite obvious." That's the reaction that Nolan is hoping to provoke in the audience. And "The Prestige" is a rollicking magic trick, so captivating that you won't even notice the very obvious secret to the trick.
Children of Men
Technically stunning, "Children of Men" features camera work of a quality that has never been reached before. Although the story is a rather typical desolate-future genre piece, Alfonso Cuaron's direction elevates the film to a new level. Certain scenes run for minutes at a time in uninterrupted takes. But these takes are not longing looks at scenery, but intense action sequences with fighting and explosions. The film presents some bleak images, and by not cutting away, Cuaron makes the viewer claustrophobic and terrified, much like the characters. The long takes could be seen as a gimmick, and perhaps they are. But gimmick or no, Cuaron's skill is clear, and that skill should provide some great movies in the future.