One of the things you'll notice is that I have a number of ties on my list. Each of them is, I think, a fair grouping of films that either work in similar ways or that tackle similar ideas from different directions or that are in some other way related. A good example...
#20 / TIE / "Coraline" and "A Town Called Panic"
Stop-motion animation has always struck me as one of the most miraculous types of filmmaking. It's handmade in a digital world, in the best sense of it. Stop-motion guys are performers as much as hand-animators are. They all have to understand acting if they're any good at their craft, and when they're drawing a performance, doing all the key work, in some cases as a full 24 frames per second, they're performing. The same is true of the great stop motion guys, and Henry Selick proved this year that he is the current master of stop-motion animation, pulling off this gorgeous, creepy, sad little magic trick that glows and shimmers and, in the best use of 3D this year (yes, the best), Selick plays with depth perception and set decoration and the layout of rooms depending on which reality Coraline is in, and it's such a brain-bending game that the theatrical experience really isn't what you'll see at home. The 2D version, thank god, is a great film in its own right. Make no mistake, though, Selick is part of the game-changing if anyone is.
On the opposite end of the aesthetic scale is the crazy Belgian stop-motion film based on a crazy Belgian stop-motion TV show about a Cowboy, an Indian, and a Horse who live together. They are toys, crudely animated, but the choice is so deliberate, and the style of comedy so dependent on the animation looking the way it does, that the low-budget becomes a style, not a burden. "A Town Called Panic" is wall-to-wall funny, strange and silly in a way that movies and TV for kids often try to accomplish, but which so few ever do. It's not talking down to kids and it's not occasional knowing winks to the adults, but it's genuinely strange and unique humor that anyone can laugh at. It's just slapstick chaos theory, bouncing out the craziest jazz riffs for the full 80 minutes or so. If "Coraline" is a vision of just how beautiful and technically sly stop-motion can be on the cutting edge, "A Town Called Panic" is proof that all a great animator ever needs is a camera and something to say.