Best Movie Star
Still our quintessential actor, Tom Hanks is not the guy most men wish they were (that’s Johnny Depp), but the guy most men believe themselves to be: decent, brave, reasonably good-looking. From “Sleepless in Seattle” to “The Da Vinci Code,” his films have a tendency to become cultural landmarks.
Pictured: A scene from "You've Got Mail"
Best Serious Actor
At 61, Meryl Streep seems to be hitting her stride, though that’s what we said in the 1970s (“Kramer vs. Kramer”), the 1980s (“Out of Africa”), the 1990s (“The Bridges of Madison County”) and the 2000s (“The Devil Wears Prada”). We might be saying it in another 20 years as well.
Pictured: A scene from "Kramer vs. Kramer"
Most Influential Director
A onetime video clerk, Quentin Tarantino revitalized Hollywood with his electrifying screenplays and forget-the-rules directing (“Pulp Fiction,” 1994, above, starring John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson). In Tarantino’s films, the bank robbers wear matching suits, the heroines snort heroin and everybody finds startling new ways of killing everybody else. His message to the movie industry was this: Wake up, and keep up.
Most Influential Film
The stylized outfits, super-slow-motion and physics-defying battles whipped up by the Wachowski brothers in “The Matrix” (1999, shown) became so widely imitated — in masterpieces like “Inception” (2010) or in drivel like “Wanted” (2008) — that critics no longer bother to point them out.
James Cameron dominated the 1990s and the 2000s with “Titanic” (1997) and “Avatar” (2009), two of moviedom’s biggest movies — not just in terms of their record-breaking ticket sales but in terms of scope, ambition and vision. Cameron is one of the last true believers in the religion of the spectacle. Pictured: A scene from "Titanic"
Why won’t Tyler Perry screen his films for critics? No need. Most of his 10 films (his 11th opens Friday) have debuted at or near No. 1, driven largely by black audiences. A combination auteur and savvy businessman, Perry has reportedly grossed more than $450 million worldwide.
Pictured: A scene from "Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail"
After watching Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) and “The Dark Knight” (2008), it seemed clear that the greatest actor of a generation was among us. His death in 2008, at the age of 28, came as a shock jto those who knew him, and left moviegoers permanently dangling on the edge of their seats.
Pictured: A scene from "Brokeback Mountain"
Thanks to Pixar's "Toy Story" (1995), cartoons began growing up, taking huge strides in writing and storytelling. Today, most major studios churn out animated films, but Pixar remains the leader thanks to releases like "Up" (2009), one of the few cartoons to be nominated for a best picture Oscar.
After Cameron's eye -popping 3-D camerawork in "Avatar," Hollywood began pumping out 3-D films and charging exorbitant fees for those bulky glasses, What did you get for your money? Characters spitting liquid at the screen, frequently glitchy effects and, in the end, two dents on the bridge of your nose.
The days when documentaries aimed for objectivity ended in 2004 with Michael Moore's anti-Bush, box office hit "Fahrenheit 9/11." That triggered a wave of blatantly biased bocs, from Bill Maher's faith-blasting "Religulous" to Ben Stein's creationist rant "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" (both 2008). The dispassionate observer appears to be an endangered species. Pictured: A scene from Michael Moore's documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11"
Biggest Game Changer
The 2001 launch of Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy forced risk-averse Hollywood to do a rethink. Filmed simultaneously, then rationed out to hungry audiences, the "Rings" movies helped launch the current mania for franchises that has made nearly every film look like a pilot episode.
Pictured: A scene from "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"
Best Tween Phenomenon
J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books has been merely popular before the movie adaptations turned them into a global cultural and economic force. Better-made than they needed to be, with talented young actors (Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson) and burnished pros (Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes), the "Potter" franchise set up a tent large enough for everyone to get under.
Pictured: A scene from "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"
Worst Tween Phenomenon
It says something about our era that girls are flocking to movies that equate premarital sex with death. The "Twilight" films, about a high-schooler desperate to marry her vampire boyfriend, preaches abstinence but also romanticizes passivity and dependency. What century is this, again?
Pictured: Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in a scene from "The Twilight Saga: New Moon."
Best Educational Film
"Scream" (1996), directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, not only spoofed the horror genre but analyzed it with savvy dialogue about subtexts and formulas. Essentially, this was Film Theory 101 for the masses. If audiences today are smarter about movies overall, it's because "Scream" broke the rules by naming them.
Pictured: Drew Barrymore in a scene from "Scream."
Best Counterculture Movie
David Fincher's "Fight Club" (1999) synthesized the scattered ideas and attitudes of "alternative" culture into a cohesive vision, casting Ikea as the enemy, Edward Norton as the seething consumer and Brad Pitt as a sociopathic savior. It's as definitive of its moment as "The Graduate" or "Easy Rider."
Pictured: A scene from "Fight Club"
Hong Kong action flicks like John Woo's "Hard Boiled" (1992) primed Americans for gourmet chop-sockies like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000). But the influence of Yuen Woo-ping, Corey Yuen and other martial-arts choreographers explains why just about every Western action movie now looks a little bit Eastern.
Pictured: A scene from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
Guys cracking each other up with dumb jokes - why didn't you think of that? Judd Apatow turned the idea into a hit with "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (2005) and then, as a writer, director or producer, created the genre we now call the bromance. The trend is waning, but the influence (see 2011's "Paul") remains.
Pictured: A scene from "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"
Least Popular Genre
No matter how movies tried to frame the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - whether as documentaries or action thrillers - audiences stayed away. Even Kathryn Bigelow's bomb-squad drama, "The Hurt Locker" (2009), became the lowest-grossing best picture Oscar winner in modern memory.
Pictured: Jeremy Renner in a scene from "The Hurt Locker"