Scott Tobias

Look closely at a frame from Early Man — or any of the other features and shorts by Nick Park, the stop-motion animator behind Creature Comforts, the Wallace and Gromit series, and Chicken Run — and you can spot the truest and most literal of all auteur stamps: The curvatures of a fingerprint. As computer animation has become the dominant format, Park and his craftspeople at Aardman Animations have remained defiantly analog, using their hands to manipulate the features of plasticine models, frame by painstaking frame.

In the desert outpost of Five Keys, New Mexico in 1953, the Rainier family lives so close to the federal penitentiary that all the lights in the house flicker from the surge of a nearby electric chair. While her little brother Christian greets the occasion with boyish enthusiasm ("You're on the Hades Express, mister!"), Elise quietly sketches a vision of the man in his final moments and recites certain facts about him, like how he chose a ribeye steak for his last meal and told the witnesses to "Go to hell!" before the executioner flipped the switch.

For a simple children's story about a pacifist bull in Spain who would rather smell the flowers than charge a matador, Munro Leaf's The Story of Ferdinand generated tremendous controversy, owing to its worldwide popularity and its date of publication, 1936, which found it caught in political crosswinds. It was banned in Franco's Spain. Hitler ordered it burned as "degenerate democratic propaganda" in Nazi Germany, though it was republished and distributed for free in the same country once the war was over, to teach children a message of peace. Gandhi was a fan. So was H.G. Wells.

Though Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space is commonly cited as the worst film ever made, he released a far more compelling failure three years before with Glen or Glenda, a semi-autobiographical melodrama about a cross-dresser, played by Wood under the pseudonym "Daniel Davis." Glen or Glenda has all the staggering ineptitude of Plan 9 — most memorably, Bela Lugosi's armchair commentator shouting "Pull the string!"— but it has the added benefit of being nakedly personal, a plea for tolerance from a man who has chosen to reveal a closely guarded secret on s

Director Tomas Alfredson is in the ennui business. His films are heavy and portentous, often blanketed in the permafrost of his native Sweden and always just as chilly indoors. His 2008 breakthrough, Let the Right One In, reinvigorated the vampire myth by draining it of sensationalism and using it as an affecting metaphor for the eternal loneliness of adolescence.