Roger Ebert declared Pan’s Labyrinth his favorite of the films he saw during his recovery back in 2006. I think there are a few (three, to be exact) better entries from that year, but I wholeheartedly agree with his 4-star rating. In case you’re curious, this is the first movie on my list that I believe deserves that rating (V for Vendetta is a 3-star film, numbers 5-9 are 3 ½ stars).
Pan’s tells the story of a young girl burdened with tumultuous family life in Spain in the 1940s. She retreats to an imaginary land (or a real otherworld, if you prefer) in reaction to the violence surrounding her. Here she must complete tasks in order to prove that she is the princess of this world.
The brilliance of this film lies, I believe, in Guillermo Del Toro’s direction which identifies the symmetry between the fantasy land and the fascist regime of the era. It couldn't have been easy to balance the (albeit extremely weird) fairy tale with incredibly graphic war scenes, but he pulls it off seamlessly. He is aided by fabulous art direction / cinematography, and great acting from the little girl and that creepy guy with eyes on his hands (see above!).
It’s kind of akin to Mirrormask, another good film about a young girl that uses fantasy to escape her life, but Pan’s is so much better because it is – in the end – cemented in a more adult world that doesn’t shy away from very real, devastating consequences.