Melies is not generally considered animation, but the technique of stopping the camera to create the tricks in his trick films are the central technology of animation, so he's kind of a predecessor.
Ok, I've been a bit behind, so here's a lot.
Souls for Sale
Perhaps a movie being this open about how movies are made in this era should not surprise me. I've seen King Vidor's Show People, and that covers much of the same ground. Still, this movie was really great not only from a dramatic but also a behind-the-scenes perspective. We read and talked about the star system and its troubles around this era during the class associated with this movie and it was really interesting to see that dramatized. Here a woman literally falls off a train in the middle of nowhere and is rescued by people making a desert-based movie. Soon she's a star in her own right. The star-making system is kind of incredible, especially in how it tries to avoid scandal (she's technically married to a serial killer who spends much of the movie trying to get back to her so he can kill her and collect the insurance he took out on her). The whole thing leads to a climax set during the filming of the movie-within-the-movie's climax where a circus tent was set to be destroyed by a movie-magic hurricane but is instead destroyed by an actual storm. The action is pretty incredible, especially for the era, and it somewhat implausibly wraps up the many storylines. I was thorougly impressed with this one.
The Covered Wagon
Paramount was having a rough time until it turned this movie into an epic that was an allegory for itself. There's a wagon train going west in search of greater freedom (and, later, gold), but first they must survive the journey. Again, this movie is impressive in its scope, but this time there were too many shots of just a lot of wagons moving, or a bunch of horses crossing a river. Its not thrilling enough to keep my interest when it becomes big and impersonal. Luckily the personal stuff mostly works. The highlight for me was the old drunk who learns that the hero did not deserve his discharge from the army but then must get exactly the level of drunk he was when he learned this in order to remember it and save the heroine from marrying a different man. It's absurd but it is also quite funny. There's toxic masculinity all over this thing, and some standard racism towards Native Americans (even though the director was hired because he had some "indian blood" in him. But, you know, that shit happens. This one lasts a little too long for my liking, and could have been paced better, but it's pretty solid for a movie of its kind.
The Enchanted Drawing - J.S. Blackton (1900)
Basically another trick film where Blackton draws things on a piece of paper and then "takes" them off the page with clever stop-camera tricks. Later the face he draws crudely moves and I guess it's fine, but it's nothing I'll remember forever.
Animated Painting - Edwin S. Porter (1904)
Even cruder, Porter draws a sunrise and then the sun moves up on its own until it comes off the painting (at which point it becomes just a special effect and not animation). Meh.
Humourous Phases of Funny Faces - J.S. Blackton (1906)
Blackton uses chalk drawings (and later paper cutouts that look like chalk drawings) to create the first frame-by-frame animated movie. The hand of the artist is still present as a means to convince audiences of what they see, but more impressive here is Blackton's various tricks that enhance the animation (running it backwards to "undo" a drawing and the aforementioned paper cut-outs that enable more motion are the highlights). Worth watching.
Lightning Sketches - J.S. Blackton (1907)
A glimpse at what blackton's vaudeville act would have looked like, there are moments of animation where the drawing smokes and the paper crumples on its own, but it's not fully animated in the traditional sense and is merely a curiosity.
Princess Nicotine (an excerpt) - J.S. Blackton (1909)
Stop motion animation with matches and cigarettes climbing into a cigar box, followed by a flower that wilts and then forms into a cigar that also climbs into the box. The animation is clever, but not super impressive.
Fantasmagorie - Emile Cohl (1908)
Considered the first fully animated film, it consists of 700 drawings and is a minute long. Using white line on a black screen (actually a black line on white paper inverted), the very simple forms allows him to explore movement rather than care about details. Cool stuff, especially the transformations between shapes and characters.
Little Nemo - Winsor McCay (1911)
Adapted from his newspaper cartoon, preceded by live action segment showing McCay drawing in real world (similar to lightning sketch vaudeville act) and telling his friends he'll make the animated thing in a month with 4k drawings. Then barrels of ink and big reams of paper get delivered, then assistant knocks over the stacks of drawings. Then McCay shows it to his friends. Then the animated part happens. Longer and smoother than what we've seen before. Invents "cycling" - reusing drawings over and over again so you don't have to redraw something - during squashing and stretching sequence. Perspective more than in Fantasmagorie, especially with dragon and car sections. Looks cool, especially as part of it is hand colored and matches his newspaper coloring (which is gorgeous).
Gertie the Dinosaur - Winsor McCay (1914)
Shown as part of vaudeville act, also based on a bet with friends, similar setup for Little Nemo. During vaudeville act, McCay would interact with Gertie and give her instructions, even throw pumpkin and eventually "go into" screen and ride her. She feels large, a good sense of scale. Gertie has a real personality you can ascertain from her actions and movement, and the clever meta-play is fun. My school also has a few of the original drawings and I got to see them. They're smaller than I expected and you can see the pencil marks below the strong ink lines, which is cool. Mostly it drove home how much work animation was before cel technology that allowed people to not have to re-draw every element of the frame over and over again.
The Sinking of the Lusitania - Winsor McCay (1918)
Remarkable for its artistry and sense of perspective, plus the use of "color" to indicate fire and smoke. It doesn't have Gertie's character, but it's a cool docu-animation.
The Adventures of Prince Achmed - Lotte Reiniger (1926)
Widely considered the first animated feature, at 70 minutes this is an impressive feat. I love the silhouette animation because it allows for detailed character work and remarkably realistic(ish) movement. The use of color and fantastic backgrounds make this a gorgeous watch. Reiniger and company animated to Wolfgang Zeller's outstanding score, so the movements also feel a little like choreography. There's a battle towards the end between two shape-shifing creatures that must have been the reference for Disney's Sword in the Stone. It's cool.
Felix Revolts - Otto Messmer (1923)
Felix is hungry but nobody will feed him. The town outlaws cats and he fights back, first by luring away fish and making a ruckus (chorus) at night, then the cats go on strike and tell the rats to run rampant, leading to the town asking the cats to come back and letting them have access to the kitchens, trashcans, etc. His character is heavily based on Chaplin's Tramp both aesthetically and thematically (outsiders looking for acceptance), but he also varies between being more catlike and more human in his movement. It's funny, but not as funny as the next one.
Felix the Cat Dines and Pines
Felix is hungry again and tries to create a menu (punch, jumping beans), then tries to eat mouse and chicken but they fight back. He eats a shoe and a can and then takes a nap and has nightmarish dream. The early parts are funny enough, but the surreal dream sequence is the real draw. It's spectacular even in stark black-and-white (there are few shades of gray in these shorts). This, of course, isn't the first or only movie that uses animation to "break" reality, but it is an effect that is well used in this case.
Whew, that's everything for now.