I have so much respect for how far Spike Jonze took this film. He easily could’ve made a film about a man falling in love with his operating system and left it at that—given how excellent the first half of the movie was, I’m sure it would’ve been a fantastic film alone—but Jonze extrapolated that story to include so many repercussions of such a love I never would’ve expected. He let Joaquin Phoenix light up the screen. I also really appreciated the script’s candor, pacing, and the depiction of relationships new and old.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
I couldn’t get this movie out of my head. At almost any given time in the last week, I either have one of the amazing soundtrack’s songs stuck in my head or I’m listening to someone talk about the film talk (I especially appreciated Oscar Isaac’s appearance on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me).
3. The Past (Le Passe)
This film delves into heavy subjects and provides unexpected twists without feeling canned or unoriginal. The intense level of realism can be largely attributed to the screenplay that facilitates fantastic performances by every cast member, though Bérénice Bejo and Pauline Burlet shine brightest. I now expect more feats from the film’s director, Asghar Farhadi, who created the similarly heart-wrenching acclaimed 2011 drama A Separation.
4. Dallas Buyers Club
Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto were magnetic in this biopic about an AIDS-riddled homophobe turned accepting alternative medicine guru during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Even when you’re enveloped in the main characters and their struggles with the FDA and their own health, you never forget the scale of the epidemic. It’s overcomes some questionable character and plot details creating an overall beautiful and haunting experience.
Cinematography could’ve been easy to hide behind for this gorgeous space film—but no. The story was never really about space, and it's masterful.
6. The Place Beyond the Pines
Director Derek Cianfrance’s bravery catches you from the opening of the film, as you follow Ryan Gosling through a carnival in a long, beautiful tracking shot, and doesn’t let go. I have little experience with triptychs, and I’m endlessly impressed with how well Cianfrance managed several major character shifts in such a believable manner that allowed the audience to understand legacy in a different way than I’d seen before.
7. Stories We Tell
8. Upstream Color
9. Blue Jasmine
10. 12 Years A Slave
Honorable mention: American Hustle
Honorable mention: After Tiller
Honorable mention: Frances Ha
Honorable mention: Blackfish
Honorable mention: Die Wand (The Wall)
Additional honorable mentions: Frozen, The History of Future Folk, Afternoon Delight, This is the End, The Way Way Back
Biggest misses: Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Blue is the Warmest Color, All is Lost, The Act of Killing