It’s an impressive, wide-ranging list of titles.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past.” “Chef.” “Wild.” “The Homesman.” “St. Vincent.” “Kill the Messenger.” “Gone Girl.” “Edge of Tomorrow.” “The Fault in Our Stars.” “Under the Skin.” “Selma.” “Unbroken.”
These were some of the best movies of 2014 — and yet they couldn’t crack my Top 10.
Here we go.
10. “Guardians of the Galaxy.” At the beginning of 2014 I wouldn’t have put this on my list of the 50 movies I was most looking forward to seeing, but this turned out be such a great time, from the clever one-liners to the crazy special effects to the universally likable cast. This was the best comic book movie of the year.
9. “A Most Violent Year.” Most of the country won’t see this until 2015 (Chicagoans on Jan. 16), but it got a limited 2014 release in some cities to qualify for awards it richly deserves. JC Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year” is a pitch-perfect crime drama set in 1981. Oscar Isaac from “Inside Llewyn Davis” gives a breakout performance as Abel Morales, a businessman trying to stay clean in a corrupt, grimy, bleak New York City. Jessica Chastain is luminous and dangerous as Abel’s wife. There’s a David Mamet-like cadence to Chandor’s script, but he’s got his own very strong voice.
8. “Foxcatcher.” Another chillingly effective, period piece drama, but this one is based on true events. Bennett Miller (“Capote,” “Moneyball”) directs with pinpoint precision in this bizarre tale of the beyond-eccentric billionaire John DuPont and his obsession with men’s wrestling. Terrific work from Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, and a game-changing performance by Steve Carell.
7. “A Most Wanted Man.” The late Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a virtuoso performance in the latest in a long line of superb spy thrillers adapted from the works of John le Carre. Hoffman is mesmerizing as a German intelligence operator who gets caught up in an international maze involving an escaped Russian prisoner, a wealthy German banker, a suspected terrorist, a humanitarian lawyer and an American CIA operative. One of the best thrillers of its kind in years.
6. “Whiplash.” This is “Full Metal Jacket” meets “An Officer and a Gentleman” with jazz. Miles Teller confirms his status as one of the best young actors around, and the veteran character actor J.K. Simmons gets the role of a lifetime and kills it. Simmons is a lock for a best supporting actor nomination.
5. “The Drop.” You might not have heard of this, but I hope you’ll give a try when it comes out on home video in January. The late James Gandolfini plays an East Coast criminal, but he’s miles apart from Tony Soprano. This guy is a small-time operator, perpetually seething over an injustice from a decade ago. Tom Hardy is brilliant as a brooding, seemingly simple bartender who is constantly underestimated. This movie reminded me of the golden age of mean street movies, the 1970s.
4. “Birdman.” I don’t know anyone who has seen this who WASN’T blown away. Michael Keaton is looking at a best actor nomination for his biting, darkly funny, sometimes tragic performance as a former action movie hero trying to stage his own comeback on Broadway. From the much-talked-about “one continuous” shot cinematography to the perfect score to the amazing cast that includes Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts, this is an unforgettable work. Keaton is pure fire.
3. “Locke.” Tom Hardy makes another appearance on the Top 10 list with “Locke.” I’m not sure any review can do this film justice. Yes, nearly the entire movie is set inside Locke’s vehicle as he drives from a construction site to a hospital, connecting on the phone with the most important people in his life. But the voice performances from the telephone-only characters are great, and Hardy delivers one of the best acting jobs I’ve ever seen at the movies.
2. “Interstellar.” This is the most visually stunning movie of the year — and it’s one of the most spiritual. The uniformly excellent cast includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine and John Lithgow, all standouts. “Interstellar” works as a futuristic Dust Bowl drama, a sci-fi mystery, a time-bending adventure and an argument in favor of the powerful connection of the heart, even after a loved one has moved on.
As much as I loved those movies, many of them relatively recent releases, I had a pretty strong feeling back in June that I had seen the best movie of 2014: Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.” You might have heard the story of how Linklater filmed this coming-of-age story for weeks at a time over a 12-year period. So we see Ellar Coltrane and Linklater’s daughter Samantha growing up before our very eyes. There’s so much that could have gone wrong with this project, but it all jells perfectly in one of the best movies ever made about growing up in America. Rarely has a dramatic film felt so in touch with real life, from the sibling dynamic to the come-and-go father to the sometimes-overwhelmed mother to being 18 and being simultaneously terrified and brimming with enthusiasm about the future. I loved every second of this 160-minute film.