(dir. Matt Reeves)
There were some impressive live-action summer blockbusters this year, but nothing was quite as exhilaratingwith the same emotional depth as a Shakespearian tragedythan this sci-fi sequel featuring the most striking use of motion-capture technology ever. First-class visual effects aside, these CGI simians offered a startling look at the complex ideologies of waging war.
(dir. Anton Corbijn)
Late actor Philip Seymour Hoffmans final curtain call as a leading man comes courtesy of this slow-burning espionage thriller adapted from a John le Carré novel about a Chechen immigrant who may be an Islamic terrorist. For audiences who are patient with meticulously paced narratives, the spy story is an intelligent, mature and riveting piece of filmmaking anchored with subtly by Hoffman, an amazing talent lost far too soon.
(dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
Point a camera at actress Marion Cotillard for the duration of a feature drama and remarkable things are bound to happen, especially with such an engaging script by Belgian filmmakers the Dardenne brothers. As Belgiums official foreign language Oscar submission this year, Cotillard is captivating as a working class woman who has one weekend to convince coworkers to turn down a bonus so she can keep her job.
(dir. Laura Poitras)
No matter where you stand on the issue of global surveillance programs, there is no denying the powerful and fascinating footage captured for this documentary on former NSA contract worker Edward Snowden. Playing out like a classic political thriller, Poitras finds herself on the frontlines of this game-changing event. Watching this real-time whistleblowing is nothing short of unbelievable.
(dir. Jean Marc-Vallée)
Actress Reese Witherspoon becomes one with nature in this emotionally affecting biographical drama adapted from writer Cheryl Strayeds memoir about her 1,000-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Witherspoon, as a damaged and self-destructive woman, gives the most genuine and beautiful performance of her career, and Laura Dern epitomizes what it means to have a full heart but live a fragile life.
(dir. Pawel Pawlikowski)
Elegantly shot, Ida is the official foreign language Oscar submission by Poland this year. Set in the 1960s, the film follows a young Jewish novitiate nun who journeys with her estranged aunt to find the final resting place of her parents who were killed during the Nazi occupation. Sober in tone, but not without its moments of pure joy, the haunting black-and-white art-house film is brilliantly crafted.
(dir. J.C. Chandor)
Latino immigrant and heating oil business owner Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is determined to expand his company, but finds it difficult when his trucks are consistently hijacked. With the citys DA office watching him, Abel and his mob-tied wife (Jessica Chastain) must decide how hard they will push back to ensure their American Dream doesnt fade away. Atmospheric and intense, consider this a sort of anti-Goodfellas, but something Martin Scorsese would value wholeheartedly.
(dir. Ava DuVernay)
As the first major historical film ever to be released on the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., DuVernay and her cast, including a top-tier performance by actor David Oyelowo, have made an important film that centers on the 1965 Voting Rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. From the intriguing backroom politics to the sacrifices made during the era, screenwriter Paul Webb turns a well-documented history lesson into essential cinema.
(dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
As much of a technical achievement as it must have been to make it all work, this ambitious dark comedy featuring a noteworthy turn by actor Michael Keaton is guided by a whip-smart, witty and self-aware script. Everything feels erratic on screen and punctuated well by a madcap, (mostly) percussion score that drives the narrative forward and makes everyone soar.
(dir. Richard Linklater)
Trying to fathom the 12-year-long journey Linklater and his cast took to form this soul-bearing, intimate and genuinely uplifting drama would be counterproductive to the intent of this once-in-a-lifetime coming-of-age film. Everyone should allow it to just wash over them and give into its masterful execution. Epic is an understatement.
The Babadook, Big Hero 6, Blue Ruin, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Chef, Edge of Tomorrow, Finding Vivian Maier, Force Majure, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Life Itself, Locke, Obvious Child, Whiplash, X-Men: Days of Future Past