What's the point of doing a 10 best list if you put only 10 films on it?
Ideally, these lists are not only fun to read but they also serve a utilitarian purpose of reminding interested parties of worthy films that came and went too fast to catch up with the first time around.
With that in mind, I've always stretched the parameters of my list, found nefarious ways to squeeze more and more films into the mix. This year, with several of my favorites falling naturally into pairs, I've done even more squeezing than usual.
And though I do pick a top film, I present the rest of my list alphabetically, not in any quality order. The making of excellent movies shouldn't be a competitive sport.
This year, my top film is Mike Leigh's years-in-the-making passion project "Mr. Turner." Anchored by a heroic performance by Timothy Spall as the formidable British painter, "Turner" combines Leigh's astute character psychology with a superb re-creation of 19th century Britain and an incisive examination of what it means to be an artist. A hard combination to beat.
"American Sniper" and "A Most Violent Year." Two very different examinations of violence and the American psyche.
"Edge of Tomorrow" and "Guardians of the Galaxy." A pair of films that prove that mainstream summer entertainment can be smart as well as fun.
Foreign language top 5. The best of this year's fine crop includes "Child's Pose" from Romania, "Force Majeure" from Sweden, "Ida" from Poland, "Like Father, Like Son" from Japan and "The Lunchbox" from India.
"Foxcatcher." A despairing, intentionally disturbing film that draws us into a maelstrom of desperate personal emotions.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel." Writer-director Wes Anderson at his best creating a magnificently cockeyed bauble that can't help but be enjoyed.
"The Imitation Game" and "The Theory of Everything." A pair of crackerjack British examples of the kind of smartly done classic cinema we simply do not get enough of.
"Interstellar." Christopher Nolan's latest mass audience picture that's intelligent as well as epic, with a script that's as interested in emotional moments as immersive visuals.
"Locke." Tom Hardy is the only actor who appears on-screen in this real-time drama that unfolds inside a moving car. This may not sound like the formula for nail-biting tension, but it is.
Sundance documentary top 5. Many of the year's top docs had a debut in Park City, Utah, including "Happy Valley," "The Internet's Own Boy," "Life Itself," "Last Days in Vietnam" and Hubert Sauper's sadly still unreleased "We Come as Friends."
Pet peeve: too many good films ghettoized into December release.