The imprint of the auteur not only shaped the year, it very much influences each of my top 10 (or so) choices.
1. “Boyhood”: From the marvelous musing mind of Richard Linklater, the film stands alone and apart for the grand ambition behind its understated portrait of a boy, his family and change that was 12 years in the making.
2. “Calvary” and “Ida”: Brendan Gleeson’s Irish priest in the former, “Ida,” with Agata Trzebuchowska’s Polish novitiate gracing the latter. Very different but equally powerful films fueled by faith, framed by Catholicism but universal in their emotional reach.
3. “Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel”: Alejandro G. Inarritu’s magical realism in the first, Wes Anderson’s intricate machinations in the latter, did some fabulously entertaining boundary-breaking around groundbreaking performances in their wonderfully dark/light tales.
4. “Selma” and “The Imitation Game”: In using Martin Luther King’s legacy to examine race relations in “Selma,” and a computer code-cracking genius to illuminate the lurid landscape of homophobia in “Game,” filmmakers Ava DuVernay and Morten Tyldum elevated the art of biographies on film.
5. “Whiplash” and “Foxcatcher”: Our obsession with greatness plays out in frightening, dramatic detail with filmmaker Damien Chazelle brutally beating down the drummer in the first, Bennett Miller pounding men into pulp on wrestling mats in the latter.
6. “The Babadook” and “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night:” Filmmakers Jennifer Kent and Ana Lily Amirpour, respectively, remind us in inventive work how richly grown-up and compelling the horror genre can be.
7. “Wild” and “Tracks”: Reese Witherspoon in the first, Mia Wasikowska in the latter, proving in powerful, physical, emotionally raw ways that women are as indomitable a force as nature.
8. “Locke”: A brilliant gambit by filmmaker Steven Knight and actor Tom Hardy to believe that a man in a car, a speakerphone and a series of conversations would be mesmerizing and that concrete-pouring specifics could be thrilling.
9. “A Most Violent Year” and “Inherent Vice”: J.C. Chador’s “Year” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Vice” and excellent acting ensembles fashioned intelligent, brainy period pieces pulled from the ‘80s and ‘70s that are eminently satisfying and remarkably relevant.
10: “The Lego Movie,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Top Five”: Animation, sci-fi fantasy and R-rated comedy, these films couldn’t be more diverse in style, but they are singular in using smart wordplay, clever ideas and sheer brio to have fun at everyone’s expense.
The use and promotion of special effects in film when there is absolutely nothing “special” about the effects. Period.