- Nebraska—The characters that populate Nebraska are people you and I know. Bruce Dern’s Woody reminds me of my own stubborn elderly father. This nostalgic visit to small town America in flyover country is another classic from director Alexander Payne.
- The Wolf of Wall Street—Leonardo DiCaprio is at his best as stock swindler Jordan Belfort. Based on fact, but presented with outrageous hyperbole, this story constantly entertains. Director Martin Scorcese has delivered one of his best (and that’s saying something).
- 12 Years A Slave—Beautifully directed by Steve McQueen but sometimes painful to watch. This true story of human cruelty—from Solomon Northup’s kidnapping to the horrifying torture he is forced to perform—will net many awards. Possible best actor is Chiwetel Ejiofor.
- Blue Jasmine—Woody Allen has written and directed an excellent movie that’s inspired by the Bernie Madoff scandal. Cate Blanchett is this year’s best actress as one of the many victims of her husband’s fraudulent financial misdeeds.
- Inside Llewyn Davis—Like Coen brothers classics Fargo and Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Inside Llewyn Davis is one that will be enjoyed more with each repeat viewing. Oscar Issac in the title role can act and sing.
- Dallas Buyers’ Club—Two of the year’s most amazing acting performances from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto fuel this story of dealing with AIDS in the 80’s. Based on true events.
- Captain Phillips—Another story rooted in real life. Whether the facts are accurately depicted or not (some of the real life crew have disputed this telling of events), it’s a fascinating story. Tom Hanks stirs emotions as an unlikely hero. And the young Somali natives who play the pirates are impressive.
- Ain’t Them Bodies Saints—This oddly-titled film of love and crime set in the mid-century American plains has strong acting from Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster and Keith Carradine. Director David Lowery—a filmmaker to watch—gives the film a dark, almost monochrome look.
- The Place Beyond the Pines—Clever plot structure and solid acting from top to bottom. Ryan Gosling creates another indelible character. Even Eva Mendes shows that she can be more than just eye candy. Its early year release date kept this film under the radar for many movie fans and will limit its awards chances.
- The Way, Way Back—A coming of age story about a 14-year-old boy but there’s plenty of comedy and drama among the grownups. Good to see Steve Carrell shed his nice guy persona to portray a total dick. Sam Rockwell and Toni Collette also shine.
Honorable mention: Enough Said, Philomena, American Hustle, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Frozen