1. Blue Ruin Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier takes familiar elements of the revenge story and twists them in clever but completely organic ways, and the lead performance from Macon Blair is haunting and melancholy, bringing out the sadness and regret in the relentless pursuit of vengeance. Available on home video.
2. We Are the Best! This exuberant, heartfelt and funny story of three 13-year-old girls starting their own punk band in 1982 Sweden beautifully captures the anything-is-possible enthusiasm of adolescence, and it’s also a touching, honest portrayal of female friendship, with great performances from the lead actresses. Available on home video.
3. Boyhood Richard Linklater’s 12-year experiment is brilliant in its unassumingness, chronicling the growth of young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from 6 to 18 with the kind of casual upheaval that marks life itself; also like life, its beauty and emotional power sneak up on you at the most unexpected moments. Available on home video January 6.
4. Ida Pawel Pawlikowski’s 1960s-set film, about a Polish nun discovering her Jewish heritage, is contemplative and gorgeous. It unfolds quietly and deliberately, with stunning black-and-white cinematography that gives the movie an austere, otherworldly feel. Available on home video.
5. The Rover This brutal, minimalist revenge story set in the post-apocalyptic Australian outback features an excellent performance from Guy Pearce as a man drained of all feeling and humanity save for his single-minded (and small-minded) quest to destroy the men who have unwittingly wronged him. Available on home video.
6. Nightcrawler Jake Gyllenhaal is mesmerizing as the charismatic sociopath Lou Bloom, whose cheery amorality sets him on the path to success as a freelance videographer providing gruesome footage to the local LA news, at whatever cost. Now in theaters.
7. A Most Violent Year Apparently the heating-oil business in 1980s New York City was as nasty and cutthroat as the mob, and J.C. Chandor documents every ugly aspect of it in this riveting drama with moody, nuanced lead performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain. Opens in Las Vegas January 30.
8. Nymphomaniac Lars Von Trier’s two-part epic about female sexuality is weird, perverse, unpleasant, hilarious, audacious, baffling and mostly amazing, with a revelatory screen debut from star Stacy Martin. Available on home video.
9. Wild This adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s acclaimed memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail could easily have turned into a series of feel-good platitudes, but instead it’s a quiet rumination on guilt and forgiveness, thanks to stellar work from director Jean-Marc Vallée and producer/star Reese Witherspoon. Now in theaters.
10. Noah Darren Aronofsky brings a powerful, singular vision to a familiar Bible story, making it into a somber, thoughtful rumination on the cruelty of man—with giant CGI rock creatures. Available on home video.
1. Two Days, One Night The latest triumph from Belgium’s Dardenne brothers stars Marion Cotillard as a woman who must convince her co-workers to give up their annual bonus so she can keep her job. Las Vegas release date TBD.
2. Coherence Fans of The Twilight Zone should seek out this expertly improvised mind-scrambler, in which a group of friends at a dinner party find their evening becoming increasingly bizarre after a comet passes overhead. Available now on VOD; on home video January 20.
3. Bird People Divided into two hour-long parts—one grim and procedural, the other miraculous and whimsical—this offbeat French drama juxtaposes an American businessman (Josh Charles) staying at a Paris hotel with the young chambermaid (Anaïs Demoustier) who cleans his room. Available on home video January 13.
4. Under the Skin Decidedly not for every taste (though that’s true of virtually every film on this list), Jonathan Glazer’s chilly sci-fi experiment, starring Scarlett Johansson as a seductive alien in human disguise, attempts to imagine how our world might appear as viewed through utterly inhuman eyes. Available on home video.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel Wes Anderson has carved out an entirely unique place for himself in American movies, and his tale of a doggedly civil European hotel concierge (Ralph Fiennes) in the 1930s, as refracted through several additional time periods and three aspect ratios, may be his most purely pleasurable movie to date. Available on home video.
6. Boyhood Everyone agrees that Richard Linklater’s unprecedented project, for which he spent 12 consecutive summers filming a boy (Ellar Coltrane) from age 6 to his freshman year at college, is a truly singular achievement, and everyone is right. Available on home video January 6.
7. Last Days in Vietnam A surfeit of stunning archival footage coupled with witness testimonies makes Rory Kennedy’s documentary history of the fall of Saigon a genuinely thrilling experience—one that feels as if it’s happening right in front of you. Airs on PBS in 2015.
8. Proxy Working from his hometown in Indiana, Zack Parker has fashioned the year’s strangest, most unpredictable thriller, about two women whose respective notions of being a mother deviate far, far from the norm. Available on home video.
9. The Missing Picture Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh, unable to find any records that aren’t official propaganda, uses dozens of clay figurines posed in dioramas to tell the story of his nightmarish childhood under the murderous Khmer Rouge regime. Available on home video.
10. Snowpiercer Directed by South Korea’s Bong Joon-ho, this stark political allegory about income inequality, in which all surviving human life is packed onto a lengthy train forever circling the globe, takes the sort of exhilarating risks Hollywood’s play-it-safe franchise blockbusters no longer even attempt. Available on home video.