The Grand Budapest Hotel – Ralph Fiennes is the concierge of a European hotel who takes young Tony Revolori under his wing. Writer/director Wes Anderson’s quirky sensibility finds a perfect match in this funny and surprisingly touching story.
The Homesman – Tommy Lee Jones’ Western is austere, brutal, touching and surprisingly funny at the most unusual moments. Hilary Swank, as usual, is near perfect.
Blue Ruin – Virginia filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier’s low-budget revenge thriller has been compared to the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple. Macon Blair plays Dwight, an addled beach bum who goes back home to exact vengeance on the man who killed his parents. The year’s sleeper.
American Sniper – Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Chris Kyle’s story does for the war movie what he did for Westerns with Unforgiven. It’s an often difficult-to-watch portrait of a man and his family. Perhaps Bradley Cooper’s best work to date.
Nightcrawler – Imagine Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle with a touch of Breaking Bad’s Walter White. That’s Jake Gyllenhaal in a grim update of Network, about a bizarre young man who films accidents, fires and crimes in Los Angeles.
Top Five – Curiously, writer/star/director Chris Rock tells essentially the same story we saw in Chef and Birdman. His version is the funniest, freshest and smartest.
Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson’s parody follows a laid-back detective (Joaquin Phoenix) as he ambles through a convoluted but finally unimportant plot that cuts the dark heart of ‘70s California political corruption. Perhaps too druggy, sexy and funny for the mainstream.
A Most Violent Year – J.C. Chandor spins out a understated, complex tale of political and business corruption in the bleak New York winter of 1981. Not to be missed.