1. ‘ Inside Llewyn Davis’ The musical performances — especially from Oscar Isaac, who plays the title character — are hauntingly lovely, and they anchor Joel and Ethan Coen’s exploration, at once mordant and melancholy, of the early-’60s New York folk scene. A ballad of bad luck and squandered talent that already seems, like the music it celebrates, to have been around forever.
2. ‘12 Years a Slave’ Its historical seriousness and topical resonance are considerable but should not distract attention from Steve McQueen’s artistry. Suspenseful and dramatic in the best Hollywood tradition — and full of first-rate performances — this story of bondage and the longing for freedom unfolds with startling clarity and immediacy.
3. ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ Yes, the sex scenes are explicit, but they are both necessary to the love story and tangential to the film’s main ambition, which is to illuminate the life of its young protagonist, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos, in full. So yes, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Cannes prize winner is about sex, but it’s also about everything else: food, work, art, social class, education and, perhaps above all, France.
4. ‘Enough Said’ Nicole Holofcener’s midlife romantic comedy, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini, spins what at first seems like an anecdotal premise into a rich and insightful examination of the peculiarities and contradictions of courtship and parenthood in 21st century America.
5. ‘A Touch of Sin’ Jia Zhangke’s angry, meticulous collection of violent vignettes paints a somber picture of modern China as a place of inequality, greed and indifference. And not only China.
6. ‘All Is Lost’ An old story — man against the elements — grandly and thrillingly told by J. C. Chandor. Robert Redford commands the screen with barely a word.
7. ‘Frances Ha’ With its nouvelle vague black-and-white imagery and its eye for the pleasures and foibles of young-bohemian New York, Noah Baumbach’s lightest and loosest feature, written with and starring Greta Gerwig, is a sweet bedtime story for anxious millennials.
8. ‘Hannah Arendt’ Those who complain that movies can’t think don’t really know how to think about movies. This one, focusing on the controversy surrounding its subject’s 1963 book “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” brilliantly dramatizes the imperative at the center of her life as a writer and philosopher, which was to compel the world to yield to the force of the mind.
9. ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ Movies about American history tend to be somber, responsible and pious, even as the history itself is completely crazy — violent, tragic, ridiculous and contradictory. Lee Daniels, never known for his restraint, turns America’s most agonized and contentious subject (that would be race) into an opera of wild melodrama, canny naturalism and political camp. None of it should have worked, and yet nearly all of it does.
10. ‘The Great Gatsby’/‘The Wolf of Wall Street’/‘The Bling Ring’/‘Spring Breakers’/‘Pain and Gain’/‘American Hustle’ Six variations on the big theme of our times: “Just look at all my stuff!” It’s capitalism, baby! Grab what (and who) you can, and do whatever feels good. We’re all going to hell (or jail, or Florida) anyway.