- - Thursday, December 25, 2014

This was a great year for pretty good films, but a less-than-stellar year for truly great ones. I enjoyed many nights at the movies, and the summer blockbuster crop in particular was better, on average, than it has been in years, with few true disasters and quite a few moderate successes, although this was not reflected at the box office.

The increasing number of good but not great movies is largely a reflection of changes in the way Hollywood does business. There are fewer movies being made, and less room to experiment in those that are produced. Movies that play well internationally are prioritized, which means that stories about specific times, places and people are increasingly rare.

The story of Hollywood in 2014, then, is of standardization and formulization. Tinseltown is weeding out the lows, yes, but in the process it’s trimming the highs.

Still, the year was not without its successes. Here are the 10 high points of my year at the movies.

1. “Boyhood” — A time-lapse coming-of-age story and a triumph of accessible experimental cinema, the film was shot in bits over a dozen years using the same actors, allowing director Richard Linklater to sketch the fine details an entire childhood. Mr. Linklater finds meaning and importance in small-scale domestic struggles and pop-culture ephemera, and actor Ellar Coltrane makes a fine centerpiece as the boy who, in the space of three hours, transforms, almost miraculously, into a man. But it’s the remarkable performances by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as his parents that make the movie truly special.

2. “Gone Girl” — David Fincher’s bleak, biting, subtly hilarious story about a missing wife and the husband who may or may not have killed her is a nearly perfect thriller and a stinging cultural satire as well. As usual, Mr. Fincher’s chilly precision is on display. No one frames a shot better, and no one manages a big twist better. But “Gone Girl” is also a reminder, the best since “Fight Club,” of Mr. Fincher’s dark wit to make entertaining movie monsters out of momentary cultural malaise. He is aided by career best performances from Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, and a razor-sharp, mordantly funny script by Gillian Flynn, based on her best-selling book.

3. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” — Wes Anderson’s gentle, moving story about an old European hotel and its occupants during wartime puts the director’s array of stylistic tics to better use than any of his other films have for years. It’s the warmest of Mr. Anderson’s movies since “The Royal Tenenbaums” and a dignified, humane portrait of the ravages of fascism.

4. “Snowpiercer” — Director Joon-ho Bong’s violent, radical inequality parable is brilliantly conceived and executed with the kind of sensational verve that American action cinema too often lacks. It’s the year’s best action movie and its starkest political parable.

5. “Interstellar” — Christopher Nolan’s latest is sweeping, mesmerizing tale of time, space and survival, a defiantly humanist sci-fi story rooted firmly in the classical liberal tradition, and proof that Hollywood can still make big, imaginative, original movies.

6. “Blue Ruin” — Director Jeremy Saulnier’s moody, haunting festival hit flips the indie revenge thriller genre, transforming it into a cautionary tale about the cycle of violence.

7. “Birdman” — This single-take marvel from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu combines virtuoso camera work with stagey metaphors and firecracker performances. It’s a wild, gonzo riff on age, rage and artistic passion.

8. “Nightcrawler” — Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as a soulless local news camera man makes for a memorably creepy spectacle in writer-director Dan Gilroy’s pitch-black media satire.

9. “Captain America: Winter Soldier” — In a year filled with superhero movies, and the promise of many more to come, Marvel Comics’ house-produced Captain America sequel was the best of them. The film was sharply written and acted, with killer action scenes and surprising political relevance thanks to a paranoid thriller-style story involving drones and the surveillance state.

10. “Guardians of the Galaxy” — Marvel’s second comic book movie is the year’s biggest box office success, and it deserves to be. No other movie worked harder this year to win over its audience, and no other movie succeeded more spectacularly. The story, a mashup of “Star Wars” and Marvel’s impossibly convoluted cosmic comics lore, doesn’t make much sense, but with characters this well-drawn it hardly needs to. “Guardians” is the year’s biggest crowd-pleaser and a welcome reminder of how much sheer fun going to the movies can be.

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