Though we haven't had the good fortune of seeing the top awards contenders of the season (Birdman, Boyhood, Selma.....) we are happy to dive into the archives and reminisce on the films (a mix of biopics, intense dramas, musicals, popcorn blockbusters) that impressed us most in the past year. Roll the tape!
1. TOP FIVE: Buoyed by a winning chemistry between its lead stars Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson, this spirited, hilarious portrait of a deepening bond between a veteran screen and stand-up comic (Rock) and a resilient reporter (Dawson) easily ranks among the best offerings out of Black Hollywood this year.
2. NOAH: Working with a preposterously fine cast, including Russell Crowe (as the titular patriarch), Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson, director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) delivered a stirringly told and stylistically daring epic of Biblical proportions.
3. GONE GIRL: Who wasn't blown away by this astonishing adaptation of Gillian Flynn's deliciously twisty bestseller? Full of intrigue and riveting suspense, the year's most engrossing thriller boasted top-class performances by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike and found director David Fincher in characteristically fine form.
4. INTO THE WOODS: Rob Marshall's magical film version of the Sondheim/Lapine musical classic delivered the goods: stunning art direction, sumptuous costumes, wondrous singing and polished-to-perfection performances from an all-star cast led by the ever award-worthy Meryl Streep.
5. THE EQUALIZER: For us, anything starring the magnificently talented Denzel Washington is worth the price of admission. In this action-heavy tour-de-force, the two-time Oscar winner turned it out as a silent-but-deadly agent who comes out of "retirement" to defend the honour of a troubled young woman (Chloe Grace Moretz) desperate for a new lease on life.
6. BEYOND THE LIGHTS: With hits like The Secret Life of Bees and Love & Basketball, Gina Prince-Bythewood offered bold explorations of family dynamics and the Black experience. Embracing similar themes, she crafts a heartfelt look at a young music superstar (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and a conflicted young cop (Nate Parker) who embark on a journey of self-discovery with bittersweet results.
7. GET ON UP: Though a tad overlong, this hugely entertaining and strongly acted James Brown biopic from director Tate Taylor (The Help) showed us the man behind the legend and why the Godfather of Soul (a terrific Chadwick Boseman) was rightly dubbed the hardest working man in show business.
8. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES: Talking apes rule! This action-packed, Matt Reeves-directed prequel found its anchor in a combustible mix of tension and survival strategy and fierce depictions of how family protects its own.
9. JOHN WICK: We always knew we hadn't seen the last of Keanu Reeves. Sure enough, the film icon (who can forget Speed?) is in blazing form in this shoot-em-up spectacle that delivers the timeless reminder: you just never mess with a man's dog.
10. DESTINY: Home is where the heart is. Or so learns the well-drawn characters in this sure-footed debut from Jamaican-born filmmaker Jeremy Whittaker about a good-natured young woman (Karian Sang) who, upon returning to the island of her birth, rediscovers what it means to have roots. Grace 'Spice' Hamilton, Chris Martin and Munair Zacca costar.
> HONORABLE MENTION: The Maze Runner, Captain America: The Winter's Soldier, and X-Men: Days of Future Past
> FLASHBACK 2014: The Top 10 Entertainers of the Year