Top 10 movies of 2014 you absolutely must watch

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2014 has been an intriguing 12 months for movies. With no obvious breakout Oscar winners (a la 12 Years a Slave) or billion-dollar box office smashes (like The Avengers), it’s easy to think it’s been a forgettable year.

But that’s not really true. Peer beneath the surface and it has, in fact, been a very strong year for movie fans — from emotional masterpieces like Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and returns-to-form like Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street to action-packed blockbusters such as Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s truly been something for everyone.

So what are our picks for the 10 “must see” movies of 2014? Keep reading to find out.

The Wolf of Wall Street

I’m a massive Martin Scorsese fan, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue that his most recent films have lived up to the insanely high standard set by Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy and his other undisputed classics. Fortunately, 2014 marked a return to form for the 72-year-old moviemaker, as The Wolf of Wall Street threw him back into comfortable territory, with a blue-collar, rise-and–fall story zipping with classic Scorsese energy and black comedy.

Telling the story of 1990s New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Steet isn’t just a return to the top of the mountain for Scorsese, but for star Leonardo DiCaprio too. As Belfort, DiCaprio delivers his best performance since 2000’s Catch Me If You Can. Seriously, did anyone have any idea the guy was the best physical comedian of his generation?

And speaking of Scorsese …

Nightcrawler

Director Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal in a role that draws inspiration from the likes of Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle and The King of Comedy’s Rupert Pupkin.

Gyllenhaal plays a weird drifter who becomes a kind of TMZ-style crime reporter. I won’t spoil it further than that, but his portrayal of the film’s unhinged loner protagonist is a superb central performance drawn from a tight script from the writer of The Bourne Legacy. If you enjoyed Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, in both look and feel, you’ll enjoy this.

Boyhood

Few filmmakers, particularly “name” directors, have a filmography as varied as Richard Linklater’s. From Dazed and Confused and School of Rock to the “Before” trilogy (Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight), Linklater’s films leave us never entirely sure what to expect. Boyhood, his latest movie, continues this unpredictable path.

On the face of it, the movie is total high concept: Start out filming a movie about a kid when he’s six, and shoot new scenes every year until he’s 18. The result, however, is endlessly touching. Compared to some of the movies on this list, not very much happens in Boyhood. There are no giant plot twists, no huge explosions and no hammy scene-stealing performances (although there is great acting.)

At the same time, it’s a movie where everything happens. If you found yourself getting misty-eyed at last year’s “Misunderstood” Christmas iPhone commercial, give this a go. You won’t regret it.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Almost 20 years into his quirky career and still going strong, Wes Anderson delivers The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film that is as offbeat and stylized as anything he’s done. Telling the story of a hotel concierge (played by Ralph Fiennes) who is framed for murder, the mixture of great cast, surrealistic style, humor and romance makes this a winner.

It’s quite possibly the year’s most gorgeous-looking movie, too.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Anyone old enough to remember the dark days of the 1990s is spoiled for choice in this golden age of comic book movies. Marvel Studios continues to find ways to surprise us — and one of those ways is by branching out to establish new characters rather than sticking to its heavy-hitter stars.

Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t based on a long-running, hugely successful franchise the way that, say, Captain America is. But the film, directed by James Gunn, resonates (and rises above its fairly by-the-numbers “everyone wants super-powerful object A” plot) by virtue of great characters, a lighter-than-usual tone and a few spectacular set pieces.

If you only watch one comic book flick this year, make sure it’s Guardians. And I say that as someone who love, love, loved X-Men: Days of Future Past.

The Imitation Game

Anyone reading a tech blog should be interested in the story of Alan Turing, the genius mathematician who helped shape computing as we know it (and, according to legend, whose death may have inspired the Apple logo). There have been previous movie attempts to tell the story of code-breaking efforts that went on in Britain’s Bletchley Park, but none that have pulled it off as well as The Imitation Game. And certainly none that have showcased the talents of the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch.

If you enjoyed A Beautiful Mind, another great movie about a troubled math genius, you’ll be sure to love director Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game.

Birdman

Okay, make that two comic book movies you should see this year! Except that Birdman isn’t really a comic movie in the same way that Guardians of the Galaxy is. Instead it’s a flick in which former Batman actor Michael Keaton plays, you guessed it, a former Hollywood actor who once put on the tights to play big-screen comic book hero Birdman.

In the years since then, he’s fallen from view as a blockbuster actor, and sets about trying to redeem himself by staging a Broadway show to prove he’s still got it. Think Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, only with garish, brightly colored spandex instead of … okay, forget it. But director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman is well worth your time.

Gone Girl

I haven’t loved all his movies, but the combined weight of Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac and The Social Network mean I’ll always be excited to see a new David Fincher film. This year we received Gone Girl, a taut thriller based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn.

Telling the story of a missing woman whose husband becomes the subject of suspicion, the movie takes a stab at Alfred Hitchcock-style suspense, and pulls it off a whole lot better than Fincher’s previous Panic Room. If the ending gets a bit silly, that’s still not enough to derail one of the year’s best thrillers.

Live Die Repeat

On paper, Live Die Repeat doesn’t sound all that promising. It stars Tom Cruise, a former heartthrob actor now in his 50s, and probably still best known for his bizarre Scientology-inspired rants. It arrived at theaters with a different name (Edge of Tomorrow) and was rebranded for the home video market — usually a sign that producers are keen to make money as quickly as they can, before audiences cotton to the fact that they’re paying twice for a film they hated the first time around. And it did very mediocre box office numbers.

So what happened? Not only did Live Die Repeat turn out to be a whole lot better than these pieces of information suggest, it was almost inarguably the year’s best sci-fi action movie: a fun alien-invasion movie that more than delivers on its Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day premise. Recommended!

The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie is the Pixar movie that Pixar didn’t make. It’s lighthearted, full of in-jokes, and genuinely touching (which is slightly surprising, considering the whole movie is made up of CGI Lego bricks).

Anyone who has played a Lego video game will know just how inventive and irreverent the franchise can be. Directed and co-written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, The Lego Movie< is everything you’d want and more.