Want to know how hard it was to pick a top 10 best films of the year for 2014? Just take a look at the honorable mentions.

"The Imitation Game" by Morton Tyldum

"A Most Wanted Man" by Anton Corbijn

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" by Matt Reeves

"Nymphomaniac" by Lars Von Trier

"The Immigrant" By James Gray

"Enemy" by Denis Villeneuve

"Big Bad Wolves" by Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales

"Boyhood" by Richard Linklater

"Venus in Fur" by Roman Polanski

"Locke" by Steven Knight

"Child's Pose" by Calin Peter Netzer

"The Lunchbox" by Ritesh Batra

"Coffee in Berlin" by Jan Ole Gerster

"The Theory of Everything" by James Marsh

"Only Lovers Left Alive" by Jim Jarmusch

"A Most Violent Year" by JC Chandor

"The Babadook" by Jennifer Kent

"Gloria" by Sebastian Lelio

"Omar" by Hany Abu-Assad

"Frank" by Lenny Abrahamson

"Mr. Turner" by Mike Leigh

"Inherent Vice" by Paul Thomas Anderson

Every single one of these films was wonderful in its own way. Some were defined by stellar performances ("A Most Violent Year," "Imitation Game," "Venus in Fur," "Child's Pose," "Gloria," or maybe every single film on this list), some redefined cinema ("Nymphomaniac," "Boyhood') and some were simply well-crafted films that had a strong emotional impact and remained unforgettable.

And yet, it was hard to put any of these into the top 10 films of the year. The following list features films that are what this writer would define as the complete package. Every element in each film marvels in every respect and comes together to create a phenomenal whole. In this writer's honest opinion, they are as close to perfection as any film can come.

So without further ado, here are my top 10 films of 2014:

10. "Starred Up" by David Mackenzie

Prison is a rather challenging proposition.

Numerous films have delved into the world of criminals and examined the societal construct that takes place within it. But few films have attempted the theme with the same level of grit as David Mackenzie's "Starred Up." Featuring rising star Jack O'Connell, the film tells the story about an underage criminal who is put into an adult prison and must learn to confront his own father, one of the men at the top of the prisoner hierarchy. The relationship's development between the two is certainly the centerpiece of the film and features some tremendous complexity and even tenderness from the fearsome Ben Mendelsohn, but it is also filled great humor and even a tragic subplot featuring Rupert Friend as a man trying to promote healing within the prison. The film is unbearable in moments, claustrophobic even, but its attention to detail, suspenseful plot and complex characters make it a must-see film.

9. "Under the Skin" by Jonathan Glazer

An alien race utilizes sex to prey on males in order to feed its kind that inhabits another planet, dimension or whatever.

Not everything is fully explained, but the film has the viewer enraptured right from the start with its surreal imagery of an eye. Eyesight, perspective and identity form the foundation on which this film is built and most of that belongs to Scarlett Johansson who reminds people that she is not just a superficial Marvel heroine but a real actress. Her alien actually proves to be quite human, questioning the perception of what it means to be human. One of the most unforgettable scenes in all of cinema this year actually furthers that dialogue as it juxtaposes the attractiveness of Johansson, an alien, with a deformed human being who would be more likely to fit the stereotypical look of an extraterrestrial.

The film's final act is simply unforgettable in its denouement. And one cannot ignore the phenomenal music by Mica Levi which is a character of its own.

Read the review here.

8. "Gone Girl" By David Fincher

David Fincher is the modern era's master of suspense. But over the last few years, with the exception of the mediocre "Girl with a Dragon Tattoo," his films have actually moved away from the genre that has built his reputation. "Gone Girl" is not only a return to suspense, but his best film since "Zodiac."

A thinly-veiled hommage to the great master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock, "Gone Girl" investigates the happiness, unrest and eventual capitulation of the Dunne marriage. Rosamund Pike plays the icy Hitchcockian heroine to perfection while also channeling her inner Norman Bates as the psychotic Amy. She is a thrill to watch because she essentially embodies one paradox after another. She is sexy and yet overly masculine. She is charming and yet off-putting with her arrogance. She is cool and collected until she unleashes her tremendously repressed violent impulses. You hate her character and yet cannot help but love her all the same.

Ben Affleck brings some of his best work to the scene as her husband Nick who turns out to be just as questionable a man as the story unfolds. Throw in some terrific supporting roles by Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Kim Dickens, the unrelenting pace which makes the two-and-a-half hour running time feel brief, the probing cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth, the often comedic swipes at the media and law enforcement, and you have a perfect thriller.

Read the review HERE.

7. "Snowpiercer" by Joon-ho Bong

For decades, story tellers have been enamored with fiction centering on dystopian societies that need a hero to stand up and unbalance the established order. Many times they have succeeded, but in recent years cinema has struggled to make a classic in the genre. But Joon-ho Bong has accomplished that feat with relative ease in "Snowpiercer."

The world has gone to hell and what remains of society has been packed onto a train that is heading in an unknown direction. The people at the front are the affluent and wealthy upper-class while the back of the train is the home of poor. An uprising in the back of the train leads to the unsettling of the current establishment and the revelation of some unspeakable and ugly truths.

Unlike most films in this genre, which hope to epitomize the hero, this film completely subverts the notion. Chris Evans proves that he is more than Captain America, as Curtis, a man who means good but slowly sees his morals questioned time and again. He makes numerous questionable decisions throughout that really test the viewers' allegiance toward him and also make the viewer wonder whether his quest will really make that big of difference.

The film brings in Korean stars Ah-Sung Ko and Kang-Ho Song, who prove to be the heart and soul of the film in more ways than one. Not only do they provide great comedic relief by emphasizing the follies of the genre's conventions, but they also provide a moral compass for the central hero. Other memorable turns include Tilda Swinton as an "evil" yet truly sympathetic character as well as Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer and Ed Harris. This film is entertaining, shocking, bloody, hilarious and intellectual all at the same time. Few films could claim to be for everyone.

6. "Force Majeure" by Ruben Ostland

Two of the best films this year took marriage to task and questioned its ability to truly make us happy. While "Gone Girl" looked at the gradual disintegration of a union between two people, Ruben Ostland's more intimate portrait looks at how one moment can wreck said union that was strengthened for years and years.

When a picture perfect family (the first shot of the film literally highlights this) is faced with a fake avalanche, the husband runs off and leaves his two children behind in danger. When he returns to face them, he has more than shame to deal with.

Gender roles and expectations are at the core of what Ostland is investigating in "Force Majeure." We create constructs of how we expect everyone to act according to their gender. And yet at the heart of it all we are humans with animalistic drives, fears and needs. Should reason always win out? Or can we forgive our impulses for acting against society's expectations?

The film has the potential to veer off into overbearing melodrama, but Ostland and his formidable cast know how to balance it with levity produced from these very moments of exaggeration. More importantly, Ostland's investigation refuses to take sides. The viewers can see the argument from both sides of the spectrum and find faults with both main characters in their attempts to reconcile the situation according to their personal experiences.

5. "Two Days, One Night" By Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne

Marion Cotillard has often been relegated to thankless roles in America. Aside from her terrific turn in James Gray's' "The Immigrant," can anyone name a role that Cotillard has taken on in the U.S. that is an instant classic?

It is a true shame because while she does have the beauty of a classic Hollywood actress, she is also a tremendous artist with incredible range. Her turn in the Dardennes' latest masterpiece is visceral from the get-go.

As Sandra, Cotillard must set out to convince her co-workers to save her job while rejecting a major bonus. The Dardennes, who always seem to create major philosophical statements out of the simplest of cinematic and storytelling means, strike gold yet again with this phenomenal Sisyphean struggle. Time and again, Sandra must go to one of her colleagues and put the same question to them? The repetition of the dialogue is not the only cyclical tool of this film as the cinematography essentially frames Sandra and her colleagues in identical fashion throughout. Despite this repetition, the film is riveting to watch from one moment to another. Cotillard is a major reason for it. Her physicality, which really expresses the ups and downs of the journey, connects the viewer to the ordeal, making one feel every step and every heartbreak she must endure.
Read the Review HERE.

4. "Calvary" by John Michael McDonagh

A priest hears a confession which turns out to be a murder threat. He has a week to set things right with his troubled parishioners before he meets his reckonings. McDonagh's latest film, which stars the ever wondrous Brendan Gleeson, is methodical in its structure as Father James meets with each and every major one of his parishioners multiple times throughout the week. Starting from its opening montage in which it showcases each major player taking communion, the film essentially sets out to ponder the significance of that very act. What does it mean for God if people accept his sacred body and yet go about their business without actually caring for him? What if everything Father James stands for is completely worthless in modern society?

The film does not really delve into the existence of God at great length and it is refreshing that it takes the high road in this regard. Instead of trying to create a pointless argument between believers and atheists, it examines the priest's role in society. As a spiritual leader, not as a member of the church or even a follower of God. His goal is save people's spirits, whether there is a religious implication or not is not the concern of the film, and he sets out to do his best in that regard.

What follows is filled with humor initially and then some truly heart-breaking moments, such as when Father James prays alongside a woman who has just lost her husband and children. More than making people believe in God, the scene is beautiful for its human connection, its unspeakably quiet beauty, tenderness and honesty. Father James cares about others in a way that no one else in the entire movie (aside from his daughter, possibly) can claim. And yet he makes a critical mistake with regards to the most innocent of all. He remains quiet. 

The days grow shorter and shorter as the film develops and Father James' psyche and resolve grows ever weaker, U ntil the fantastic climax, which I will not spoil here.

3. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" By Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson has heard it time and again from critics. His films are stylish but light fare. They are charming but empty.

Can anyone make the same claim after watching "The Grand Budapest Hotel?"

Set within a number of story worlds (all shot in diverging aspect ratios) the film narrates the story of an old hotel concierge and his journey to recover a fortunate he has received. In a film that centers on the idea of tradition and passing it down, the filmmaker creates a film that is an hommage not only to cinema, but to art in general.

Anderson claims that Stefan Zweig was his main inspiration, but he is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what is referenced in this film. Here is movie that has a number of genres packed into its many chapters. There is romance, a sequence pulled out of a horror movie (but done with greater taste and humor), an chase sequence that bests what most modern action movies have to offer, all set within the confines of a fantastical period war film (the war itself harkens back to the damage done between World War I and II). Throw in the usual Anderson/Dickensian tropes (an orphan, a starry cast of thousands, a made-up location) and you have a film that not only nods to its author (as the film does with its film within a novel within an interview within a... you get it) but also to the other major influences from which it was created.

And then there is Ralph Fiennes in one of his best performances ever. His character straddles the line of being overly effeminate and yet his charm and sense of strength puts macho men to shame. He is gentle and yet there is a fierceness to his childlike tempers that puts every action on hold. He seems so stupid and silly, but proves witty and unendingly intelligent. This is what great performances are made of.

Read the Review HERE.

2. "Ida" by Pawel Pawlikowski

As Pawel Pawlikowski's "Ida" opens, the viewer sees the eponymous character painting a statue of the Christ. The frame is fixed in a manner that the upper half of the 4x3 is dominated by empty space with Ida relegated to the bottom half. Throughout this opening two-minute sequence, the film not only establishes Ida's world in the convent but the conflict. She is part of this world and yet feels so alienated by it, as this image showcases. As Ida and the other novitiates carry out the statue to its new home, the shots alternate between low angles on feet and high angles from above, furthering this separation between the realm of religion and the physicality of the terrestrial world. At the apex of this short sequence the Christ statue is shown from two differing angles (as is the opening sequence of Ida working on the statue); in the first shot the images is shown centrally in front of the nunnery and in the second it is in a pit in front of a massive plain of snow, an insignificant image in the world away from religion.

Duality and this conflict of Ida's own faith, identity and sense of belonging drive the less than 80 minute running time. Simplicity is of the essence as the filmmaking team opts for a static camera for the entire film (almost all of it), expressing Ida's trapped psychology. Dialogue is minimal but effective whenever it does crop up and the black-and-white cinematography highlights the complexity. There is a lot to see in every frame and by keeping the colors to a minimum, Pawlikowski has made it clear where he wants the focus in every frame.

The two performances of Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska could not be more disparate and yet it is this great difference that makes this film ring so true. While Trzebuchowska is rather blank as the young nun-to-be, Kulesza is full of intense sorrow and pain. She cannot hide her emotions as well as her niece if she could. This contrast serves to not only highlight their differing worlds, but also serves as an emotional impetus for the protagonist who has lived a sheltered existence in the presence of equally inexpressive nuns. And in this case, Pawilkowski uses the blankness to his advantage as any subtle nuance comes to the fore, every stare carries great meaning.

Every single detail is refined and poignantly expressed in this marvelous film that reminds the viewers that the most complex story can be told with the simplest of means.

1. "Birdman" by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Cinema in its maximum expression is the consummation of all art forms. It is theater, literature, music, painting, acting, poetry, life at large. No other film managed to capture the idea of the Gesamtkunkswerk more fully in 2014 than Innaritu's peerless "Birdman."

Set within the confines of a theater, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is looking to regain his artistic integrity by directing a play to prove that he is no longer the Hollywood sellout behind the "Birdman" films. The film, shot mainly in one continuous take (which is then made up of numerous takes edited together), essentially invokes the notion of live theater being captured on camera, while still remaining utterly cinematic. It is real life paradoxically choreographed at the same time. It shows the life backstage, which is essentially a play unfolding. There are characters who can only live onstage but fail when they have to perform in the "real world." There are characters who are drama queens backstage but are lacking in confidence when the curtain rises. There are questions about what it means to be critic and the film even pokes fun at itself in this regard. There are self-reflexive pokes at modern society's obsession with superhero films. The sound track's artist actually shows up onscreen playing. There is even a CGI sequence that would be lifted right out of a Hollywood blockbuster. There is even an odd sequence to break up the "real time" which comes off as an experimental film instead of an intense drama. There is terrific comedy beneath the tragic misery and a hidden sense of depression masked by the film's "transcendent" ending.

Seemingly no leaf goes unturned in Inarritu's best film since "Amores Perros." Michael Keaton is simply phenomenal as the increasingly neurotic Riggan while Edward Norton's Mike goes in the opposite direction throughout the film. The female characters, played by Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Emma Stone and Amy Ryan all layer the film in varying dimensions. Watts is the most neurotic of all while Riseborough is constantly snubbed. Stone's Sam comes into her own by rebelling against her father and helping him better himself while Ryan's Silvia is the adult in the house full of children, giving the film an unexpected heart. Even Zach Galifianakis makes fun of himself throughout the film, adding yet another layer of self-reflexivity to the proceedings.

"Birdman" is fun and yet intellectually engaging at the same time. It's utter complexity and terrific sense of unity makes it the top film of 2014.

Read the Review HERE.

What did my colleague Francisco Salazar think were the best 10 of 2014? Click here to find out!

Want to look back at 2013 and my favorite films of that year? Click HERE. 

Want to check out other installments in this series?

Best Actor 

Best Actress

Best Supporting Actor

Best Supporting Actress

Best Cinematography

Best Score

Latino Standout in 2014