This was the year of the bad girl, in a manner of speaking. The best movies featured women who went outside the cinematic box of how women should behave and did all sorts of interesting and/or inexplicable things. As for men, their stories were locked into classic modes of masculinity, and in this sense, the girls outran the guys. But then again, don’t we always?

1. The Broken Circle Breakdown

Directed by Belgium’s Felix van Groeningen, this is part worshipful tribute to America’s Deep South and its music, part wrenching love story of a red-hot, sizzling couple. Veerle Baetens is gorgeous as Elise/Alabama, a professional tattoo artist who also sings in her husband’s bluegrass band and whose voice will haunt your memory forever.

2. Gone Girl

It’s the women who make this movie happen — not least Gillian Flynn who wrote the novel and the screenplay, and Rosamund Pike who stars as perfect blonde wife Amy Dunne. Amy goes AWOL and her seemingly indifferent husband, Nick (Ben Affleck), becomes the prime suspect in a murder without a body. “Gone Girl” is intensely gripping, gorgeous to look at and there’s not one wasted frame.

3. A Thousand Times Good Night

We need more stories like this, in which professional women agonize over the same work problems as men, unhindered by romance and sex. Juliette Binoche stars as Rebecca, a war photographer who thinks she can make a difference in this violent world. But she’s pulled back into the family fold by her husband and two daughters. What’s a fiercely dedicated artisan to do?

4. Her

Scarlett Johansson has never seemed sexier, but it’s only her disembodied voice that we hear in this film by director Spike Jonze. Johansson provides the voice for an operating system that names herself Samantha, whom Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) quickly falls in love with. She’s like an ideal girlfriend and soothes his lonely heart, and besides, who needs a real relationship when Scarlett-voiced Samantha provides every need except the obvious? People are learning to live without that anyway.

5. Maps to the Stars

Bear with me as I wax eloquent about the charms of Julianne Moore: she just gets better with age and bitterness is her friend. But Moore’s not the only she-tiger in this Hollywood fable about celebrities reaching for the stars — Mia Wasikowska plays a pyromaniac with burns marks on her body, honey on her lips and darkness in her soul.

6. Under the Skin

It’s Scarlett Johansson again. In this, she plays a sexy alien who drives through Scotland at night looking for men to take back to a lair, where they die, drowning in a bottomless vat of black ink. The alien seems to have no motive, but the men don’t look as if they mind too much. Better than being bumped off by a male serial killer, right?

7. Snowpiercer

Take heed of this sci-fi film all climate change deniers. Based on a French graphic novel, this is the story of what happens when American scientists try to reverse the effects of global warming and wind up triggering a new ice age. Most of humanity dies, and the survivors board the titular train to stay protected from the cold. Inside, passengers are divvied up according to social status. A darkly sardonic allegory with some truth to it.

8. Le Grand Cahier (The Notebook)

I spent most of my youth waiting for the movie adaptation of Agota Kristof’s “The Notebook,” and the long wait was worth it. This is a brilliant interpretation of one of the best novels about World War II, telling the story of twin boys who learn to survive despite (or perhaps thanks to) the horrors around them. The message that strikes home — and one we tend to forget — is that evil is often a more powerful teacher than good.

9. 12 Years a Slave

It’s a good time to be thinking about this movie, as protests escalate in New York after two white police officers were not indicted for choking African-American man Eric Garner to death. Similar cases were reported all over the U.S. this year, echoing the injustices suffered by Solomon Northup — a free black man living in New York, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Director Steve McQueen based the film directly on Northup’s autobiography.

10. Walesa: Man of Hope

If Poland’s trade-union leader Lech Walesa was born as an American man, he would have been a beer-chugging, ribs-chewing, baseball-loving father of four in a working class suburb. Walesa battled his whole life to secure the kind of freedom that would allow Poland’s workers to have that kind of lifestyle. This is a tribute to the man and his dream.

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