The definition of a great film, attributed to director Howard Hawks, is a movie which has "at least three great scenes and no bad ones." Not as easy a task as your might think, given how rare truly great films are.
To compile a list of the best films of 2014, the editors of CBSNews.com came up with their choices of the year's most memorable movie moments - scenes and performances that resonated with emotional power, that transcended the narrative, and which will live on long afterwards.
Click through our gallery to see our choices…
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu.
In this very original movie, my favorite moment came right at the beginning. You're watching a play's cast rehearse a scene and everything seems normal. The play's star and director, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), expresses his annoyance over an actor's flaccid line reading. ("Fugitives are scared. Give me more of that!"). Then suddenly, BANG! A spotlight falls on the actor's head and he's out cold. The other cast members freak out, but Riggan is nonchalant about this disaster just days before Opening Night.
This was the moment I realized "Birdman" was not going to be an ordinary film. Did Keaton's character (whom we see levitate in the opening shot) use his "mind powers" to drop the light? Does he have mind powers at all? The film keeps you guessing all the way to its powerful, enigmatic ending. – By Darian Lusk
Director: Richard Linklater.
From the acting to the soundtrack, to yes, the fact that director Richard Linklater spent 12 years making this, "Boyhood" is 2014's most affecting movie. My favorite moment: When Mason (Ellar Coltrane) leaves the nest, drives off to college, and "Hero" by Family of The Year fades in:
"So let me go
I don't wanna be your hero
I don't wanna be a big man
I just wanna fight with everyone else.
I don't wanna be a part of your parade
Everyone deserves a chance to
Walk with everyone else.
While holding down
A job to keep my girl around
And maybe buy me some new strings
And her and I out on the weekends.
And we can whisper things
Secrets from our American dreams
Baby needs some protection
But I'm a kid like everyone else."
Definitely the most chills I've gotten in a while. – By Darian Lusk
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier"
Directors: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo.
Other than the great action scenes, the moments that resonate most in this Marvel superhero film are scenes when Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans), is with people from his past, such as when he goes to see former Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Rogers' love interest in the first "Captain America" movie set in World War II, Carter is now old and bed-ridden, but he talks to her with an ease that shows their closeness. He feels at home with her. He likes that she knows him sometimes better then he knows himself.
Likewise, a scene is which Rogers tells the Winter Soldier that he will not fight him, that he puts their friendship above his own life, is Captain America in a nutshell. That he is loyal to his friends is one of this superhero's core principles. It is those values that he is willing to die for, and those values drive him throughout the whole story - and, thankfully, make the world a better place for the rest of us. – By Dan Woo
Director: Laura Poitras.
You would think, given his calm and thoughtful demeanor and the clarity with which he describes the extent of the U.S. intelligence apparatus' surveillance capabilities, that nothing would shock Edward Snowden. You would be wrong.
In 2013 in Hong Kong, filmmaker Laura Poitras recorded conversations between investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill of the Guardian with the young NSA systems analyst, who was disturbed by the apparently extra-constitutional data mining being conducted by the United States - going far beyond what government officials had testified about before Congress. In "Citizenfour" we see basically a real-time document of the story as it exploded around the world.
Gripping as it is, we're not prepared for a mid-2014 meeting, in which Greenwald reveals to Snowden - now living in Moscow, hiding from extradition to the U.S. - that another whistleblower even higher up in the NSA has come forward. That source has revealed to Greenwald that the number of Americans considered potential threats or "suspects" on various intelligence agency watchlists now numbers 1.2 million.
Snowden blanches. "That's f------ ridiculous," is all he can say. We're speechless, too. – By David Morgan
Director-Writer: Ruben Östlund.
If you were facing the deadly, fearful forces of nature, what would YOU do? When Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) witnesses an advancing avalanche, he turns tail and runs, abandoning his wife and two kids to deal with the disaster on their own. That decision turns his happy family vacation in the French Alps into a combative debate that tests his notions of masculinity, his marriage, and his roles as husband and parent.
"Force Majeure" shows how they are roles, performed well or not well by us all, and that our self-image (and that of our partners) can have the rug pulled completely out from underneath when forces greater than ourselves come to bear. – By David Morgan
Director: Bennett Miller.
You could pay a screenwriter a million dollars for a sure-thing script with rapid-fire dialogue. But in movies, where faces can be projected the size of a building, less is frequently more. And in "Foxcatcher," Bennett Miller's intriguing true story of a millionaire of unquantifiable hubris who decides to bankroll a wrestling academy, Steve Carell gets one of the year's biggest laughs with the tiniest of responses.
When John du Pont asks his protégé Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) when Mark's brother, David, another Olympic wrestler, is taking a position at his camp, he learns that David turned down the offer, saying no to the large paycheck du Pont waved under his nose.
Pause. "Huh," du Pont mutters.
The idea that someone cannot be bought is so alien, so weird to du Pont, it's as if he were a scientist who peered into a microscope and witnessed an amoeba knitting. - By David Morgan
Director: David Fincher.
It's a seemingly innocent moment, but one that sets the tone for the entire movie. In a flashback sequence, Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) meet for the first time at a party in a New York City apartment. "Who are you?" Nick asks. Amy's response is mysterious - even at the start, she had him (and us) guessing.
The flirty conversation plays out while Trent Reznor's score creates an ominous tone in what would otherwise be casual party chatter between two attractive singles. Even if you haven't read the book, you may be thinking that something strange is up at this point.
"Who are you?" Amy asks. "I'm the guy to save you from all this awesomeness," Nick replies. – By Lauren Moraski
"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Director: Wes Anderson.
The worlds of Wes Anderson could only exist in films (and maybe in pop-up books). His whimsical tales play on the artifice of cinema as much as on the heightened emotions of their characters, who feel so strongly about their motives, desires and dreams. And while "The Grand Budapest Hotel," set at a luxury European resort between the wars, is a beautifully constructed tale of love, crime and civilization, its piece de resistance is a chase through the mountains on skis and toboggan between hotel concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his faithful lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori), and arch villain Jopling (Willem Dafoe). This is no James Bond chase through real mountains; it's a playful construction of miniatures and puppets that a child might fashion while playing indoors during a snowstorm – invigorating, and the most joyful life-or-death chase you will ever witness. – By David Morgan
"Guardians of the Galaxy"
Director: James Gunn.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" charmed even the harshest critics of comic books-turned-superhero movies - partly thanks to the running theme of Star-Lord's (Chris Pratt) "Awesome Mixtape Vol. 1," featuring sweet sounds from the Jackson 5 ("I Want You Back") and The Five Stairsteps ("O-O-H Child"). In one of the final scenes, Star-Lord finally opens his mom's letter from years earlier. "You are the light of my life," the note reads. "My precious son. My Star-Lord." Aha! That's where the name originates.
But then we learn there's more to this story. Star-Lord unwraps "Awesome Mixtape Vol. 2." His blue eyes tear up . . . and we're right there with him for this sentimental moment. An ode to a lost "art-form" - the creation of a mixtape - and a nod to the power of song. – By Lauren Moraski
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski.
As the young woman is about to take her vows at the convent in post-war Poland where she has been raised since childhood, she learns that her parents were in fact Jewish. To discover their fate, she embarks on a journey to her birthplace - her first real trip outside the convent's walls. It is there where she removes her novitiate's garments and visits a jazz club, taking off her shoes and dancing with a young man, who must gently guide her on how to embrace a dance partner. Is it the end of her journey, and the beginning of another? The eyes of the actress, an amateur named Agata Trzebuchowska, dare you to decide. – By David Morgan
Director-Writer: James Gray.
It's difficult to pick a single most-resonant moment or scene from James Gray's affecting period drama about a young Polish woman who finds herself under the questionably protective wing of a pimp in early 20th century New York City - especially when it stars two of the very best actors around: Marion Cotillard (honored this year by the New York Film Critics Circle) and Joaquin Phoenix. But despite the highly-detailed (and, as far as we can tell, accurate) costumes, sets and photography, a piercing stab of magical realism enters the film, perhaps when Cotillard's character needs it most.
Detained at Ellis Island, she witnesses the act of a visiting illusionist, played by Jeremy Renner:
Orlando the Magician: "How is it that you found yourself here at this very moment in America? By boat, most likely, yes - it'd be a long swim. But isn't it also because you believed it could happen? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I believe" - at which point he levitates off the ground.
How? Why? We never find out. But the point of the scene was not Orlando's presumed power of levitation - rather, his power to draw Cotillard's character into his own charismatic gravitational pull, into what may be a black hole. – By David Morgan
Director: Christopher Nolan.
If there is one thing movies can do better than any other art form, it's the ability to envelope us in imagery, sound, music and ideas beyond our normal experience. And no scene in 2014 did this with more rapture than in "Interstellar," when the crew of a spaceship encounters a wormhole hinting at passage to another point in the universe, possibly an entirely different galaxy. Light streaks past, bends and folds into itself, as Hans Zimmer's thunderous music score prepares us to be transported beyond the familiar dimensions of time and space - and later, as we circle the gravitational vortex of a black hole, attempts to transport us back home. – By David Morgan
"Into the Woods"
Director: Rob Marshall.
Once upon a time . . . there was a story about fairy tale characters each wishing for their happily-ever-after, who all learn that getting what you wish for doesn't always mean getting a happy ending. As a lover of the original Stephen Sondheim musical, I went into "Into the Woods" both excited and wary. Happily, I got what I wished for - a delightful, star-studded adaptation, capped by Meryl Streep chewing all scenery in her path as the Witch, Emily Blunt as the Baker's Wife, and Chris Pine as a full-of-himself ("I was raised to be charming, not sincere," in his own words) Prince. – By Jessica Derschowitz
"The Lego Movie"
Directors: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.
"The Lego Movie" starts off as a large, brightly-colored kids movie with a driving soundtrack to match. When you first see it, as a parent you wonder: 'Why did I pay to see an extended toy commercial?' There are some great little parodies of superheroes along the way, but you really start thinking there is something much more to this animated feature when you find out what the villain's super weapon, the Kragl, REALLY is. Don't want to spoil the movie for you if you have not caught it yet, but once this reveal happens, the story takes off, and takes you to unexpected places - about imagination and parental role models - that make this movie a classic. – By Dan Woo
Director: Bong Joon-ho.
As Mason, mouthpiece for the privileged passengers aboard the speeding locomotive that carries the last remnants of humankind through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Tilda Swinton speaks to the poor souls in the rear of the train who are threatening insurrection. Her speech enforcing class divisions is by turns horrifying and comical, as the actress channels Margaret Thatcher, dictators like Muammar Qaddafi, and a childhood acquaintance's Yorkshire accent:
"We must each of us occupy our preordained particular position. Would you wear a shoe on your head? Of course you wouldn't wear a shoe on your head! A shoe doesn’t belong on your head! A shoe belongs on your foot. A HAT belongs on your head! I am hat. You are shoe. I belong on the head. You belong on the foot. So it is. …
"When the foot seeks a place on the head, the sacred line is crossed. Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe!"
Just hand her the Oscar already. – By David Morgan
"Stranger By the Lake"
Director: Alain Guiraudie.
"Stranger By The Lake (L'inconnu du lac)," a 2013 Cesar Award-winning French thriller that debuted in the U.S. in January, is set at a country lake where men of all ages and sizes swim, sun bathe in the nude, and wander off into the bushes. One evening, a young man is the sole onlooker to a struggle in the water, where one man drowns another. The witness then undertakes a series of liaisons with the enigmatic killer, who looks like vintage Tom Selleck.
At first maddening and illogical, "Stranger By The Lake" gets under your skin. It speaks to a theme that gay men understand - the suspension of consequences required for sex with strangers - but the film finds a larger audience in anyone who has ever gone into the bushes, the shadowy woods, where things happen ... things terrible or wonderful. - By David Hancock
"The Theory of Everything"
Director: James Marsh.
At its core, "The Theory of Everything" is a love story. As it turns out, this is a beautiful way to tell the story of the brilliant theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Through the romantic tale of his relationship with his long-time wife, Jane Wilde Hawking, we are taken through a rollercoaster ride of poignant moments during their time together. Packed with captivating, tour de force performances by Golden Globe nominees Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, the curtain is pulled back on the private life of the Hawking household, showing the struggles of caring for someone with ALS while at the same time bearing three children. If you're looking for a movie about one of the greatest scientists of our time, you won't be disappointed, but you’ll also come out surprised and touched by the bond that Stephen and Jane share. – By Bryce Urbany
"Under the Skin"
Director: Jonathan Glazer.
The men couldn't imagine their luck when they were picked up by a beautiful woman driving a van who lured them to a house for … what? Not what they were thinking, as the alien who appears in the voluptuous form of Scarlett Johansson collects men's bodies for some unexplained purpose. But when a severely deformed man is picked up by Johansson, experiencing the first truly human connection he'd perhaps ever had, the alien is confronted with making a decision that belies her mission - and hints at a humanity she herself may not recognize. – By David Morgan
Director: Damien Chazelle.
The most jaw-dropping moment in "Whiplash" comes at the very end, when the friction between aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) and Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a fearsome music school instructor who unleashes verbal abuse and physical threats to extract greatness from his students, comes to a head at a Carnegie Hall concert. It's a showdown live on stage, with a pair of drumsticks and a conductor's baton as the weapons of choice. And the whole heart-pounding scene culminates with a dizzying drum solo so frenetic and intense you may leave the theater feeling some whiplash yourself. – By Jessica Derschowitz
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée.
A young woman, unmoored by grief, embarks on a 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, alone, in hopes of finding clarity. If it sounds incredible, that's because it is -- could you imagine taking on such a feat, and at the lowest point in your life? But Cheryl Strayed did it, and Reese Witherspoon's portrayal of her in Jean-Marc Vallée's adaptation is raw, emotional and moving. Anyone who's experienced heartbreak or loss knows that ache, that void in your chest that feels like it can never be filled, and will marvel as Witherspoon climbs out of it, slowly but surely, with each hiking boot-clad step. – By Jessica Derschowitz
Here's to a good year at the movies - and hopes for an even better 2015.
By CBSNews.com's Jessica Derschowitz, David Hancock, Darian Lusk, Lauren Moraski, David Morgan, Bryce Urbany and Dan Woo