There were murmurings of surprise when JC Chandor's drama A Most Violent Year was named film of the year by the National Board of Review in December. However, after a great swathe of positive reviews ahead of its release on New Year's Eve, the movie is considered to have a real chance of at least scoring a nomination for the biggest night on the movie's calendar.

Oscar IsaacJessica Chastain [L] and Oscar Isaac [R] in 'A Most Violent Year'

Set during the winter of 1981 - statistically one of the most crime-ridden periods in New York City's history - A Most Violent Year follows the lives of an immigrant played by Oscar Isaac and his family as they attempt to capitalize on the American Dream.  

"Chastain is killer good, and Isaac is an implosive powerhouse in a film that reflects a world where nothing is held sacred. You watch with nerves clenched, holding on tight," said Peter Travers of Rolling Stone.

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"It brings to mind the fierce New York-based productions of Sidney Lumet in particular but also the whole notion of character-driven, the-clock-is-ticking melodramas in general," wrote Kenneth Turan.

A Most Violent YearJC Chandor's A Most Violent Year was named movie of 2014 by the National Board of Review

""A Most Violent Year" presents an honorable man struggling to stay true to his values in the face of temptation. It is also the portrait of a brilliant hustler working a very long con. It's a terrific movie either way," said A.O Scott of the New York Times.

"Can Chandor make a first-rate film that isn't a testosterone fest? That's the next challenge-one that he shares with the industry as a whole," wrote Mike D'Angelo of the AV Club.

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"In the marvelous, immersive A Most Violent Year, [J.C.] Chandor broadens his canvas, proving himself a major filmmaking talent," wrote Erica Abeel of Film Journal International.

A Most Violent Year is released in cinemas from today (January 31, 2014).

Watch the trailer for A Most Violent Year: