The Best Films of 2014 So Far
By Daniel Rester
Having just passed the halfway mark of 2014, let’s take a look at some of the best films from the year so far. I will be going by official U.S. release dates, meaning a film has had at least a limited theatrical run this year. Let me know in the comments below what your favorites from 2014 are so far!
Some well-received 2014 films (so far) I have yet to see: Bad Words, Begin Again, Cold in July, The Dance of Reality, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Immigrant, Locke, Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 and 2, Only Lovers Left Alive, The Wind Rises
Honorable mentions: Blue Ruin, Enemy, The Rover, Snowpiercer, 22 Jump Street, X-Men: Days of Future Past
One to definitely keep an eye out for:
Before I Disappear: Shawn Christensen’s Before I Disappear has yet to get an official release date for 2014 (I saw it at SXSW), but it is a film to look out for on the festival circuits and one that will make my “best of the year” list if it released in 2014. While telling the story of a suicidal man redeeming himself by connecting to his niece, Christensen crafts a film that is alive with a rich style and a deep emotional core. I really have not seen a feature film debut this good in years, and Christensen may just be one of the great new directors in the coming years.
The Top 10 of 2014 So Far:
10. Life Itself: Steve James’ moving and informative documentary about the late Roger Ebert is a must-see for film buffs. Covering such things as his work with Gene Siskel, his relationship with his wife Chaz, his battle with cancer, and other topics, Itself gives us a wide-ranging view into the film critic’s life.
9. The Lego Movie: This surprisingly fun and awesome animated film came out of the left field. Seriously, who thought this film was going to be as great as it is? Telling the story of ordinary Lego man Emmet (Chris Pratt, giving a wonderful voice performance) becoming a savior among his friends, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s film is bright and hilarious from start to finish. It really is a treat for the whole family.
8. Edge of Tomorrow: This exciting, widely overlooked (at least in its U.S. run) sci-fi action film from director Doug Liman gets better and better the more I think about it. Tom Cruise plays William Cage, a man who must relive the same day over and over again until he defeats an army of creatures called Mimics. While the main premise is a bit derivative of other works, the original story touches and overall craftsmanship here are top-notch. Plus we get two great performances from Cruise and Emily Blunt.
7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier: We have had a few good comic book-based films this year, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes the cake as the best in my opinion. This time around, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, terrific as always in this role) must face his past and a S.H.I.E.L.D. conspiracy. With its intriguing story, exhilarating action scenes, new depth to familiar characters, kickass villain, and addition of actors like Anthony Mackie and Robert Redford, Soldier is one of the best Marvel movies of the past few years.
6. How to Train Your Dragon 2: This is the best animated film of the year so far. Dragon 2 involves Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) going up against a dragon trapper named Drago (Djimon Hounsou). The main plot is basic, but the film takes some surprising story turns and delivers on character development and emotional punches. The excellent voice acting and breathtaking visuals make it all the better. This is a perfect example of how to make an animated sequel that both honors the original and can stand on its own.
5. The Raid 2: The “most badass action film of the year” title award goes to Gareth Evans’ The Raid 2. Rama (Iko Uwais) is our hero once again, and this time he must go undercover in order to uncover police corruption and take down a criminal organization in Jakarta. While overlong and repetitive, the film is still a triumph in the action genre (and includes one of the most memorable car chase scenes in a while). It also features interesting crime story elements and juicy supporting characters.
4. Under the Skin: Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin is the most polarizing film of the year so far. But whether you love it or hate it, it is certainly worthy of contemplation and many conversations. The movie follows an unnamed alien (Scarlett Johansson) who takes the form of a woman and travels around Scotland. Its goal: to lure in men in seductive ways and then harvest their flesh. Where some see Glazer’s film as pretentious, artsy crap, others (myself included) see a hypnotic sci-fi film that provides understated commentary on human identity, sensitivity, vulnerability, and sexuality. I certainly don’t think Skin is flawless, but it is a unique and haunting film that has stayed in my mind long after seeing it.
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3. Ida: This intimate, quiet Polish drama from Pawel Pawilkowski will likely, and sadly, get overlooked by many this year due to its small release. Ida tells the story of the title character (played with magnificent grace by Agata Trzebuchowska), a young novice nun who lives in 1960s Poland. Before taking her vows, she sets out with her aunt (Agata Kulesza, also great) to uncover a dark family secret. Filmed in black and white, and in 1.37:1 aspect ratio, the movie is starkly beautiful with its imagery. The film also contains an emotional journey that has great resonance.
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2. The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson’s latest is one of the idiosyncratic writer-director’s best films yet. It tells of a lobby boy named Zero (Tony Revolori, a newcomer with amazing talent) and hotel owner M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), who together get wrapped up in a situation involving a stolen art piece right before the beginning of WWII. With its wide-ranging cast, insanely detailed production design, and hilarious and thoughtful screenwriting, Hotel is a terrific piece of entertainment.
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1. Boyhood: It is very rare for me to give a film a perfect score, but Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is like nothing else I’ve seen in cinema and fully deserves such credit. Filmed over the course of twelve years, the film follows a Texas family’s life experiences in the 2000s. The film captures all of the awkwardness, joy, and pain of growing up, with every moment ringing true. From the writing to the direction to the acting (the cast includes Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as the parents), Boyhood is something special.