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Criticwire Survey: Halftime Top 5

The Criticwire Survey on the best movies, TV shows, music and more of 2014 so far.
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Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in "Only Lovers Left Alive"
Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in "Only Lovers Left Alive"

Q: What are your five favorite cultural experiences of 2014? They can be movies (or screenings), TV shows (or episodes), music: You name it. (Go back to the beginning of the survey here.)

Gary M. Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News

The first best of the five best films I've seen/read this year would have to be Tsai Ming-Liang's breathtaking hour-long feature, "Journey to the West." This film was so exquisite and captivating that I actually wanted to stop seeing movies. But I kept watching, and I saw my second best film this year, Pawel Pawlikowski's astonishing drama, "Ida," which is seared in my mind. "Stranger by the Lake" may just be the best queer film all year, and one that reveals more (no pun intended; OK, maybe it was) with each viewing. I've seen it a few times now. Fourth place, I will tie up the four of "wayward youth" films, a quartet of films that I had to watch barefoot as they each knocked my off: "It Felt Like Love," written and directed by Eliza Hittman; "Hide Your Smiling Faces," written and directed by Daniel Patrick Carbone; "The Cold Lands," written and directed by Tom Gilroy; and "Teenage" co-written and directed by Matt Wolf. And rounding out the Top 5 is "The Lunchbox," perhaps the most lovely and satisfying film I've seen all year.

I'll also include a trio of books: The Greatest Movies You'll Never See, edited by Simon Braund, is truly great; it describes the backstories of unmade films all of which readers will wish had been made. Tom Spanbauer's I Loved You More is a staggeringly great book -- a sprawling novel about love and truth and trust; I can't wait for this to become a film (and I totally have Jean-Marc Barr in mind for it). And if I can plug Directory of World Cinema: Argentina, which I co-edited with Beatriz Urraca, it was one of the best moments of this year to hold this book (which includes contributions from Carrie Rickey, Matt Prigge, and Richard Pena among others) in my hand after two years of work. 

Josh Spiegel, Movie Mezzanine

Right now, it's hard to beat "Under the Skin" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel" as the best films to date. I don't doubt that I'll be impressed by other films by the end of the year -- hopefully Paul Thomas Anderson's "Inherent Vice," for example -- but if something tops "Under the Skin" for sheer, unsettling horror or "The Grand Budapest Hotel" for a blend of pathos and comedy in a ramshackle farce, I really can't wait to see it. Another film I've loved this year, one I've been praising since last fall at Fantastic Fest, is "Blue Ruin," which tackles the overly familiar trope of revenge and flips it on its head in an intense backwoods package. I also wanted to briefly mention a film that I hope garners some form of second-wave love somewhere down the line: "Muppets Most Wanted," which is to "The Muppetsas "Ocean's Twelve" is to "Ocean's Eleven." Also, because we can extend this to more than just movies, I want to mention "The Good Wife" and "Cosmos," the former because it's just finished its best and most complex season and the latter because its hopeful vision of the future coupled with straightforward scientific discourse is a breath of fresh air. We can mock Seth MacFarlane for a lot, but I give him hearty praise for helping make this show a reality.

Alan Zilberman, Brightest Young Things, Tiny Mix Tapes

Nymphomaniac

In comments following her now-notorious op-ed, the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday said, "What I tried to do is raise some questions about the knock-on effects of immersing ourselves in these same narratives and same images, over and over again." She's asking important questions, and while most film in 2014 is the same repetitive story, some of the year's best are markedly different from mainstream narratives. Gillian Robespierre's "Obvious Child" turns the romantic comedy on its head with a story of a pregnant woman who easily decides to have abortion, then jokes about it with a sophisticated support network that does not judge her. Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin" is an experimental sci-fi feminist allegory, one that takes the weirdest type of innocent and drops her (it?) into a world of misogyny (incidentally, both these titles were released by A24 films). 

One of the more touching documentaries of the year is "Maidentrip," and its premise is deceptively simple: it follows a young dutch teenager who decides to sail around the world. She's fiercely independent in one way, a normal adolescent in another. The documentary is part travelogue, part coming of age story, with remarkable footage of the vast ocean that's utterly unique. There's an entirely different idea of womanhood in Lars Von Trier's "Nymphomaniac," which is disturbing, funny, and subversive precisely because it's about a woman who becomes a pariah after she defies patriarchy and male privilege. Finally, there's "Honey," a meditative Italian thriller about a woman who fights for dignity at the end of life, then must re-calibrate her ethics once she meets a man who wants to commit suicide because he's bored, not because he's sick.

I doubt films like this will ever have more influence than crude comedies or comic book adaptations, but these serve as a reminder that thoughtful, independent film can be more subversive than any criticism or op-ed out there.

Piers Marchant, Philadelphia Magazine, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

While it's entirely possible that no one enjoys putting together lists of this sort more than moi, this does speak to the trick of figuring out exactly what films should count, chronologically speaking (i.e. easily the best film that officially was released in my city this year was "The Past," but I actually saw it at TIFF this past September, and anyway, it was released elsewhere earlier). With that in mind, I'll try not to cheat and only include films I've seen since January 1.

So. Let's hit up the seven best films of 2014 so far. Two peculiar and avant-garde films lead off this group, first off, French-Canadian director Denis Villenueve's "Enemy," a bugged-out (sorry) interpretation of the Jose Saramago novel (based upon the Dostoevsky original) that left audiences perplexed and fascinated in equal measure; then, the brilliantly understated (and non-expository) "Under the Skin," Jonathan Glazer's hallucinatory allegory about a fetching alien played by Scarlett Johansson cruising the mean streets of Edinburgh and picking up unwitting men to deposit in an open walkway vat of silken motor oil back in a hidden lair. For something a good deal more explicable (and ass-kicking), there was Gareth Evans' Indonesian action epic "The Raid 2," a follow-up to a scintillating original that made the jump from great action flick to serious action meditation. For levity, we have Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel," perhaps the most Anderson-like film ever conceived, with wit, style and a sterling performance from Ralph Fiennes. For a romance minus the comedy, there was Ritesh Batra's "The Lunchbox," a film that manages to be sweet without ever treading into the saccharine, and a food-based flick that doesn't settle for having food-porn shots take the place of character development and plot (oh, hello there, Jon Favreau!). Rounding out our seven, two stand-outs at this year's Tribeca film fest: In the narrative division, there was Angus MacLachian's droll "Goodbye to All That," the story of a guileless man dumped out of his marriage and into the confusing, swirling pool of singlehood, lead by Paul Schneider, who finally gets a chance to carry a film and does so with smooth aplomb; as for docs, there were a passel of good ones ("Garnet's Gold" and "Art & Craft," to name but two), but Johanna Hamilton's "1971," concerning the successful break-in of a suburban Philadelphia FBI office and the subsequent releasing of thousands of their files proving the agency had been spying illegally on its own citizens, is both absorbing and painfully timely in the age of the NSA and Edward Snowden. 

Ethan Alter, Film Journal International, NYCFilmCritic.com

"Only Lovers Left Alive"/"Under the Skin." My two favorite halftime-point films by far, Jim Jarmusch's haunting, moody vampire tale and Jonathan Glazer's gorgeous, spooky alien invasion riff represent art house (as opposed to grindhouse) genre cinema at its finest.

"Everything is Awesome" from "The LEGO Movie." The ubiquitous Legoland anthem encapsulates everything that's awesome about 2014's best studio confection so far: great one-liners, boundless energy and, above all, a playful spirit.

The Frankenstein Arc on "Penny Dreadful": The Dracula and Dorian Gray stuff on Showtime's horror hodgepodge are non-starters, but damned if series creator John Logan isn't serving up one of the finest re-tellings of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein in recent memory. Kickstarter to produce a Frankenstein-only phantom edit for the DVD release. 

"Miracleman" Reprints. Though I shelled out for back issues of the Eclipse-published line years ago, I've been happily buying the same comics over again now that the long-awaited Marvel-backed reissues of "The Original Writer's" early '80s superhero epic are out of the legal mire and actually on shelves. It'll all pay off in late 2016/early 2017 when Neil Gaiman finally gets to reveal how The Silver Age led to The Dark Age. 

U Talkin' U2 to Me? The lengthy digressions can be annoying -- until you've listened to a few episodes, at which point they become endearing -- but thanks to the dynamic duo of Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman (a.k.a. Adam Scott Aukerman), this (mostly) all-U2 (mostly) all the time podcast captures the freewheeling fun of spending a couple of hours with your friends shooting the shit about your favorite band. 

Halftime Honorable Mentions: The "Godzilla" halo jump; Robert Morse's soft-shoe (soft-sock?) exit from "Mad Men"; Quicksilver captures time in a bottle in "X-Men: Days of Future Past"; The How Did this Get Made crew vs. No Holds Barred; Doc Brown Lives! (h/t Seth MacFarlane); The Alison & Felix Show on "Orphan Black"; Eva Green in "300: Rise of an Empire"; Spike Jonze: Oscar Winner; Ralph Fiennes' grand "Grand Budapest" mustache; "Pile of Bullets," the finest VCR game never made (h/t "Community"). 

"True Detective"
"True Detective"

Greg Cwik, Wall St Cheat Sheet, Indiewire

"Under the Skin" is probably the film that has stuck with me the most this year. I'm a big fan of Glazer's "Birth", which has some truly hypnotic moments. Like "Birth", "Under the Skin" is a magnificent feat of aesthetic story telling, the marriage of sight and sound at once tangibly creepy and ethereally haunting, like waking up from a bad dream only to find the bad dream follow you into reality. "Ida" was subtly stunning and quietly tragic, and it was one of the most invigorating reviews I've written so far. The movie actually seemed to reveal more layers of depth the more I wrote. "The Immigrant", which I saw at the New York Film Festival last fall, is a film that didn't immediately enthrall me. I loved the sickly sepia tone and the way James Gray channels the late Gordon Willis in his slashes of sallow gold against tar-black backgrounds, but I wasn't as emotionally affected. The more I cogitated, though, the more the film seemed to bloom in my head, and I kept coming back to that gorgeous final shot. Marion Cotillard gives her best performance yet, sorrowful but ultimately life-affirming, and it works harmoniously with Joaquin Phoenix's surprisingly subtle turn. After getting ripped off by the academy last year, Phoenix should get a supporting actor nod here. "Only Lovers Left Alive" (also saw at the NYFF) grew on me over time too, but mostly because I listened to that stunning score over and over and over for weeks on Spotify (credited to Jozef Van Wissem and SQURL). And I know a lot has been said about "Sorcerer", and William Friedkin has said some kind of invidious things, but the Blu ray of Friedkin's flawed masterpiece is awesome, in the Kantian sense. One of the most visceral films I've ever seen. I slightly prefer it over "The Wages of Fear." Roy Scheider was a brilliantly keen actor who only ever had two great parts (the other being, of course, Chief Brody in "Jaws"), and his break-down scene, with him trying to hack down trees with a machete, feels so real. He was an incredibly un-showy actor. Lastly, Swans' new album "To Be Kind" is amazing, and amazingly cinematic. (Great writing music.) Their previous album, "The Seer," was like the score to the apocalypse, and their new album adds unexpected flair and swing, two hours of menace adorned with the occasional strange southern twang and pervasive droning guitars manipulated beyond recognition. Listen to it now.

William Bibbiani, CraveOnline

"Whiplash": Screened at Sundance 2014, scheduled for release later this year, and one of the most exhilarating films I've seen in a long while, "Whiplash" is a coming-of-age saga that dares to take the side of the hero's abusive father figure. Miles Teller dreams of becoming a great drummer, J.K. Simmons seems determined to browbeat his fantasies into nothingness, but his abject cruelty only spurs Teller to try harder. In the process Teller makes horrifying sacrifices but there's no denying that he does get better. The consequences of heartless pressure are everywhere, but the ends just might justify the means. Might. A stirring, complex and breathtaking movie if ever I've seen one.

"The Dance of Reality": Alejandro Jodorowsky is back and he's just as vibrant as ever. "The Dance of Reality" is an autobiography filtered through an acid trip: the perspective of a small child told from the perspective of an old man who remembers whatever he wants to remember, whether or not it really happened. The past and future collide in warm, paternal hugs between Jodorowsky as a child and Jodorowsky as an old filmmaker, capturing the horrors of youth but letting the wisdom of age seep in through the edges. An alarming, beautiful experience.

"Only Lovers Left Alive": Jim Jarmusch made a vampire movie and it's exactly what you'd expect: Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton lounging around, half-nude, listening to cool records and sharing weird stories about the celebrities they've met over the centuries. The artifice is intoxicating, like hanging out with the coolest ex-hippies imaginable, but the heart of "Only Lovers Left Alive" is what makes it special: Here at last are two romantic leads who are more fascinating in the middle of a long-term (extremely long), committed relationship than any two hormonal babes ever were at the beginning of one.

"Hannibal": A contemptible concept -- transforming the acclaimed works of Thomas Harris into a weekly cash grab -- has somehow yielded the most soulful show on television. Everything about "Hannibal" feels personal, and as well it should. Bryan Fuller's series is about the very nature of subjectivity, and demands to be viewed as an ongoing, traumatizing nightmare. The production design is second to none, the horror puts most R-rated movies to shame, and Mads Mikkelsen has done the unthinkable by turning his version of Hannibal Lecter into the new gold standard. 

"Arrow": What the TV series "Arrow" lacks in depth (let's be honest, shirtless hunks and soap opera gooeyness abound) it makes up for in density. The best live-action superhero TV series on record crams more into one episode than most shows, even the critically-acclaimed ones, can eke out in an entire season. The action is thrilling, the twists genuinely unexpected, and the sprawling superhero universe they're crafting on "Arrow" is more exciting than anyone could have expected. The dialogue may be dopey, but the story is grand.

Runners-Up (in alphabetical order): "Blind," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "Chef," "Filth," "Grand Piano," "The Guest," "Noah."

John Keefer, 51 Deep

So much of my time is spent watching films from all over the place, globally and time wise, that it's hard to even remember what movies I've seen so far in 2014 that were from 2014 and that I liked in 2014. "Godzilla" springs to mind immediately because that was the last movie I saw in theaters... wait, no, "Only Lovers Left Alive" was the last movie I saw at the beautiful and should-be-visited-by-you-if-at-all-possible Colonial Theater in Phoenixville, PA (Home of Blobfest!). I enjoyed Jarmusch's latest but do wonder what inspires artists to create new works that feel very much of a piece with what they've done before, as in why not do something dramatically different? Or more accurately what inspires old hands to make new work? I'm stalling for time because I can't think of anything else I -- no, wait, "Grand Budapest." Loved that "Grand Budapest" speaking of doing what you do but doing it really well. What is love, anyway? Are there really degrees to it? Or is it like if you're dead then you're dead? Or a vampire? I finally saw "An American in Paris" and was so thoroughly entertained by it I was exhausted by the end. That's an old movie, though, made when they made them like they used to. How about music? Check out Nothing's "Guilty of Everything," Goddamnit's "How to Take the Burn", Drive-By Truckers' "English Oceans" and Michael Rudolph Cumming's "Get Low". They're all great albums and you can take mine and Godzilla's word for it. We're good friends so I can speak for him. Love!

Fico Cangiano, CineXpress

It's been a good year so far at the movies. These are the films that I'd have to say are in my top of 2014 list so far: "The LEGO Movie," "Edge of Tomorrow," "Godzilla," "The Double," "Enemy," "Under the Skin," "Neighbors," "Blue Ruin," "Joe," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and "Nymphomaniac."

Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket

"The LEGO Movie"
"The LEGO Movie"

"The LEGO Movie": What seemed like it would be a two-hour toy commercial turned out to be so much more. Sweet, funny, and incredibly smart about why playing with blocks is essential to developing a child's imagination, "The LEGO Movie" is the best time I've had in a theater so far this year.

"Kids for Cash": This documentary about a scandal that occurred not far from my hometown really needs a wider audience. It tells the story of a Luzurne County, Pennsylvania judge who was accused of sentencing non-violent children to detention facilities in exchange for kickbacks. Not surprisingly, he ruined the lives of some of those kids, who now suffer depression and anxiety. "Kids for Cash" documents this shocking case very well, but more than that, it really makes you question our juvenile justice system. Why are we putting so many children behind bars instead of getting them help?

"Sorcerer": William Friedkin finally brought his overlooked 1977 masterpiece to Blu-Ray, restored to his complete satisfaction. It looks absolutely gorgeous, and the film remains a stunner. Gripping, exciting, and superbly acted, it deserves the renaissance it seems to be getting.

"The American Nurse":  This deeply affecting documentary takes a simple approach in exploring its subject: it merely observes five vastly different types of nurses in action and allows them to discuss their work. The cumulative result is a powerful reminder of how diverse - and important - the nursing profession is.

"Blue Ruin": A revenge movie with a twist, in that the person seeking revenge isn't at all cut out for the things he's doing. That idea creates one of the tensest, most haunting films of this sort that I've ever seen. Macon Blair gives the kind of performance that makes you sit up and take notice. 

Jason Shawhan, The Nashville Scene, Interface 2037

At the (sorta) halfway point of the year, these are the films that I have seen and loved, in alphabetical order. "Abuse of Weakness," "The Amazing Catfish," "Blue Ruin," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "Cheap Thrills," "The Congress," "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "Happy Christmas," "The LEGO Movie," "Maleficent," "Noah," "Nymphomaniac," "Oculus," "Only Lovers Left Alive," "The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears," "Stranger by the Lake," "Tim's Vermeer," "Trap Street," "Under the Skin," "Vic + Flo Saw a Bear," and "You and The Night." Some of them haven't been released yet, but there's more wiggle room with this than a year-end piece, at least as I see it. I've also got an unlimited amount of love for the Robyn/Royksopp Do It Again EP, as well as Season One of "Rick & Morty."

Michael Pattison, Sight & Sound, Keyframe Daily

I might be cheating before I've begun here, but the first title that comes to mind after imposing the "world-premieres only" rule is "BNSF," James Benning's latest feature, which has a 2013 production date and at least one showing last year behind it -- but in terms of theatrical showings to a paying audience, it received its official bow at Bradford International Film Festival earlier this year. I saw the film roughly two years after breaking my Benning cherry with "Nightfall," since when he's become my favorite living US filmmaker.

Named after the railway company, BNSF is a three-hour single-take documentary in which freight trains pass through the tripod-fixed frame with fluctuating regularity: this way, that way, disappearing somewhere in the middle on account of the varied terrain, while more elemental shifts unfold imperceptibly. Already a fan of the aforementioned Nightfall (another single-take film, though it runs for an hour less), I came half-prepared: severely hung over on the one hand, and excited and determined enough to try and match the film's own visual stasis by limiting my own fidgetry on the other. When Tony Soprano once asked, "What constitutes a fidget?" they should've looked into the future, to me watching BNSF, and said: "The opposite of that." The three hours flew by!

So too did the 56 minutes for which Tsai Ming-liang's "Journey to the West" held me rapt when it premiered at the Berlinale in January. I've currently got Tsai's last feature "Stray Dogs" atop my ranked list combining 2014 premieres and theatrical releases -- on the increasingly hopeless assumption that the film will at some point this year grace a UK cinema -- but "Journey to the West" is second. I know in advance of at least one survey answer that summarizes the film better than I will, so all I'll note is that I enjoyed the experience of watching "Journey to the West" so much that I declined a re-watch in Lisbon last month -- out of fear, somehow, that it wouldn't be as good.

Though better seen than described, in many ways "Journey to the West" is also a documentary, and the next four films on my list-in-progress confirm that so far this year, fiction films are playing catch-up. Ira Dika and Yorgos Savoglou's "Salt Flats" is a 35-minute dialogue-free hymn to the working methods of the salt mines in Angelochori, dedicated in its opening moments to Bela Tarr. Elias Yannakakis' "Kalavryta: People and Shadows" -- deserving winner of a FIPRESCI prize at Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in March -- focuses upon the 1943 massacre by the Nazis of a Greek village's male population. "Iranien" is a compelling and surprisingly amusing exploration of the Islamic Republic of Iran as represented by four mullahs, against whose views secularist director Mehran Tamadon argues with frequent exasperation. And finally, from Portugal, is Sergio Trefaut's "Alentejo, Alentejo," a portrait of an agricultural region in south-central Portugal through its singing traditions. And my colleague Ronan Doyle said last year was a banner year for docs!

The best music released in 2014 has been CunninLynguists' "Strange Journey Volume 3," Young Fathers' "Dead," Bike for Three!'s "So Much Forever," Homeboy Sandman's "White Sands" and the "Melted" remixes of Blue Sky Black Death's "Glaciers." And, still to come: new albums from Sole (with DJ Pain) and Guelph's finest number-cruncher, Noah23!

John DeCarli, Film Capsule

While I have a Top 5 list of 2014 films I've really enjoyed, there's only one I'm passionate enough about to survive to the end of the year: "The Grand Budapest Hotel." How Wes Anderson continues to construct such vibrant and propulsive worlds continues to amaze me. Much more modestly, the dreamy indie film "Hide Your Smiling Faces" also sweeps you up into its world, the sights, smells and sounds of a childhood summer. I loved the confident, tautly-constructed suspense of "Blue Ruin." "The LEGO Movie" was an exuberant surprise earlier this year, though its impact is fading as we reach summer. Lastly, Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac Vol. I" teased with the promise of an exploration of narrative diversions and a kaleidoscope of formal techniques, but the bitter taste of Vol. II almost completely undoes any impact left after the first half. More inviting, mysterious and compelling than any of these films, though, is my top "cultural object" of the year: The War on Drugs' "Lost in the Dream," an album of mesmerizing depth and beauty.

Cameron Williams, Popcorn Junkie

The first half of 2014 in Australia is catch up for a lot of awards season films.  Distributors delay the releases of these movies to capitalize on the buzz of the Academy Awards.  It’s one of those annoying publicity things. Due to the nature of delayed releases honorable “2014” mentions must go to "Inside Llewyn Davis," "Her," "Nebraska," "The Wolf of Wall Street," "The Square" and "The Great Beauty." Now on with the list.

"Only Lovers Left Alive": Jim Jarmusch gets vampires back to their gothic roots and allows them to brood on the artistic and intellectual decline of civilization. 

"The Grand Budapest Hotel": Wes Anderson prompted an immediate revision of his filmography in the wake of his newest film because it may be his best work.

"The LEGO Movie": Forget about the Bible, the real story of creation is contained within "The LEGO Movie." Moving at the speed of the imagination it’s a hyperactive adventure that breathlessly moves from crazy to bonkers. 

"The Raid 2": The new center of the arse kicking universe.

"The Possibilities Are Endless": A music documentary that throws away the bland "talking head" conventions of so many of these films in favor of a minimalist approach.  You are immersed the world of singer/songwriter Edwyn Collins and his recovery from a stroke that wiped his mind clean except for two phrases: "The possibilities are endless" and "Grace Maxwell."

Marc V. Ciafardini, Go See Talk, Big Fan Boy

Richard Shepard's "Dom Hemingway," that vulgar and superb vehicle for Jude Law, has remained on my brain since the press screening. It's the best writing Shepard has done to date and it is infinitely elevated thanks to Law's theatricality. Also the tracks on the soundtrack/score (featuring music by composer Rolfe Kent and artists like Citizen Cope) are just as good as Jude's glorious on screen rants.

"X-Men: Days of Future": Past Bryan Singer's triumphant return to the X-franchise. He simultaneously blends the best elements of the series he started with the best parts of First Class (which is pretty much everything) and rights the wrongs left in the wake of his absence. He brings fun back to this universe and in so doing looks to confidently sail the ship to X-Men: Apocalypse. 2016 can't get here soon enough.

Wes Anderson has reached dazzling new heights in his career with "The Grand Budapest Hotel." A film as ambitious as it is decadent, everything he's ever done has been building to this. Not only does it look spectacular but paired with Alexandre Desplat's brilliant and perfectly tailored score it is perhaps his magnum opus...now hurry up Criterion, announce its inevitable release and take my money already.

Rob Minkoff has beloved films about a mouse and another about a lion to his credit, but his latest foray into animated animal narratives, this time a canine, is just as well done. Not many people probably expected anything to come from updating another retro property but "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" is a blast. DreamWorks seemingly did the impossible making a film like this work without relying solely on nostalgia or gimmicks. It's an unlikely success but then again, that seems exactly what the studio is known for these days.

"Rio 2" was a bit of a preachy mess and honestly not that interesting. But whether you or your kids are fans of pop music the soundtrack is sure to please people of pretty much all musical tastes. Shame the film (well, the narrative) wasn't as colorful as its auditory counterpart.

This isn't a news flash as the video game has been out for a little while, but if you're a product of the 8-bit generation, and were raised on DuckTales, one of the all time great NES games, then you will be in heaven playing DuckTales Remastered. The game is amazing but it also features spectacular arrangements of the original music. Jake Kaufman shows incredible reverence and love for the 8-bit symphony and composes a brilliant new score for the game and the soundtrack was just released this April (a must buy!). It's not great, it's not mind blowing, it's a duck blur...and effin' awesome!!

Zac Oldenburg, Having Said That

This year has been a nice balance of films both big and small winning me over, with "Only Lovers Left Alive" sitting right around the bottom of my Top 5 with the monstrous "Godzilla." "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is one of the best action movies in years and possibly the best Marvel movie besides "The Avengers." Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" is an epic and dark female empowerment picture. "Under the Skin" is unlike just about anything I have ever seen. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is my firm favorite of the year so far, but that shouldn't be a surprise from this Wes Anderson homer; Ralph Fiennes also has best performance of the year firmly locked up for now.

Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing

Aside from one film that I'm currently embargoed on (and potentially would be mocked for loving anyhow), my current top ten of the year so far would include these titles in some sort of ranked order, though this is just my alphabetical list: "5 to 7," "About Alex," "Begin Again," "Boyhood," "Chef," "Draft Day," "Godzilla," "Life Itself," "The Pretty One," and "Under the Skin." I'm a bit biased as you might imagine, but I think the Roger Ebert documentary "Life Itself" has been the best thing I've seen all year. As for the worst, that'd be God's Not Dead, but to avoid getting worked up, I'll just move on. It hasn't been a particularly great first half of the year, though it's been one that's lacked much to get upset over, so that's good. It does seem to be a year that'll have most of the best stuff saved for the Oscar season, so I'm now setting my sights on the fall/winter movie season.

Edwin Arnaudin, Asheville Citizen-Times, Ashvegas

My top movies so far are "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "The Past" (which I’m counting for this year, dammit. So it goes in the small markets), "Only Lovers Left Alive," and "Cold in July."

The best TV I’ve seen include "Mad Men," the second season of "House of Cards," and "Fargo" (which I'm enjoying more than the uneven but still honorable mention "True Detective"). 

And while there have been several excellent albums thus far (e.g. Lykke Li’s "I Never Learn" and Foster the People’s "Supermodel"), I find myself returning to Beck's "Morning Phase" more than any of them.

No new books yet in 2014, but with fiction from Tana French and Ian McEwan on the way, that’ll soon change.
Most popular answers:

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" (27 mentions)
"Under the Skin" (23 mentions)
"Only Lovers Left Alive" (15 mentions)
"The LEGO Movie" (10 mentions)
"Blue Ruin" (8 mentions)
"The Immigrant" (8 mentions)
"Boyhood" (8 mentions)
"It Felt Like Love" (6 mentions)
"True Detective" (6 mentions)
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (5 mentions)
"Nymphomaniac" (5 mentions)
"Stranger by the Lake" (5 mentions)
We Are the Best! (5 mentions)

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