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The 21 Best Films Of 2014 We've Already Seen

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist January 7, 2014 at 3:45PM

The more OCD among us here at Playlist Towers find it a source of constant aggravation that release dates vary so much from territory to territory, and festivals often get premieres a full 18-or-so months before a film gains a proper U.S. release, that doing a cut-and-dried list of any given year’s movies becomes less science than art. And while it’s an art that has already yielded our first magnum opus of the year, the 100 Most Anticipated Movies Of 2014, (and we should probably be awarded the rest of January off as a result) there’s still a category of film we’ve left unmined: those movies that we saw and reviewed in 2013 at festivals or sneak screenings or parts foreign that won’t be in theaters until 2014.
21
Night Moves, Jesse Eisenberg

"Night Moves"
Synopsis: An unlikely trio of eco-activists come together to blow up a dam.
Verdict: After "Wendy And Lucy" and "Meek's Cutoff," you could be mistaken for thinking you could know what to expect from a new film from Kelly Reichardt. What we weren't expecting is a Hitchcockian and Chabrolian thriller of guilt and suspense, but it's a left-turn that Reichardt makes with aplomb. At Venice, Oli found that the film kicks off with "an almost docudrama-like feeling to proceedings," before a second half that "shifts effortlessly into a portrait of guilt." As ever with the filmmaker, "the environment is just as much of a character as the people," but she also takes to the genre elements nicely, with the final set-piece being "the most claustrophobic thing she's made." And at the center, as with "The Double," is another marvelous performance from Jesse Eisenberg, "shorn of his motormouth, his assuredness and his tics, he's a revelation here," proving "sinister and vulnerable virtually within the same breath."
Our Review: Oli's A- take from Venice is here
Release Date: Cinedigm has U.S. rights and will release on a TBD April date.

Blue Ruin

"Blue Ruin"
Synopsis: A vagrant discovers that the man convicted of murdering his parents has been released from prison, and sets out to take vengeance, only to become a target of the killer's family in turn.
Verdict: There are plenty of scuzzy revenge-type American independent genre movies out there, but for one to premiere in Cannes' Director's Fortnight suggests that it's something special, and that's exactly what "Blue Ruin" delivered by the time we caught up to it in Toronto. The follow-up to "Murder Party" by director Jeremy Saulnier, Gabe Toro found that the film avoids the wish-fulfillment of much of its genre, and as a consequence it's a movie "of almost unbearable tension, a no-frills pressure cooker that rattles the senses not just for what occurs, but for what's waiting just off screen at every turn." He found it to be "the most suspenseful American film of the year, a thriller that feels like lightning across a quiet night sky: sudden, terrifying and excitingly singular." Sounds like it could be just the ticket for genre fans.
Our Review: Gabe's A- review from TIFF is here.
Release Date: Radius-TWC has the rights, but haven't yet set a date.

stranger by the lake Franck

"Stranger By The Lake"
Synopsis: Franck strikes up a platonic friendship at a lakeside cruising spot, and falls for another man, the handsome Michel, only to see Michel drown his lover one night.
Our Verdict: Among all the acclaimed films to bow at Cannes last year, there was one film that went in with no buzz and came out a true critic's darling: Alain Guiraudie's "Stranger By The Lake," which won Best Director in the Un Certain Regard strand, and went on to be named as Cahiers Du Cinema's best film of 2013. Back on the Croisette, our Jessica Kiang concurred: saying that it was "tonally in the same vein of sunny noir as, say, Francois Ozon's "Swimming Pool,'" and that "Guiraudie creates an ambiance of eerie atmospherics that is at once crisp and observant, and oddly dreamlike, or nightmarish." Shot at a distance by the filmmaker, and packed with some explicit sex (though Jess says that "there's no mistaking the film for crude porn"), it's very much a mood piece, with an "odd sense of claustrophobia, evoked paradoxically through beautiful widescreen photography," and the film as a whole proving to be "a masterclass of tonal control." Time to see what all the fuss is about, then...
Our Review: Jess' B+ review from Cannes
Release Date: January 24th, 2014

Hide Your Smiling Faces

"Hide Your Smiling Faces"
Synopsis: Two adolescent brothers grapple with life, displacement and mortality over the course of one summer when their parents move the family away and a local boy mysteriously dies.
Verdict: Easily our favorite film of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, the fantastic directorial debut of cinematographer/writer-turned-feature filmmaker Daniel Patrick Carbone, 'Smiling Faces' may have been the most striking debut we saw all last year (though not mentioned on our Breakout Directors list because it wasn’t released in 2013). Possessing a similar appreciation for the beauty and mysteries of childhood and nature, like David Gordon Green and Terrence Malick, plus a Michael Haneke-esque disquiet, Carbone’s film may have influences, but the director turns them into something unnerving, unforgettable and stunning. Understanding the beauty in terrible images and vice versa, what resonates most deeply is how Carbone skillfully articulates what the boys cannot express: they’re ill-equipped to emotionally deal with the tragedy around them and this frustration manifests in all kinds of behavior, sometimes destructive, sometimes just inquisitive. Already moody, “Hide Your Smiling Faces” has a terrific control of tone that’s shaped by a haunting soundscape-y score from Robert Donne of Labradford, Spokane. Let’s also hope it’s not the last we see of the child actors Nathan Varnson and Ryan Jones, both of whom deliver authentic and naturalistic performances.
Our review: Rodrigo’s A grade review from Tribeca.
Release Date: March 28 via Tribeca Films

Locke Tom Hardy

"Locke"
Synopsis: In the course of one car journey from Birmingham to London, construction foreman Ivan Locke sees his life implode.
Verdict: The second directorial feature from "Eastern Promises" writer Steven Knight after so-so Jason Statham vehicle "Hummingbird," "Locke" was both more stripped down and more ambitious: a film set entirely within a moving car, shot in real time, with only one actor on screen (the rest of the cast are heard over the phone, but never seen). But when that actor is the great Tom Hardy, you figure you're in for something special, and "Locke" was the most pleasant surprise of the Venice Film Festival last year. Oli's review says that Knight does a terrific job of making a morality play drama feel like a thriller, with an astonishing turn from Hardy, "giving the performance of his career to date." Ultimately, it's a sort of character study, "a complete portrait of a man—one who can be commanding, weak, funny, loving, cold, single-minded, selfless and selfish—and by the end of the drive, you feel like you've known Ivan for years." After 2013 brought impressive one-man shows from Sandra Bullock and Robert Redford, "Locke" is a very worthy successor.
Our Review: Oli's B+ review from Venice last year.
Release Date: April 25th, 2014

Phoenix, Cotillard, Low Life, The Immigrant,

The Immigrant
Synopsis: A Polish immigrant coming to America falls prey to a charming but wicked man who takes her in and forces her into prostitution.
Verdict: Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner as directed by James Gray ("We Own The Night," "Two Lovers"), “The Immigrant” screamed Oscar-contender from the outset, but it’s actually quite a different animal with divergent concerns. A slow-burning emotional drama exploring the ideas of forgiveness and redemption via terrible characters that are nearly beyond salvation. Even more mature and patient than expected, especially for a filmmaker who has made a name on thoughtful and contemplative morality tales, “The Immigrant” won’t be for all audiences, but it’s still one of our favorites that we’ve seen so far, and boasts yet another astonishing performance from Phoenix, who is late-on revealed as just as pivotal to the film as Cotillard. Not to mention gorgeous cinematography from the great Darius Khondji.
Review: Here’s Jess’ B+ review from Cannes.
Release Date: April 2014 via TWC/Radius

This article is related to: Most Anticipated 2014, Under the Skin, Only Lovers Left Alive , Locke, Enemy, The Double, Snowpiercer, Night Moves, The Zero Theorem, Bluebird, Mood Indigo , Breathe In, Joe, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Hers, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: His, Starred Up , Stranger by the Lake , Hide Your Smiling Faces, Features, Feature


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