Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

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
Enemy, Jake Gyllenhaal

"Enemy"
Synopsis: An antisocial college lecturer in Toronto discovers that he has a doppelganger, a struggling actor.
Verdict: Last year, Denis Villeneuve and Jake Gyllenhaal teamed up for "Prisoners," a gripping and beautifully made thriller that featured one of the best performances of the year from Gyllenhaal. But even before that, the pair had worked together fruitfully, quietly making Canadian indie "Enemy," which premiered at TIFF alongside "Prisoners," and according to our Rodrigo Perez, it's even better. He described the film as an "equally dark but more experimental and arty cousin," to the other film, like "Paul Thomas Anderson of 'There Will Be Blood' making a Brian De Palma movie, or Claire Denis directing Christopher Nolan's 'Memento.'" "Thick with weighty themes, disquieting portent and anxious tension," according to Rodrigo, it cements Villeneuve's talents, and showcases those of the supporting cast like Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon and Isabella Rosselini. And if you thought Gyllenhaal was great in "Prisoners," you ain't seen nothing yet: the actor "carries the entire film on his shoulders, and he delivers with a smoldering internalized performance of torment that is easily his finest work." Look for this to be a little genre gem in the early part of this year.
Our ReviewRodrigo's A grade review from TIFF can be found here.
Release Date: March 14th, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive, Tilda Swinton

"Only Lovers Left Alive"
Synopsis: A pair of ageless vampire lovers, Adam and Eve, live at a remove from the modern world, but are dragged into it by Eve's destructive sister Ava.
Verdict: The vampire movie might feel played out for most of us, but if anyone was going to find something new in it, it was Jim Jarmusch, who delivers with "Only Lovers Left Alive" his best, and most purely enjoyable, film in years. As Jess said when she dropped her verdict in Cannes, "It's an offbeat, fun and frequently very funny film, lifted out of disposability by some wonderfully rich production design, music and photography, and by the cherishable performances of the leads." And she wasn't alone: the film ended up on our lists of our favorite films from both the New York and London Film Festivals too. The whole cast (which includes Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin and Jeffrey Wright) is terrific, but it's really the showcase for Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, who play the star-crossed bloodsuckers, and the pair "are so good, and so well-matched, that their love story is surprisingly romantic and sexy." Beautiful to look at and to listen to, this is a definite early-year treat.
Our Review: Jess's B+ review from Cannes last May
Release Date: April 11th, 2014

Under The Skin

"Under The Skin"
Synopsis: In modern-day Glasgow, an alien in the form of an attractive young woman stalks the city for lonely men. But could she be becoming more attached to the form she takes than she realizes?
Verdict: The long-awaited new film from Jonathan Glazer, the director of "Sexy Beast" and "Birth," his first in nine years, was always going to get an awful lot of attention from us. And while it's been divisive—it received boos at its Venice premiere from a select few—those of us who've seen it so far fell for it pretty hard. Telluride correspondent Chris Willman said that lead Scarlett Johansson is "perfectly cast," and that while the "somber pacing and downer themes" may turn some off, "a cult audience with a penchant for SF morality tales may warm to this." Oliver Lyttelton went much further in Venice, giving five reasons why it was one of the best movies of the year, including that it's Glazer "at his most experimental and unfiltered," that it's "not quite like anything you've seen," and that "it features some of the most striking images of the year." If nothing else, it's going to be worth seeing just for Mica Levi's "rhythmic, often drone-like, otherworldly and often terrifying" score, but there's far more treasure to be found here.
Our Review: Chris' B+ take from Telluride is here, Oli's A-grade piece from Venice is here.
Release Date: April 4th, 2014

The Double Jesse Eisenberg

"The Double"
Synopsis: Mild-mannered office drone Simon James has his life take a dark turn when a doppelganger named James Simon joins his company, soon winning over colleagues and the girl that he secretly loves.
Verdict: "Submarine" might not have been perfect, but it marked the arrival of a hugely exciting new voice in the shape of actor-turned-director Richard Ayoade. His follow-up, the Dostoevsky-indebted "The Double," co-written with Avi Korine (Harmony's brother), was worth the wait: an even more distinctive and odd film that's quite different from anything else you'll see in 2014. As Kevin said in Toronto, the film "matches its visual consistency with a narrative rhythm that is utterly engaging," with a gorgeous look from DoP Erik Wilson, and a great score by Andrew Hewitt. It also has an "emotional and thematic pull that is surprisingly weighty for this sort of picture," while among a strong and eclectic cast also including Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn and Noah Taylor, star Jesse Eisenberg "gives two excellent performances... [allowing] him to find new notes to both his trademark on-screen personas." If Ayoade keeps growing like this as a director, the sky's likely to be the limit.
Our Review: Kevin's A- verdict from TIFF last September
Release Date: Magnolia picked it up, and has set the film for a May 9th release.

"Snowpiercer"

"Snowpiercer"
Synopsis: In a future where Earth has been turned into a frozen wasteland, humanity's survivors are contained in a huge train, divided strictly by class, that endlessly circulates the planet. But the have-nots at the back have had enough, and mount a rebellion intended to take them all the way to the engine.
Verdict: Easily one of our most anticipated of the year, we started to worry if we'd ever see "Snowpiercer," the English-language debut of Korean master Bong Joon-Ho ("The Host," "Memories Of Murder," "Mother"), given the bubbling controversy over the film and Harvey Weinstein's intentions to release a severely truncated version. But the film opened in France uncut in October, and U.K. correspondent Oliver Lyttelton hopped across the Channel to catch it, and found it more than worth the trip, calling it "the best pure science-fiction film since 'Children Of Men.'" Building a "remarkably rich, coherent future world," melding "tones without them clashing," and with smart and complex politics underpinning "an inventive and exciting action film," it also features some excellent performances from a cast including Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and Song Kang-ho, among others. Fingers crossed that we all get to see the complete version before too long, otherwise there's going to be a lot of Blu-Ray importing going on.
Our Review: Oli's A grade review is here
Release Date: Who knows, but hopefully not far away.

The Wind Rises

More & Honorable Mention:
There are hardly only 21 films being released this year that we’ve already seen, but this felt like a manageable list. However, please bear in mind there are still some terrific choices in here (some of which we’re a little heartbroken about not being in the main list, but that’s compromise for you). Top of mind for us and battling for a spot on the main list were Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful animated swan song “The Wind Rises” and Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lelio’s drama “Gloria.” Miyazaki’s film is technically a 2013 movie as it did get an Oscar-qualifying run and ended up on a few of our Best of 2013 Top 10s as well as many other critics’ list, but it also technically doesn’t get a proper U.S. release until February 21. Either way, we wholeheartedly endorse it and encourage you to see it. You can read Oli’s review from Venice here. Lelio’s film falls into similar territory. It received an Oscar-qualifying run, but doesn’t arrive in theaters until January 24. But it also made Best Of 2013 Top 10s, particularly Jessica’s top 10, and we all felt so passionate about it we included it in a lot of our Best of 2013 coverage. Carried by a outstanding performance by Paulina García, there’s myriad reasons why we love “Gloria,” so we also fully encourage you to seek this one out. Here’s our review from Berlin and a New York Film Festival wrap-up that listed “Gloria” among the five favorite films seen. And also vying for a top spot was Jess's Cannes favorite "Borgman" (you can read her A- review here, and it made her 2013 Top Ten as well) which she alone from the team has seen as it hasn't got distribution yet, also the same case for Lisa Langseth's excellent "Hotell" which garnered another A- out of Marrakech. 

Like father, like son,  BY HIROKAZU KORE-EDA

And there's more: Quentin Tarantino’s favorite film of the yearBig Bad Wolves” obviously can’t help but be overhyped, but as a dark comedy thriller and exercise in revenge, coming later this month, you could do a lot worse (review here). Other films just missing the cut: Oliver really loved “Miss Violence” at the Venice film festival and it made his five best films list (review here). The wacked-out, mostly silent black comedy “'Moebius” also made a lasting impression during Oli’s stay in Italy (review here). Hirokazu Koreeda is one of Japan's best working directors today (his 2008 film, “Still Walking” is absolutely wonderful) so the intimate family drama "Like Father, Like Son" didn’t disappoint one bit (review here). The Australian made, Laos-set “The Rocket” is perhaps the greatest example of doing feel-good right, with a sentimentality that’s life-affirming rather than treacly (read our review here). Ari Folman's ambitious, nutty and partially animated "The Congress" starring Robin Wright, Paul Giamatti, Danny Huston, Jon Hamm Harvey Keitel and more debuted at Cannes and thrilled audiences at Fantastic Fest last year. Jess found it to be uneven, but still fascinating and we know the rest of the team still wants to experience it (review here). Also enjoyed at Fantastic Fest was “Grand Piano starring Elijah Wood (called “the best DePalma movie he never made”),and in Toronto, Catherine Breillat’sAbuse Of Weakness” and the black comedy “Don Hemmingway” starring a filthy and profane Jude Law and Richard E. Grant. “The Lunchboxout of TIFF featuring Irrfan Khan is definitely worthwhile as is “Palo Alto” starring Emma Roberts and The Railway Manwith Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, Lukas Moodyson’s “We Are The Best!” and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “The Young & Prodigious Spivet” (reviews to come soon on those last two).

Labor Day

Not so much “Best,” but films we saw in 2013 that are coming out in 2014 nevertheless, top of mind might be Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day” starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. A film that many of us have now caught up with it wasn’t quite the disaster some said it was out of Telluride, but it’s ill-suited material for Reitman to adapt. Some of us admire its commitment to its material—pitched somewhere between a soft thriller with a feminine bent and a soapy melodrama—and Reitman’s desire to try something completely out of his wheelhouse, but all of us agree it didn’t quite work (review here). Other films seen over the course of 2013 coming out in 2014, that we saw, but didn’t love (or in some cases totally disliked) include: “Hateship Loveship” starring the unlikely pair of Kristin Wiig and Guy Pearce, “Can A Song Save Your Life?” with Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, Jason Bateman’s directorial debut, “Bad Words,” “A Promise” starring Rebecca Hall, Atom Egoyan’s “The Devil’s Knot” with Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth, the Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis-lead “You Are Here by “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner, “In Secret” formerly known as Theresestarring Oscar Isaac and Elizabeth Olsen,Adult World” with John Cusack and Emma Roberts and Guillaume Canet's 70’s crime movie “Blood Ties," featuring the ensemble of Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, Marion Cotillard, Lili Taylor, James Cann and many more. If you’re extra-keen and want more 2014 films already seen, you could check out, all our Venice 2013 coverage, all our 2013 TIFF coverage, everything we wrote from Cannes 2013, everything from the 2013 New York Film Festival, Telluride, London BFI Film Festival, and Berlin. A few of these films will be playing Sundance 2014 too, so clearly the Utah programmers know how good they are too.

Which one of these films are you most anticipating or dying to see? Sound off below. And in case you missed it, here's our 100 Most Anticipated Films Of 2014 (i.e., the films we haven’t seen yet). -- Oliver Lyttelton, Rodrigo Perez

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


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates