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The Best Films Of 2014 So Far...

Features
by The Playlist Staff
June 3, 2014 12:05 PM
38 Comments
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Here's a bold statement: 2014 is looking like a pretty damn good year for movies so far. We've had a few strong ones in a row (2011, 2012 and 2013 were all overflowing with goodness), but a little less than halfway through this year, and the discerning moviegoer has been spoiled with choices. Of course, there's been a lot of swill, but from the blockbuster to tiny foreign indies, there's been plenty worth checking out.

As is traditional once it gets to June, we've sat back and taken stock, and picked out the very best movies of 2014 (so far). In fact, there's been so much goodness on offer that we could fill the list a couple of times over solely with films we've seen at 2014 festivals. But while that's certainly been the story of our 2014, it's not particularly representative of the what's been going in the U.S. theaters, so we've strictly limited ourselves to a slightly uneven split between films that have actually already been released, and those that we've seen at a festival (Sundance, SXSW, Berlin, Tribeca or Cannes) that either have 2014 dates slated, or we strongly suspect/hope that they will. 

But we're also keen to know what you've enjoyed in 2014, at festivals, in theaters or on VOD—let us know your own favorites of the year so far in the comments section. And read our choices below...

Best Films That Have Been Released In 2014

"Blue Ruin"
There are plenty of scuzzy revenge-type American independent genre movies out there, but for one to premiere at Cannes Directors' 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 2013 (read Gabe's A- review). The story of a vagrant who 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, is a bravura follow-up to "Murder Party" by director Jeremy Saulnier. Our reviewer 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." It got a small release, through Radius/TWC in April, but it more feels like the kind of film that people, especially genre fiends, will be discovering and obsessing over on home video formats for years to come. 

"The Double"
"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 (Kevin's A- verdict). Following mild-mannered office drone Simon James as his life takes a dark turn when a doppelganger named James Simon joins his company, soon winning over colleagues and the girl that he secretly loves, as Kevin said in Toronto, the film "matches its visual consistency with a narrative rhythm that is utterly engaging," with a gorgeous look from DP 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." Magnolia released the film for a very limited run in May, and it's one well worth the bother of seeking out if you still can. 

"Edge Of Tomorrow"
With the whopping great exception of "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," it's actually been a pretty good year for blockbusters so far: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "Godzilla" and "X-Men: Days Of Future Past" have all had much to recommend them, even if none were flawless. But the best of the batch, at least so far, is not one that we were expecting: Tom Cruise vehicle "Edge Of Tomorrow," which has started rolling out internationally and arrives in U.S. theaters on Friday. Doug Liman's film is a rarity for a summer tentpole: a big movie that's not a sequel, and not based on a well-established household name property. Its DNA is familiar, to some extent, taking the conceit of "Groundhog Day" and layering it on to a sci-fi war picture, with a overwhelming hint of World War II (the film centers around a D-Day style invasion of alien-occupied Europe from the U.K.). But Liman, making his best movie in at least a decade, combines the elements into something that feels fresh, aided by a script that's significantly smarter than it needs to be, and giving the action sequences an energy and clarity, doing for the sci-fi flick what he did for the spy movie with "The Bourne Identity." Cruise has his best mainstream role in eons, the film initially making him a very unsympathetic, cowardly figure and letting him earn the audience's trust, in part thanks to Emily Blunt, who's instantly iconic in a welcome kick-ass female co-lead (a rare example of Cruise genuinely sharing the spotlight). The film doesn't stick the landing, and it should be said that there are one or two naysayers on staff (contrast Drew Taylor's rave review with Gabe Toro's counterpoint pan of the film), but most of us are firmly of the belief that "Edge Of Tomorrow" is the blockbuster of the year so far.

"Enemy"
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," a thriller about a professor who discovers he has a doppelganger, 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 Mélanie 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." A24 released the film back in March, but if you missed it, no fear: it hits DVD and Blu-ray on June 24th.

"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
One would think that it would have been hard to top the reaction to Wes Anderson's last film, 2012's "Moonrise Kingdom," which won plaudits as it opened Cannes and proved to be his most critically and commercially successful picture since "The Royal Tenenbaums" over a decade earlier. But less than two years later, Wes was back, and the reaction to "The Grand Budapest Hotel" was even warmer: it won rave reviews, and has proven a legitimate arthouse box office smash, taking in over $150 million so far, more than twice his previous best haul, and a bigger take than other hefty pictures like "The Monuments Men," "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" and "Transcendence," among others. It's particularly satisfying because the film reaches something like peak Wes: featuring his biggest and most expansive cast, toplined by a performance of unexpected comic genius from Ralph Fiennes (virtually matched by newcomer Tony Revolori), intricately told in homage to Stefan Zweig, and more like an impossibly beautiful cuckoo clock/wedding cake combo than ever before. Frequently hilarious, but undercut with a deep thread of melancholy, the film does leave you sad, rather than uplifted. But, as Jessica Kiang said in her review from Berlin, "It is indeed a strange thing to feel a little sad at the absence of something that you never had, but where on earth in the real world might we ever encounter such craft, such dedication to beauty, such attention to detail? Perhaps nowhere, except in a Wes Anderson movie." The film is still in some theaters, and comes to DVD and Blu-ray on June 17th.

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

38 Comments

  • Claudia | July 22, 2014 8:27 PMReply

    Clouds of Sils Maria should be on that list with all the talk it got at Cannes. Lots of praises for that one movie alone.

  • mohit | July 22, 2014 7:17 PMReply

    u r so stupid u forgot no 1 movie transformers,which is the highest groosing movie of 2014 and about to beat avengers

  • Ahem | July 21, 2014 10:05 PMReply

    BEACH PILLOWS

  • Stergios | July 19, 2014 7:48 PMReply

    "The Immigrant" is a masterpiece of filmmaking. Marion Cotillard should take home her second Oscar for her haunting performance no matter what.

  • Achmad Chafid Chabibi | July 15, 2014 1:01 PMReply

    no calvary ?

  • Jones | June 29, 2014 2:44 PMReply

    I Origins impressed me. Mike Cahill is slowly becoming one of my fav directors.

  • Jamie | June 29, 2014 2:37 PMReply

    Never been a fan of period dramas, but after watching BELLE, that movie changed my mind. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • Doris | June 29, 2014 2:35 PMReply

    Absolutely loved The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby HIM + HER! Amazing performances by both Chastain and McAvoy. After watching these films, I've excited to see what Ned Benson comes up with in the future.

  • Walter | June 27, 2014 9:21 PMReply

    As the movies that the Playlist staff truly love oft mirror mine, I unsurprisingly agree with nearly everything on this list as well as the reasoning therein.

    In terms of omissions or tweaks..

    I think Borgman should be bumped up from the Honorable Mentions section for it's disquieting gonzo uniqueness alone, if not it's subversive sense of humor. The most freakishly mystifying and mesmerizing film going experience since Upstream Color.

    Also, The Rover needs to be at least Honorably Mentioned, and in my opinion on the outright list of best 2014 movies thus far released. Majestic yet stark in images and themes.

    On the doc front, I believe Tim's Vermeer at least deserves an Mention as well. A insightful outsider examination of the art and the artists that create it.

  • Gerard Kennelly | June 17, 2014 4:51 PMReply

    my local cinema shows indie /foreign films as part of a film club

    may 15 i went to see STARRED UP

    just blew me away

    performances were astonishing

  • steve barr | June 9, 2014 6:42 PMReply

    Harvey Weinstein is a fool . The Immigrant should be nominated for picture , actor, actress , director , screenplay ,cinematography and editing . I also can't wait for Kill The Messenger .

  • Stergios | July 19, 2014 7:46 PM

    Couldn't agree more with you. Harvey Weinstein should be ashamed of himself for dumping a film like "The Immigrant". Gray's masterpiece should sweep all the awards and Marion Cotillard should definitely win Best Actress in Oscars 2015 for her groundbreaking performance as Ewa Cybulska.

  • Jordan | June 8, 2014 1:29 PMReply

    The Rover should be on this list. Allocine France has it as their #2 film this week, and it's getting Oscar buzz out of the Sydney Film Festival. This is going to turn out to be the little film that could. It's a film that resonates, long after you leave the theater.

  • Howard Schumann | June 8, 2014 12:05 AMReply

    Though it played at film festivals in 2013, as far as 2014 releases are concerned, it is hard to believe that you overlooked Sam Fleischner's "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors", one of the best reviewed films of the year.

  • eleonore | June 4, 2014 3:27 PMReply

    You should try to catch "My Blind Heart" by the Viennese Peter Brunner. Saw it at Rotterdam and it shifted my life.

  • Ruddy | June 4, 2014 11:25 AMReply

    "The Mend" should be on this list. Saw it in Maryland. strange and terrific.

  • TC | June 3, 2014 11:03 PMReply

    Three things:

    1) "The Lego Movie" is the most disappointing overhyped piece of work released thus far this year - I expected an A list movie and got only a C in it's place.

    2) Where is "Tom At The Farm" and is it EVER going to get a US release? I finally got to see this at Boston's LGBT festival, and it is Dolan's best work yet - a dash of Hitchcock, a flourish of Welles, and Dolan's eye for amazing camerawork make it a truly incredible film.

    3) Miles Teller - "Teller continues to prove that "he's the best young male actor in America," - HONESTLY? Teller is fine when he gets roles that he can play - but he was so "spectacularly" miscast in "The Spectacular Now" that it ruined the entire film, at least for me and for almost everyone I know that saw it. What I've seen of "Whiplash" looks good, but not perfect - but then again, the Sundance Grand Jury winners rarely are actually as good as everyone in Park City usually thinks they are. As for the "best young male actor in America (what phrasing - Male actor - I have always HATED that BS), He's good if he's not miscast, but I can think of at least ten young actors who could run rings around Teller in that department IMHO...and he's co-starred with at least two of them in various projects (and NO I'm not talking about Zac Efron, either...)

  • Rick | June 19, 2014 12:05 PM

    I liked him a lot in The Spectacular Now. Never read the book though. Are you basing miscasting because you previously read the book?

  • Shay | June 4, 2014 9:24 PM

    Teller was fantastic in The Spectacular Now. He was much better than Theo James in Divergent. And I can't think of ten young actors under 27 who are any better than him.

    He's going to have a long and varied career, IndieWire is right.

  • howardhughes | June 3, 2014 8:55 PMReply

    Ida is easily the best movie of the year!

  • Susan | June 3, 2014 6:13 PMReply

    Sorry, my favorite was/is "The Railway Man" with Colin Firth. Tired of big blockbusters with a lot of special effects, crash, bang, etc. and no great story.

  • PGO | June 3, 2014 6:00 PMReply

    I disliked Amazing Spider-Man but thought this sequel was MUCH better. I thoroughly enjoyed that film even as much as Captain America: Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past. All the hate it is getting leaves me baffled. And when I read reviews it's all nitpicking at personal preferences.

  • PRG | June 3, 2014 5:46 PMReply

    Two movies (Only Lovers and The Double). Slay, Mia, slay.

  • Daniel | June 3, 2014 5:17 PMReply

    Oh man I thought Calvary was absolutely brilliant, don't think it was that flawed, it was incredibly funny and pretty powerfully moving, loved the performances. Its my second favorite of the year so far after The Double which was stunning.

    Agree about the rest of the films (that I've seen) like Skin, Budapest, Only Lovers, Starred Up, Frank but I'd also add TRACKS because its a beautiful little film.

  • Brandon | June 8, 2014 11:59 PM

    "Tracks" isn't going to be released in the U.S. until the fall, but I saw it at a festival and it has really stuck with me. Mia Wasikowska turns in a memorable performance. It's a wonderful, beautiful film, my favorite so far that I've seen this year.

  • Blue | June 8, 2014 9:54 PM

    Yes, TRACKS is a moving spiritual experience, with an heartbreaking performance from Mia Wasikowska.
    I hope more recognitions for her talent and versatility, especially this year, that she shines also in David Cronenberg's MAPS TO THE STARS.

  • Laura | June 3, 2014 4:17 PMReply

    No one is buying edge of tomorrow tickets on fandango, so I think it is going to be a USA box office flop.

  • robthom | June 3, 2014 3:27 PMReply

    Blue Ruin looks interesting.
    I like movies about violence that are dramatic instead of music videos.

    People keep saying that edge of tomorrow is pretty good,
    but I'll never know because I dont watch tom cruise movies.

    I might check out Locke, I'm becoming more and more impressed with Tom Hardy.

    Eisenberg seems like a nice enough guy, but there's just something irritating about him.
    Gonna have to skip that one and the one were he plays lex luthor.
    (Still haven't seen the social network either.)

    I'll watch anything with Jenny Slate in it.

    Like a Gilliam movie, a Jarmusch movie is always at least worth the time.

    Didn't really care for Snowpiercer, I cant remember why exactly.
    I just remember seeing it and not caring for it.

    I dont know who Jonathan Glazer is, but I'm always game for a cult SF morality tale.

    Never liked anything linkleter has done.
    He just seems hipster and mildly talented like cameron crowe.

  • Ret | June 3, 2014 3:09 PMReply

    Under the Skin was an awful, awful movie. There was next to no plot, and whatever little there was, was never explained and horribly concluded. Johansson is a wooden plank and is one of the worst actresses today.

  • Ret | June 4, 2014 12:53 AM

    @Ret Eats Balls

    Wow, you're mature. The movie is a piece of crap. It's visual masturbation at its worst.

  • Ret eats balls | June 3, 2014 4:23 PM

    Pleebs can't hang with Under The Skin, but it's f*king masterful.

  • Robthom | June 3, 2014 3:28 PM

    Was it terrible?
    :)

    I'm not sure Scarlett is the most expressive actress in the biz.
    But arguably the most beautiful.

  • SilverScreenRiot | June 3, 2014 1:33 PMReply

    Seen a good half of these and agree for the most part, though you've left off a good number of festival gems and otherwise great features including Wetlands, Starry Eyes, The Raid 2, The Guest, The Skeleton Twins & Sequoia. Oh and Cheap Thrills if that's counting as a 2014 film.

  • Xander | June 3, 2014 12:50 PMReply

    I like your list, but I'm surprised at one omission. By far, one of the best flicks I've seen this year is Tim's Vermeer. This amazing documentary analyzes, in equal parts, art and obsession. Penn and Teller, and Tim Jenison himself, provide plenty of levity, but ultimately you'll have to pick your jaw up off the floor by the end of the film.
    I know that the picture premiered in Toronto last year, but it's theatrical release wasn't until this January. I happened to see it at the excellent True/False festival (you should cover that docu-fest next year--or have me cover it!) and was thrilled to be able to ask Jenison a few questions afterwards.

  • uu | June 6, 2014 11:15 AM

    That was first released in Nov or Dec or 2013 for Oscar contention.

  • DG | June 3, 2014 12:48 PMReply

    Under The Skin, Enemy, and Blue Ruin are tops for me. I almost can't imagine a movie I like more than Under The Skin coming out again ever

  • Dede | June 19, 2014 6:28 PM

    I agree. Under the Skin is an experience. One of the tops this year.

  • robthom | June 3, 2014 3:35 PM

    So you say under the skin was pretty good.
    I'll have to see for myself.

    (And any excuse is a good enough excuse to gaze at Scarlett Johansson.)

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