With June over we are officially halfway through the year, months-wise at least. And since no one demanded it – here it is: my list of the best movies of 2014 so far.
In making this list for two reasons. 1) Having this handy will help me remember which movies are with revisiting come the end of the year, and 2) I had to write a review today, and this seems like an easy enough deal.
I composed this countdown by looking at my personal list of the best movies of the year (listed chronologically), and placing them in an order one by one, moving entries up and down as appropriate. I ended up with an order that I didn’t fully expect, but that I am not dissatisfied with. I’ve included links to my original review of each movie if applicable.
A note on star rating: All of the ratings that I cite come from my Letterboxd page. It rarely (if ever) give a movie 5 stars on the first viewing, so none of these movies will get have the ultimate rating. For now.
10. 22 Jump Street (dir. Phil Lord, Christopher Miller)
My original rating: 4.5 stars (6/14/14)
Metascore (via Metacritic.com): 71
What a smart, funny movie. I expect I’ll like it a little less if/when I rewatch it, but for now it is easily the hardest I have laughed in a theater all year. I was lucky enough to see it with a great vocal audience; the movie might suffer without that aspect. Those 4.5 stars may be a little drastic – I can admit that two weeks later.
9. Blue Ruin (dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
My original rating: 4 stars (4/27/14)
A sharp, moody thriller with some beautiful shots and incredible tension. This one stuck with me for a while after I saw it, and I definitely want to re-visit it sooner than later.
8. Neighbors (dir. Nicholas Stoller)
My original rating: 4 stars (5/10/14)
After seeing 22 Jump Street I declared it “better than Neighbors,” but look at this! While making this list I couldn’t really justify putting 22 Jump Street above Blue Ruin, so this is how the order shook out. Maybe a double feature a few months down the line could help elucidate my true opinion. Maybe 22 Jump Street is funnier, while Neighbors is the better movie? My heart may be a smarter film critic than my brain.
7. Snowpiercer (dir. Joon-ho Bong)
My original rating: 4.5 stars (6/12/14)
Snowpiercer is the only movie on this list of which I didn’t write a proper (or even improper) review. It was during the LA Film Fest, and I didn’t actually see it in the theater, so it just didn’t feel right to include in my coverage. Regardless, Snowpiercer is an excellent piece of original science fiction. I mean, yeah, it’s based on a graphic novel, but it’s not a sequel or a reboot so I’m not complaining. Chris Evans turns in a really good lead performance (how often can you actually say that?) and the story is engaging enough to justify the run time that Harvey Weinstein famously wanted to cut down. Snowpiercer was just officially released last week, so please forget about Trans4mers and see this instead.
6. Only Lovers Left Alive (dir. Jim Jarmusch)
My original rating: 4 stars (4/13/14)
Two excellent Tilda Swinton performances in a row? I’ll take it. Only Lovers Left Alive is a beautifully low-key look at relationships through the ages, helpfully represented by one relationship in particular. A relationship between two vampires. Leave it to Jim Jarmusch to take a played-out premise like vampire romance and actually make it meaningful and entertaining.
5. Locke (dir. Steven Knight)
My original rating: 4 stars (4/26/14)
Also known as The Tom Hardy Show. This practically-one man show is an experiment in filmmaking that pays off immensely. Essentially a “bottle movie” taking place entirely in Ivan Locke’s (Hardy) car as he drives from where he should be to where he needs to be, Locke takes everyday drama makes it intensely fascinating. That’s thanks in no small part to Hardy’s performance.
4. Obvious Child (dir. Gillian Robespierre)
My original rating: 4.5 stars (6/4/14)
Obvious Child kind of came out of nowhere at Sundance earlier this year, but it is a really funny and moving picture. Perhaps the most honest portrayal of how one might respond to an accidental pregnancy, those who fault Knocked Up and Juno for their forced narratives should absolutely check this one out. As should everyone else, because Jenny Slate and Gillian Robespierre are two talents with whom you’re going to want to get in on the ground floor.
3. The LEGO Movie (dir. Phil Lord, Christopher Miller)
My original rating: 4 stars (2/9/14)
The LEGO Movie was such a great surprise in the awful early months of the year. It’s crazy that a director would be on a best-of list twice in six months – especially when those movies are based on an 80’s TV show and a toy line – but Chris Miller and Phil Lord pulled it off. The LEGO Movie is intelligent and incredibly funny. Here’s the thing, I saw this movie back in February, so I could be running on fumes. This definitely demands a rewatch, and hopefully soon.
2. The Raid 2 (dir. Gareth Evans)
My original rating: 4.5 stars (3/25/14)
No movie elicited a greater reaction from me this year than The Raid 2. Of course that reaction was one of terror, but it was mixed with adrenaline and excitement. The sequel to Gareth Evans’s very excellent The Raid one-ups its predecessor in every way. More fights, more blood, more hammers. The one problem? That also includes “more story,” which is not The Raid 2‘s strongest suit. We’ll see if the story elements overshadow the exhaustively action-packed fight scenes on a re-watch.
1. Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer)
My original rating: 4.5 stars (4/6/14)
Under the Skin is not the funniest or the most exciting movie I’ve seen this year, but it is the one that made me think the most. It is almost a silent film, following Scarlett Johansson’s alien character around Scotland as she learns more and more about humanity. The visuals are stunning, as are the music and Johansson’s understated performance. I can’t really describe it. You’ll just have to see it. And then accuse me of being a snob for naming it “number one.”
Some honorable mentions thusfar include Bethlehem, Big Bad Wolves, Coherence, Edge of Tomorrow, Gloria, The Grand Budapest Hotel, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Ida, The Immigrant, Joe, Like Father Like Son, Mistaken for Strangers, Night Moves, Nymphomaniac Vol. I, Nymphomaniac Vol. II, The Rover, We Are the Best!, X-Men Days of Future Past.
I like this list so far. It isn’t all indie films, so I can’t be completely written off as someone who wants to sound hip and intellectual. There’s a good mix of drama, comedy, and genre films. I do feel a little conflicted about the underrepresentation of foreign-language films – it’s really just The Raid 2 (though Snowpiercer was made by a Korean director). Looking at my master list – which I won’t bore you with – most of the foreign films I have liked this year are bunched up at the bottom of my rankings. Hopefully that is more of a testament to the quality of the other movies I have seen than an indictment of my unconscious xenophobia. Another issue? Total lack of documentaries! Where are the issues this year? Let’s pick it up, guys.
Speaking of documentaries, one final thing: Steve James’s Roger Ebert bio-doc, Life Itself, would absolutely be on my list (probably at number 4) if not for the fact that it is still awaiting release. I love Life Itself and absolutely recommend you see it at your local arthouse when it comes out this weekend (so close to being eligible!).