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The Best Films of 2014 So Far

Written by on June 25, 2014 

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With less than a week until 2014 crosses its halfway mark, it’s time to take a look back at the first six months of the year and round up our favorite films. While the end of this year will bring personal favorites from all of our writers, think of the below 25 films as a comprehensive rundown of what should be seen before heading into a promising fall line-up.

As a note, this feature is based solely on U.S. theatrical releases in 2014, with many currently widely available on home video, streaming platforms, or theatrically. Check them out below in alphabetical order, followed by ten films to keep on your radar for the back half of this year.

Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier)

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92 minutes of taut physical activity, morbid humor, and gruesome violence, Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is one of the year’s leanest and most impressive killing machines. Saulnier begins his film with quiet, character-building chapters, but once he sets his resourceful, pleasingly narrow plot in motion, Blue Ruin becomes nothing more than a series of sharp, vicious set-pieces founded on Nash Edgerton-like bursts of violence. The film is a good example of the kind of genre treat that gets points for disposable ambition: Saulnier’s technique is so controlled, and his sequence staging so clever, that nothing else really matters. – Danny K.

Borgman (Alex van Warmerdam)

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When placed amongst perhaps more “serious” work, it’s easy to see why Alex van Warmerdam‘s latest Dutch production, Borgman, might have got lost in the Cannes shuffle last year. Now arriving in theaters this month, there’s no reason one of the most entertaining and bizarre foreign exports of the year should be avoided. Following a mysterious, otherworldly figure invading a bourgeois family, much of the joy lies in the unexpected. Even if one doesn’t walk away with all the answers (and I don’t believe Warmerdam wants you to), you’ll be glad you took the journey. – Jordan R.

The Double (Richard Ayoade)

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Richard Ayoade’s The Double is darkly comic, unsettling, and visually stunning, with a perfect performance from Jesse Eisenberg as Dostoyevsky’s protagonist. So winning are Eisenberg’s “performances” as the unlucky drone and his brash, winking doppelganger — as are Ayoade’s shadow-filled visuals — that The Double feels like one of 2014’s most gobsmackingly original films. As is often the case when a tricky-to-categorize film emerges (see also: Under the Skin), The Double was unfairly ignored by some and saddled with obvious comparisons by others. (Yes, there are some Terry Gilliam-esque elements. No, it is not a Gilliam rip-off.) If anything, the tone calls to mind Tenant-era Polanski. How interesting that Polanski himself once attempted to film an adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s novel. I imagine he would nod with approval at Richard Ayoade’s creation. – Chris S.

Enemy (Denis Villeneuve)

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Director Denis Villeneuve‘s latest, Enemy, is a thriller that makes last year’s Prisoners seem cheery by comparison. This is a horror movie where, for the most part, nothing overtly horrific happens. Villeneuve’s film is a 90-minute nightmare that unsettles in small ways. It’s also hugely rewarding on repeat viewings. New details emerge that make Enemy both funnier and scarier and so many detail-packed frames will impact what you take away from the film. – Jack G.

Godzilla (Gareth Edwards)

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Whoa. What else can one say about this film? The taste of the prior American remake of Godzilla hadn’t yet been completely washed out of our mouths, but, thanks to a stellar marketing campaign that favored mood and atmosphere over bald spectacle, the anticipation for this new incarnation was high. Somehow, Gareth Edwards not only cleared the set bar, but did so with room enough to fit a 300-foot lizard. Thanks to his bold-for-the-time decision to keep the monster in the shadows, Edwards built up a level of heated anticipation and awe before unleashing a final-act climax that had audiences cheering and left people staggering out of the film still vibrating with excitement. This is old-school monster-movie making, the likes of which we all feared had been lost. – Brian R.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

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Wes Anderson can always be depended upon for a film people will be talking about toward the end of the year, and 2014 is no different — though since this list is the year so far, I guess we’re going to talk about it in the middle, too. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a showcase of everything that makes Anderson fans drool, from the meticulous tableau he creates to the quirky dialogue and cutaways. It also functions as a rebuke to anyone who finds Anderson to be a one-trick-pony: through an examination of the kind of person who strives to make an imperfect world seem perfect, Anderson creates a beautiful film and a powerful statement, as well as his most emotionally affecting and perhaps deeply personal yet. – Brian R.

Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)

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A black-and-white film about an orphan nun trying to find out about her family sounds like the kind of clichéd awards bait which could easily fall flat on its face. Pawel Pawlikowski manages to undermine those dire possibilities by making a subtle, affecting picture about long-buried secrets, as well as the conflicted dialogue between virtue and vice. The film is buoyed by the strong performances of its two leads, Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza, both of whom manage to bring real humanity to characters who begin as archetypes. Add to this base the way in which Ida delves deep into horrors wrought by war and attempts to construct some greater peace, and a film that sounds like a didactic one-act play becomes a moving, resonant glimpse into a very human profound in two people’s lives. – Brian R.

The Immigrant (James Gray)

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When James Gray rarely (if ever) made films in accord with his contemporaries, it should make more than a bit of sense that, on his biggest effort yet, he’d reach back nearly a century to tell the smallest of immigrant tales. The location which has served him so well over two decades of storytelling — a location he’s captured like no one else and made feel new — is reinvented yet again, at its center career-best work from Marion Cotillard. Her story, familiar though it might seem, is made fresh with small grace notes and careful gestures which build, over two hours, into a rapturous climax. (“You are not nothing.”) A great film that should only grow greater over time. – Nick N.

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