Mid-Point 2014: Ethan Picks His 10 Favorite Films of the Year So Far
by Ethan Anderton
July 3, 2014
This year has been flying by, and it's hard to believe that it's already July. We've still got six more months of great movies on the way, including the latter half of summer and the entirety of awards season releases, but that doesn't mean we haven't seem some truly spectacular films hit the big screen so far. Therefore, it seems like a wholly appropriate time to countdown my 10 Favorite Films of 2014 So Far. It's hard to say whether or not any of these films will make my final list at the end of the year (but I feel good about a few of them), but these are definitely the ones I've enjoyed the most at this mid-point of the year 2014. See below!
#10. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Now I'm pretty sure this won't be on my year-end list, just because there's so many awards season films that will end up wowing me before 2014 is finished, but I couldn't help but throw this on my list of favorites from the first half of the year. Having seen the film in theaters twice now, not only is this my favorite X-Men film out of all of them, but it's one of the more clever ways to retcon some of the garbage that happened in X-Men: The Last Stand, while also ignoring the abomination that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It's a pseudo franchise reboot with great action, a story that is pure comic book spectacle, and just flat out fun.
It's nice to have Iron Man director Jon Favreau go back to his indie roots with something as charming as Chef. The film could actually stand as a metaphor for Favreau's experience with the motion picture industry, especially considering his problems with Marvel for Iron Man 2. In some ways that makes it more interesting for those who love cinema as much as I do, but for those who don't read the film in this fashion, it's still a delightful story about a father reconnecting with his son over a passion for delicious food, photographed in such a way that will make you hungry for hours after it's over. Plus, it's awesome to see John Leguizamo get some significant screentime in a great supporting role.
#8. Blue Ruin
This was a film that I went into at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival absolutely blind, knowing very little and having seen no trailers, and it couldn't have been a more satisfying experience. This quiet, grounded and stirring revenge thriller features a remarkable breakthrough performance from Macon Blair, and an intense game of cat and mouse as a man disheveled by the murder of his parents seeks out those responsible, and delivers his own brand of justice. It's basically a contemporary western, complete with a satisfying appearance by Devin Ratray, who you might know as Buzz from Home Alone.
#7. They Came Together
There's going to be plenty of haters when it comes to this particular pick, mostly because the trailer for David Wain's latest comedy wasn't particularly flattering. But trust me when I tell you that this is a brilliant send-up of romantic comedies that calls back to the masterful comedy of Airplane! and Young Frankenstein. This isn't some awful Friedberg & Seltzer spoof, but a parody that has an affection for what's being skewered while still having brilliant comedic edge that knows just when it's all right to be completely random and nonsensical. This might even be better than Wet Hot American Summer.
#6. The Raid 2
Action sequels are hard to crack, and rarely live up to the standards set by the first film. But with The Raid 2, director Gareth Evans not only ups the ante, but goes all in with some of the most incredible action I've ever seen on film. It's swift, hard-hitting, bone-breaking and bloody, and it has a seedy, gritty criminal underworld to go with it. Seriously, some of the action scenes in this movie are simultaneously beautiful and exhausting. You feel every punch, kick, slice and smash, and it makes me think that Evans needs to teach some kind of class so some American filmmakers learn how to really direct an action movie again.
#5. 22 Jump Street
All right, there's a lot of sequels on this list, but it's been an absolutely great year for the second chapter of new franchises from the past few years. And this time, it's all the more surprising because comedy sequels are even harder to make than other follow-ups. Thankfully, Phil Lord & Chris Miller bring the thunder all over again with a hilarious movie that also sends up the tropes of sequels in the perfect tongue-in-cheek fashion. Channing Tatum might actually outdo Jonah Hill on the comedy side of things this time around, but they both make for some gut-busting action comedy. Plus, that end credits sequence is the best.
#4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Yes, one more sequel, but again, this particular second installment in the Marvel franchise had just as much to love as a film in general as opposed to just another comic book sequel. First time feature filmmakers Anthony & Joe Russo took their love of 70s political thrillers and injected it into the Marvel universe with spectacular results that make the longer running time go by like a breeze. This sequel has substance, superb action, fantastic performances and if it wasn't for the presence of superheroes, could easily be mistaken for a Jason Bourne or James Bond adventure. Hail Hydra.
#3. Life Itself
It's bittersweet knowing that legendary film critic Roger Ebert gets such a lovely life story told in this documentary by Steve James, and even moreso knowing that he didn't live to see how his story impacts the very critics that he inspired over his impressive career. Moving, honest and full of life, this documentary is sentimental without being phony, because that's what Ebert would have absolutely hated. With talking heads from cinema's finest like Martin Scorsese and Werner Herzog, this is a must-see for anyone who loves filmmaking. And yes, this doesn't release until July 4th, so it's a bit of a cheat on this mid-point list.
#2. The LEGO Movie
That's right, ladies and gentlemen, Phil Lord & Chris Miller landed twice on this list. When the idea of a movie using LEGO bricks was announced, everyone thought that Hollywood had jumped the shark and nuked the fridge. But then the movie hit theaters, and we were all blown away. With the same self-aware comedy that made 21 Jump Street and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs so good, The LEGO Movie was imaginative, splendid and likely the best possible way to use the LEGO brand to inspire a film. Will Arnett's Batman is even better than either of the versions Joel Schumacher made.
Everyone is going to have to cut me a break with my top pick, because it doesn't hit theaters for general audiences until July 11th. However, I was lucky enough to catch the film at Sundance in January, and it's played at several other festivals since then, so I figured it wasn't really cheating. Plus, this film is just so damn astounding and magnificent that everyone needs to know how much it beckons to be seen as soon as possible. Richard Linklater shot the film over 12 years, with the same actors, making for one of the most raw, genuine and moving coming-of-age tales ever told. There's never been a narrative film like this, and there may never be again. This is a cinematic achievement and treasure that should be held in the highest regard, and will mostly likely end up with some Oscar love next year.
So there you have it. These are my favorite films of the year so far. Keep in mind that there are some limited releases and whatnot that simply haven't come close enough for me to see. For example, I'm not seeing Snowpiercer until this weekend and also missed The Rover, The Double, Under the Skin, Only Lovers Left Alive, Locke, Enemy, Cold in July and more. Also, before anyone complains, The Grand Budapest Hotel would have been #11 with Obvious Child coming right behind it at #12 and probably Neighbors at #13. Now it's your turn. What are you favorite movies of 2014 so far? Tell us below!