The Best Movies of 2014 So Far

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Photo: StudioCana

We're about to head into Oscar movie season, and with eight months of movies behind us, it's time to take stock. Here are the best reviewed movies of the year so far, according to Vulture's movie critics David Edelstein and Bilge Ebiri.

Big-Budget Extravagances

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
“The latest Apes picture, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is an excellent interspecies bromance between an ape and a man who’d like to live in peace but are surrounded by warmongering assholes.”

Guardians of the Galaxy
"Director James Gunn ... has a rare talent, one that George Lucas also had but few filmmakers working in this genre do: He can effortlessly cut between evocative worlds we’ve never seen before without losing sight of the action and the pace of his narrative."

Edge of Tomorrow
“The twisty, entertaining Tom Cruise vehicle Edge of Tomorrow is Groundhog Day reimagined as a sci-fi war game.”

X-Men: Days of Future Past
“[Bryan Singer]’s reborn — deft, elegant, spring-heeled — in X-Men: Days of Future Past. The special effects don’t bog him down: They lift the movie to a surreal and more emotional dimension.” 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
“Beneath the expensive, computer-generated busyness of this second Captain America installment is a bracing, old-style conspiracy thriller made extra-scary by new technology and the increasingly ugly trade-offs of a post-9/11 world.”

Lucy
“The new Luc Besson action picture Lucy is an outlandishly entertaining mixture of high silliness and high style.”

Animated Movies

The LEGO Movie
"A kids’ movie that matches shameless fun with razor-sharp wit, that offers up a spectacle of pure, freewheeling joy even as it tackles the thorniest of issues." 

Ernest and Celestine
"Gently parodic and full of visual whimsy, this French-Belgian animation about the friendship between a mouse and a bear has a simple story that even the youngest viewers could understand, yet it also possesses a refined, almost melancholy sense of goodness." 

The Nut Job
“Way more fun than its mid-January release date would have you believe, The Nut Job is a delightfully goofy slapstick cartoon with a surprisingly dark heart. A noirish heist flick about a group of hungry animals attempting to rob a nut store in an effort to stockpile food for winter, it’s the kind of movie whose surface frivolity masks all sorts of interesting things going on underneath.”

Documentaries

Life Itself
"Steve James’s Roger Ebert documentary, Life Itself, is a tender portrait of the late film critic, who managed to put an apparently Brobdingnagian ego to benevolent, ultimately life-affirming ends." 

Last Days in Vietnam
“In Rory Kennedy’s spectacularly moving documentary Last Days in Vietnam we see how, in late April, 1975, when the North Vietnamese made their swift and inexorable descent on the south, there was no organized plan for the evacuation of Saigon — of Americans or their South Vietnamese allies. It was the ultimate betrayal.”

Jodorowsky’s Dune
“When director Frank Pavich entertainingly traces the story of another unmade movie in the doc Jodorowsky’s Dune, he finds something surprising: a happy ending. Sort of.”

Manakamana
“Watching Manakamana is a transcendental experience, to be sure — almost a spiritual one — but I don’t know that it gives you a better understanding of these people or their world. Instead, it creates, through the aesthetic uniqueness of its vision and through the transformative power of cinema, a shared experience that did not exist before, in real life or on film.”

Rich Hill
“This vital documentary gives you a world of hurt, prescribes nothing, and calls the ultimate questions you can ask as an American.”

The Kill Team
“But there’s another sort of “war is hell” story that centers not on what’s done to us, but on what — given license to kill and a broad sense of entitlement — we’re capable of doing (or watching get done) to someone else. That’s the hell at the heart of Dan Krauss’s inconsolably moving documentary The Kill Team, an essential film no matter what your political convictions.”

What Now? Remind Me
“Perched between the cold, clinical world of illness and the redemptive world of nature, Pinto tries to show how time has slowed for him — not only due to the paralyzing effects of his treatment, but also because he’s more in touch with what’s around him. He gives the same scale to a dragonfly perched on a small branch as he does to a needle that might help save his own life.”

Foreign Fare

Ida
"The movie’s chill is hard to shake off. It’s a grimly potent portrait of repression, of what happens to a society that buries its past in an unmarked grave — and lives its present in a state of corrosive denial." 

Gloria
Gloria doesn’t lie about a woman’s dwindling options. It’s rife with disappointment and humiliation. But bleakness does not preclude buoyancy. It still manages to leave you with the urge to dance.”

Borgman
“Van Warmerdam has a way with images that are both playful and horrific, and you may find yourself chuckling at Borgman as much as you recoil at it. It’s destined for cult status.”

The Dance of Reality
“Jodorowsky’s fondness for the surreal and grotesque is in full evidence here. What makes his films so captivating, however, isn’t their strangeness, but their refusal to divide the world into good and bad, even when it’s easy to do so.”

 In Bloom
“Georgia’s entry for this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar, is less an indulgence in despair than it is a calculated accumulation of horrors designed to show violence percolating through a society. That makes it sound kind of wan and unpleasant, but it’s also electrifyingly well made.”

Stray Dogs
"There’s a real eerie quality to the film’s slipperiness. It’s unnatural, almost uncanny: The more we watch these people, the less we understand them.”

Indie Films

Boyhood
"I’m not saying Boyhood is the greatest film I’ve ever seen, but I’m thinking there’s my life before I saw it and my life now, and it’s different; I know movies can do something that just last week I didn’t. They can make time visible." 

The Grand Budapest Hotel
"The movie’s campy ingenuousness ... seduces you even as Anderson hints at the deadliness lurking in this high society’s margins."

Snowpiercer
"Now, at last, comes a fun dystopian sci-fi epic — a splattery shambles with a fat dose of social satire and barely a lick of sense." 

Starred Up
Starred Up is an edgy, teeming thriller, brilliantly disorienting, making strange a world we thought we knew, at least from other movies.”

Stranger by the Lake
“Set entirely at a lakeside hot spot for cruising gay men, Alain Guiraudie's film starts off like an odd romance, maybe even a mild comedy, before turning into a mystery and finally becoming … briefly, tantalizingly, something else.”

Love is Strange
Love Is Strange is drab-looking and has its longueurs, but it’s emotionally very full.”

Obvious Child
“It’s a sign of how far mainstream culture has been shoved to the right that a female protagonist having an abortion — a legal procedure, at least the last time I checked — is enough to turn a clever, modest comedy like Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child into a Momentous Event. In context, its modesty becomes it.”

Venus in Fur
“The play is best enjoyed as a goof on both feminist deconstruction and the male artist’s masochistic fantasies. It’s exhilarating proof, like much of Ives’s work, that parody can rise to the level of art.” 

Only Lovers Left Alive
“The movie has its longeurs, but once you get on its wavelength it’s hard to resist. Learning to love Jarmusch’s work means sensitizing yourself to the passion under what can sometimes seem snobbish and withholding — to the director’s genuine disgust with the drug that is mainstream pop culture and its corporate underpinnings.” 

The Immigrant
“Weinstein’s problem with The Immigrant might just be that it doesn’t end on that upbeat, Oscar-bait note that marks so many of his prestige projects ...But the movie earns its dissonances. It’s richer than anything onscreen right now.”

Under the Skin
"Proving again that space aliens have resonance beyond the multiplex, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin takes the horror genre in infectiously strange new directions.

Cold in July
“Mickle made one of the few excellent post-Romero zombie thrillers, Stake Land, and Cold in July is even more fun. He clearly relishes genre conventions and relishes even more turning them inside out.”

What If
“It might have all been a little too twee, a little too smug, or way too dark, but this talented cast carefully walks a very fine line. Thanks to them, the film remains romantic and light on its feet even as it depicts genuine emotional pain.”

A Master Builder
“Gregory and Demme have turned A Master Builder into (pardon my invoking the name of a Strindberg work) a dream play, and have made it once more madly, bitingly, chillingly alive.”

Coherence
“It’s an urbane dinner-party movie that turns into something magnificent, terrible, and strange…Coherence is a gentle film, but you walk away from it with your brain on fire.”

Locke
"Tour-de-force’ is such an overused term (by me as much as any other critic) that you’re apt to say, ‘Ho-hum, another one of those.’ But, really. This one is…Once you’ve taken this 90-odd-minute drive with Tom Hardy, you’ll never forget his face.”

Le Week-End
“Le Week-End
 is a marital ­disintegration–reintegration drama that opens with a dose of frost and vinegar and turns believably sweet—and unbelievably marvelous, in light of what had seemed a depressing trajectory.”