For today's Tuesday Top Ten it's your last peek at Nathaniel's top ten list for 2014 until the official one at year's end. Only films that have already played theaters in regular release are eligible hence endearing indies like Happy Christmas (currently On Demand) or instant classics like Love is Strange or next weekend's highly raved openers (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Boyhood) cannot yet apply. Herewith my ten favorite pictures of 2014 thus far since we've already looked at favorite sights and favorite sounds.
You should see all of these movies. How many will stick around for the official top ten of 2014? I haven't a clue. That's half the excitement of drawing these invisible lines in the sand and waiting with hot anticipation for the rest of the year's wonders
TOP TEN FILMS OF 2014'S FIRST HALF
BEGIN AGAIN (John Carney) 104 minutes
Weinstein Co | June 27th| Box Office Rank of 2014 (At This Moment) #85 with $1.7 million
Like a new favorite song you can't stop playing, it's hard to even suss out why it's so damn loveable. My hunch is that its ephemeral endearments are powered by the combo of writer/director John Carney's sincere musicality (he captured lightning in a bottle with Once) and Keira Knightley's wonderfully relaxed but emotionally astute work as an abandoned musician who genuinely doesn't care about fame and fortune but has lots of love for music and people... whether or not they deserve it.
CAPTAIN AMERICA 2 (Anthony & Joe Russo) 136 minutes
Marvel/Disney | April 4th | Box Office Rank of 2014 (At This Moment) #1 $257 million
The best superhero film since the genre's peak in 2004 with that Spider-Man 2 and The Incredibles double-whammy and the best yet from Marvel Studios. I've probably raved enough this year but practically everything works from performance to action to theme and especially the firm sense of identity and character work at its core (here's a fine piece on that). That sense of self saves this superhero film from the generic problems that plague its genre. [Review]
CHILD'S POSE (Calin Peter Netzer) 112 minutes
Zeitgeist | February 19th | Box Office Rank of 2014 (At This Moment) #170 with $97 thousand
Romania's 2013 Oscar submission continues the super annoying but enormously familiar trend of gambling its entire US release strategy around an Oscar nomination that doesn't materialize. Which is a pity since gold statues aren't everything (Ida proves that memorable foreign films don't need any awards buzz at all to find their natural fanbases but more on that in a minute) and this arguably overripe melodrama about a rich bitch trying to cover-up her son's crime is gripping. [Review]
alien invasions, travelling nuns, and mouthy toys after the jump...
EDGE OF TOMORROW (Doug Liman) 113 minutes
Warner Bros | June 6th | Box Office Rank of 2014 (At This Moment) #19 with $90.8 million
If you'd told me that this summer would feature a movie that absorbs and alchemizes video game mentality and physicality and even narrative structure I would probably have said "gross!" and refused to see it. In fact I only went to see it due to the warm critical response after fearing exactly this. But Edge of Tomorrow manages to do that exact thing and still feel like cinema... instead of the boring 'if only I were a video game' emptiness of so many blockbuster setpieces and sometimes entire movies. [More]
GODZILLA (Gareth Edwards) 123 minutes
Warner Bros | May 16th | Box Office Rank 2014 (At This Moment) #6 with $197.9 million
What were the chances that the year's most derivative blockbuster based on a story that's been done dozens of times for the past 50+ years, would also prove to be the most artfully executed of the traditional blockbusters? I guess that's what you get when you hire an inventive fresh talent like Gareth Edwards who didn't need a big budget to make a stir (see: Monsters) but who knew what to do with the big bucks once he got 'em. I wish he cared as much about characterizations as superbly constructed visuals and inventive action beats but so few blockbusters do any of those things well to complain about one that gets two out of three right. [Review]
IDA (Pawel Pawlikowski) 80 minutes
Music Box Film | May 2nd | Box Office Rank 2014 (At This Moment) #73 with $2.8 million
Pawel Pawilowski isn't exactly a new discovery (remember My Summer of Love with Emily Blunt?) but his fantastic new film Ida, which finally surpasses his terrific breakthrough Last Resort (2001) as his best should considerably raise his reputation and profile. This precise, provocative, and vividly executed story about an orphan novice (Agata Trzebuchowska) on the brink of taking her vows in 1960s Poland is one of a kind. Ida is suddenly encouraged to leave the convent to meet her only living relative, a wordly Communist named Wanda (the brilliant Agata Kulesza), and the two women embark on a journey to uncover Ida's past. You won't be able to stop thinking about it once you've seen it.
Oscar Note: I believe, but am not certain, that this is eligible for Polish submission for Oscar this year; it seems to have opened in Poland right around the time of the dividing line between Oscar years (for foreign language movies that's September/October). They'd be smart to submit if it they can. It has, rather incredibly, just outgrossed last year's buzziest Oscar winner in the category (Italy's The Great Beauty) and all without the benefit of awards season to boost its profile and "it" factor. Its extremely successful US run will make it eligible in ALL Oscar categories apart from foreign film.
THE LEGO MOVIE (Phil Lord & Chris Miller) 100 minutes
Warner Bros | Feb 7th | Box Office Rank 2014 (At This Moment) #2 $257.1 million
Everything is NOT awesome when a movie that is essentially and proudly a shameless commercial to move toy product off shelves is not only a massive hit but a critical smash, too. But, you know, it's not a perfect world and we get the films we deserve from our consumer dollar histories. And as such this movie is a ton of clever fun. [Review]
SNOWPIERCER (Bong Joon-Ho) 126 minutes
Radius-TWC | June 27th | Box Office Rank 2014 (At This Moment) # 88 with $1.5 million
74% of you will die
...for it. The rest might well hate it but Bong Joon-Ho's grim, daring and often shocking dystopia, adapted from a French graphic novel, should be seen on the big screen (pity that Radius-TWC seems to have so little face in a movie with so many marketable elements. It arrives on VOD very soon despite performing quite well in limited release). Consider its in-your-face political verve, linear rushes of energy, visual inventiveness, quotable absurdities (many courtesy of Tilda Swinton - "be a shoe") and eclectic but mostly awesome global casting. It shouldn't feel so revolutionary for a sci-fi film to understand that the future will not be composed solely of white American men since, you know, the present already isn't. But it does all the same. Snowpiercer definitely isn't perfect but it shames the timidity and emptiness of a lot of action movies. [More]
STRANGER BY THE LAKE (Alain Guiraudie) 97 minutes
Strand Releasing | Jan 24th | Box Office Rank 2014 (At This Moment) #122 with $325 thousand
The brief but explicit gay sex is what got and kept people talking but it's hardly the sum total of what this French thriller has to offer. There's also formal beauty (those parking lot shots. squeee), confrontational sexual politics, smartly chill performances, and those brilliantly sustained parallel tracks of existential ennui and corporeal danger. [Review]
UNDER THE SKIN (Jonathan Glazer) 108 minutes
A24 | April 4th | Box Office Rank 2014 (At This Moment) #75 with $2.5 million
This eery dread-filled movie about an alien woman prowling for victims but unable to quell her curiousity about them is mesmerizing and demands to be seen again and theorized about. Jonathan Glazer, a true visionary (who we sincerely hope doesn't wait another ten years for film number four) is now three-for-three. If you haven't yet seen his entire filmography have yourself a triple feature this month of Sexy Beast, Birth and Under the Skin and be very alarmed that people aren't building shrines to him and worshipping daily.
a few more notes for the more obsessive/completist readers
FILMS I MISSED THAT I MEANT TO SEE (DVD TIME):
Only Lovers Left Alive, Non-Stop, Le Week-end, Locke, Blue Ruin, and We are the Best
FILMS I MISSED (ON PURPOSE):
Transformers: Age of Extinction, Amazing Spider-Man 2, 300: Rise of Empire (though my Eva Green love has me questioning that decision a bit)
FILM I WANTED TO LOVE AS MUCH AS EVERYONE ELSE BUT JUST COULDN'T GET THERE
Grand Budapest Hotel - Thrilled for Wes Anderson who has done so much great work. But still a wee bit mystified why it was this one that became so popular. The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom remain my favorites by a considerable margin. This would rank just above Life Aquatic for me (my least favorite) and roughly on par with The Darjeeling Limited which I like well enough but no more than that.
ONLY FILMS I SAW TWICE
Captain America: The Winter Soldier and How To Train Your Dragon 2 for similar reasons of double-checking my initial surprising response be that total love (the former) or surprising indifference / vague liking (the latter)
BEST MOVIE THAT'S STILL INSANELY W/OUT DISTRIBUTION
Xavier Dolan's Tom at the Farm
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me was an entertaining hoot. 2014 also saw the release of last year's amazing foreign film nominee The Missing Picture. Inexplicably Strand waited until AFTER its festival buzz / Oscar hoopla to open it. It arrived in mid March to dismal box office (only $52,000) missing its media window entirely.
WORST OF THE YEAR (THUS FAR)
Jersey Boys and That Awkward Moment
FILM THAT IS GREAT BUT MADE ME SO ANGRY WITH ITS 'DID IT OR DIDN'T IT?' OSCAR QUALIFYING CAGINESS
Chile's Gloria made my top twelve last year but more and more I suspect it did NOT go through with the 2013 qualifying run that its Academy paperwork promised it would... (each year the Academy releases a list of 250+ titles that are eligible in all categories but the list comes in early December, before some of the titles have actually gone through with it). Roadside Attraction did not respond to our inquiries this past January to determine that it was in fact eligible in 2013 so now I feel I've compromised my own awards since it definitely played theaters in 2014 (where it was a hit at the arthouse with a $2.1 million gross this past winter). I still love the movie but my god I hate the 'one week qualifier' system. Hate it hate it hate it. Films should not be eligible when they pull that peek-a-boo bullshit business but the Academy encourages it even though it's resolutely anti-moviegoer. Perhaps I should go back to my "only if it opens in NYC" rule and ignore Academy one-week qualifiers?