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The Best Films of 2014 (So Far)

The Best Films of 2014 (So Far)

This past weekend, a few million assholes shelled out $100 million to see Transformers: Age of Extinction. As we take the rest of the week off and recall the wonderful movies we’ve screened so far in 2014, it is hard to believe that people are still spending their $12 to see Michael Bay and some moronic robots blow shit up. We hope this list inspires you to choose something else at the multi-plex. Thank you for reading. New content will resume on Monday. – David Harris

budapestThe Grand Budapest Hotel (Dir. Wes Anderson)

Wes Anderson’s best movie? That will forever be up for debate, since when a director is this good, every movie he releases enters into the fight. But is it the movie in which he most beautifully expresses his love for the good life – for the unrepentant aesthetes who, like Ralph Fiennes’ world class concierge, M. Gustav, will defend lavish dinners and ski weekends and masterpiece artworks and all the beauty that the modern world offers against any and all forces that threaten them (in this case a Nazi-esque menace sweeping across Europe and brainwashing its old guard)? Grand Budapest is that movie, Anderson’s most densely designed and thrilling film, yet simultaneously his most passionate statement for the preservation of art – and all of the pleasures that surround it – against any and all corruptions. – Alex Peterson

missing-pictureThe Missing Picture (Dir: Rithy Panh)

As a lesson in the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge The Missing Picture is a compelling autobiography, but director Rithy Panh takes things much further, focusing his attention on the control Pol Pot and his followers took over the documentation of their own activities. There is no (non-propagandistic) filmed footage of the period remaining, necessitating the abstraction of Panh’s story via clay figures and opening the film up to the question of how we ascertain, study, document, and pass on reality. As such, The Missing Picture is both a search for a truth and a necessary re-articulation of it, a documentary not just about the Cambodian Genocide, but also about the indexical and documentarian qualities of film and its uses/misuses. With Rithy Panh at the helm, either would likely be a worthy subject on its own—indeed, Panh has made documentaries about the Khmer Rouge before—but with the way he weaves them together, the effect is amplificatory. – Forrest Cardamenis

immigrantThe Immigrant (Dir: James Gray)

Most American immigration narratives focus on the positive aspects of starting over in the new world, the hope, promise and renewal that most new citizens never got to cash in on in their own lifetimes. Such rosiness isn’t enough for James Gray, an acute observer of outsider stories and American experiences, who brings the often sepia-toned world of the early 1900s to vivid life in his stunning The Immigrant. Moving backward from his usual focus on decaying institutions and fractured families living in the shadow of New York City, he digs into the historical root of these issues, creating a simultaneously cynical and humanistic portrait of one woman’s agonizing integration into a cold, confusing society, a muddled world of refinement and barbarity where everyone has their own motives, inspirations and painful origin stories. – Jesse Cataldo

boyhoodBoyhood (dir: Richard Linklater)

Richard Linklater has long been fascinated by how to capture time in his films, from the hours-long confines of the individual Before films to their overarching sense of passing years. Nothing compares to Boyhood however, filmed in piecemeal over 12 years. If the resulting feature inevitably feels like the stitched-together series of short films that it is, it nonetheless revolutionizes the coming-of-age film through structural literalism, even as some of the plot elements (abusive step-parents, teenage pretentiousness) hardly break the mold. To see the children actually growing up puts pathos into clichés like the arduous reconnection with a deadbeat dad, or the stress of a single, intermittently remarried mother who does everything for her kids to the point that she genuinely does not know what life has for her when they set off for college. Stately and elegant, the film nonetheless drew gasps from the audience when kids grew a foot and their voices dropped an octave over the span of a single edit, and never before has Linklater so successfully bridged his experimentalism with ability to work a crowd. – Jake Cole

wearethebesWe Are the Best! (dir: Lukas Moodysson)

Director Lukas Moodysson has shown remarkable artistic growth and maturity in the years since his well-received family dramady Together (2000), and this is undeniably evident in his recent feature We Are the Best! (2013). Tough, heartwarming and hilarious, We Are the Best! chronicles the antics of an all-girl punk band in 1980s Stockholm. Klara, Bobo and Hedvig, three young teens who are saddled with goofy hippie parents, sexist teachers and the isolation of a Swedish winter, shrug off the arrival of New Wave — “Punk is dead!” they’re told, repeatedly, by their culture-conscious schoolmates — and embrace the music they love, it’s lack of popularity be damned. Rather than indulge in overwrought speeches or heavy metaphor, the girls conquer everything and everyone around them by sheer enthusiasm and by refusing to be anyone but themselves. The direct, no-frills cinematography and moderately subdued color palette give We Are the Best! a somewhat documentary feel, as do several ad-libbed scenes of the trio learning their instruments. The performances of all three leads — Mira Barkhammar, Liv LeMoyne and Mira Grosin — are terrific without exception. We Are the Best! is funny and touching and all too real, and one of the best films of this year. – Stacia Kissick Jones

dunejJodorowsky’s Dune (Dir: Frank Pavich)

It’s a documentary about a movie that was never made by a challenging cult director trying to adapt an unfilmable science fiction classic. But within this very specific niche, director Frank Pavich finds universal themes. His subject, director Alejandro Jodorowsky, is one of the most charming, charismatic figures you will see in any movie, fact or fiction, all year. Jodorowsky says things that would sound arrogant, outrageous and even offensive from anybody else, but his childlike innocence and passionate conviction is completely infectious even when he’s telling the story of personal creative heartbreak. On the surface, Jodorowsky’s Dune is about a movie that doesn’t exist, but it runs much deeper than that. It’s about something as corny as following your dreams and believing in yourself. – Pat Padua

 

oculusOculus (Dir: Mike Flanagan)

Horror cinema is a multifaceted genre, but the best examples are often those that begin from an introspective starting point. The scariest horror films aren’t concerned with what might be scary, they’re more interested in why something is scary. Val Lewton’s deeply psychological chillers (Cat People, The Seventh Victim); George Romero’s allegorical permutations (Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead); Michael Haneke’s cerebral parables (Funny Games, Cache): these films and their ilk explore fear from the ground up, starting with base human instincts and moving into phantasmagoric territory. Oculus, a supernatural thriller directed by Mike Flanagan, is a shrewd examination of our memory’s malleability and the way past trauma shapes our present selves. In the film, a brother and sister (Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillan) in their early 20s reunite in their childhood home, the site of their parents’ grisly deaths 10 years prior. The sister is convinced a possessed mirror turned their parents into homicidal maniacs, while the brother considers her memory a coping mechanism for what he remembers as an extremely dysfunctional family life. The film incorporates multiple storylines to account for what really happens, but as the film progresses, plotlines begin to overlap, override, and contradict one another, creating a self-reflexive experience not unlike those found in the films of Jacques Rivette. The spooky mirror at the center of it all is nothing more than a Macguffin; the scariest thing about Oculus is how it subverts conventional movie comforts and subjects its viewers to more than few unreliable narrators. The effect is disorienting, hallucinatory and terrifying. — Drew Hunt

snowpiercer1Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho)

In a well-publicized spat, the Weinsteins tried to convince Bong Joon-ho to cut more than 20 minutes out of his latest film. Even though Snowpiercer is punishing and does feel its length, it is no longer than the bloated comic book films we see each year. Cutting anything from this version of the film would be a crime. It makes sense the Weinsteins wanted to make the film easier for American audiences to enjoy. Snowpiercer does not expect to quell audiences by blowing the shit out of things. It doesn’t compromise in its message, one that can be difficult for folks looking just for mindless entertainment to stomach. Like Cloud Atlas, Snowpiercer is chockfull of rich ideas, inventive scenes and some truly horrifying violence. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy earned many kudos for its turn towards the realistic in its violence. If Snowpiercer makes it way to your cinema, you will hard pressed to find a better film out there this year. – David Harris

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