It’s June 30, the halfway point in 2014. So, although there’s many more movies to come in 2014 (including two I’ve already seen that will almost certainly make my Top 10 at the end of the year), it’s a good chance to take stock of my 10 favorite films thus far.
I’m not including films I saw at festivals, such as “Boyhood” and “Life Itself,” since they haven’t been commercially released yet. I’ve marked the ones out on DVD in case you missed them. Let me know in comments if I’ve overlooked any good ones.
1. “Under the Skin” — The first film in nine years from Jonathan Glazer (“Sexy Beast”) is like mainlining cinema, a heady mix of sci-fi horror, gritty working-class realism and bizarre art film, with Scarlett Johansson as a predatory alien in Scotland who gets too involved in her prey.
2. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” — Wes Anderson’s latest may be simultaneously his most purely enjoyable and saddest film, framing a madcap story of priceless paintings, vicious murderers and true love in a wistful ode to a long-lost time that might never have existed anyway. Out on DVD.
3. “Blue Ruin” — My full review is here. The Coen Brothers would be proud of this off-kilter revenge thriller, in which a homeless man tries to avenge the deaths of his parents years later, only to find himself pulled into a cycle of vengeance he can’t extricate himself from.
4. “The LEGO Movie” — My full review is here. A few rewatches while on vacation last week proved that everything is indeed awesome in this endlessly clever and funny animated hit, which somehow infuses a mega-blockbuster with a handmade charm. Out on DVD.
5. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” — Everything I wanted from a summer blockbuster I got back in April, as the Russo brothers basically make a Bourne movie with superheroes, with terrific action, an edge of paranoia and strong acting.
6. “Cheap Thrills” — My full review is here. Within the guise of an endlessly funny and bloody thriller, about two working-class guys drawn into an escalating game of dares orchestrated by a wealthy couple, is a smart and subtle satire of the American class struggle. Out on DVD.
7. “Ida” — My full review is here. This brisk and devastating film follows a young nun in 1962 Poland back to her hometown to learn what happened to her Jewish parents. Rarely have the political and the personal entwined so artfully.
8. “Stranger by the Lake” — My full review is here. A gay cruising spot at a French beach is the unlikely setting for a Hitchcockian thriller about the dangers of following your desires too far.
9. “The Lunchbox” — My full review is here. This crowd-ple asing Indian film, about strangers whose paths crosses when a lunch is delivered the wrong person, is crying out for an American remake. But I doubt a U.S. version will capture the original’s poignancy about individuals lost in a globalized world, surrounded by people but rarely connecting.
10. “Jodorowsky’s Dune” — My full review is here. The best movies never get made, some say, and Exhibit A is Alejandro Jodorowsky’s eye-popping treatment of the Frank Herbert novel that never got funded. Using storyboards and concept art, and Jodorowsky’s engaging storytelling, the documentary celebrates not only what would have been an amazing film, but the importance of dreaming big, even if those dreams never come true.