I always find this an interesting exercise. If the cinematic year ended 30 June instead of 31 December, what would the best films of the year be? Even more interesting is seeing how many of these films hold up at the end of the year once all the big awards contenders come out. I have not been reviewing as many films here because I just haven't felt the desire to. Now that I'm not trying to get into the Online Film Critics Society anymore, I can focus on quality instead of quantity. I still see just as many films as years past; I just don't review them all.
The best films of 2014 so far, in no particular order, follow after the jump.
Rigor Mortis is one of the most stunning and inventive haunted house films I've seen in a long time. The mix of Kung-Fu wirework effects with demonic possessions in a run-down apartment complex works. The stunt work is thrilling and terrifying, while the story is pure psychological horror. It's a slow-burn action epic and it works beautifully.
The Lego Movie
Everything is awesome in this film. The Lego Movie is cute, smart, funny, creative, and visually stunning. The diversity of effects, scenery, and action created with the building blocks still blows my mind. Plus, how can you not fall in love with Unikitty, Wyldstyle, and Benny? You can't. That's how.
Cthulhu, give me intelligent sci-fi films. Snowpiercer is the best film you probably won't get a chance to see this year. It is a dystopian allegory about capitalism and social structure with a literal conceit. The surviving world population lives on a train traveling across Eurasia and separated by cars into social class. An uprising occurs. Captain America fights The White Witch doing her best Margaret Thatcher impersonation. It's not perfect, but it's so ambitious and different you'll excuse the flaws.
Muppets Most Wanted
Chances are, if you throw The Muppets onscreen, I'm going to fall in love. Muppets Most Wanted is not an exception to this rule. The caper about a fake Kermit infiltrating the troupe to pull off a series of high stakes robberies is just funny. Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, and Ricky Gervais actually play broad enough to fit in with the critters populating the screen and it makes all the difference.
I wish someone could figure out a better marketing angle for Obvious Child than "it's a romantic comedy about abortion." I can think of two things wrong with that description. One, it's not a romantic comedy, it's a character study about a stand-up comedian dealing with the reality of her life after a bad breakup. Two, it's not really about abortion. Abortion is part of the story, yes, but it's a crisis of identity, not healthcare. Jenny Slate is phenomenal and deserves to be part of the awards discussion at the end of the year.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
This is how you expand the Marvel universe. You take an established cinematic superhero and actually embrace what makes him or her so compelling on the page. Captain America plus Black Widow equals a brilliant espionage thriller. I'm still leaning toward calling Captain America: The Winter Soldier the best superhero film of all time and that's saying a lot. It's really saying a lot since I'm not a Captain America fan at all and did not care for the first film.
Here's another film you probably won't get to see in theaters and that makes me said. Belle is a beautiful period drama inspired by the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the mixed race daughter of an admiral in the British navy. She has a certain level of privilege unavailable to other black citizens of England, yet the color of her skin prevents her from really living as well as her peers in the court. Belle is one of the smartest films about race and racism to come out in years and reminds people that, no, Europe is not and never has been a purely white continent.
And that's my list so far. I have not seen Grand Budapest Hotel, Only Lovers Left Alive, or Under the Skin yet, which all seem like they could fit into this kind of list.
What's my favorite film of the year so far? The Lego Movie. No question.
How about you? What are your top picks for 2014 so far? Let me know in the comments below.