10 Best Films of the Year… So Far

Tilda lying down with books all around, in the only lovers left alive

We’re halfway through the year, folks. Which means it is summertime. Yay! Also, in the movie calendar, it’s when Hollywood spews out its annual roster of ridiculously expensive blockbusters. Yay? The jury is still out on that one…

It is, however, a perfect opportunity to take stock of the past six months and ask: which films stood out from the crowd? Given how strong 2012 and 2013 proved—with so many five-star flicks released, it felt like we were in the middle of a golden age—will 2014 be the comedown? Fat chance! It’s already shaping up to be another knockout.

Top: Tilda Swinton as Eve in Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive.”
her movie by spike jonze, joaquim phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Theo, a man who meets the love of his life: a computer.

Her

In Spike Jonze’s very beautiful sci-fi love story, a lonely dude (Joaquin Phoenix) falls for with his computer’s operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). One can’t help but think that in the future our relationships with computers and robots will turn increasingly sexual. I mean, the way some people swoon over their MacBook Pros and iPhones, we’re already halfway there! “Her” might well be a prophecy of things to come.

tilda drinking blood in the only lovers left alive
This eccentric take on vampire mythology is simply wonderful.

Only Lovers Left Alive

Jim Jarmusch’s tale of bored vampires is that rarest of things: a perfect work of art. Seriously, it’s perfect. That’s not just blind opinion, either! Okay, it is, but honestly, it frickin rules. Starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as bored bloodsuckers, “Only Lovers Left Alive” managed a neat trick in being both hilarious and moody.

 Franck sitting on the beach waiting for her lover, stranger by the lake
Murder and lust make for dangerous bedfellows in this excellent French thriller.

Stranger by the Lake

Movies featuring hardcore sex scenes can be easily accused of petulant attention-seeking. Alain Guiraudie’s Mediterranean thriller, however, used sex as thematically important and not just for cheap thrills. “Stranger by the Lake” is a very smart piece of work. It is both a classic, nail-biting thriller and study of intense desire and passion.

BestFilms-So-Far_june2014-08
Hammer Girl demonstrates her gnarly skills on a gang of thugs in “The Raid 2.”

The Raid 2

There are action scenes so spectacular in “The Raid 2” that you might well leave the theatre, run across the street to join a martial arts dojo and train to be as cool as Iko Uwais, the film’s leading man and ass-kicker extraordinaire. The freeway chase sequence is jaw-dropping and Hammer Girl will become your new favourite big screen character.

blue ruin actor with blood on shirt
Macon Blair stars as a man on the warpath in “Blue Ruin.”

Blue Ruin

“Blue Ruin” is a classic revenger’s tragedy fronted by an impressive performance from Macon Blair. A young hobo (without a shotgun, unfortunately) gets his Terminator on, when he finds out the man who murdered his parents is out on parole. Director Jeremy Saulnier could have a bright future ahead of him.

edge of tomorrow movie, tom cruise
Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt save the world from aliens in “Edge of Tomorrow.”

Edge of Tomorrow

“Edge of Tomorrow” stars Tom Cruise as a smug PR dweeb thrown into battle by a grumpy military general, in order to help fend off an alien invasion. Due to a gnarly plot device, he’s forced to re-live the same day over and over and become a hero. Doug Liman has crafted a wonderful fusion of “Groundhog Day” and “Starship Troopers.”

heli, mexican man holding girl
Amat Escalante’s social drama about lives torn apart by the drugs trade is an astonishing film.

Heli

An attempt to do the right thing boasts terrible consequences for a young factory worker and his family, in Amat Escalante’s “Heli.” The sickening violence will put some viewers off, for sure, but the central message—it’s not just poverty that is destroying the uncertain social fabric of Mexico but the insanity of the drugs trade—is one well worth listening to.

kid in tuxedo with spotlight on him, The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet
Here is a movie that proves 3D technology can be used with invention and creative flair.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet

Most 3D films suck. And why is that? It’s because Hollywood bosses want to use it to raise ticket prices and nothing else. It’s deeply cynical stuff. Jean-Pierre Jeunet has used the latest 3D technology to create a rewarding family drama, where the splendid visuals work in the style of a colour-rich pop-up book. In other words, the 3D aids the story rather than ruins the viewing experience.

two kids in The Golden Dream
“The Golden Dream” details the misery and dangers in attempting to enter America illegally.

The Golden Dream

“The Golden Dream” has been vacuuming up awards left, right and centre at festivals across the globe. Diego Quemada-Díez’s stunning debut picture is a road movie focused on three dirt-poor teenagers from Guatemala travelling to America via illegal channels. What they go through is harrowing and sadly happens every single day across Central America.

julie binoche cryihng in Camille Claudel 1915
Juilette Binoche plays tragic artist, Camille Claudel, in Bruno Dumont’s latest master work.

Camille Claudel 1915

Biopics often attempt the mistake of telling an artist’s life story from cradle to grave in two hours. Bruno Dumont and Juilette Binoche, however, do things very differently. The timeline—condensed to 97 minutes—is set over three pivotal days in the life of troubled sculptor, Camille Claudel. Binoche’s performance is electric.

All film stills © respective movie studios
Martyn Conterio

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Martyn is based in London, England and writes about movies. He has had work published by Little White Lies, The Guardian, Total Film, Grolsch Film Works, Rue Morgue and other quality publications and websites. He is the author of a monograph on Mario Bava's classic horror film, "Black Sunday." An avid soccer fan, he supports... Follow the author @ Twitter and view more articles.

June 17, 2014 Cinema Special Feature