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The Best Indie Movies of 2014 So Far, According to Criticwire: 'Frank,' 'Abuse of Weakness,' 'Belle,' 'Borgman' and 'The Internet's Own Boy' Make Their Way Onto the List

Photo of Steve Greene By Steve Greene | Indiewire June 20, 2014 at 10:38AM

A wildly successful costume drama, a psychological home-invasion thriller, an unusual con man tale, an offbeat story about misunderstood creativity and a documentary about a fallen legend of Internet activism: they seemingly have little in common, but now they all stand among the year's highest-rated films.
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FilmBuff "The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz"

Throughout 2014, members of Indiewire's Criticwire Network -- comprised of nearly 500 critics from around the world -- have been adding their grades and reviews to our database of film pages. Below is a collection of those films released in theaters during that time that have a) received 15 or more reviews and b) maintained a grade average of "B+" or higher. We'll update this list as new additions surface and as fresh waves of feedback arrive. Averages and totals are subject to change (grade totals listed in italics below have changed since the last update), but for now, these are the titles that many members of the Criticwire Network suggest you should watch.

For more insight into conversations from the critical landscape, turn to our Criticwire blog.

The beauty of keeping a running list of the best-reviewed films of the year is that some weeks, there'll be a theme running through all the new additions (think doppelgängers with "Enemy" and "The Double" or tributes to late legends with "A Most Wanted Man" and "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me"). But then there are weeks like this one, where the films joining the ranks of the graded elite are so disparate and seemingly unconnected that it's a wonderful reminder of how great films aren't confined to a single genre, subject or time period. 

The first of these new five is the off-kilter "Frank," Lenny Abrahamson's story about a band of misfit music makers under the direction of their enigmatic, paper-mache'd leader. "Frank" has made a few stops on the 2014 festival circuit, premiering at Sundance before playing also at SXSW and LAFF. (For those curious about a taste of the musical product that comes from their misadventures, the group - also featured Maggie Gyllenhaal and Domhnall Gleeson - recently performed one of the film's songs live on The Colbert Report.)

Catherine Breillat drew on her own experiences to make "Abuse of Weakness," the story of a recovering stroke victim who willingly lets herself fall prey to a roving con artist. The film opened at last year's TIFF to high regard and those who praised the film largely pointed to Isabelle Huppert's central performance. Huppert is no stranger to best-reviewed films, having recently appeared in both Hong San-soo's "In Another Country" and Michael Haneke's "Amour." 

Three films that debuted in theaters earlier in 2014 recently passed the 15-grade threshold and now stand at a "B+" average. First is "Belle," Amma Asante's period tale of the real-life drama of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a biracial woman in 1700s Britain and the upper-crust lifestyle that she lives but is still estranged from. The film has gone on to be one of the most successful independent films of the year, a significant achievement considering the formidable competition it had at both its festival and theatrical premieres. For more on what went into making one of 2014's financial and critical hits, check out Oliver Lyttelton's interview with Assante for The Playlist's Movies that Changed My Life series.

A film somewhat harder to encapsulate in the space of a paragraph is Alex van Warmerdam's "Borgman," one of Cannes 2013's biggest head-twisters. It's a home invasion story that weaves together philosophical pontification and uneasy family dynamics, but unfolds in a meticulous way (and does so with a bit more amount of levity than you'd expect from this type of film). There's violence and terror here in a way that seems to be a fascinating foil to the Austen-ish romance and aristocracy-based drama of "Belle."

The final new entry on the list this week is "The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz," Brian Knappenberger's documentary about the prodigy computer programmer who went on to become one of the most prominent voices in the Internet activist community. Swartz took his own life in early 2013, but Knappenberger's film is a fitting tribute to the impressive and lasting body of work that Swartz achieved in his too-brief lifetime. After "The Internet's Own Boy" premiered at Sundance back in January, it was named the third best documentary of the festival, behind only "The Overnighters" and "Life Itself" (now the eighth overall film on this list and the highest-rated documentary). Of the 47 films in this expanding collection, ten now fall in the documentary category.

The Top-Rated Films of 2014

1. Boyhood (Film Page), directed by Richard Linklater (2014 Sundance Film Festival; July 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A (68 grades)

2. Ida (Film Page), directed by Pawel Pawlikowski (2013 Telluride Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A (34 grades)

3. Only Lovers Left Alive (Film Page), directed by Jim Jarmusch (2013 Cannes Film Festival; April 2014 theatrical release) 
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (75 grades)

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Film Page), directed by Wes Anderson (2014 Berlin International Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release) 
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (69 grades)

5. Under the Skin (Film Page), directed by Jonathan Glazer (2013 Telluride Film Festival; April 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (67 grades)

6. Blue Ruin (Film Page), directed by Jeremy Saulnier (2013 Cannes Film Festival; April 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (56 grades)

7. The Wind Rises (Film Page), directed by Hayao Miyazaki (2013 Venice Film Festival; February 2014 theatrical release) 
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (53 grades)

8. Life Itself (Film Page), directed by Steve James (2014 Sundance Film Festival; July 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (49 grades)

9. Nymphomaniac, Vol. 1 (Film Page), directed by Lars von Trier (2014 Berlin International Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (48 grades)

10. Stranger by the Lake (Film Page), directed by Alain Guiraudie (2013 Cannes Film Festival; January 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (47 grades)

11. Gloria (Film Page), directed by Sebastián Lelio (2013 Berlin International Film Festival; January 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (40 grades)

12. Like Father, Like Son (Film Page), directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda (2013 Cannes Film Festival; January 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (39 grades)

13. Tim's Vermeer (Film Page), directed by Teller (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; January 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (35 grades)

14. Cheap Thrills (Film Page), directed by E.L. Katz (2013 SXSW Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (28 grades)

15. Closed Curtain (Film Page), directed by Jafar Panahi & Kambuzia Partovi (2013 Berlin International Film Festival; July 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (27 grades)

15. We are the Best! (Film Page), directed by Lukas Moodysson (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (27 grades)

17. Ernest and Celestine (Film Page), directed by Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner (2012 Cannes Film Festival; February 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (24 grades)

18. Manakamana (Film Page), directed by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez (2013 Locarno Film Festival; April 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (23 grades)

19. The Missing Picture (Film Page), directed by Rithy Panh (2013 Cannes Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (21 grades)

20. The Last of the Unjust (Film Page), directed by Claude Lanzmann (2013 Cannes Film Festival; February 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (20 grades)

21. The Strange Little Cat (Film Page), directed by Ramon Zürcher (2013 Berlin International Film Festival; August 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (17 grades)

22. Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (Film Page), directed by Chiemi Karasawa (2013 Tribeca Film Festival; February 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (16 grades)

23. The Immigrant (Film Page), directed by James Gray (2013 Cannes Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (51 grades)

24. Snowpiercer (Film Page), directed by Bong Joon-ho (2013 Korean premiere; June 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (43 grades)

25. The Raid 2: Berandal (Film Page), directed by Gareth Evans (2014 Sundance Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (41 grades)

26. The Double (Film Page), directed by Richard Ayoade (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (39 grades)

27. Jodorowsky's Dune (Film Page), directed by Frank Pavich (2013 Cannes Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (37 grades)

28. Enemy (Film Page), directed by Denis Villeneuve (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (34 grades)

28. Obvious Child (Film Page), directed by Gillian Robespierre (2014 Sundance Film Festival; June 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (34 grades)

28. The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld (Film Page), directed by Errol Morris (2013 Telluride Film Festival; April 2014 release date)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (34 grades)

31. Joe (Film Page), directed by David Gordon Green (2013 Venice Film Festival; April 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (33 grades)

31. Locke (Film Page), directed by Steven Knight (2013 Venice Film Festival; April 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (33 grades)

33. Cold in July (Film Page), directed by Jim Mickle (2014 Sundance Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (32 grades)

33. A Most Wanted Man (Film Page), directed by Anton Corbijn (2014 Sundance Film Festival; July 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (32 grades)

35. Omar (Film Page), directed by Hany Abu-Assad (2013 Cannes Film Festival; February 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (30 grades)

36. Calvary (Film Page), directed by John Michael McDonagh (2014 Sundance Film Festival; August 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (28 grades)

37. Le Week-End (Film Page), directed by Roger Michell (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (27 grades)

37. The Lunchbox (Film Page), directed by Ritesh Batra (2013 Cannes Film Festival; February 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (27 grades)

39. Chef (Film Page), directed by Jon Favreau (2014 SXSW Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (26 grades)

40. Borgman (Film Page), directed by Alex van Warmerdam (2013 Cannes Film Festival; July 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (23 grades)

40. Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (Film Page), directed by Denis Côté (2013 Berlin International Film Festival; February 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (23 grades)

42. Child's Pose (Film Page), directed by Calin Peter Netzer (2013 Berlin International Film Festival; February 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (22 grades)

43. Finding Vivian Maier (Film Page), directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (21 grades)

44. The Dance of Reality (Film Page), directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky (2013 Cannes Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (19 grades)

44. It Felt Like Love (Film Page), directed by Eliza Hittman (2013 Sundance Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (19 grades)

46. Abuse of Weakness (Film Page), directed by Catherine Breillat (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; August 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (18 grades)

46. Belle (Film Page), directed by Amma Asante (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (18 grades)

46. The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (Film Page), directed by Brian Knappenberger (2014 Sundance Film Festival; June 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (18 grades)

49. Frank (Film Page), directed by Lenny Abrahamson (2014 Sundance Film Festival; August 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (16 grades)

This article is related to: Cheap Thrills, Child's Pose, Ernest et Celestine, Gloria, It Felt Like Love, Jodorowsky's Dune, Le Week-End, Like Father, Like Son, Nymphomaniac: Volume I, Omar, Stranger by the Lake, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Last of the Unjust, The Missing Picture, The Raid 2: Berandal, The Wind Rises, Tim's Vermeer, Vic and Flo Saw a Bear, The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld, Under the Skin, The Best Indie Movies of 2014 , Only Lovers Left Alive, Joe, Blue Ruin, Manakamana, The Lunchbox, Ida, The Double (2013), Enemy, Chef, The Immigrant, Cold in July, We are the Best!, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, A Most Wanted Man, Calvary, The Strange Little Cat, Belle, The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, Borgman, Abuse of Weakness, Frank