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The Best Indie Movies of 2014 So Far, According to Criticwire: Of 'Stray Dogs' and 'Skeleton Twins'

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

The two newest additions to our running tally of the year's highest-rated films: a potential masterwork from one of Taiwan's most highly regarded filmmakers and a heartwarming festival favorite starring two of comedy's biggest names.
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Stray Dogs
Stray Dogs

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.

Tsai Ming-liang's "Stray Dogs" is one of the best-reviewed films of the year. At the end of last year, though, there was no guarantee that Tsai's crushing family tale would ever see theaters. "Stray Dogs" placed first in the Best Undistributed Film category in our year-end poll last December. (Fellow titles alongside Tsai in the top five of 2013's undistributed included "Closed Curtain" and "The Strange Little Cat," both of which also appear on the list below.) For critics and cinephiles, that anticipation has paid off, resulting in a slew of adulatory reviews, including one from The Playlist's Oliver Lyttelton that calls it "a must-see masterclass in directing."

While not necessarily regarded as an auteur-driven entry to the 2014 release calendar, Craig Johnson's "The Skeleton Twins" has still earned its fair share of positive feedback since its Sundance premiere in January. Reviews of the film have focused on the tonal blend between its potentially dreary subject matter and the comic underpinnings of its two central performances. Most seem to agree that the film works best when Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig get to do what they do best and flex their natural comedic chops.

Elsewhere on the list, "Boyhood" now stands alone as the year's sole film with an "A" average. "Ida," which had stayed firmly at #2 for months, now slots in between "Tim's Vermeer," one of last year's favorite TIFF docs and the aforementioned "Closed Curtain." And after a few weeks among the ranks of the year's best, "Frank" and "Borgman" fell off this week's update, both now standing at "B" averages. 

Also of note: there are not one, but two separate four-way ties. Perhaps it's only on a list like this where two seemingly opposite films like "Cheap Thrills" and "Le Week-End" can exist peacefully side by side. 

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 (73 grades)

2. Only Lovers Left Alive (Film Page), directed by Jim Jarmusch (2013 Cannes Film Festival; April 2014 theatrical release) 
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (82 grades)

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Film Page), directed by Wes Anderson (2014 Berlin International Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release) 
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (73 grades)

4. Under the Skin (Film Page), directed by Jonathan Glazer (2013 Telluride Film Festival; April 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (69 grades)

5. Blue Ruin (Film Page), directed by Jeremy Saulnier (2013 Cannes Film Festival; April 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (59 grades)

6. The Wind Rises (Film Page), directed by Hayao Miyazaki (2013 Venice Film Festival; February 2014 theatrical release) 
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (55 grades)

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

7. Stranger by the Lake (Film Page), directed by Alain Guiraudie (2013 Cannes Film Festival; January 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. Gloria (Film Page), directed by Sebastián Lelio (2013 Berlin International Film Festival; January 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (41 grades)

11. Like Father, Like Son (Film Page), directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda (2013 Cannes Film Festival; January 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (40 grades)

12. Tim's Vermeer (Film Page), directed by Teller (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; January 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (39 grades)

13. Ida (Film Page), directed by Pawel Pawlikowski (2013 Telluride Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (38 grades)

14. Closed Curtain (Film Page), directed by Jafar Panahi & Kambuzia Partovi (2013 Berlin International Film Festival; July 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (29 grades)

15. Love is Strange (Film Page), directed by Ira Sachs (2014 Sundance Film Festival; August 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (28 grades)

16. 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)

18. The Missing Picture (Film Page), directed by Rithy Panh (2013 Cannes Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (23 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- (22 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- (19 grades)

22. Starred Up (Film Page), directed by David Mackenzie (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; August 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (18 grades)

23. 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. Rich Hill (Film Page), directed by Andrew Droz Palermo & Tracy Droz Tragos (2014 Sundance Film Festival; August 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: A- (16 grades)

25. The Immigrant (Film Page), directed by James Gray (2013 Cannes Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (54 grades)

26. Snowpiercer (Film Page), directed by Bong Joon-ho (2013 Korean premiere; June 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (47 grades)

27. The Double (Film Page), directed by Richard Ayoade (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (42 grades)

27. The Raid 2: Berandal (Film Page), directed by Gareth Evans (2014 Sundance Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (42 grades)

29. Locke (Film Page), directed by Steven Knight (2013 Venice Film Festival; April 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (39 grades)

30. Jodorowsky's Dune (Film Page), directed by Frank Pavich (2013 Cannes Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (38 grades)

31. Joe (Film Page), directed by David Gordon Green (2013 Venice Film Festival; April 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (37 grades)

31. 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+ (37 grades)

33. Enemy (Film Page), directed by Denis Villeneuve (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (36 grades)

34. Calvary (Film Page), directed by John Michael McDonagh (2014 Sundance Film Festival; August 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (35 grades)

35. Cold in July (Film Page), directed by Jim Mickle (2014 Sundance Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (34 grades)

35. A Most Wanted Man (Film Page), directed by Anton Corbijn (2014 Sundance Film Festival; July 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (34 grades)


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

38. Omar (Film Page), directed by Hany Abu-Assad (2013 Cannes Film Festival; February 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (32 grades)

39. Chef (Film Page), directed by Jon Favreau (2014 SXSW Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (31 grades)

40. Cheap Thrills (Film Page), directed by E.L. Katz (2013 SXSW Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (30 grades)

40. Le Week-End (Film Page), directed by Roger Michell (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (30 grades)

40. The Lunchbox (Film Page), directed by Ritesh Batra (2013 Cannes Film Festival; February 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (30 grades)

40. The One I Love (Film Page), directed by Charlie McDowell (2014 Sundance Film Festival; August 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (30 grades)

44. The Trip to Italy (Film Page), directed by Michael Winterbottom (2014 Sundance Film Festival; August 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (25 grades)

45. Abuse of Weakness (Film Page), directed by Catherine Breillat (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; August 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (23 grades)

45. Child's Pose (Film Page), directed by Calin Peter Netzer (2013 Berlin International Film Festival; February 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (23 grades)

45. The Skeleton Twins (Film Page), directed by Craig Johnson (2014 Sundance Film Festival; September 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (23 grades)

45. 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)

49. 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+ (22 grades)

49. Stray Dogs (Film Page), directed by Tsai Ming-liang (2013 Venice Film Festival; September 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (22 grades)

51. The Dance of Reality (Film Page), directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky (2013 Cannes Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (20 grades)

51. It Felt Like Love (Film Page), directed by Eliza Hittman (2013 Sundance Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (20 grades)

53. Belle (Film Page), directed by Amma Asante (2013 Toronto International Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (19 grades)

53. 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+ (19 grades)

54. 12 O'Clock Boys (Film Page), directed by Lotfy Nathan (2013 SXSW Film Festival; January 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (16 grades)

54. Fed Up (Film Page), directed by Stephanie Soechtig (2014 Sundance Film Festival; May 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (16 grades)

56. Bethlehem (Film Page), directed by Yuval Adler (2013 Venice Film Festival; March 2014 theatrical release)
Average Criticwire Rating: B+ (15 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, Abuse of Weakness, 12 O’Clock Boys, Rich Hill, Bethlehem, The One I Love, The Trip to Italy, Love Is Strange, Frank, Starred Up, Fed Up, Stray Dogs, The Skeleton Twins