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Criticwire Survey: Halftime Top 5

Criticwire Survey: Halftime Top 5

Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics a questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.

Q: What are your five favorite cultural experiences of 2014? They can be movies (or screenings), TV shows (or episodes), music: You name it. (A tally of the most popular responses can be found at the end of this post.)

Adam Nayman, the Globe and Mail, Cinema Scope

Wussy, “Attica!” I could also include Charles Taylor’s brilliant essay on Wussy and “Attica!” in the Los Angeles Review of Books here, since for me the album and this superb piece of criticism are now inextricably linked; as ambivalent as I often am about Taylor’s film writing, he taps a rich vein of cultural reflection here, and excavates a lot of meaning from a record that I would (and am) otherwise perfectly content to see simply as a source of (inexhaustible) pleasure. I don’t know if I’d apply the hoary (and probably meaningless) descriptor “cinematic” to Wussy’s music but in the sense that it features characters and narratives interacting inside precisely created aesthetic spaces, it probably is.  With this in mind, “Teenage Wasteland” is a kind of widescreen epic — corn fields at magic hour — and “Beautiful,” the closer, is some kind of scratched super-16 home movie. 

“The Immigrant“: The closing shot of James Gray’s fifth feature distills so many meanings — narrative, historical, cultural — into a single painstakingly composed image that I’m tempted to call it a true coup de cinema. And yet for the most part “The Immigrant” is a sparely (though of course smartly) directed film, moving its story along — and its protagonist through its story — with an efficiency that belies its maker’s reputation as some sort of grand cineaste. What resonates most strongly here is not any sort of over-deliberate visual design so much as the tension between two schools of dramaturgy — pure old-guard melodrama and a kind of quiet, stinging contemporariness — and the sense that something novel (if not necessarily new) is being created in the process. Great acting across the board too, especially from Joaquin Phoenix, who for the third film in a row with Gray manages to create a character spacious enough to accommodate a slow-burning and thorough evolution from beginning to end. 

Locke“: Speaking of great acting, in “Locke,” Tom Hardy throws his hat in the ring for the most technically accomplished British actor of his generation. After watching (and listening!) to his one-man show in Steven Locke’s surprisingly supple and surpassingly humane dark-night-of-the-soul drama — filmed entirely inside the front seat of a car barreling down the M6 — I’m convinced that he’s a truly major talent; he uses his face, voice and body with such confidence that I was reminded of John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins (the latter especially in the soft velvety Welshness lining his line readings). On paper, the role of a flawed, arrogant, desperate, proud, tortured, brilliant man confined with his demons might read like a screenwriter’s too-bright idea – a gimmick, basically — but Hardy’s performance is both elastic enough to encompass all of these masculine archetypes and hard-edged enough to work against the hints of sentimentality in the script. If I see a better lead performance all year by an actor of either gender I’ll be delighted because it will mean two landmark turns in the same twelve-month period.

It Felt Like Love“: Eliza Hittman’s debut has already been duly praised for its keen eye (and ear) and subtle revamping of coming-of-age tropes, but I feel obliged to give it props here for those things and more: when you’re watching a young filmmaker’s debut feature and finding yourself reminded of Lucrecia Martel — both in the ways Hittman films adolescent bodies and gets inside the throbbing consciousnesses of her young heroine — it feels like the sort of thing that you should mention as often as possible. A good debut features makes you want to see more from a director; a very good one — like “It Felt Like Love” — warrants revisitation as soon as possible. 

True Detective“: OK so sue me, I 1) am bookending this movie top five list with a record and television show 2) have selected “True Detective,” which has already been written about more than it deserves to be and 3) am saying for the record that I really like it, which might surprise the people I bitched about the ending to. Well, I am myself surprised by how sympathetic I ended up being in retrospect to HBO’s latest pop-cultural watershed, mostly because I realize now that the six (or seven) hours of excellent fun this very flawed series gave me (and my viewing partner, my wife) is not  invalidated by its very disappointing and conventional ending. If anything, for promising more than it delivers and prompting a lot of reflection about how that dynamic actually works — if it’s native to serialized storytelling or actually just a distended version of how a lot of genre material works onscreen in every format — “True Detective” ended up as the most discussable thing I’ve seen all year. And not all of my kudos is for extra-textual reasons; Fukunaga’s direction of the third, fourth (yeah yeah the tracking shot; there are 48 other good minutes there) and fifth episodes was genuinely excellent.

Alissa Wilkinson, Christianity Today

Boyhood”: I finally saw it last week, and while I’m still working over my thoughts about it, what struck me on first viewing was how very, very authentic the things that might have been contrived “period” details (like political references or the discussions of “Star Wars”) had the film been all shot at once felt easy and nostalgic. I can’t wait to see it again.

Ida“: It’s not the best film I expect to see this year, but besides its beautiful photography, I loved it for attempting to deal with the problem of irrevocable life choices (something that drives many movies) in a host of ways, large and small, national and individual. I also thought the way it treated the border between religious and secular reminded me of “The Great Beauty,” which — instead of seeing one as better or worse than the other (as many films seem to — saw them both as vital parts of the greater reality we live in, and us as woven into a fabric that includes both.

Orphan Black“: A show I never expected to like. But I do, and I’m hoping it carries on. It reminds me, oddly perhaps, of that James Cameron show “Dark Angel,” though for none of the eight or so reasons that make it good. Those reasons are (1-7) Tatiana Maslany and (8) Jordan Gavaris.

True Detective“: For ending exactly as it should have, in my book. Rust had a lot of time to sit there and think. Who says people can’t change, a little? (Also for giving me an excuse to talk about “flat circles” an awful lot.) 

Le Week-end“: What I will love and remember forever is the final scene, with Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan spent and washed up, but together, getting slowly drunk on white wine, then dancing the Madison with Jeff Goldblum. 

Mad Men, “Waterloo”: Bert Cooper. The perfect goodbye.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire
“Manakamana“: The Harvard
Sensory Ethnographic Lab has been steadily developing some of the
freshest experiments with film form of the past few years, and this
meditative look at the various passengers of a cable car riding up and
down the Nepal Valley is one of the lab’s richest offerings yet. More
movies should urge us to sit still and pay close attention to every
nuance on the screen. 
“Boyhood” at Sundance: Everyone knew
that Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making narrative would be an
unprecedented storytelling accomplishment. But nobody could have
anticipated that it would also feel so fresh, gentle and real — not only his best movie, but maybe the best movie about growing up ever.
Goodbye to Language” at Cannes: I
wouldn’t say that Jean-Luc Godard’s zany film essay was my favorite
movie at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but it was certainly my
favorite moviegoing experience — from the fervent cries of “Godard
forever!” that preceded the screening to the thundering applause that
followed the first instance of Godard toying around with 3-D
technology in a truly innovative fashion. It was like experiencing the
elation of discovering Godard’s cinematic brilliance for the first time
all over again.
The Box Office Success of “The Grand Budapest Hotel“: No
longer a mere eccentric of the American film scene, Wes Anderson has
become an establishment figure, and the country’s film culture is so
much richer because of it.
The $11 Billion Year: Anne
Thompson’s yearlong chronicle of the film business is an eloquent
encapsulation of the rush involved in experiencing the world that makes
movies happen up close — the good, the bad, and the wildly
“Adventure Time,” Season 6 premiere: Not many
of my film peers have jumped on the bandwagon for this sage-like look
at nostalgia and melancholy in children’s cartoon clothing, but I’m
continually thrilled by how it continues to deepen as its writers grow
more confident and ambitious with the material. The season 6 premiere of
the show contained two mutilations and the violent death of a main
character, but it was also sweet, funny and sad — a delicate balance
that unquestionably makes “Adventure Time” one of the best shows out
there right now.

Alonso Duralde, the Wrap

We Are the Best!“: If another movie in 2014 leaves me with as big a grin on my face, it’s gonna be a great year. Lukas Moodysson plays to the strengths of his best films to date (“Together,” “Show Me Love”) in a deliriously entertaining celebration of youthful rebellion and the power of punk.

Locke“: So many movies wander away from the thing that makes them interesting, so I was thrilled when I realized this film was going to commit to the conceit of Tom Hardy driving a car and talking on the phone. Thoroughly hypnotic.

Under the Skin“: I predict that, like “2001” before it, this is a movie that’s going to be argued over (and whose meaning will be debated for decades to come. We’ve had to wait a long time for a new Jonathan Glazer movie, but this was worth it.

Love Is Strange”: Ira Sachs gets his most A-list cast to date — John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei — but he stays true to his own quirky rhythms and moments of quiet discovery in this story about two older gay men separated by financial circumstances after they’ve finally won the right to be legally married. Their sense of togetherness, even when apart, is palpable.

The Case Against 8“: This HBO documentary about the legal battle to overturn California’s Proposition 8 doesn’t tell the only story about the fight for marriage equality in this country, but it’s a riveting, insider-y look at this one particular case. The results feel like a valentine to the Constitution and the judicial system.

Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times

“Bravest Warriors.” Slightly more mature (though chronologically younger) Web-based cousin to Cartoon Network’s “Adventure Time” (“AT” creator Pen Ward designed the characters, which were developed by Breehn Burns into this YouTube-based series). The milieu is science-fiction rather than fantasy — “teenage heroes doing good and fighting evil in the absence of their hero parents” is not exactly what the show is about, though it briefly states the premise — but it’s love that makes both these worlds go round. (Mixed here with a little sexiness, if not actually sex.) This is a place where cereal is made with seahorse dreams and rainbow spit; a computer-generated elf gains independent being, grows huge and envelops the universe in tyrannical pink bliss; and one’s future selves meet for drinks at the Parasox Pub. Funny, deep, beautiful.

Tig Notaro, live at Largo, Los Angeles May 22. I’m not sure what to call this — performance art seems too stuffy, but stand-up comedy doesn’t get it either. A living essay in the relationship between an artist and an audience, perhaps, which ended in a purposeful denial of laughter, in a nervously quiet room, with directed applause contracted to a single group clap. Genius, whatever it was.

“Mad Men,” Season 7, Part the First. My pet theory, which is perhaps not a radical one, is that the show, from its Douglas Sirk-ish melodramatic beginnings, has become (in the best possible way) a comedy. Analysts have sifted the props and costumes and yesterday’s papers for signs of Don Draper’s suicide or murder; but at this point his seems to me the story of a man swimming crookedly toward the light, while the show more generally concerns people (as yet) unfit for normal domestic relationships who find meaning in work. (Perhaps Don is a third-marriage man; Neve Campbell is still out there, somewhere, and New York City is a small town.) And they do find meaning; it is not a cynical show, as easily as it might be. And cheers for Robert Morse’s musical farewell — some caviled, but why would you cast the star of “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and not have him sing his way offstage?.

“Broad City”/”Annie and a Side of Fries.” Comedy Central is full of impressive programs right now, and I could as easily have headed this paragraph with the continuing-great “Inside Amy Schumer” or “Kroll Show.” But I’ll highlight the freshman team of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer and their sitcom “Broad City” — a kind of semi-surrealist New York “Laverne & Shirley,” with weed, that jauntily mixes classic and modern voices — for its heart and optimism. And it gives me a chance to mention Jacobson’s sweet one-woman YouTube series, “Annie and a Side of Fries,” in which she plays an 11-year-old child of divorce, vlogging from her room in her father’s apartment.

David Hockney, “A Bigger Picture,” de Young Museum, San Francisco. There’s a temptation to take Hockney less seriously for his popularity and accessibility, but there’s still something to be said for an artist who Paints What He Sees, who makes the real world more visible by getting between you and it. This exhibition of mostly recent, mostly large works (massively attended) was big and complex and seductive, unapologetic for being full of people and trees.

Vadim Rizov, Filmmaker

The best film that world premiered this year and has distribution but has yet to be released is “Boyhood.” The best 2014 premiere I’ve seen that’s as yet without distribution is Tsai Ming-liang’s “Journey to the West.” The best calendar year 2013 festival premiere to see release so far this year is “Under the Skin.” The best calendar year 2013 film to be scheduled for release later this year is “Stray Dogs.” The best previously undistributed movie of calendar year 2009 to receive a one-week run at NYC’s Anthology Film Archives, thereby making it technically a possible answer, is Alain Guiraudie’s badly underseen “The King of Escape.” The best calendar film of 2014 to both premiere and already be released is “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

R. Emmet Sweeney, Movie Morlocks

A Spell to Ward off the Darkness” is in search of utopia and can only find it at a black metal concert in Norway. In its epileptic Super 16mm beauty, it’s a work of secular transcendence and the film I most hope to revisit. I’ve already had a second go-round with Manoel de Oliveira’s “Gebo and the Shadow,” made in 2012, which is finally receiving a micro-release at Anthology Film Archives. After the charming flight of necrophiliac fancy that was “The Strange Case of Angelica,” this is an elemental thudding back to earth. “The Strange Little Cat” is also concerned with the quotidian, charting the rhythms of one day and night inside a Berlin apartment. It’s intricate choreography places equal emphasis on objects as much as people, so one has to pay as close attention to the clothes dryer as the children. “Pompeii” is the most beautiful Hollywood movie of the year. Well, unless you consider “The Immigrant” as Hollywood. Call it a tie! I’m still breezing my way through Scott Eyman’s John Wayne biography, but it’s essential. He treats him as an artist instead of a symbol, and provides crucial context for his years on Poverty Row, in which he was learning how to turn Marion Morrison into “John Wayne.” My 2014 soundtrack has been dominated by Sturgill Simpson‘s lysergic “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music,” the Eric Revis Quartet‘s inside-out “In Memory of Things Yet Seen,” and Wussy‘s gorgeously worn out “Attica!” And if I had to choose a single it would be Eric Church‘s hard fucking song “Like a Wrecking Ball.”

Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer

This reads like a list of people and places: “Belle,” “Ida,” “Palo Alto,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The LEGO Movie.”

Robert Greene, Sight & Sound

Here are my top six nonfiction films of the first half of 2014: Sabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels Van Koevorden’s punch-drunk buddy comedy “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” Roberto Minervini’s semi-real, Texas mini-epic “Stop the Pounding Heart,” Argentinian dance video/Warhol homage/mise-en-scene lesson “Living Stars,” Jess Moss’ knotty, emotional and surprising “The Overnighters,” Mati Diop’s lovely and heartbreaking “Mille soleils” and Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard Nick Cave artfilm portrait “20,000 Days on Earth.”

Jason Osder, “Let the Fire Burn”

I’ll just go with what I know, which is docs. My top five to this
point are: “Virunga,” “In Country,” “Point and Shoot,” “The Overnighters”  and “The Lion’s Mouth Opens.”

Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly

My anal-retentive nod to the fact that June 1 isn’t quite halfway is naming my top 4 general release films, plus one festival favorite. Top of 2014 thus far is “Under the Skin,” so creepy and insinuating and utterly singular in its vision that I just want to strangle future Kubrick comparisons in their sleep. Bubbling under that top spot are “Only Lovers Left Alive” (gloriously, drolly satisfying in a way that only Jim Jarmusch features can be) and “The LEGO Movie” (as purely joyful and committed to the power of creativity as you could hope for in a movie based on a toy). Then there’s uniquely funky documentary experience of “Mistaken for Strangers,” which is such a wistful character study that “The National concert movie” should be removed from all further discussion of it. And finally, there’s my favorite Sundance discovery, the great Australian horror film “The Babadook,” which is both terrific as a simple genre exercise and (like so many great horror movies) a brilliant piece of allegorical writing.

Peter Keough, Boston Globe, Critics a Go-Go

Here’s ten in no particular order: “Manakamana,” “Under the Skin,” “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Immigrant,” “Child’s Pose,” “The Dance of Reality,” “Only Lovers Left Alive,” “Obvious Child,” “The Unknown Known.”

Only two by women, is that because of me or the film industry?

Ben Travers,  Indiewire

I may be biased as a television critic, and the best of the film world is always reserved for the second half of the year, but TV is dominating its cultural big brother so far in 2014 (at least for those of us who couldn’t make it to Cannes). “True Detective” basically won an Oscar already — believe me, Matthew McConaughey didn’t just win for “Dallas Buyers Club” — and it would win more, if eligible. “Veep” and “Silicon Valley” have also helped in regaining the network crown for cultural achievement at HBO, and “Penny Dreadful” is putting Showtime back in competition after a few years without a “Best” level show. 

Throw in part one of an excellent “Mad Men” season seven and a reinvention of “Archer” in season five that saw everyone’s favorite spy switch sides, and TV 2014 is off to an incredible start. There have only been a few moments in theaters comparable, with “Joe” the only full film to stand out. The last 30 minutes of “Godzilla” were the most thrilling since Smaug chased those hobbits out of his cave, but almost too little too late for a film postponing its action to the point of exhaustion. “Joe,” though, with a restrained, layered performance from Nicolas Cage, could compete with the big boys over on the small box.

Andrew Welch, To Be (Cont’d)

Since my daughter’s birth earlier this year, it’s been difficult to stay current with new releases or even with what’s on TV — with the exception of “Hannibal,” the Bryan Fuller series on NBC. If you haven’t seen it–and that’s most of you, judging from the show’s low ratings–it stars Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter, the popular character from Thomas Harris’ novels, and Hugh Dancy as his troubled foil. So far the series has functioned as a prequel to Harris’ first Hannibal book, Red Dragon, though Fuller has a seven season plan that would eventually cover everything.

The finale for the second season just aired on Friday, May 23, and it was a doozy. As others around the web have noted, if NBC hadn’t renewed it for a third season, this would’ve been the most traumatizing series finale of all time — but also one of the best and most daring, in my opinion. Fuller is a brilliantly inventive showrunner, while Mikkelsen’s poise and athleticism make him perfect for Harris’ refined monster. If you love good TV, but you haven’t seen “Hannibal,” you need to fix that.

if I had to choose some runners-up, I’d go with Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “The Dance of Reality,” and a couple of new (or rebooted) comic book titles from Marvel: Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “Captain Marvel” and Cullen Bunn’s “Magneto.”

Kiva Reardon, cleo

As always, there’s been more garbage than good, but it’s far too easy to only point out the bad. Besides, dear Sam Adams asked us to be positive, so here’s to the gems 2014 have yielded thus far. May the year’s concluding months be just as fruitful. 

Ida“: Pawel Pawlikowski’s first Polish language feature resonates in its stark simplicity — the parable-like story, the sharp black and white cinematography. Pawlikowski further places his faith in his images, allowing his tale to unfold through gestures, looks and framing. Topping it all off is Agata Trzebuchowska’s performance, who has a Greta Garbo-esque quality.

We Are the Best!“: Lukas Moodysson’s adaptation of his wife Coco Moodysson’s graphic novel earns its exclamation point and then some. The film harnesses the energy of its three young leads (Mira Grosin, Mira Barkhammar, Liv LeMoyne), creating an exuberant coming-of-age story with the best message of all: make rad female friends, start a band.

Vic + Flo Saw a Bear“: This is cheating, as Denis Cote’s film opened in 2013 in Canada, but this elliptical romance-turned-horror story is worth highlighting again and again.

It Felt Like Love”: This is another fub, as Eliza Hittman’s film didn’t open in Canada, outside of a one-off screening hosted by cleo and Toronto production company MDFF. But since first seeing Hittman’s work in Rotterdam in January 2013, I haven’t been able to get her protagonist’s plight off my mind.

Stranger by the Lake“: Unceremoniously released in the Great White North in mid-January, far too few people saw Alain Guiraudie’s film. It’s too bad about the winter opening, too, as it really should be the film of the summer.

Manakamna“: Yet another twisting of the rules: the latest by Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab (directed by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez) hasn’t gotten a Canadian release date. I first saw the film at Locarno Film Festival last August, which isn’t just a way to say I went to Locarno, but to note that Spray and Velez’s vision has stayed with me for the better part of the year.

Honourable mention: “Non-Stop,” for joining the incredible screen talents that are Liam Neeson and Lupita Nyong’o.

Peter Howell, Toronto Star

Mid-year Top 5 movies: “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Boyhood,” “Mommy,” “Leviathan (the Cannes 2014 one), ““Edge of Tomorrow.”

Richard Brody, the New Yorker

The early months have offered a handful of movies (four in release, plus one that’s being screened at festivals) that the remainder of the year will be hard-pressed to match in one essential and unusual quality: perceptual and conceptual transformation (though I anticipate several coming from Cannes that could fit into that exalted category). “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Last of the Unjust” are both studies in performance, exercises not in style but about style. It’s no news that Wes Anderson’s film is a heroic and tragic revelation of the moral substance of connoisseurship and disciplined personal bearing. But Claude Lanzmann’s film also features a brilliant and desperately disciplined performer in a real-world tragedy, Benjamin Murmelstein, a rabbi who became the self-described Scheherazade of Theresienstadt, where he helped the Nazis put on their own show — the propaganda images of the so-called model concentration camp — in order to keep the camp from being liquidated and its inmates from being killed. Murmelstein’s bearing is as ingrained as is that of the concierge Gustave H., and he paid grievously for the misinterpretation of it (and, judging from some reviews of the film, he continues to pay for it now, long after his death). James Gray’s “The Immigrant” and Eliza Hittman’s “It Felt Like Love” are meticulously naturalistic dramas that, without a hint of narrative gamesmanship or reflexive gimmickry, shatter the frame of representation with the intensity of passion, the music of visual composition, the current of personal history and reminiscence. Both of them, in their own ways, render the familiar categories of cinematic form irrelevant.  The yet-unreleased film in question is Josephine Decker’s “Thou Wast Mild & Lovely,” which recalibrates the very idea of the cinematic image and offers an astonishing reimagination of the basic elements of filmmaking, from framing, focus, texture, and gesture to the succession of shots and the evocation of dramatic events. What it doesn’t offer is a method or a device; it, too, is a matter of personal style and its substance.

Q: What are your five favorite cultural experiences of 2014? They can be movies (or screenings), TV shows (or episodes), music: You name it. (Go back to the beginning of the survey here.)

Mike D’Angelo, the Dissolve, Las Vegas Weekly

Nobody needs yet another reminder that Wes Anderson made a highly acclaimed movie this year, or that the latest Dardennes picture just premiered at Cannes. Rather than pimp the obvious, then, I’ll use this opportunity to recommend five films that many people might not bother seeing.

Its theatrical release is just a few weeks away, and I’ll likely be reviewing it then, but let me put in an early good word for “Coherence,” a no-budget indie set entirely in and around a single suburban house… except that it’s actually a dozen or so identical houses, all containing the exact same people. Or are they exactly the same? I popped into this on a whim at the RiverRun Film Festival, where I was serving on the narrative competition jury (“Coherence” wasn’t one of the films I was judging), and was rewarded with a fantastically dense headscratcher that plays like a cross between “Primer” and the classic “Twilight Zone” episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” Seems like shallow brainy fun for a long time, but it has a sting in its tail.

Reportedly, IFC Films is on the verge of picking up Pascale Ferran’s sublime “Bird People,” which played in Un Certain Regard at Cannes last month. All I want to say about this film is (1) You want to see it, and (2) YOU DO NOT WANT TO READ ANYTHING ABOUT IT BEFORE DOING SO. Just click away every time it’s mentioned. The less you know going in, the more potentially magical the experience will be. Trust me.

I’ve had more arguments about “Proxy” than about any other film I’ve seen this year, which should be a recommendation all by itself. Some folks consider it inept, though it’s hard for me to fathom how anyone could fail to perceive that director Zack Parker is in complete control of every frame. You, too, may very well hate it. Certainly it’s not for the squeamish (though the worst part is over right at the outset), and the Plausibility Police have been merciless. But I watched the entire thing in a state of complete disorientation, which is exceedingly rare nowadays. Most movies — even great ones — are firmly graspable pretty quickly. Proxy confounded me for a thrillingly long time.

Because I’m concerned that it might never turn up in the U.S., I want to call attention to the delightful French-Canadian comedy “Tu dors Nicole,” which played in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes. On paper, it sounds like every other movie at Sundance, except in French; on film (and it was shot, gloriously, on b&w 35mm), it has a uniquely daffy sensibility that’s part “Ghost World,” part “Frances Ha,” and (a large) part nothing you’ve seen before. I was absolutely starving when I sat down to watch this at the end of a long Cannes day, and wanted so badly to find a reason to walk out after 40 minutes and go get some food. That I remained in my seat to the end, tummy growling, is maybe the highest compliment I can pay.

One of my biggest pet peeves these days is the way that every critic tends to choose their favorite performances of the year from a carefully vetted shortlist, entirely culled from the major awards contenders. “Lucky Them” will not be a major awards contender (though it’s superior to many of the films that will be), and thus few will go to bat for Toni Collette or Thomas Haden Church, seeing them as lost causes. Excellence is its own reward, though, and if you want to see two superb actors at the top of their respective games, in a movie that’s a good deal sharper and less formulaic than it looks at first glance, you can find “Lucky Them” in theaters or on demand. Lucky you.

Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com, Some Came Running

Movies: “Last of the Unjust,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Only Lovers Left Alive,” “Noah,” “Under the Skin,” Boyhood. (NB, I have yet to see “The Immigrant.”)

Music: Chris Butler, “Easy Life,” Randy Ingram, “Sky Lift,” Peter Hammill and Gary Lucas, “Other Worlds,” Don Cherry, “Live In Stockholm 1968-1971,” John Zorn and Abraxas, “Psychomagia,” Thumbscrew, self-titled, Plymouth, self-titled, Marc Ribot trio, “Live At The Village Vanguard,” Arto Lindsay, “The Encyclopedia of Arto,” Peter Brotzmann and Fushitsusha, “Nothing Changes…,” Michael Bloomfield, “From His Head to His Heart to His Hands: An Audio/Visual Scrapbook,” The Soundcarriers, “Entropicalista,” Ned Doheny, “Separate Oceans,”  Miles Davis, “Miles At The Fillmore.”

Books: Mark Harris, Five Came Back, Dan Callahan, Vanessa: The Life of Vanessa Redgrave, Robert Coover, The Brunist Day of Wrath.

Tim Grierson, Screen International, Paste

Since I’m sure more than enough people have sung the praises of superb films like “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Manakamana,” “Under the Skin,” “Boyhood” and “The LEGO Movie,” I’m focusing on five great movies that I think have been overlooked and underrated so far this year. They’ll be long forgotten by the time end-of-the-year lists are out, but these have all helped make 2014 a good movie year already:

Enemy“: I find Denis Villeneuve’s films as humorless and preachy as others do, so this side project of sorts was such a surprise. For all its supposed furrowed-brow examination of the duality of man, it’s actually pretty fun and creepy in a midnight-movie kind of way. And it’s another reminder of how good a dramatic actor Jake Gyllenhaal has become.

Muppets Most Wanted“: I laughed and laughed and laughed. There was no joke too obvious, no shtick too lame, no sentiment too sappy that I didn’t fall for. Good night, Danny Trejo.

Night Moves“: The first half is a gripping procedural tenser than anything Kelly Reichardt has ever done. The second half is a morality tale that’s trickier and more unsettling, ending with one of the year’s most perfectly unresolved final shots.

The Raid 2“: A rare case where the sequel improves on the original. Filmmaker Gareth Evans indulges his every pretension, and even when this second go-round falters it’s redeemed by his audacity to try and turn this B-movie muck into a full-blown crime epic.

The Unknown Known“: Errol Morris has said that critics shouldn’t compare “The Unknown Known” to “The Fog of War” but, rather, to “Mr. Death,” about Holocaust denier Fred A. Leuchter. He’s got a point: Both movies are about the way that individuals use incredible intellect and self-delusion to shield themselves from the truths they simply don’t want to see.

Peter Labuza, the Cinephiliacs

My top five would be five directors: Frank Capra, John Ford, George Stevens, William Wyler, and John Huston. That is, my favorite film work of the year so far has been Mark Harris’s Five Came Back. This is an extraordinary work of film history and war history, seamlessly mixing Harris’ storytelling skills as a journalist with intensive research and historical inquiry into the aesthetics of realism, governmental relations in Hollywood, and five psychological portraits. In a time where I’ve had my own personal interest in looking at Hollywood history beyond anything close to canonical, Harris has reinvigorated my interest through his serious consideration of what World War II meant for not just Hollywood but for these five men personally. It can be easy to look at the films, but Harris’s research has beautifully illuminated these directors filmography in a way I never thought. Bravo.

Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com

Movies: “Under the Skin,” “Calvary,” “Blue Ruin,” “Blind,” “Ida.”

TV: “True Detective,” “Hannibal,” “Fargo,” “The Americans,” “Louie.”

Anne-Katrin Titze, Eye for Film

Among the films I have seen from January through May, these six left a lasting impression for very different reasons. The first three are films that have not yet had a theatrical release. Rebecca Zlotowski’s “Grand Central” screened during the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. It makes my list for traversing the membranes of a power plant and Léa Seydoux’s heart in parallel fashion. For sheer beauty, Frederic Tcheng’s “Dior and I,” which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. First Time Fest (Second Time Around) Grand Prize Winner “Love Steaks,” directed by Jakob Lass, because it is the rarest of birds – a love story comedy from Germany that plays as if Joaquin Phoenix met Carole Lombard in a seaside resort’s kitchen. Speaking of kitchens, “Fed Up,” directed by Stephanie Soechtig, narrated by Katie Couric, is a vital documentary that could and should have great immediate impact on eating habits. Valeria Golino’s bold directorial debut “Honey,” for the exceptional way it deals with death. Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” for the intemperance that beckons me to indulge in time-traveling hotel fantasies completes the journey for nearly the first half of 2014.

Kristy Puchko, Cinema Blend

April was by far my favorite month for movies in 2014 as it saw the release of three that I found extraordinary. The first was “Dom Hemingway,” a gonzo crime-comedy from Richard Shepard that is obnoxious, hilarious, smart and surprisingly touching, thanks in part to Jude Law’s shocking and outstanding performance. Next was “Under the Skin,” a mind-bending odyssey that demands the audience make sense of strange imagery and strangers soundscapes. It’s haunting, daring, and unforgettable, just like the stellar performance of Scarlett Johansson as a succubus who discovers her humanity. Then at long last came the release of Jim Jarmusch’s hypnotic vampire-romance “Only Lovers Left Alive,” which is completely intoxicating from its deadly cool stars (Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston) and soundtrack, to its rich and indulgent art design. Every frame is crammed with detail, ripe with romance, style and melancholy. But just before these came “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” the Wes Anderson movie that I’d say is his most ambitious and best yet for its sprawling story, sweet-and-sour humor, complicated themes, and fascinating characters. Last on my list came out first, “Tim’s Vermeer,” the documentary from Penn & Teller that explored how science and art might dovetail to create something extraordinary. It was an entertaining and whimsical doc that gave me the rare opportunity to truly see the world in a new way. I wish I could concoct some sort of clever theme that ties all five together, but the simple truth is that of all the movies I see from week to week, these were the ones that are still rattling around my brain and heart.

Adam Kempenaar, Filmspotting

The fact that I can’t immediately call to mind an assortment of notable albums, books or TV shows (wait, I was a pretty ardent “True Detective” disciple) should disqualify anything that follows — clearly my cultural perspective is too limited to warrant much consideration. That said, I’ve seen three movies so far this year where I had that little electric charge run through my body that signifies a response to both the content and form: the sibling rivalry/rock tour doc hybrid “Mistaken for Strangers,” which reveals nothing and everything about its ostensible subject, The National; the quasi-real time, single on-screen character, single location (Tom Hardy’s SUV) experiment “Locke,” which is the best Michael Mann movie Michael Mann never made; and topping the list is Jonathan Glazer’s stripped-down, sci-fi subversion “Under the Skin,” which incorporates “real life” interactions, non-professional actors and improvisation to fascinating effect.

Jake Cole, Slant, Movie Mezzanine

Even leaving out some of my favorite recent films in favor of those with non-festival US theatrical release 2014 already has a fair share of great films. Best of them is James Gray’s “The Immigrant,” which consolidates his growing facility with writing for women with a neo-Cimino period piece made for our current environment of late capitalism. There’s also Jonathan Glazer’s haunting “Under the Skin,” in which sex is a powerful weapon, but also a double-edged sword; Wes Anderson’s historical travesty “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Amma Asante’s “Belle,” which perhaps capitulates to condescending rules about period “women’s pictures” but also marks itself as one of the few films to examine racism as a system of oppression and not as the most visible and brutal displays of that system; Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive,” a film that seems to draw as much from the director’s viewing/listening/reading logs as any screenplay; and Eliza Hittman’s “It Felt Like Love,” a coming-of-age film that owes more to Catherine Breillat’s “Fat Girl” than the current crowd of Sundance movies about early- and late-onset adulthood.

My favorite non-theatrical releases so far are Aleksei German’s “Hard to Be a God,” which is like “Marketa Lazarova” taken ever further into surreal primitivism; Tsai Ming-liang’s elegiac feature “Stray Dogs” and short “Journey to the West;” Jafar Panahi’s mournful “Closed Curtain“; and Johnnie To’s “Blind Detective,” the closest anyone has ever come to replicating the speed of “Bringing Up Baby” without doing a Bogdanovich-esque remake. Music-wise, I can’t stop playing St. Vincent’s eponymous album, nor that of avant-jazz super-trio Thumbscrews (feat. post-Derek Bailey guitar whiz Mary Halvorson), nor the latest in Swans’ series of post-industrial ragas, “To Be Kind.” I’ve also occupied myself reading Michael Witt’s excellent “Jean-Luc Godard: Cinema Historian,” a skeleton key to Godard’s “Histoire(s) du cinema,” and I’m just starting my copy of “Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television,” the long-awaited transcription of Godard’s ’78 lectures in Montreal.

Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second 

In somewhat haphazard fashion here are my five or so favorite cultural items of 2014 so far. As new releases go, a couple of films have really stood out. I’ve always been a big fan of Wes Anderson but his “Grand Budapest Hotel” has impressed me on another level entirely. For perhaps the first time it feels like he’s making genuinely selflessly important cinema that says more about a world other than his own precisely engineered snow globe. An honorable mention goes to Claire Denis’ Bastards, which further cements the French filmmaker’s reputation as a figure difficult to pin down.

As screenings go none has been as impressive, nor do I suppose I will hold any in quite as high a regard for longer, than that of a one-off performance of Jean-Luc Godard’s “Sauve la vie (qui peut)” a specially reconstructed re-edit of the same director’s “Sauve qui peut (la vie),” better known as “Every Man For Himself” in the US, and as “Slow Motion” in the UK. The reconstruction, overseen by Michael Witt, aims to present a special cut of the film that screened in Rotterdam in 1980, for which Godard intercut reels from 4 other films in to his own: Andrzej Wajda’s “Man of Marble,” Visconti’s “La terra trema,” Buster Keaton’s “Cops” and Eisenstein’s “The General Line.” It makes for a fascinating early prototype of sorts for Godard’s own “Histoire(s) du cinema,” and I’m incredibly grateful to be given the opportunity to view Witt’s laudable project. 

On the home video front the Criterion edition of Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” is the disc I’ve had most fun with thus far in 2014. It’s as thrilling and immersive as cinema gets, with its previous exclusion from the Criterion Collection something of a glaring omission. I also discovered the Potemkine release, “The Complete Eric Rohmer” this year, having been gifted it last Christmas. Extensive doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Don Simpson , Smells Like Screen Spirit

I’m going to stick with films that have been released theatrically thus far in 2014, in which case writer-director Eliza Hittman’s “It Felt Like Love” takes the very top slot. I’m so happy that Hittman’s masterful meditation on teenage sexuality, which was one of my favorite films at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, was finally released theatrically in 2014 by Variance Films. If you didn’t catch “It Felt Like Love” during its festival or much-too-limited theatrical runs, please do yourself a kindness and track it down on VOD. I am also crushing pretty hard on Lukas Moodysson’s “We Are the Best!” which is one of the most honest portrayals of adolescent punk culture that I have ever seen, brilliantly capturing the adolescent desire for self-expression and individuality.

I have got to say that I’m pretty disappointed that Stephen Gurewitz’s “Marvin Seth and Stanley” VOD (January 2014) and limited theatrical (April 2014) releases by Factory 25 went practically unnoticed (other than a healthy spattering of critical praise). Playing like a lost classic of 1970s American independent cinema, “Marvin Seth and Stanley” confidently places Gurewitz in the center of the vibrant post-mumblecore/micro-budget movement of the 2010s. In my humble opinion, this is the single most exciting movement in American cinema since the 1970s, and I cannot wait until films like Marvin Seth and Stanley begin to attract the attention of the audiences that they truly deserve and at the very least enjoy a fruitful life on VOD. 

My other favorite theatrical releases of 2014 include: “Blue Ruin,” “Cheap Thrills,” “The Discoverers,” “Hide Your Smiling Faces,” “Maidentrip,” “Proxy” and “Under the Skin.” I’m very curious to see just how many of these films will still remain on my top 10 once December rolls around, since I already know that soon-to-be-released films like “Happy Christmas,” “Hellion,” “I Origins,” “Land Ho!,” “Obvious Child” and “The One I Love” will be very strong challengers.

Danny Bowes, RogerEbert.com, Indiewire

I’ve missed a couple titles that historical precedent suggests might have cracked this top 5 (i.e. the new Gray and Ayoade) but nonetheless think I’ve got a solid list: “Snowpiercer,” isn’t out in the US yet, but has long since been commercially available elsewhere; due to the former I wouldn’t think of spoiling anything, except to say it’s really good and everyone should see it when it drops stateside; “Only Lovers Left Alive,” which delivers every bit of the promise “Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton in a Jim Jarmusch vampire movie” implies; “Stranger by the Lake,” the slow-burn erotic French suspense mindfuck genre’s answer to, like, X-Men….”X-Rated Men,” there we go; “Blue Ruin,” which is an astonishing piece of work given how fallow “masculine insecurity” is as a premise at this point, and has one of the best gunshot effects shots I’ve ever seen (and I done seen ’em all); and above all others so far is the towering “Under the Skin,” which of this bunch is the one we’ll still be talking about in 50 years, even if it’s because President Johansson had it suppressed due to the nude scenes in The Great Crackdown of 2034. Honorable mention must go to “True Detective,” whose highs were as exhilarating as its defaulting to sub-cliche crap were irritating, but which featured two performances for the ages from Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, and the way “Game of Thrones” has been driving “A Song of Ice and Fire” fans insane with all the departures from book canon this year.

Matt Prigge, Metro

I should first note that I haven’t yet found time to see “Manakamana,” and I feel like my top 5 so far list is kind of dull. But here goes: “Under the Skin” is an imperfect but bold art sci-fi whose mood I still haven’t shaken off, even months after seeing it. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” may not be the best Wes Anderson film, but it is his most enjoyable and possibly, after a second viewing, his most devastating — so maybe it is his best film. “We Are the Best!” is undiluted tweenage stupidity, capturing the period when you’re angry but not yet self-critical enough to doubt starting a crappy punk band in 1982 Stockholm. “Stranger by the Lake” is a lot of things, but I wound up glomming onto its anxieties of taking a young relationship to the next level — because who knows if you’re new love is really a murderer (or just kind of boring). “The Immigrant” is a sumptuous old school drama that studies faces and places. But what do I know? I haven’t seen “Boyhood” yet.

Tony Dayoub, Cinema Viewfinder, To Be (Cont’d)

The very best thing about my selections for 2014’s best so far is that most are still running/airing at this time. By all means, seek them out for yourself and see if you find them as superb as I do.

The Immigrant“: James Gray’s most blatant quote of “The Godfather'” yet also happens to flip its premise on its head. Rather than show the promise America holds for recent emigres if they just figure out how to play the game, Gray introduces a fly in the ointment. His immigrant is female and played by Marion Cotillard as frustrated and well intentioned until the rampant misogyny of turn of the century America corrupts and hardens her. Access to anything above her class is blocked, most significantly by a pimp who’s fallen in love with her (Joaquin Phoenix).

The Grand Budapest Hotel“: For a movie filled with Wes Anderson repertory players, it’s surprising how much “Budapest” rests on the shoulders of two actors new to his films, Ralph Fiennes and newcomer Tony Revolori. Ostensibly a comedy, “Budapest” is really a mourning cry lamenting the impending extinction of Eastern Europe’s cultural class as a result of the two Great Wars to come.

“‘Fargo“: TV’s biggest surprise this season, “Fargo” wisely sidesteps comparisons to the Coen Brothers classic by avoiding the temptation to attempt a straight adaptation of the film. What it does instead is perfectly capture the witty and horrific tone of the movie (and that of other Coen classics) just as it subverts expectations longtime fans might be harboring. Relative novice Allison Tolman is the breakout star of this wicked noir, and this in a stellar cast featuring veterans like Keith Carradine, Martin Freeman, and Billy Bob Thornton.

Ida“: Black-and-white and in a square 1.37:1 aspect ratio, “Ida” is beautiful in its austerity. It’s quite appropriate given that the movie’s eponymous nun (first-time actress Agata Trzebuchowska) is a stand-in for Communist Poland in the 60s: repressed, stoic, all but oblivious about her past, but with a hidden wild streak raging underneath.

Only Lovers Left Alive“: It’s no coincidence that the two vampires at the center of the movie resemble its director Jim Jarmusch, both in appearance and temperament. Reclusive and strikingly androgynous, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) both endear themselves to us because they guardedly suppress their misanthropic tendencies in order to better appreciate the considerable achievements of e humans who have sustained them for centuries. Just don’t forget that like all predators, they must still hunt to survive.

Scott Nye, Battleship Pretension, CriterionCast

Even from my limited vantage point (still have many to catch up with), 2014 seems to be off to a rousing start. Wes Anderson’s spectacular collage of Lubitsch, Kubrick, Powell & Pressburger, and his own increasingly-off-kilter imagination, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” remains my top pick. I remain, even in memory, impressed with its wit and cunning, the fleetness of its storytelling and the magnitude of its thematic and emotional register. My other selections have no order, but leaping most to my attention at this moment are the acute, carefully-observed portraits of adolescence in Gia Coppola’s “Palo Alto” and Lukas Moodysson’s “We Are the Best!,” which couldn’t be more different in every other way. Francois Ozon’s “Young & Beautiful” and Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” both examined the ways a young woman’s sexual power can be twisted, serving a predatory goal while also leaving her exposed and completely vulnerable; the former is particularly attuned to the limits of perception inherent to cinema (and life), which the majority of frustratingly-expositional cinema seeks to deny. David Gordon Green has perhaps gone off the deep end with “Joe,” but the sometimes-messy result is the odd film that seems to keep perfect pace with star Nicolas Cage’s outsized screen persona, while still delivering a surprisingly affecting drama. James Bobin won my loyalty within a few minutes of “Muppets Most Wanted,” incorporating both a Bergman and a Busby Berkeley reference before we’ve even left the first musical number, and the surprisingly irreverent proceedings were a breath of fresh air after the stiflingly nostalgic “The Muppets.” Finally, Denis Villeneuve rebounded from the silly-yet-engaging “Prisoners” with the most haunting, mysterious (often totally bewildering), mesmerizing, and subtly emotional film I’ve seen all year. “Enemy” really understands what it means to be trapped, not by circumstance or economics or status, but within oneself, within one’s personal limitations, shortcomings, and fears. I cannot, nor would I particularly desire to, stop thinking about it.

Neil Young, Jigsaw Lounge, Tribune

Keep this to yourselves, but “Seven Boats” is the best new film I’ve seen in 2014. So far only shown a small handful of times at Copenhagen’s Cinematheque — including as “previews” during the CPH PIX festival in April, which is where I saw it (twice) — it’s ten hypnotic black-and-white minutes, written and directed by a little-known 29-year-old Icelander, Hlynur Palmason. The end credits gratifyingly specify it was “shot on 35mm on location in Hofn, Iceland”: more accurate, however, to say it was shot off Hofn, Iceland, as the whole thing takes place in and on the icy water. It’s a single right-to-left tracking shot which gradually reveals the watercraft of the title, and parcels out fragments of narrative which gradually coalesce into a nicely nightmarish (and chillingly comic) whole. But — damnit — I’ve said too much already! Those cautious folk at the Danish Film Institute, who co-produced, with the Icelandic Film Centre, would prefer I kept schtum as they’re aiming “Seven Boats” towards a berth at Venice’s Orizzonti. Quite how my praising Palmason’s short as the “best new film” of 2014 could possibly queer their Lido pitch is beyond me, but I’m sure they know their business.

No such cloak-and-dagger caginess surrounds Tsai Ming-Liang’s Berlinale wow, the 56-minute “Journey to the West.” Arriving only months after the Taiwanese-Malaysian maestro’s decade-defining “Stray Dogs,” it’s the fifth and longest instalment in an ongoing series starring his taciturn muse Lee Kang-Sheng as a scarlet-robed divine who walks veeeeeeerrrrrryyyy sllllllooooooowwwwllllly innnnnddddeeeeeed. This time our nameless protagonist somehow finds himself in one of Europe’s greatest (and most snobbishly overlooked) cities, the endearingly scruffy French port of Marseille, where he eventually attracts an unlikely acolyte in the vaguely hobo-ish form of… Denis Lavant! Urban hubbub is ingeniously juxtaposed with the monk’s inner beatific calm. Steps are taken; do you follow?

“Boats” and “Journey” –with nary a word of dialogue between them — are my sole real standouts so far (and this from a critic who’s usually allergic to archly artificial wordlessness). But anybody interested in socially-conscious, essayistic documentaries should try to track down a pair of rock-solid European landscape surveys from economically-ravaged nations which have encouragingly bucked dismal EU-wide trends this month by electorally shifting leftward. And you will have to track ’em down, because they’re most unlikely to come to you: “Salt Flats” (Ira Dika & Yorgos Savoglou) is from Greece and runs 35 minutes; “Industrial Revolution” (Tiago Hespanha & Frederico Lobo) is from Portugal and clocks in at 72 minutes. Two last picks, both of them meticulously just-so evocations of bygone periods elevated by production-design that unapologetically flirts with the camp side of opulent: Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel (no introduction needed) and Catalan oddity “Falling Star“by maverick producer Luis Minarro. The dandyish 64-year-old makes a belated but deliciously auspicious transition to directing fiction by fancifully dramatizing the haplessly brief reign of Spain’s King Amadeo I, a milquetoast monarch brought low by perfidious and lackadaisical underlings. If he’d had the services of a Gustave H around his palace, of course, poor Amedeo might still be with us to to this day.

Q: What are your five favorite cultural experiences of 2014? They can be movies (or screenings), TV shows (or episodes), music: You name it. (Go back to the beginning of the survey here.)

Gary M. Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News

The first best of the five best films I’ve seen/read this year would have to be Tsai Ming-Liang’s breathtaking hour-long feature, “Journey to the West.” This film was so exquisite and captivating that I actually wanted to stop seeing movies. But I kept watching, and I saw my second best film this year, Pawel Pawlikowski’s astonishing drama, “Ida,” which is seared in my mind. “Stranger by the Lake may just be the best queer film all year, and one that reveals more (no pun intended; OK, maybe it was) with each viewing. I’ve seen it a few times now. Fourth place, I will tie up the four of “wayward youth” films, a quartet of films that I had to watch barefoot as they each knocked my off: “It Felt Like Love,” written and directed by Eliza Hittman; “Hide Your Smiling Faces,” written and directed by Daniel Patrick Carbone; “The Cold Lands,” written and directed by Tom Gilroy; and “Teenage co-written and directed by Matt Wolf. And rounding out the Top 5 is “The Lunchbox,” perhaps the most lovely and satisfying film I’ve seen all year.

I’ll also include a trio of books: The Greatest Movies You’ll Never See, edited by Simon Braund, is truly great; it describes the backstories of unmade films all of which readers will wish had been made. Tom Spanbauer’s I Loved You More is a staggeringly great book — a sprawling novel about love and truth and trust; I can’t wait for this to become a film (and I totally have Jean-Marc Barr in mind for it). And if I can plug Directory of World Cinema: Argentina, which I co-edited with Beatriz Urraca, it was one of the best moments of this year to hold this book (which includes contributions from Carrie Rickey, Matt Prigge, and Richard Pena among others) in my hand after two years of work. 

Josh Spiegel, Movie Mezzanine

Right now, it’s hard to beat “Under the Skin” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” as the best films to date. I don’t doubt that I’ll be impressed by other films by the end of the year — hopefully Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice,” for example — but if something tops “Under the Skin” for sheer, unsettling horror or “The Grand Budapest Hotel” for a blend of pathos and comedy in a ramshackle farce, I really can’t wait to see it. Another film I’ve loved this year, one I’ve been praising since last fall at Fantastic Fest, is “Blue Ruin,” which tackles the overly familiar trope of revenge and flips it on its head in an intense backwoods package. I also wanted to briefly mention a film that I hope garners some form of second-wave love somewhere down the line: “Muppets Most Wanted,” which is to “The Muppets” as “Ocean’s Twelve” is to “Ocean’s Eleven.” Also, because we can extend this to more than just movies, I want to mention “The Good Wife and “Cosmos,” the former because it’s just finished its best and most complex season and the latter because its hopeful vision of the future coupled with straightforward scientific discourse is a breath of fresh air. We can mock Seth MacFarlane for a lot, but I give him hearty praise for helping make this show a reality.

Alan Zilberman, Brightest Young Things, Tiny Mix Tapes

In comments following her now-notorious op-ed, the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday said, “What I tried to do is raise some questions about the knock-on effects of immersing ourselves in these same narratives and same images, over and over again.” She’s asking important questions, and while most film in 2014 is the same repetitive story, some of the year’s best are markedly different from mainstream narratives. Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child” turns the romantic comedy on its head with a story of a pregnant woman who easily decides to have abortion, then jokes about it with a sophisticated support network that does not judge her. Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” is an experimental sci-fi feminist allegory, one that takes the weirdest type of innocent and drops her (it?) into a world of misogyny (incidentally, both these titles were released by A24 films). 

One of the more touching documentaries of the year is “Maidentrip,” and its premise is deceptively simple: it follows a young dutch teenager who decides to sail around the world. She’s fiercely independent in one way, a normal adolescent in another. The documentary is part travelogue, part coming of age story, with remarkable footage of the vast ocean that’s utterly unique. There’s an entirely different idea of womanhood in Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac,” which is disturbing, funny, and subversive precisely because it’s about a woman who becomes a pariah after she defies patriarchy and male privilege. Finally, there’s “Honey,” a meditative Italian thriller about a woman who fights for dignity at the end of life, then must re-calibrate her ethics once she meets a man who wants to commit suicide because he’s bored, not because he’s sick.

I doubt films like this will ever have more influence than crude comedies or comic book adaptations, but these serve as a reminder that thoughtful, independent film can be more subversive than any criticism or op-ed out there.

Piers Marchant, Philadelphia Magazine, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

While it’s entirely possible that no one enjoys putting together lists of this sort more than moi, this does speak to the trick of figuring out exactly what films should count, chronologically speaking (i.e. easily the best film that officially was released in my city this year was “The Past,” but I actually saw it at TIFF this past September, and anyway, it was released elsewhere earlier). With that in mind, I’ll try not to cheat and only include films I’ve seen since January 1.

So. Let’s hit up the seven best films of 2014 so far. Two peculiar and avant-garde films lead off this group, first off, French-Canadian director Denis Villenueve’s “Enemy,” a bugged-out (sorry) interpretation of the Jose Saramago novel (based upon the Dostoevsky original) that left audiences perplexed and fascinated in equal measure; then, the brilliantly understated (and non-expository) “Under the Skin,” Jonathan Glazer’s hallucinatory allegory about a fetching alien played by Scarlett Johansson cruising the mean streets of Edinburgh and picking up unwitting men to deposit in an open walkway vat of silken motor oil back in a hidden lair. For something a good deal more explicable (and ass-kicking), there was Gareth Evans’ Indonesian action epic “The Raid 2,” a follow-up to a scintillating original that made the jump from great action flick to serious action meditation. For levity, we have Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” perhaps the most Anderson-like film ever conceived, with wit, style and a sterling performance from Ralph Fiennes. For a romance minus the comedy, there was Ritesh Batra’s “The Lunchbox,” a film that manages to be sweet without ever treading into the saccharine, and a food-based flick that doesn’t settle for having food-porn shots take the place of character development and plot (oh, hello there, Jon Favreau!). Rounding out our seven, two stand-outs at this year’s Tribeca film fest: In the narrative division, there was Angus MacLachian’s droll “Goodbye to All That, the story of a guileless man dumped out of his marriage and into the confusing, swirling pool of singlehood, lead by Paul Schneider, who finally gets a chance to carry a film and does so with smooth aplomb; as for docs, there were a passel of good ones (“Garnet’s Gold” and “Art & Craft,” to name but two), but Johanna Hamilton’s “1971,” concerning the successful break-in of a suburban Philadelphia FBI office and the subsequent releasing of thousands of their files proving the agency had been spying illegally on its own citizens, is both absorbing and painfully timely in the age of the NSA and Edward Snowden. 

Ethan Alter, Film Journal International, NYCFilmCritic.com

Only Lovers Left Alive“/”Under the Skin.” My two favorite halftime-point films by far, Jim Jarmusch’s haunting, moody vampire tale and Jonathan Glazer’s gorgeous, spooky alien invasion riff represent art house (as opposed to grindhouse) genre cinema at its finest.

“Everything is Awesome” from “The LEGO Movie.” The ubiquitous Legoland anthem encapsulates everything that’s awesome about 2014’s best studio confection so far: great one-liners, boundless energy and, above all, a playful spirit.

The Frankenstein Arc on “Penny Dreadful”: The Dracula and Dorian Gray stuff on Showtime’s horror hodgepodge are non-starters, but damned if series creator John Logan isn’t serving up one of the finest re-tellings of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein in recent memory. Kickstarter to produce a Frankenstein-only phantom edit for the DVD release. 

Miracleman” Reprints. Though I shelled out for back issues of the Eclipse-published line years ago, I’ve been happily buying the same comics over again now that the long-awaited Marvel-backed reissues of “The Original Writer’s” early ’80s superhero epic are out of the legal mire and actually on shelves. It’ll all pay off in late 2016/early 2017 when Neil Gaiman finally gets to reveal how The Silver Age led to The Dark Age. 

U Talkin’ U2 to Me? The lengthy digressions can be annoying — until you’ve listened to a few episodes, at which point they become endearing — but thanks to the dynamic duo of Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman (a.k.a. Adam Scott Aukerman), this (mostly) all-U2 (mostly) all the time podcast captures the freewheeling fun of spending a couple of hours with your friends shooting the shit about your favorite band. 

Halftime Honorable Mentions: The “Godzilla” halo jump; Robert Morse’s soft-shoe (soft-sock?) exit from “Mad Men”; Quicksilver captures time in a bottle in “X-Men: Days of Future Past”; The How Did this Get Made crew vs. No Holds Barred; Doc Brown Lives! (h/t Seth MacFarlane); The Alison & Felix Show on “Orphan Black”; Eva Green in “300: Rise of an Empire”; Spike Jonze: Oscar Winner; Ralph Fiennes’ grand “Grand Budapest” mustache; “Pile of Bullets,” the finest VCR game never made (h/t “Community”). 

Greg Cwik, Wall St Cheat Sheet, Indiewire

Under the Skin” is probably the film that has stuck with me the most this year. I’m a big fan of Glazer’s “Birth”, which has some truly hypnotic moments. Like “Birth”, “Under the Skin” is a magnificent feat of aesthetic story telling, the marriage of sight and sound at once tangibly creepy and ethereally haunting, like waking up from a bad dream only to find the bad dream follow you into reality. “Ida” was subtly stunning and quietly tragic, and it was one of the most invigorating reviews I’ve written so far. The movie actually seemed to reveal more layers of depth the more I wrote. “The Immigrant“, which I saw at the New York Film Festival last fall, is a film that didn’t immediately enthrall me. I loved the sickly sepia tone and the way James Gray channels the late Gordon Willis in his slashes of sallow gold against tar-black backgrounds, but I wasn’t as emotionally affected. The more I cogitated, though, the more the film seemed to bloom in my head, and I kept coming back to that gorgeous final shot. Marion Cotillard gives her best performance yet, sorrowful but ultimately life-affirming, and it works harmoniously with Joaquin Phoenix’s surprisingly subtle turn. After getting ripped off by the academy last year, Phoenix should get a supporting actor nod here. “Only Lovers Left Alive” (also saw at the NYFF) grew on me over time too, but mostly because I listened to that stunning score over and over and over for weeks on Spotify (credited to Jozef Van Wissem and SQURL). And I know a lot has been said about “Sorcerer“, and William Friedkin has said some kind of invidious things, but the Blu ray of Friedkin’s flawed masterpiece is awesome, in the Kantian sense. One of the most visceral films I’ve ever seen. I slightly prefer it over “The Wages of Fear.” Roy Scheider was a brilliantly keen actor who only ever had two great parts (the other being, of course, Chief Brody in “Jaws”), and his break-down scene, with him trying to hack down trees with a machete, feels so real. He was an incredibly un-showy actor. Lastly, Swans’ new album “To Be Kind” is amazing, and amazingly cinematic. (Great writing music.) Their previous album, “The Seer,” was like the score to the apocalypse, and their new album adds unexpected flair and swing, two hours of menace adorned with the occasional strange southern twang and pervasive droning guitars manipulated beyond recognition. Listen to it now.

William Bibbiani, CraveOnline

Whiplash“: Screened at Sundance 2014, scheduled for release later this year, and one of the most exhilarating films I’ve seen in a long while, “Whiplash” is a coming-of-age saga that dares to take the side of the hero’s abusive father figure. Miles Teller dreams of becoming a great drummer, J.K. Simmons seems determined to browbeat his fantasies into nothingness, but his abject cruelty only spurs Teller to try harder. In the process Teller makes horrifying sacrifices but there’s no denying that he does get better. The consequences of heartless pressure are everywhere, but the ends just might justify the means. Might. A stirring, complex and breathtaking movie if ever I’ve seen one.

The Dance of Reality“: Alejandro Jodorowsky is back and he’s just as vibrant as ever. “The Dance of Reality” is an autobiography filtered through an acid trip: the perspective of a small child told from the perspective of an old man who remembers whatever he wants to remember, whether or not it really happened. The past and future collide in warm, paternal hugs between Jodorowsky as a child and Jodorowsky as an old filmmaker, capturing the horrors of youth but letting the wisdom of age seep in through the edges. An alarming, beautiful experience.

Only Lovers Left Alive“: Jim Jarmusch made a vampire movie and it’s exactly what you’d expect: Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton lounging around, half-nude, listening to cool records and sharing weird stories about the celebrities they’ve met over the centuries. The artifice is intoxicating, like hanging out with the coolest ex-hippies imaginable, but the heart of “Only Lovers Left Alive” is what makes it special: Here at last are two romantic leads who are more fascinating in the middle of a long-term (extremely long), committed relationship than any two hormonal babes ever were at the beginning of one.

Hannibal“: A contemptible concept — transforming the acclaimed works of Thomas Harris into a weekly cash grab — has somehow yielded the most soulful show on television. Everything about “Hannibal” feels personal, and as well it should. Bryan Fuller’s series is about the very nature of subjectivity, and demands to be viewed as an ongoing, traumatizing nightmare. The production design is second to none, the horror puts most R-rated movies to shame, and Mads Mikkelsen has done the unthinkable by turning his version of Hannibal Lecter into the new gold standard. 

Arrow“: What the TV series “Arrow” lacks in depth (let’s be honest, shirtless hunks and soap opera gooeyness abound) it makes up for in density. The best live-action superhero TV series on record crams more into one episode than most shows, even the critically-acclaimed ones, can eke out in an entire season. The action is thrilling, the twists genuinely unexpected, and the sprawling superhero universe they’re crafting on “Arrow” is more exciting than anyone could have expected. The dialogue may be dopey, but the story is grand.

Runners-Up (in alphabetical order): “Blind,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Chef,” “Filth,” “Grand Piano,” “The Guest,” “Noah.”

John Keefer, 51 Deep

So much of my time is spent watching films from all over the place, globally and time wise, that it’s hard to even remember what movies I’ve seen so far in 2014 that were from 2014 and that I liked in 2014. “Godzilla” springs to mind immediately because that was the last movie I saw in theaters… wait, no, “Only Lovers Left Alive” was the last movie I saw at the beautiful and should-be-visited-by-you-if-at-all-possible Colonial Theater in Phoenixville, PA (Home of Blobfest!). I enjoyed Jarmusch’s latest but do wonder what inspires artists to create new works that feel very much of a piece with what they’ve done before, as in why not do something dramatically different? Or more accurately what inspires old hands to make new work? I’m stalling for time because I can’t think of anything else I — no, wait, “Grand Budapest.” Loved that “Grand Budapest” speaking of doing what you do but doing it really well. What is love, anyway? Are there really degrees to it? Or is it like if you’re dead then you’re dead? Or a vampire? I finally saw “An American in Paris” and was so thoroughly entertained by it I was exhausted by the end. That’s an old movie, though, made when they made them like they used to. How about music? Check out Nothing‘s “Guilty of Everything,” Goddamnit‘s “How to Take the Burn”, Drive-By Truckers‘ “English Oceans” and Michael Rudolph Cumming‘s “Get Low”. They’re all great albums and you can take mine and Godzilla’s word for it. We’re good friends so I can speak for him. Love!

Fico Cangiano, CineXpress

It’s been a good year so far at the movies. These are the films that I’d have to say are in my top of 2014 list so far: “The LEGO Movie,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” “Godzilla,” “The Double,” “Enemy,” “Under the Skin,” “Neighbors,” “Blue Ruin,” “Joe,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Nymphomaniac.”

Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket

The LEGO Movie“: What seemed like it would be a two-hour toy commercial turned out to be so much more. Sweet, funny, and incredibly smart about why playing with blocks is essential to developing a child’s imagination, “The LEGO Movie” is the best time I’ve had in a theater so far this year.

Kids for Cash“: This documentary about a scandal that occurred not far from my hometown really needs a wider audience. It tells the story of a Luzurne County, Pennsylvania judge who was accused of sentencing non-violent children to detention facilities in exchange for kickbacks. Not surprisingly, he ruined the lives of some of those kids, who now suffer depression and anxiety. “Kids for Cash” documents this shocking case very well, but more than that, it really makes you question our juvenile justice system. Why are we putting so many children behind bars instead of getting them help?

Sorcerer“: William Friedkin finally brought his overlooked 1977 masterpiece to Blu-Ray, restored to his complete satisfaction. It looks absolutely gorgeous, and the film remains a stunner. Gripping, exciting, and superbly acted, it deserves the renaissance it seems to be getting.

The American Nurse“:  This deeply affecting documentary takes a simple approach in exploring its subject: it merely observes five vastly different types of nurses in action and allows them to discuss their work. The cumulative result is a powerful reminder of how diverse – and important – the nursing profession is.

Blue Ruin“: A revenge movie with a twist, in that the person seeking revenge isn’t at all cut out for the things he’s doing. That idea creates one of the tensest, most haunting films of this sort that I’ve ever seen. Macon Blair gives the kind of performance that makes you sit up and take notice. 

Jason Shawhan, The Nashville Scene, Interface 2037

At the (sorta) halfway point of the year, these are the films that I have seen and loved, in alphabetical order. “Abuse of Weakness,” “The Amazing Catfish,” “Blue Ruin,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Cheap Thrills,” “The Congress,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Happy Christmas,” “The LEGO Movie,” “Maleficent,” “Noah,” “Nymphomaniac,” “Oculus,” “Only Lovers Left Alive,” “The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears,” “Stranger by the Lake,” “Tim’s Vermeer,” “Trap Street,” “Under the Skin,” “Vic + Flo Saw a Bear,” and “You and The Night.” Some of them haven’t been released yet, but there’s more wiggle room with this than a year-end piece, at least as I see it. I’ve also got an unlimited amount of love for the Robyn/Royksopp Do It Again EP, as well as Season One of “Rick & Morty.”

Michael Pattison, Sight & Sound, Keyframe Daily

I might be cheating before I’ve begun here, but the first title that comes to mind after imposing the “world-premieres only” rule is “BNSF,” James Benning’s latest feature, which has a 2013 production date and at least one showing last year behind it — but in terms of theatrical showings to a paying audience, it received its official bow at Bradford International Film Festival earlier this year. I saw the film roughly two years after breaking my Benning cherry with “Nightfall,” since when he’s become my favorite living US filmmaker.

Named after the railway company, BNSF is a three-hour single-take documentary in which freight trains pass through the tripod-fixed frame with fluctuating regularity: this way, that way, disappearing somewhere in the middle on account of the varied terrain, while more elemental shifts unfold imperceptibly. Already a fan of the aforementioned Nightfall (another single-take film, though it runs for an hour less), I came half-prepared: severely hung over on the one hand, and excited and determined enough to try and match the film’s own visual stasis by limiting my own fidgetry on the other. When Tony Soprano once asked, “What constitutes a fidget?” they should’ve looked into the future, to me watching BNSF, and said: “The opposite of that.” The three hours flew by!

So too did the 56 minutes for which Tsai Ming-liang’s “Journey to the West” held me rapt when it premiered at the Berlinale in January. I’ve currently got Tsai’s last feature “Stray Dogs” atop my ranked list combining 2014 premieres and theatrical releases — on the increasingly hopeless assumption that the film will at some point this year grace a UK cinema — but “Journey to the West” is second. I know in advance of at least one survey answer that summarizes the film better than I will, so all I’ll note is that I enjoyed the experience of watching “Journey to the West” so much that I declined a re-watch in Lisbon last month — out of fear, somehow, that it wouldn’t be as good.

Though better seen than described, in many ways “Journey to the West” is also a documentary, and the next four films on my list-in-progress confirm that so far this year, fiction films are playing catch-up. Ira Dika and Yorgos Savoglou’s “Salt Flats” is a 35-minute dialogue-free hymn to the working methods of the salt mines in Angelochori, dedicated in its opening moments to Bela Tarr. Elias Yannakakis’ “Kalavryta: People and Shadows” — deserving winner of a FIPRESCI prize at Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in March — focuses upon the 1943 massacre by the Nazis of a Greek village’s male population. “Iranien” is a compelling and surprisingly amusing exploration of the Islamic Republic of Iran as represented by four mullahs, against whose views secularist director Mehran Tamadon argues with frequent exasperation. And finally, from Portugal, is Sergio Trefaut’s “Alentejo, Alentejo,” a portrait of an agricultural region in south-central Portugal through its singing traditions. And my colleague Ronan Doyle said last year was a banner year for docs!

The best music released in 2014 has been CunninLynguists‘ “Strange Journey Volume 3,” Young Fathers‘ “Dead,” Bike for Three!‘s “So Much Forever,” Homeboy Sandman‘s “White Sands” and the “Melted” remixes of Blue Sky Black Death‘s “Glaciers.” And, still to come: new albums from Sole (with DJ Pain) and Guelph’s finest number-cruncher, Noah23!

John DeCarli, Film Capsule

While I have a Top 5 list of 2014 films I’ve really enjoyed, there’s only one I’m passionate enough about to survive to the end of the year: “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” How Wes Anderson continues to construct such vibrant and propulsive worlds continues to amaze me. Much more modestly, the dreamy indie film “Hide Your Smiling Faces” also sweeps you up into its world, the sights, smells and sounds of a childhood summer. I loved the confident, tautly-constructed suspense of “Blue Ruin.” “The LEGO Movie” was an exuberant surprise earlier this year, though its impact is fading as we reach summer. Lastly, Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac Vol. I” teased with the promise of an exploration of narrative diversions and a kaleidoscope of formal techniques, but the bitter taste of Vol. II almost completely undoes any impact left after the first half. More inviting, mysterious and compelling than any of these films, though, is my top “cultural object” of the year: The War on Drugs‘ “Lost in the Dream,” an album of mesmerizing depth and beauty.

Cameron Williams, Popcorn Junkie

The first half of 2014 in Australia is catch up for a lot of awards season films.  Distributors delay the releases of these movies to capitalize on the buzz of the Academy Awards.  It’s one of those annoying publicity things. Due to the nature of delayed releases honorable “2014” mentions must go to “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Her,” “Nebraska,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Square” and “The Great Beauty.” Now on with the list.

“Only Lovers Left Alive“: Jim Jarmusch gets vampires back to their gothic roots and allows them to brood on the artistic and intellectual decline of civilization. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel“: Wes Anderson prompted an immediate revision of his filmography in the wake of his newest film because it may be his best work.

The LEGO Movie“: Forget about the Bible, the real story of creation is contained within “The LEGO Movie.” Moving at the speed of the imagination it’s a hyperactive adventure that breathlessly moves from crazy to bonkers. 

The Raid 2“: The new center of the arse kicking universe.

The Possibilities Are Endless“: A music documentary that throws away the bland “talking head” conventions of so many of these films in favor of a minimalist approach.  You are immersed the world of singer/songwriter Edwyn Collins and his recovery from a stroke that wiped his mind clean except for two phrases: “The possibilities are endless” and “Grace Maxwell.”

Marc V. Ciafardini, Go See Talk, Big Fan Boy

Richard Shepard’s “Dom Hemingway,” that vulgar and superb vehicle for Jude Law, has remained on my brain since the press screening. It’s the best writing Shepard has done to date and it is infinitely elevated thanks to Law’s theatricality. Also the tracks on the soundtrack/score (featuring music by composer Rolfe Kent and artists like Citizen Cope) are just as good as Jude’s glorious on screen rants.

X-Men: Days of Future“: Past Bryan Singer’s triumphant return to the X-franchise. He simultaneously blends the best elements of the series he started with the best parts of First Class (which is pretty much everything) and rights the wrongs left in the wake of his absence. He brings fun back to this universe and in so doing looks to confidently sail the ship to X-Men: Apocalypse. 2016 can’t get here soon enough.

Wes Anderson has reached dazzling new heights in his career with “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” A film as ambitious as it is decadent, everything he’s ever done has been building to this. Not only does it look spectacular but paired with Alexandre Desplat’s brilliant and perfectly tailored score it is perhaps his magnum opus…now hurry up Criterion, announce its inevitable release and take my money already.

Rob Minkoff has beloved films about a mouse and another about a lion to his credit, but his latest foray into animated animal narratives, this time a canine, is just as well done. Not many people probably expected anything to come from updating another retro property but “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is a blast. DreamWorks seemingly did the impossible making a film like this work without relying solely on nostalgia or gimmicks. It’s an unlikely success but then again, that seems exactly what the studio is known for these days.

Rio 2” was a bit of a preachy mess and honestly not that interesting. But whether you or your kids are fans of pop music the soundtrack is sure to please people of pretty much all musical tastes. Shame the film (well, the narrative) wasn’t as colorful as its auditory counterpart.

This isn’t a news flash as the video game has been out for a little while, but if you’re a product of the 8-bit generation, and were raised on DuckTales, one of the all time great NES games, then you will be in heaven playing DuckTales Remastered. The game is amazing but it also features spectacular arrangements of the original music. Jake Kaufman shows incredible reverence and love for the 8-bit symphony and composes a brilliant new score for the game and the soundtrack was just released this April (a must buy!). It’s not great, it’s not mind blowing, it’s a duck blur…and effin’ awesome!!

Zac Oldenburg, Having Said That

This year has been a nice balance of films both big and small winning me over, with “Only Lovers Left Alive” sitting right around the bottom of my Top 5 with the monstrous “Godzilla.” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is one of the best action movies in years and possibly the best Marvel movie besides “The Avengers.” Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” is an epic and dark female empowerment picture. “Under the Skin” is unlike just about anything I have ever seen. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is my firm favorite of the year so far, but that shouldn’t be a surprise from this Wes Anderson homer; Ralph Fiennes also has best performance of the year firmly locked up for now.

Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing

Aside from one film that I’m currently embargoed on (and potentially would be mocked for loving anyhow), my current top ten of the year so far would include these titles in some sort of ranked order, though this is just my alphabetical list: “5 to 7,” About Alex,” “Begin Again,” “Boyhood,” “Chef,” Draft Day,” “Godzilla,” “Life Itself,” “The Pretty One,” and “Under the Skin.” I’m a bit biased as you might imagine, but I think the Roger Ebert documentary “Life Itself has been the best thing I’ve seen all year. As for the worst, that’d be God’s Not Dead, but to avoid getting worked up, I’ll just move on. It hasn’t been a particularly great first half of the year, though it’s been one that’s lacked much to get upset over, so that’s good. It does seem to be a year that’ll have most of the best stuff saved for the Oscar season, so I’m now setting my sights on the fall/winter movie season.

Edwin Arnaudin, Asheville Citizen-Times, Ashvegas
My top movies so far are “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Past (which I’m counting for this year, dammit. So it goes in the small markets), “Only Lovers Left Alive,” and “Cold in July.”
The best TV I’ve seen include “Mad Men,” the second season of “House of Cards,” and “Fargo” (which I’m enjoying more than the uneven but still honorable mention “True Detective”). 
And while there have been several excellent albums thus far (e.g. Lykke Li’s “I Never Learn” and Foster the People’s “Supermodel”), I find myself returning to Beck‘s “Morning Phase” more than any of them.
No new books yet in 2014, but with fiction from Tana French and Ian McEwan on the way, that’ll soon change.
Most popular answers:

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (27 mentions)
“Under the Skin” (23 mentions)
“Only Lovers Left Alive” (15 mentions)
“The LEGO Movie” (10 mentions)
“Blue Ruin” (8 mentions)
“The Immigrant” (8 mentions)
“Boyhood” (8 mentions)
“It Felt Like Love” (6 mentions)
“True Detective” (6 mentions)
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (5 mentions)
“Nymphomaniac” (5 mentions)
“Stranger by the Lake” (5 mentions)
We Are the Best! (5 mentions)

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