Favorite Films of 2014 So Far...

There have been plenty of solid films come out this year already and we are only halfway through it. I say solid, but in no way does that mean many have been exceptional. It's funny really because in terms of quality this has been one of the better summer movie seasons in recent history. From the straight up, brisk nature of Neighbors to the full on-lampooning of sequels in 22 Jump Street this summers comedies have delivered while both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past have proved to be fine diversions in the super hero genre that seem to be breaking away from the formula that has become standard in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (here's lookin' at you, Thor). We've of course had smaller films that I have garnered a good appreciation for including Jon Favreau's return to small-scale movie-making in Chef and Nicolas Cage's return to actual acting in Joe, but the real surprise has been the typical (Godzilla, Edge of Tomorrow) and atypical (The Fault in Our Stars) summer fare that has really made this year a breeze so far. The two major animated releases have both come extremely close to that exceptional mark as The LEGO Movie is downright hilarious and has a unique take on what could have been a giant commercial while How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a beautifully realized continuation of Hiccup and Toothless' story that deserves to be seen on the big screen. I rather enjoyed Noah as well and look forward to re-visiting that film when it hits home video much in the way I enjoyed Snowpiercer which I saw and reviewed yesterday and you can read about here. Don't get me wrong there have still been plenty of mediocre to less than stellar films this year both in mainstream and arthouse releases (Pompeii and Under the Skin could crawl away and die for all I care), but the following five films are what struck me as either fascinating, substantial or flat-out awesome as I left the theater. Hit the jump to check out my top 5 of 2014 so far...

Much is required not only of Tom Hardy in director Steven Knight's Locke, but from the audience as well in which I mean it isn't for the likes of everyone. As someone who is deeply entrenched in the world of movies, where they've been, are currently at and where the trends point them towards going it is always nice to see a film take a certain amount of risk and to see it pay off is even more rewarding. I realize that not everyone will see the merit not only in Hardy's highly nuanced performance, but in what it actually takes to maintain interesting, compelling drama for nearly an hour and a half without resorting to anything more than a man in his car and the world he once knew falling down around him, but Locke illustrates brilliantly how it can take very little to create something of significant impact. Full review here.

There are super hero movies that exist in a vacuum and then there are super hero movies with grand ambition and I love a super hero flick that shoots for the stars. Marc Webb's sequel feels like the first super hero film to actually make the world of its source material jump off the pages and onto the screen. This is presumably what comic book fans have wanted for years yet now that Nolan's Batman films have re-defined what a credible super hero movie is it is easy to look at those that don't adhere to the same rules as something of a lesser accomplishment. I love The Dark Knight trilogy, but Spider-Man is a different beast and this may very well be the closest a motion picture has come to capturing the essence of what makes a comic so entertaining and endearing through its world building, its dramatic beats, its character development and most of all, its silliness. In short, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 really bowled me over. Full review here.

The Rover isn't a movie necessarily about anything as much as it is an analysis of what might happen were the structure we've always lived within to fall apart. The film isn't even about trying to decode the motivation that drives the simple plot, but instead the characters themselves and why they are who they are, how they have come to be this way and their own realizations of why they feel the need to take the actions they do. The Rover is an unnerving experience in many ways as it is slow, but never tedious. The actions that take place feel as random and authentic as the settings and physicality of the characters that the camera captures while all adding up to a beautifully depressing conclusion about what this life means to us and what our lives mean to others. Full review here.

Director Wes Anderson's latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is many things but at its heart it feels like a quiet epic. This is a love letter to time gone by with a narrative spanning decades and a story that chronicles the exceptionally unexceptional life of one young man who was influenced by another and would have his world forever changed because of him. It is as much about the world one creates around themselves and how it determines the outcome of ones life as it is about the actual plot of the story which, be not afraid, contains prison break-outs, gun fights, affairs with older women and a fair amount of lies and deception. Full review here.

When it comes to a film such as Enemy, the verdict on whether it is ultimately satisfying or not is based on whether the final reveal is worthy of all that proceeded it. I always have trouble determining whether those means actually justify the end. This is especially true when I am completely taken with the closing sequences and give the rest of the movie a slight pass because the conclusion elevated it so much. The majority of the time though conventional Hollywood films are exactly that and are unable to offer anything truly enlightening or mind-blowing and so we have been conditioned not to expect too much or at the very least something we've likely seen before that may happen to have a slight twist on it. The worst is when the "twist ending" makes little sense in regards to the events that have built up to it and only exists so it might be given the title of being twisty. Throughout Enemy I never felt like I was being cheated or that anything was purposefully being hidden from us, but instead that we are given as much as the film can offer and that is why it is the most satisfying movie-going experience I've had so far this year. Full review here.