The Best of the first two thirds of 2014

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Can you believe that it’s the end of August already? Yes, by the time this weekend comes to a close, it’ll be September and two thirds of the year will be gone. As such, I figured I would do something you won’t see many other places…an article on the best of the first two thirds of 2014. Eight months have passed in the year and we’ve only got the top tier Oscar contenders left to see, so it felt natural to run down what’s been top drawer from the rest of the bunch. I’ll be giving you a look at what my current top ten of the year so far looks like, as well as what my own personal awards ballot at this juncture would look like. Hopefully it’s something fun that you enjoy reading…I know it’s the sort of thing that I enjoy writing!

As a note, I’ve included everything I’ve seen so far in 2014 (something approaching 200 films), regardless of if it’s been released yet. There’s one exception to that which I explain below, but aside from that it’s all there for you to see in black and white.

The Top Ten of the Year So Far:

10. The Lego Movie – Up until the third act reveal, I was wondering why this animated film was as beloved as it was. Then, I understood why, and this became so much more than a high energy bit of fun. This is clearly the frontrunner for Best Animated Feature, and it deserves every single award it’s likely to receive.

9. Begin Again – Though not quite as phenomenal as Once, filmmaker John Carney has another winner here in this musical dramedy. Both Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo are excellent, plus there’s once again tremendous music on display. I’ve praised this one a lot before, but it’s a winner…plain and simple.

8. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby – I’m combining all three versions of this project here (Him, Her, and Them), one that I’m going to be talking about more soon, in order to praise how unique it is. Filmmaker Ned Benson, along with leads Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy have partnered on a love story that’s unlike any other. Stay tuned for more on this movie, but trust me when I say that it’s something to be on the lookout for.

7. Chef – An incredibly pleasing little gem from Jon Favreau, it’s quickly become an indie crowd pleaser, and I’m happy to say that it doesn’t shock me one bit. Besides being a very effective bit of food porn (seriously, I defy anyone to leave that movie not being hungry), it’s just “nice”, with a capital “n”. You don’t get that nearly often enough during a given year, so I really appreciated it.

6. The Skeleton Twins – I’m going to be talking much more about this one as well in September, but this dramedy is one that caught me by surprise. Both Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig have never been better playing flawed yet compelling siblings. Stay tuned for more on this title, as I think it’s really going places!

5. Wish I Was Here – I seem to be one of the few who fell for Zach Braff’s sophomore feature, but I stand by its high quality nonetheless. It might not be quite as iconic as Garden State, but it’s the sort of work I haven’t been able to forget. When you see over 300 titles a year like I do, that’s saying something.

4. Under the Skin – A real visual trip, I found this flick to be absolutely hypnotic. Scarlett Johansson is stunningly good, the execution is phenomenal, and you find yourself wanting to discuss this one for hours on end. It’s a small work, but one with big ambitions, for sure. If you haven’t seen this yet, be sure to seek it out.

3. The Fault in Our Stars – It’s been a long time since a film made me cry this hard, but that’s just one aspect of this YA adaptation that impressed me. Shailene Woodley is outstanding, with Laura Dern and Ansel Elgort turning in top notch work as well. I’ve spoken about this one a lot, but at least once more won’t hurt one bit. It’s one of the few 2014 releases that I’ve seen more than once, and it really holds up well.

2. Boyhood – What Richard Linklater achieved here is just remarkable, as many have found out by now. From the concept to the execution, it’s all nearly perfect. Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, and Lorelei Linklater (Richard’s actual daughter) are the cinematic family of the year to me. Watching them age on screen was even more powerful than I could have ever imagined. This is another film that I’m not done discussing, not by a long shot. It’s going to stick around as an awards contender all year long.

1. Life Itself – The best documentary I’ve seen in a while is also still the best film on the whole that I’ve seen this year. Roger Ebert is obviously someone who I admired, but even if I didn’t know who he was from Adam I’d still have appreciated this doc a ton. The connection I have to Ebert through this industry only increased its power. The frontrunner for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars, it’s an instant classic that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget.

Special Citation: 5 to 7 (I saw it at Tribeca and loved it, but I’m not sure if it’ll even come out this year. If it does, expect more on it from me, especially in terms of the screenplay by Victor Levin and the performance from Anton Yelchin)

Honorable Mentions: About Alex, Draft Day, Godzilla, The Pretty One, and What If

And my personal awards for the first two thirds of 2014:

Best Picture – Boyhood (runner up), The Fault in Our Stars, Life Itself (winner), Under the Skin, and Wish I Was Here

Best Director – Josh Boone for The Fault in Our Stars, Zach Braff for Wish I Was Here, Ned Benson for The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Jonathan Glazer for Under the Skin (runner up), and Richard Linklater for Boyhood (winner)

Best Actor – Zach Braff for Wish I Was Here, Ellar Coltrane for Boyhood, Bill Hader for The Skeleton Twins (winner), James McAvoy for The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (runner up), and Daniel Radcliffe for What If

Best Actress – Jessica Chastain for The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Scarlett Johansson for Under the Skin (runner up), Zoe Kazan for The Pretty One, Kristen Wiig for The Skeleton Twins, and Shailene Woodley for The Fault in Our Stars (winner)

Best Supporting Actor – Adam Driver for What If, Ansel Elgort for The Fault in Our Stars, Ethan Hawke for Boyhood (winner), Jake Johnson for The Pretty One, and Mark Ruffalo for Begin Again (runner up)

Best Supporting Actress – Patricia Arquette for Boyhood (runner up), Ashley Bell for Love & Air Sex, Laura Dern for The Fault in Our Stars (winner), Saxon Sharbino for Trust Me, and Jess Weixler for The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

Best Adapted Screenplay – Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Fault in Our Stars (winner), Guardians of the Galaxy, Under the Skin, and What If (runner up)

Best Original Screenplay – Begin Again, Boyhood (runner up), The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, The Skeleton Twins, and Wish I Was Here (winner)

Here’s to a great final third of the year!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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