Half-Year Mark: The Best and Worst Films of 2014

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We are nearly halfway through the year and there are already more than a handful of superb films worth mentioning. From a sweeping epic of a boy growing up in Texas to an abortion comedy. The best films of 2014 so far have brought screenplays to life with an astonishing scrupulousness that still left room for stunning artistic expression.

As we finish out the rest of the year, what I’m most interested in is finding out which films will top the five I’ve listed below. Joaquin Phoenix teaming back up with Academy Award-nominated writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson in “Inherent Vice” seems promising, as does Channing Tatum slamming bodies down with a prosthetic-covered Steve Carell in Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher,” and, of course, the shirtless wonder, Matthew McConaughey, going through blackholes in Christopher Nolan’s highly-anticipated “Interstellar.” But until then, let’s look back at what these last six months brought to the cinema world.

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Obvious Child

Imagine if Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl’s story in “Knocked Up” had been more directed towards reality, than you might have an idea about “Obvious Child.” Featuring a breakthrough performance by Jenny Slate (“Parks and Recreation”), the film focuses on a 20-something stand-up comedian who gets pregnant, dumped and fired just in time for the best and worst Valentine’s Day of her life.

Although abortion may be a sensitive topic to many, what Slate and writer-director Gillian Robespierre manage to pull off with “Obvious Child” is a rare feat with an actual edge. It’s a wildly uproarious and enchanting female-centric romantic-comedy that showcases the immense talent on both sides of the camera. It’s also got more class and laughs than this year’s “Neighbors” and “A Million Ways to Die in the West.”

Opens June 20.

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. “Dom Hemingway

After a 12-year prison sentence for keeping his mouth shut, the notorious safecracking Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) is back on the London streets, attempting to gather up what he’s owed. Along the way, Hemingway tries to make up for lost time by engaging in a flood of violence, sex, drugs and drunken debauchery.

Law gives his best performance to date as the title character. He’s repulsive and violent, but charming as hell, the chief reason you’ll root for his character through the entire film.

“Dom Hemingway” features a sharp and witty script written by Richard Shepard (“The Matador,” TV’s “Girls”) with visuals that vividly back his words. There is never a dull moment amidst the pumping nightlife of London, so full of color and vitality.

Now playing.

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Joe

With “Joe,” writer-director David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”) spins a wild story of friendship, violence and redemption.

Starring Tye Sheridan and the enigma that is Nicolas Cage, the film is an unforgettable tale of the Dirty South. Sheridan (“Mud”) continues to solidify his mark as one of the most essential young talents in Hollywood, while Cage provides audiences with an honest performance that hasn’t been seen in years (and if you look at what he has coming up, probably will stand as his best performance for quite some time. Cage’s titular hero is a simple man with simple problems, surrounded by complex relationships. Watching them unfold and resolve on screen made “Joe” a serious nail-biting experience and one of the best of the year.

Now playing.

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. “The Grand Budapest Hotel

Inspired by the works of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, Wes Anderson’s story of a hotel concierge in the 1930s rides a line between fantasy and reality, as well as comedy and drama, blending the genres into a pleasing culmination of distinct elements.

Backed by an all-star cast, including Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law and Bill Murray, Anderson adds another extraordinary feat to his already striking film repertoire. It’s near-perfect filmmaking.

Now playing.

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1.Boyhood

Children grow up so fast. That’s the idea behind “Boyhood,” Richard Linklater’s masterpiece that captures the life of a young Texas boy (Ellar Coltrane) from childhood until his first day at college.

However, unlike most films, which tend to plan a six-month to yearlong production, Linklater shot “Boyhood” annually across 12 years using the same actors. The technological achievement of maintaining continuity while filming over such an extended period is a noteworthy tribute to Linklater’s ability. It is a work of directorial patience and innovation rarely seen in the movie industry, and how Linklater crossed the finish line after that long is a question beyond most audiences and filmmakers.

Linklater holds our attention with a film that anyone can identify with. It covers all the bases: parental divorce, dealing with alcoholism, political ideology, first loves, discovering what kind of person you want to be and deciding what you want to do with your life.

“Boyhood” is a package deal that I believe to be the ultimate coming-of-age tale. I also highly doubt that any film for the rest of the year will top it. It’s just that good.

Opens July 11.

Honorable Mentions:

6.Locke
7.Creep
8.The Fault in Our Stars
9.X-Men: Days of Future Past
10.Mistaken for Strangers” / “The LEGO Movie

Worst of the Year:

1. “The Heart Machine
2. “Predestination
3. “Transcendence
4. “Muppets Most Wanted
5. “Mom’s Night Out

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.