To say that our top three critics don’t always see eye-to-eye would be an understatement, but they can all agree on at least one thing: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is one of Wes Anderson’s best movies, and one of the strongest entries in a year that has so far offered no shortage of cinematic excellence. Also mentioned by at least one critic: a steamy gay-cruising thriller, a hotly debated biblical epic, and two staggeringly ambitious magnum opuses that clocked in at more than four hours apiece. There will be many more hours (and weeks, and months) of moviegoing to come before they have their final say on the year in movies, but at the moment, 2014 is off to an excellent start.
Here, listed in alphabetical order, are our critics’ picks for the best films released theatrically from January to June 2014:
Re-reading my Variety review of “Moonrise Kingdom,” I found the line, “While (Wes) Anderson is essentially a miniaturist, making dollhouse movies about meticulously appareled characters in perfectly appointed environments, each successive film finds him working on a more ambitious scale.” His latest is the apotheosis of that aesthetic — a nested series of stories as complex and intricately detailed as fine Swiss clockwork, given soul by the great Ralph Fiennes.
Between this and “The Lego Movie,” we’ve been spoiled by great animation this year. My expectations were sky-high for the follow-up to DreamWorks cartoon coming-of-ager, and writer-director Dean DeBlois exceeded them, delivering a sequel with integrity, one that respects and expands upon the original while aging the characters five years — a rarity in a medium where Bart Simpson has spent the last 25 years repeating Mrs. Krabappel’s fourth-grade class.
What an exhilarating experiment: Using just one actor (Tom Hardy), one location (a moving BMW) and a series of phone calls as his script, writer-director Steven Knight has crafted a gripping character-driven drama. It’s the polar opposite of all the comicbook movies hogging screens these days, not simply for its lack of visual effects and spandex suits, but because “Locke” recognizes that a flawed human being is infinitely more interesting than a superhero.
- Variety Staff
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