The 21 (5) Best Films Of 2014 We've Already Seen

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The more OCD among us here at Playlist Towers find it a source of constant aggravation that release dates vary so much from territory to territory, and festivals often get premieres a full 18-or-so months before a film gains a proper U.S. release—making a cut-and-dry list of any given year’s movies less science than art. And while it’s an art that has already yielded our first magnum opus of the year, the 100 Most Anticipated Movies Of 2014,(and we should probably be awarded the rest of January off as a result) there’s still a category of film we’ve left unmined: those movies that we saw and reviewed in 2013 at festivals or sneak screenings or parts foreign that won’t be in theaters until 2014.

And so we went back to the grindstone to bring you this list of 20 (plus a host of honorable mentions and also rans) of the films that very well might have made it onto our Most Anticipated list had we not already seen them, along with summaries of and links to our original reviews, and their release dates, where they have them. If, in general, foretelling what’s going to be good and what’s not is a bit of a blindfolded darts game, these films at least are known quantities, and on their strength alone, we can be pretty excited for 2014.

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"The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her"
Synopsis: After the disappearance of a young New York woman, her marriage, and its dissolution after the death of their child, is told from both her perspective and that of her partner in two inter-linked, complementary films.
Verdict: A two-part, three-hour movie would be ambitious for any filmmaker, but especially so for a first-time feature director. But by most accounts, including ours, debut filmmaker Ned Benson pulled it off with "The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby" when the film(s) premiered in a work-in-progress form at TIFF last September. Northern Playlist contributor Nikola Grozdanovic saw both parts, and found it "a remarkably well made relationship film," using a "Rashomon"-like conceit cunningly across a "multi-layered, organically paced, delicate and quite often hilarious screenplay," with a "perfect ensemble cast" led by Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, with Isabelle Huppert, Ciaran Hinds, Bill Hader, Viola Davis, William Hurt andJess Weixler among those in support. Ultimately, it looks like we might have "a finely tuned and tenderly detailed love story of two people told on a cosmic scale" to look forward to.
Our Review: Nikola's A- take from TIFF can be found here.
Release Date: The Weinstein Company has the rights, but haven't set a date yet. Will they roll it out in the summer, or will they hold it and make an awards run with it?

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The Immigrant
Synopsis: A Polish immigrant coming to America falls prey to a charming but wicked man who takes her in and forces her into prostitution.
Verdict: Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner as directed by James Gray ("We Own The Night," "Two Lovers"), “The Immigrant” screamed Oscar-contender from the outset, but it’s actually quite a different animal with divergent concerns. A slow-burning emotional drama exploring the ideas of forgiveness and redemption via terrible characters that are nearly beyond salvation. Even more mature and patient than expected, especially for a filmmaker who has made a name on thoughtful and contemplative morality tales, “The Immigrant” won’t be for all audiences, but it’s still one of our favorites that we’ve seen so far, and boasts yet another astonishing performance from Phoenix, who is late-on revealed as just as pivotal to the film as Cotillard. Not to mention gorgeous cinematography from the great Darius Khondji.
Review: Here’s Jess’ B+ review from Cannes.
Release Date: Spring 2014 via TWC/Radius

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Only Lovers Left Alive"
Synopsis: A pair of ageless vampire lovers, Adam and Eve, live at a remove from the modern world, but are dragged into it by Eve's destructive sister Ava.
Verdict: The vampire movie might feel played out for most of us, but if anyone was going to find something new in it, it was Jim Jarmusch, who delivers with "Only Lovers Left Alive" his best, and most purely enjoyable, film in years. As Jess said when she dropped her verdict in Cannes, "It's an offbeat, fun and frequently very funny film, lifted out of disposability by some wonderfully rich production design, music and photography, and by the cherishable performances of the leads." And she wasn't alone: the film ended up on our lists of our favorite films from both the New York and London Film Festivals too. The whole cast (which includes Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin and Jeffrey Wright) is terrific, but it's really the showcase for Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, who play the star-crossed bloodsuckers, and the pair "are so good, and so well-matched, that their love story is surprisingly romantic and sexy." Beautiful to look at and to listen to, this is a definite early-year treat.
Our Review: Jess's B+ review from Cannes last May
Release Date: April 11th, 2014

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"Under The Skin"
Synopsis: In modern-day Glasgow, an alien in the form of an attractive young woman stalks the city for lonely men. But could she be becoming more attached to the form she takes than she realizes?
Verdict: The long-awaited new film from Jonathan Glazer, the director of "Sexy Beast" and "Birth," his first in nine years, was always going to get an awful lot of attention from us. And while it's been divisive—it received boos at its Venice premiere from a select few—those of us who've seen it so far fell for it pretty hard. Telluride correspondent Chris Willman said that lead Scarlett Johansson is "perfectly cast," and that while the "somber pacing and downer themes" may turn some off, "a cult audience with a penchant for SF morality tales may warm to this." Oliver Lyttelton went much further in Venice, giving five reasons why it was one of the best movies of the year, including that it's Glazer "at his most experimental and unfiltered," that it's "not quite like anything you've seen," and that "it features some of the most striking images of the year." If nothing else, it's going to be worth seeing just for Mica Levi's "rhythmic, often drone-like, otherworldly and often terrifying" score, but there's far more treasure to be found here.
Our Review: Chris' B+ take from Telluride is here, Oli's A-grade piece from Venice is here.
Release Date: April 4th, 2014

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"Snowpiercer"
Synopsis: In a future where Earth has been turned into a frozen wasteland, humanity's survivors are contained in a huge train, divided strictly by class, that endlessly circulates the planet. But the have-nots at the back have had enough, and mount a rebellion intended to take them all the way to the engine.
Verdict: Easily one of our most anticipated of the year, we started to worry if we'd ever see "Snowpiercer," the English-language debut of Korean master Bong Joon-Ho ("The Host," "Memories Of Murder," "Mother"), given the bubbling controversy over the film and Harvey Weinstein's intentions to release a severely truncated version. But the film opened in France uncut in October, and U.K. correspondent Oliver Lyttelton hopped across the Channel to catch it, and found it more than worth the trip, calling it "the best pure science-fiction film since 'Children Of Men.'" Building a "remarkably rich, coherent future world," melding "tones without them clashing," and with smart and complex politics underpinning "an inventive and exciting action film," it also features some excellent performances from a cast including Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and Song Kang-ho, among others. Fingers crossed that we all get to see the complete version before too long, otherwise there's going to be a lot of Blu-Ray importing going on.
Our Review: Oli's A grade review is here
Release Date: Who knows, but hopefully not far away.

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