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Sean P. Means: Halftime report: 10 best movies of 2014, so far

Published July 1, 2014 11:06 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

At the end of the year, I and other movie critics will write up our Top 10 lists — a fun exercise in reminding everyone which films really stood out from the crowd.

Most years, many of the films that stand out are the ones we just saw, the awards-bait films that cluster at year's end to draw the attention of list-making critics and Oscar voters.

Often, we forget about the movies that arrived in the first half of the year — which, in movie terms, ends after this weekend.

Looking over my reviews, I'm reminded that I am rather stingy with my four-star reviews. Including this week's new title, "Obvious Child," I have given four new movies the top rating of four stars. At the next level down, 3 ½ stars, are 20 new films (plus five holdovers from 2013).

As a reminder to my six-months-from-now self, and as a guide for movie fans who want to find good stuff at their local theaters or Netflix queues, here are some of the best movies of the first half of 2014:

"The LEGO Movie" • What looked at first to be unpromising toy-based crass commercialism turns out to be as creative, idiosyncratic and off-the-wall as the things kids make with the title building blocks. Through the jokes and pop-culture witticisms, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller also tell a story about imagination that's touching and almost spiritual. (Now on DVD.)

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" • Wes Anderson's ode to old-school filmmaking is a nesting doll of a movie that spans eras and settings from 1930s pre-war decadence through '60s Soviet bloc squalor to 21st-century post-Soviet capitalism. It's also a witty and wacky comedy that shows Ralph Fiennes, as a flamboyantly urbane hotel concierge, is a lot funnier than people ever knew. (Now on DVD.)

"Edge of Tomorrow" • In the most original action movie of the summer, director Doug Liman's video-game aesthetic — in that the story's main warrior (played by Tom Cruise) gets killed and then resets his life back where he started — is at once exciting, thoughtful and darkly funny. It also proves that Cruise, as always, puts himself whole-heartedly into making a movie work. (Now in theaters.)

"Under the Skin" • Director Jonathan Glazer strips away dialogue, narrative and most other movie conventions to tell the haunting story of a sexy space alien (Scarlett Johansson) seeking human prey among Scotland's lonely men. (On DVD July 15.)

"Jodorowsky's Dune" • Documentarian Frank Pavich invites us to imagine the greatest science-fiction movie never made, surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky's trippy adaptation of Frank Herbert's "Dune," through storyboards, concept art and Jodorowsky's exciteable narration. (On DVD July 8.)

"Cold in July" • Indie genre wizard Jim Mickle spins a yarn with this Texas noir, as a mild-mannered family man (Michael C. Hall) gets caught up in a story of revenge, dishonest cops and nastier crooks. Sam Shepard and Don Johnson add a kick of old-school star power. (On DVD Sept. 30.)

"Muppets Most Wanted" • Sorry, but the Muppets will never not be funny. And in this caper comedy, with Kermit mistaken for his criminal doppelganger and tossed into a Russian gulag run by Tina Fey, the self-referential jokes multiply. (Now in second-run theaters; on DVD Aug. 12.)

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" • We may look back at this action film as the apex of the Marvel cinematic universe, as directors Anthony and Joe Russo help Cap (Chris Evans) question everything we know about S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the American intelligence community and even Robert Redford. (Now in second-run theaters; on DVD Sept. 9.)

"Blue Ruin" • Tension is thick in this low-budget revenge thriller in which a homeless man (Macon Blair) learns that his parents' murderer is about to be released from prison — so he clumsily but determinedly goes after the guy. (On DVD July 22.)

"Draft Day" • Kevin Costner's career comeback got a strong boost from, of all people, director Ivan Reitman ("Ghostbusters") in this fast, smart and funny sports comedy that follows an NFL general manager (Costner) through the most stressful day on the calendar — the day of the NFL Draft. (Now in second-run theaters; on DVD Sept. 2.)

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. Email him at spmeans@sltrib.com.