It might be hard to believe, but the first half of 2014 is over. That means it's time to take a look back at some of the cinematic high points of the last 26 weeks.
The summer isn't even over yet, but some of the year's biggest tent poles have delivered in huge ways. Combine that with some of our favorite art house picks, and you've got a quick look at the movies that made the first six months of 2014 so awesome.
"The LEGO Movie"
With such a direct tie-in, "The LEGO Movie" could have been an empty 90-minute toy commercial, and while the animated feature starring Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks and Morgan Freeman no doubt sold a few boxes of plastic bricks, writers and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller turned in something much funnier and filled with more heart than was ever required.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
"Moonrise Kingdom" saw writer-director Wes Anderson fully embracing his often parodied aesthetic, and the look and humor in "The Grand Budapest Hotel" was possibly even more self-assured. Throw in a hilarious, awards-worthy performance from Ralph Fiennes, and you easily have a film worthy of the auteur's impressive résumé.
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier"
Marvel Studios previously toyed with the concept of dropping their heroes into genres not typically populated by super soldiers and radiated scientists. "The Winter Soldier," however, was the first to go completely genre — in this case, a political thriller — and the result was the company's best solo hero effort to date.
"Under the Skin"
On April 4, two Scarlett Johansson movies opened in theaters. Both are on this list, but aside from that, there isn't much in common between "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "Under the Skin." Director Jonathan Glazer used hidden cameras and unwitting participants to make a sci-fi film that was quiet, haunting and utterly brilliant.
"X-Men: Days of Future Past"
The mutant-centric series had plenty of to-dos for its 2014 installment. It had to unite the casts of two distinct timelines, tell a coherent story that necessitated the mega-cast, and — if at all possible — right some of the wrongs of "X-Men: The Last Stand." The results: check, check and check.
Gareth Edwards' take on the classic movie monster, aside from being fiercely entertaining, played like a formalized argument against the "more is more" approach to making a big summer movie. The audience had to wait patiently for the fiery-blue money shots, but man, did they deliver when they got there.
"The Fault in Our Stars"
It's hard to imagine any adaptation living up to the original book when the phenomenon behind it is as gigantic as what author John Green created with "The Fault in Our Stars," but piles of wet tissues on the theater floor tell a different story.
"Edge of Tomorrow"
Tom Cruise reaffirmed his status as a vital movie star, the kind that's become rare in a time when franchises, not actors, are the biggest ticket sellers. And while fans have begged the major superhero franchises for more leading women, Emily Blunt came out of nowhere to deliver the most badass performance of the summer.
Here's an indie rom-com that's both loudly hilarious and quietly profound. Agenda pushers from both sides of the abortion debate have tried to fit "Obvious Child" into boxes that never come close to capturing the warmth and honesty of a movie that deserves to be seen, discussed and enjoyed.
"22 Jump Street"
After "The LEGO Movie," Phil Lord and Chris Miller subverted expectations even further with a highly aware sequel that wants to make it perfectly clear that it's a sequel. As happy as we were to see Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum reteamed for what might be the final adventure of Schmidt and Jenko, it's difficult not to hope for the end credits to come true.
In the first half of 2014, there hasn't been a bigger disparity between the kind of release a movie gets and the one it deserves than Bong Joon-ho's "Snowpiercer." What should be one of the biggest movies of the summer opened in just eight theaters at the end of June, but if any great, little-seen movie from this year has potential for a massive following in the future, it's this one.