9. Guardians Of The Galaxy
The second greatest surprise of 2014 has to be Guardians. We were very tentative toward this movie originally, a comic which nobody knows with a group of unidentified characters and the teaser trailer looked pretty bad, not the most confidence inspiring set up but when we saw the movie we were completely blown away, it was smart and funny with great characters and the most impressive thing is how the audience understands and relates to every character and their backstory and enjoys the film all within two hours, this is something that Marvel haven’t achieved until now. The Avengers worked because of the five other movies which set up the individual characters, leaving Avengers to essentially be just a Saturday morning cartoon, all action, great one liners and you leave the cinema on a high, Guardians did this and more in one movie and didn’t over bloat it with too much story and over complex action scenes the way Michael Bay would with either of the Transformers franchise. There’s not much more to say other than it was flipping brilliant, funny, well done and unexpectedly good for a summer blockbuster.
8. X-Men Days Of Future Past
With exception to X-Men Origins: Wolverine we love the X-Men franchise and Days Of Future Past allows us to forget the horror of horrors that was Origins and forgets any plot holes or incongruities (such as Wolverines bone claws miraculously become metal again) and just cracks on with a great story. It would have been nice to see more of the future war but so much happens in this movie that it would have just used up more time to cram it in and as the bulk of the movie happens in 1973, with the younger cast of X-Men: First Class, who are all stellar in this, we’re shown some kick ass scenes, notably the ‘Time In A Bottle’ slow motion scene which puts a nice spin on the bullet time effect and even the carnage in the opening scene looks beautiful. For the first time in her recent career Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t have much to do despite the story revolving completely around her, she essentially stalks around like the T-1000, shapeshifting into whoever she needs to and looking moody, you’d have thought for an actor of her calibre they’d have added more personality or even motive to her character but none of this detracts from how well done and exceptionally back on form Bryan Singer is. It’s definitely the best X-Men movie of them all and perfectly reboots the franchise with the same vibe that X-Men 2 had and almost makes up for the atrocities that The Last Stand and Origins became.
7. The Grand Budapest Hotel
In our minds Wes Anderson can often be hit and miss, Rushmore, Fantastic Mr Fox and Moonrise Kingdom are all spectacular films, perfectly demonstrating Anderson’s trademark style and humour but it’s Grand Budapest Hotel which is his crowning glory. Every cast member is incredible and hilarious, Ralph Fiennes gives the performance of his career and the fastidious and indubitable Mr. Gustave H, Tilda Swinton, for the part she plays, is amazing as always yet almost unrecognisable and even Anthony Quinonez, who plays young Zero, channels the precise style of Anderson’s comedy. It’s a fast film, with intense energy, which can sometimes be lacking during the mid point of films like The Life Aquatic or Darjeeling Limited but not here but most of all the film has real heart, you care for the relationship between Gustave and Zero, you laugh at their blunders and you cheer at their successes. It’s a touching piece in the same vein of Moonrise Kingdom but better in so many ways, arguably Anderson’s best film to date. No contest.
6. Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen Brothers, in a lot of ways, have become victims of their own success, they try to do different films every time and, these days, tend to be met with unequivocal praise, not all of it in our view completely deserved. Ever since Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers they’ve been up and down in terms of quality (although none as low at Intolerable Cruelty), A Serious Man was, in our minds, a serious mistake and a confusingly meandering film, No Country For Old Men, as much as we love its simplicity, simply didn’t deserve the Best Picture Oscar in 2007, yet with the underrated True Grit and now Inside Llewyn Davis it seems that the Coens have gone back to their roots of Barton Fink and Fargo and created a masterpiece of modern cinema. Llewyn Davis the film follows Llewyn Davis the character, loosely based on real life musician Dave Van Ronk, and his journey towards, or avoiding, self discovery, Davis is not a nice person, similar to Barton Fink, he’s a self involved, self entitled, cocky artiste who won’t take criticism and feels owed success, a lot like many artists we’ve met in our time. His journey around does break him down somewhat and reveal a tenderness to his character but the element that stops Llewyn from being completely detestable is his love for music and the purity of art, his unfaltering decision not to compromise and the loss of his former band member which makes him more relatable and ultimately you’re hoping for his success as well. It’s just perfect, a pure Coen masterpiece and a definite comment on ego within the arts.
5. Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
Nothing could compere to the magnitude and soul that Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes would have, we loved Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes back in 2011, it was unexpectedly tender and creepy in so many scenes but Dawn has taken that edge and advanced on it ten fold! The greatest success of Dawn is the focus on the apes and not the humans, showing the every day lives and community that the primates set up in the interim years since the events that ended in Rise, almost like a wildlife documentary, it’s done so masterfully that you don’t need dialogue until the right point which stops it from being in any way cheesy. It’s brutal too, primal and dark yet avoids being too similar to other ‘darker sequels’ we’ve become accustomed to. The human characters are slightly pointless and only serve to make you hate humanity more and root for the apes and showing their mannerisms and hierarchy adds to the understanding of their culture, a fact most film makers would have missed in favour of more action but we loved the attention to detail here and the action scenes, which were fantastically realised, just added to Dawn’s brilliance. It’s unmissable, seriously unmissable, the least Hollywood style blockbuster we’ve ever seen and it keeps us salivating for a part 3.
Incredible. Absolutely, unfathomably incredible! Interstellar is, as expected from the Nolans, an incredibly complicated, incredibly long and jam packed mind fuck, in the same vein of Inception we find it hard to follow sometimes but the grandeur and scale of a man going through a wormhole in space to save the planet isn’t lost on us completely, in fact it’s only improved by the small scale domestic connection between a father and his daughter. This is the films saving grace, there’s no mention of a mother just a family of two children, a father and grandfather, the screen time mostly concentrates on the relationship between Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper and his daughter Murph, both excellently played as a child by Mackenzie Foy and in adulthood by Jessica Chastain, when Cooper decides to leave to save the Earth from an unknown chronic famine Murph takes it to heart and due to the time warping of the wormhole and space travel Murph grows to distance herself from Cooper and resents his decision to leave as she grows up to the same age Cooper was when he left. The time warping takes a while to get your head around and there’s a lot of smart, tenth dimensional stuff happening, but it’s all so engrossing and brilliantly rendered that, by the end, you’re still anchored by Cooper and Murph’s long distance connection, the thread that binds the whole narrative, and there are so many emotional high points that left us in tears. The performances here are stellar too (pun intended), McConaughey has continued his streak of giving fantastic performances from his Oscar win in Dallas Buyers Club and True Detective, he carries the entire film believably, Anne Hathaway, once the centre of tween cheese in popcorn movies like The Princess Diaries has fast become a great actor in her own right and Michael Caine is always watchable and here he is tender, loving and hopeful. It’s a shame that the Nolan Brothers seem to gather the same cast for every film but if it works, and here it does, then why the heck not? Ultimately Interstellar has heart and that’s what makes it work, it’s an incredibly broad canvas but keeps funnelling it down to two people and without that it would have been a bloated version of Contact. Nolan’s best film to date and an unmissable one at that.
’71 snuck out of nowhere and seemed to sneak off without a trace but this heart thumping film about a soldier broken off from his unit in 1971’s IRA instigated riot is one of the most intense and fantastic contributions to cinema in recent years. It’s unsentimental, disorienting and brutal to the extreme, like the final act of Children Of Men but for two hours. Jack O’Connell’s Gary Hook has to run for his life getting fired at through residential houses, blown up in pubs, shot, stabbed and terrorised by a city that seems to want him dead. It’s completely unrelenting and doesn’t give you a moments respite, you’re quite literally on the edge of your seat the whole film and trust is when we say that no one in this film is safe. The cinematography is gritty and handheld, aiding the chaos and disorientation, O’Connell is serious and scared doing what a soldier has to do to survive, We’ve not seen a film this engaging and visceral since the epic Children Of Men. Aside from O’Connel who has been racking up acting points this year with ’71 and Starred Up, there are no major stars in this, Sean Harris (Prometheus, Harry Brown) makes a cretinous appearance, a British actor also finally breaking into Hollywood but this lack of glamor is for the best, it wouldn’t quite work with Chris Hemsworth or Joseph Gordon-Levitt dodging bullets in Northern Ireland, here the realism is what sells this piece and it’s sold to us with a stripped back style and no cheesy monologues or over egged sentimentality, it’s simply an adrenaline fuelled, terrifying, savage piece of British film making genius.
2. Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch can, on occasion, make understated genius happen on screen, sometimes pretentious emptiness and sometimes films which are down right boring and unfulfilling, in Only Lovers Left Alive he somehow manages to perfectly balance all three. That statement need some explaining but basically the film has been universally both panned for it’s lacklustre pretention and praised for it’s mellow atmosphere and antidotal fix of the Twilight surge of recent years, there’s more you could want from Only Lovers and in true Jarmusch style it’s open ended but we at InkBlot think it’s a complete masterpiece of style and writing. Jarmusch’s trademark is that of ‘slice of life’ episodic films, they give an impression of the past and an inkling of motives but his films are never outspoken and heavy on subtext, Only Lovers is a film about style and pensive mood and indulges itself in faithful vampire mythology yet relating it to the real world of 2014. Adam and Eve, two star cross’d vampires living on opposite ends of the Earth are eternally bound by their cosmic love, a deep and comfortable love, not heated or passionate but dear and caring, they physically can not live without each other. Adam, Tom Hiddleston’s mysery-goth ennui leads him down a suicidal path, in a used world of old technology and lethargy for life yet this is juxtaposed by Tilda Swinton’s Eve who revels in the delight of immortality and all that she can learn forever, they’re both very Jarmuschian in character, mellow, easy going, pondering their meaning in this world but they spout prose about science and diamond stars that lights up the audiences eyes with intrigue and fascination. John Hurt can do no wrong and his tired Christopher Marlowe is so gentle and sensitively realised that it’s hard not to weep for him, Mia Wasikowska’s petulant young Ava, who unexpectedly crashes in Adam’s house is spunky and fun adding the much needed life and comedy that the duo desire. Only Lovers is a film that you just let wash over you, it’s hypnotic and the soundtrack is incredible, you just allow Only lovers’ style and atmosphere to enthral you as you float down the stream of vampiric consciousness and like the most enjoyable of dreams, you don’t want it to end.
Now finally the most unedited film of the year deserves the most attention, InkBlot’s greatest film of 2014 is Calvary and to us one of the most perfect films ever made. From the excellent direction to the outstanding performances, this film is the greatest example of non-Hollywood independent film making; the style is underplayed and the story is simple, a week in the life of a priest I’m a small town in Ireland finishing his business with a wanton death threat looming over his head could not be created more masterfully. Brendan Gleeson is exceptional, holding the entire film with the barest of speech bringing you completely into his head and his sparse religious existence. Comedy actor Chris O’Dowd, known mainly for The IT Crowd is creepy and deathly serious, playing so far against type it echoes One Hour Photo’s Sy Parish played excellently by Robin Williams, Kelly Reilly’s Fiona, estranged daughter of Gleeson’s Father James, is fragile and hurt yet her affection and warmth is the one glow of light in the dark foreboding drama. It’s not all doom and gloom though as there are some excellent beats of pitch dark comedy and Calvary uses the theme to make statements about the necessity of religion and the horrors of pedophile priests abusing the system of the church, this is intelligently not one sided though and makes bold statements of composure of faith in growing adversity, it’s Father James’ stoic attitude which elevates him morally to the devils of this small town yet he often has his own demons to wrestle with and we see him slowly crack under the pressure of his encroaching final day. This is a film about what’s not said, the subtext and underlying animosity are felt not spelled out and Calvary’s greatest achievement is it’s script, loquacious and meaningful, heartbreaking and hilarious, this is an actors movie, it’s pure performance and John Michael McDonagh’s spectacular direction sculpts the most expertly crafted film we’ve seen since 2011’s Tyrannosaur. Harsh, unflinching and beautiful. Calvary stays with you from the fist moments, the score by Patrick Cassidy is the best soundtrack we’d heard last year, lyrical and moody and using Gaelic voices to bring a choral religious feel. Calvary is a force of pure and truthful excellence, overwhelming beauty and simplicity, the complexity comes from the emotions within and this is truly one of the most genuinely emotive films ever made. For the most perfect and fulfilling films you could see from 2014, Calvary is the sovereign of modern cinema.
There’s a load more we’d love to have included but there just wasn’t space. Luc Besson’s Lucy was a fantastic realisation of a woman using 100% of her brain and ascending into pure energy, brilliantly well done for an idea so complicated to get across and there’s some cool action sequences, if a little unneeded and very relatable to The Matrix, Lucy is a classic waiting to happen. Godzilla was an enjoyable romp and anything that detracts from the Roland Emmerich 1998 atrocity is a good thing, too much time is spent on the unrelatable human characters, losing Bryan Cranston way too early and not enough time spent on the actual giant fire breathing monster. We enjoyed it while we were watching it but over time we’re left with unfulfilled plot holes and a need to see a sequel. Frank was bizarre and slightly ingenious, it’s an exploration into the minds of musicians with severe mental health conditions and all the fun and peril these afflictions can bring, the social media barbs are funny and the cast all round are great. It’s strange to get your head around but a great watch. Finally Noah deserves a mention, it’s been slated across the board but there are parts of sheer excellence in the second act, the initial fantasy elements and cheesy acting as a set up for the arc’s construction verges on just plain silly and quite off-putting but it’s the second half where this movie picks up, once in the Arc, the screams of the earth’s populous echoing in the background, is when Russell Crowe’s Noah begins his terrifying transformation, it ceases to be a fantasy epic and becomes a tense, claustrophobic tale of madness and morality, Noah slowly losing his mind and misinterpreting God’s word annihilation of humanity leading to a new species to dominate the land, he wrestles with his conscience and lurks around waiting to murder his daughters unborn children. If you can get past the ridiculous first half you’ll find the second a lot more rewarding, truly one of Crowe’s best performances and one to at least make you think.
So that’s our top pics of 2014, here’s hoping 2015 can top these! What are your thoughts? Concur? Disagree? We’d love to know your best of ’14 in the movies.