Happy New Year from the crew at InkBlot Films! And what a year it’s been, for the film industry it’s been a fantastic mixture of some ground breaking sci-fi, brutal adrenaline pumping madness and intimate studies of human nature. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see every single film that came out but we made a damn good list of our favourite movies we did see in 2014. We’re an over excitable bunch so our top 10 list quickly became our top 20, so without further ado here is InkBlot Films’ top 20 best films of 2014.
20. Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Starting from the bottom up, we almost thought twice about entering Mockingjay into the list as it’s the middle-middle film in the Hunger Games Saga, entered into halfway through a story and an inconclusive ending means it doesn’t stand up as a lone film. We have to wait for November at the earliest to see the conclusion but the intimate and claustrophobic nature of Mockingjay made it compulsive viewing. The Battle Royale gimmick is nowhere to be found here but the psychological damage that the games have done is apparent in their past contestants, the movie concentrates on just a handful of characters and the story takes on it’s own nature from when the saga began. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic as always but it’s the supporting cast, who may not have stood up to much in the acting stakes in past HG movies are shining here thanks to the direction of Francis Lawrence. If there’s anything to be taken from this movie it’s a great study of Blitz era life and propaganda from both sides.
19. The Imitation Game
The standout part of Imitation Game is, or course, Benedict Cumberbatch, an actor we all admire for his imitable voice and fantastic character, we almost expect B Cum to give a stand out performance after Sherlock and The Last Enemy, he’s bloody good at portraying socially awkward and brilliantly minded geniuses but where Imitation Game stands out for us is this time Cumberbatch is playing a ‘character’, the real character of Alan Turing, with all the influences of the above but with the inflexions and motives of a real genius. It is seriously the finest and strongest performance Cumberbatch has brought to date, even beating himself with a heartbreaking final act. The film itself is by no means perfect, the pace slightly laboured and the statement of punishment of homosexuals in the UK is introduced possibly too late in the story, rendering the narrative slightly jarring. But this is first and foremost a performance movie and every member of the cast in stellar, even Keira Knightley who often brings the most wooden energy to the screen, here brings warmth. It’s a weepy but a goody.
Saving Private Ryan it is not (even if it follows far too many similar beats for comfort) but a brutal and immaculately told story it is. Fury offers a different perspective on soldiers during WWII, we’ve seen the ground troops getting gunned down, we’ve seen paratroopers getting cut apart, we’ve seen U-Boat claustrophobia, the holocaust and the D-Day Landings but Fury gives us the madness and thrills of a small team encased for better or worse in a Sherman Tank in Germany at the pinnacle of second world war carnage. The team bicker, laugh, grow and die, all the key plot points a movie of this calibre has to have but we like the premise of Fury, it’s deceptively uneven and frankly a rather rocky start yet interspersed with some incredible scenes of tension, heartbreak and shocking violence. The film improves massively as it progresses and by the second act becomes a film you can’t take your eyes off. Brad Pitt is understated for the best and firmly carries the film, even the dumbest appearing characters are well played and each have their moments to shine including the often hated Shia Labeouf who seems to be toning himself down and pulling decent performances these days. It’s not the best war film ever made, it’s not on a par with Private Ryan or Downfall but it’s a fine rival to The Pacific and well worth the watch, on the biggest screen possible.
17. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Again a sequel which isn’t quite stand alone but massively overshadows the original, Winter Soldier takes the finest points of Captain America: The First Avenger yet dumps the uneven pace and hyper cramped third act and spreads it across a fantastically directed canvas of action and heroism. Since The Dark Knight cemented the ‘Arch Nemesis’ character so well back in 2008 we’ve seen an influx of the same thing, Raoul Silva in Skyfall is a prime example but one that worked so well and so does The Winter Soldier. It’s not Citizen Kane and it won’t revolutionise film making but it’s incredibly well directed for an action/kids movie and twisty-turny all over the plot but the best part about it is that it links very well with the The Fist Avenger and The Avengers Assemble and advances on the character of Steve Rogers which was the greatest achievement of the first. Gripping, fun and well, well worthy of Marvel’s Phase Two.
16. Edge Of Tomorrow
Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day with the vibe of Saving Private Ryan thrown in for seasoning, simmer for 2 hours and you’ve unexpectedly got one of the most original and fun movies of 2014, Tom Cruise generally brings a great performance with every film he’s in but rarely do his comedy roles work out, although Edge Of Tomorrow isn’t a comedy it’s a lot more light hearted than we expected it to be and there are beats of humour that work perfectly, mainly riffing off the Groundhog Day factor of the story, without it though it wouldn’t have been fraction as good a movie, it has heart and is enjoyable and that’s what counts here. Bill Paxton is essentially playing his Private Hudson character from Aliens if he hadn’t died and worked his way up in the Corps and Emily Blunt is a decent bad ass. The future tech gets our geeky blood going and it all moves quickly enough to evade boredom. A much overlooked summer blockbuster.
15. Gone Girl
It’s not entirely as good as the novel but Gone Girl has two things going for it, Fincher being fully back on form, sans all gimmicks and Ben Affleck being surprisingly brilliant! Now, that second statement here needs the most attention, Ben Affleck is NOT a good actor, he has never been able to act above his ‘jock’ status of Dazed And Confused and Good Will Hunting, his Daredevil is lamentable in the extreme and Pearl Harbor, if not one of the worst atrocities to ever be committed to film, is surely one of the cheesiest and most honed in performances of all time. That being said, our fated actor appears to have made a massive sea change in the past few years, Gone Baby Gone was masterfully directed and showed that his brother, Casey Affleck, inherited the bulk of the talent in that family and Argo was tense, complex and above all devoid of all cheese! Yet all of those points pale into comparison with how well Affleck handles the character of Nick Dunne in Gone Girl, subtle, depressed, introverted, pensive, all the things the Ben Affleck of yesteryear opposes, he seriously is great in this! He may not be creepy enough to portray the unknown side of Nick, it could be argued that another actor could do it better but that’s not our point, it’s the fact that the words ‘Ben Affleck’ and ‘Really good acting’ are in the same sentence in a none ironic way and with him taking the mantle of Bruce Wayne next year after Christian Bale’s stellar performance in the Nolan Trilogy we’re more than pleased to see him act instead of ‘smug’ his way through a movie. As a side Fincher, as mentioned, is truly back on form, akin to Zodiac in complexity but so much better in pace, you film soars along, keeping you guessing at every beat and doesn’t feel in the slightest like you’re there for two and half hours. the brutal bits are BRUTAL and the twists and turns are satisfying.
Our special nod to the most original film of 2014 has to go to Boyhood, it’s about the experience rather than the story and is more of a film you let wash over your. The big thing here is the twelve year production schedule which is trull amazing to behold, as viewer’s we’re so used to seeing older actors playing different versions of the same characters or bad makeup removing us from the viewing experience but Boyhood is different, the cast are genuinely great, just seeing these people age and grow realistically in front of you slightly jars you mentally, it’s fantastic. From the age of 6 up to 18, Ellar Coltrane who plays Mason is a character we can all identify with and the film tends toward the experience of growing up and being told what to do at every turn rather than have a strict storyline to follow, it’s simply about life and growing up and it does make you feel nostalgic, much less pretentious than Terrence Malick’s Tree Of Life and interspersed with simple yet deep reflections on life as it happens make it well worth the three hour running time. It’s not heavy, it’s not genius, but it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before and therefore a landmark in film making.
Dan Gilroy takes us through the driven mind of a weirdo hell bent on success in business in Nightcrawler. Jake Gyllenhaal pulls the finest performance he’s ever achieved, nodding his hat to the Travis Bickle and Trevor Reznik loner characters in cinema and stares his way with gaunt expression and creepy intensity from TV viewer to freelance news camera person. The strange thing with Nightcrawler is, as a viewer, you’re constantly tipping from understanding Lou Bloom and being repulsed by his actions, he’s not quite Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, but he’s definitely a more modern and socially applicable equivalent. We’re always rooting for Lou to succeed even when he’s filming his injured rivals or putting his assistant in terrifying danger but he’s a highly intelligent sociopath who admits he doesn’t like people, yet his fast talking buzz words and overpowering focus somehow allows him to turn people to his way of thinking. It’s an interesting and pensive piece with a fantastic score by James Newton Howard and, in a strange way, it makes you want to become as successful as Lou Bloom.
12. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
This is the second most amazing surprise of 2014 and we were truly bowled over by how good Amazing Spider-Man 2 actually was, to say that we didn’t enjoy the first Amazing Spider-Man and how pointless a reboot it truly was would be the grossest understatement of 2012 yet with 2 director Marc Webb has really pulled something touching, fun and original out of the rebooted mixed bag. Personally, we were expecting a poor remake of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 but this movie went down such a different road and nailed the character of Spidey so well that we literally can’t fault it, granted Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Peter Parker is more ‘cool skateboarding womanising hot guy’ than ‘socially awkward perpetually bullied intelligent nerd’ but the prime focus of Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the relationship between Parker and Gwen Stacy which is so perfectly done they even started dating in real life. In all seriousness though the key to any good romance tail is that simple believable connection between the two protagonists and Spidey get’s it right here. The icing on this cake is a relatable and terrifying performance from Jamie Foxx, a brilliant fast and fun pace as well as the sheer amount of things that happened in the movie, Webb covers so much ground both action wise and emotionally that you’re sure the film must be close to five hours long than the two hours, twenty minutes that it is and that flies by effortlessly. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s personal and unexpectedly amazing!
11. Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies
We love the world of Middle Earth and any excuse to delve into it once again is just fine by the InkBlot Team. The possible failing of Desolation Of Smaug was that it had to cram in so many events there wasn’t room for any story, although the entire third act and Smaug’s awakening was the saving grace, the great delight of Five Armies is once all that had been set up we can just concentrate one two things, the battle itself and Throin’s descent into greed and madness and both are played out brilliantly! Aside from the story, which in the book is about a sixth of the final act, it’s the best directed segment of the Middle Earth Saga, all performances are spot on, emotion runs high and the battles are brutal but fun, you can really tell that this was the film Peter Jackson cared the most about and he put his all into it. Certain scenes are perfectly played out, others are more of a reproduction of the battle of Minas Tirith but it still feels like you’re immersed in the world, there are too many ‘Ring’ and ‘Sauron’ references to comfortably digest and the Legolas/Tauriel/Kili triangle is a little flat but ultimately serves an emotional purpose, even Smaug’s death before the opening credits doesn’t detract from the draw of the movie. It’s simple, it’s VERY well directed and it’s the perfect ending to the Hobbit Trilogy as well as a great Segway to the Lord Of The Rings.
10. Under The Skin
The second most original film of 2014 and one of the most memorable definitely goes to the avant garde sci-fi Under The Skin, it’s like a cross between The Man Who Fell To Earth and the 1995 trash horror Species. Without the cheese. Under The Skin has no discernible narrative structure, it’s more events in the life of an alien called Laura without any explanation, or rather there could be an explanation buried within if you can dissect it enough, similar to a Lynch film. What happens on screen however is so bizarre and engaging that it’s impossible to look away, it’s Kubrickian in it’s methods, detached and insensitive but that’s the emotion of Laura’s character, or rather lack of, it plays out so effortlessly and sometimes quick sickeningly uncomfortably, showing the darker side of mankind and the more desperate side of human nature. I can be theorised that the meaning of the title is to look under the skin of humanity itself . Laura begins to learn what it is to be human, like David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth but the ending to Under The Skin is the greatest crescendo we’ve seen in years. There’s a LOT to digest here and even more to figure out post viewing, you have to look very very deep under the skin of Under The Skin.