My name is Jeff Piotrowski. I'm still a member of the middle class, raised by two casual moviegoers in Pittsburgh. The year I turned 29, I saw 49 movies released in 2014, which really pisses me off, because that's just shy of a movie a week. Sorry, the play on The Wolf of Wall Street was true and just too good to pass up. As my colleagues have mentioned, typical disclaimers apply to my top 10, "these are my personal choices" and all that. I also did not see Boyhood or Inherent Vice and expect that at least one of those flicks will end up on my final tally. Lastly, you'll notice that Interstellar is missing from my list; my gripes are well-documented. You've been warned.
10. The One I Love
I partly define the value of a film based on it sticking with me long after first viewing. This little indie movie still has me thinking introspectively about the nature of relationships and whether it's better to knowingly live in an imperfect reality or a flawless fantasy. The premise is compelling, Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss are stellar, and it's unlike anything else I've seen in recent years. While I wish that the third act did not try to assign reason to the magic realism in the film, I'm grateful for the inevitable conversations and debates that spun out of The One I Love.
9. Guardians of The Galaxy
Guardians is probably my favorite Marvel movie. The flick not only put a trim Chris Pratt on the star map; this irreverent space opera has world building that rivals Star Wars. It also could actually be one of the funnier movies to come out this year. Plus, any film that can pull off Bradley Cooper as a gun-toting raccoon and Vin Diesel as a seven-foot houseplant that serves as the emotional core of the story has to get some serious kudos. Bravo, James Gunn.
8. Gone Girl
What happens when David Fincher creates a meta-commentary on the juxtaposition between who we are and who we want others to perceive us to be? Gone Girl, that's what. Fincher and Gillian Flynn, the author of the book, craft what I consider to be a deliciously dark comedy that is ripe for the water cooler. Somehow, they were able to make an enjoyable movie about psychopathic murder that is totally devoid of redeemable characters. That's an achievement.
Snowpiercer has everything I like in a movie: a cool premise lodged in a dystopian future, action sequences unlike anything I've ever seen, and weird (read: awesome) performances from familiar faces. Tilda Swinton's "know your place, be a shoe" monologue alone is the stuff of cult legend. Plus, where else can you see Alison Pill as a kindergarten teacher with a machine gun?
6. Under The Skin
I get the feeling that Under The Skin will creep up my list as time goes on. The hypnotic experience of seeing this movie is hard to describe; it left me pinned to my seat as the credits rolled. I respect the hell out of movies that don't hold your hand and fully leverage the visuals to tell the story. Under The Skin achieves this on literal and metaphorical levels, which is remarkable considering how much this film has to say about gender politics and the definition of humanity. I didn't fully understand the profound effect Under The Skin had on me until I realized that I had just seen a film starring Scarlett Johansson in a role that required full frontal nudity and I hardly even noticed. Under The Skin certainly isn't enjoyable, but it's surely required viewing.
I am still baffled as to how Whiplash made me applaud its finale despite the fact that the circumstances leading up to it were utterly preposterous. It's a true testament to J.K. Simmons' Oscar worthy performance and writer/director Damien Chazelle's sure-handed direction. In fact, when I found out that Chazelle is 29 years old, I had to reevaluate everything I know about life and talent and inexperience; this movie is that good. Oh yeah, and Miles Teller being a trained drummer in addition to being a great actor doesn't hurt either.
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Boy did I not expect to like this one as much as I did. I respect Wes Anderson as a masterful filmmaker, though I do not typically outright enjoy his films (The Royal Tenenbaums not included). The Grand Budapest Hotel is laugh-out-loud hilarious, it's exquisitely shot and paced, and it 's so original that it actually leaves you wondering how Anderson came up with this Don Quixote-esque story within a story. On top of that, Ralph Fiennes is absolutely phenomenal as M. Gustave; who knew he was this comedically gifted?
3. The Edge of Tomorrow
I don't care what Warner Bros. marketing department calls it, this Tom Cruise action flick is much more than meets the eye, and I'm glad I'm not alone in thinking that. I particularly love the first 30 minutes of this movie, which paint Cruise as a slimy war dodger caught in the middle of the 2nd Invasion of Normandy. Only this time, it's aliens. The opening war sequence is utterly terrifying and visceral. Then you realize that Edge of Tomorrow is actually striving to tell a much bigger and cooler story. I've gushed over this one before, but Edge of Tomorrow is a great movie. Enough said.
Jake Gyllenhaal is having one hell of a year, culminating in a career-best performance in Nightcrawler. I compared Gyllenhaal to some of my "favorite" sociopaths, Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin, and that's about as high praise as I can give. He's nearly unrecognizable as Louis Bloom, a gangly, well-spoken, enterprising weirdo who will stop at nothing in his pursuit of success. Nightcrawler is also well-shot and edited, but it's Gyllenhaal that scratched and clawed Nightcrawler to the near top of my list. It's a true tour de force performance that deserves to be recognized.
1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
This film is so much more than a freaking fantastic title and pitch-perfect cast. I raved about it then and I will again now: Birdman is a damn near perfect film that will stand out as one of my favorites of the decade thus far. I may be biased because it brought me back to my days onstage, but more so than any movie I can remember, Birdman captures the adrenaline rush of opening night and presents its more obscure themes in very accessible ways. The seemingly one-take cinematography is incredible, Edward Norton and Emma Stone give standout performances, and Keaton as the titular Birdman commands the screen effortlessly. I don't think the final scene is necessary, but if you turn off your TV as opening night crescendos into the standing ovation, Birdman is undoubtedly a triumph on all levels.
Honorable Mentions: The LEGO Movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes The Raid 2: Redemption Obvious Child
How many of these movies have you seen? Do you agree or disagree any of the picks with this list? Let me know in the comments and have a safe and happy end of 2014!