Most Anticipated 2014: Review Roundup

18. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (R) - Runtime: 102 minutes
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Writer: Frank Miller

Too little, too late. What a disappointment this movie was. The original Sin City was pretty good (at least from what I remember) and I was hoping that the sequel would be just as gritty and dark and a bit too crazy just like the first one. Instead the movie doesn't have a compelling story to tell among the three different vignettes. The characters themselves are flat and don't have any depth beyond taking revenge and being evil. JGL's character is the most likeable and you root for his character, but he's a very small part of the movie where his story could have been way way more because of the potential there. Plus the acting was all wooden and the film noir-narrative just comes off as desperately trying too hard unlike the first movie when it felt a little more fresh. This was one of the worst movies I've seen all year.

58. The Maze Runner (PG-13) - Runtime: 113 minutes
Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario
Director: Wes Ball
Writers: Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, T.S. Nowlin

Young Adult movie adaptations are all the rage now and most of them are pretty terrible. Luckily, The Maze Runner is compelling (and good) enough for a movie. The Lord of the Flies aspect of boys trying to run a civilization while simultaneously being prisoners is rich enough. The premise is pretty absurd and by the end of the movie, you'll have more questions than answers, but it was exciting and the characters were fairly well-written enough that you'll enjoy the movie. Much like the main character who doesn't know what the hell is going on, the audience is along for the ride without any idea where it's headed. Which works for this movie. And it doesn't waste any time as things move quickly from one action scene to the next. It was good enough for me to go out and get the first two books to read! Consider that a success!

48. The Equalizer (R) - Runtime: 132 minutes
Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writer: Richard Wenk

Who knew this 80s television show remake would make for a compelling, very violent and visceral movie? Denzel is a badass and he shows it here as an ex-CIA agent who kills off part of the Russian mob operating in America. The movie starts off slow. And I mean slow - but it works in this movie - you get to know Denzel's character and who he is and what drives him. And then when the fury gets unleashed, it's a little shocking. There's a lot of crests and falls in the movie and it all leads up to a Home Alone-esque (no joke here!) takedown of hired goons at the Home Depot. This movie was awesome - it's gritty and violent and disturbing. My only quibble is that there are no female characters to speak of in the movie. Sure, there's the heart of gold hooker Denzel is saving, but she's barely in it and Melissa Leo plays a former associate of Denzel's, but she has limited screen time. It's pretty sad. But aside from that, this movie just works. It's really Denzel that elevates the material above just a revenge flick.

44. This is Where I Leave You (R) - Runtime: 103 minutes
Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda
Director: Shawn Levy
Writer: Jonathan Tropper

I will freely admit I am a sucker for ensemble family dramedies. The Family Stone, Dan in Real Life, The Way, Way Back - I just really enjoy seeing family dynamics in certain settings. In this case, the Altmans patriarch passes away and his final wish is for everyone to sit shiva for one whole week. Of course this family is as dysfunctional as any other movie family and so lots of drama and lots of comedy ensue. And boy is there a lot of drama - every single character has a lot of baggage that they bring to the table and Jason Batman is in the center of it all. His life is a wreck and this week at home will change his life for the better and maybe for the worst as well. All the performances are great, including Adam Driver as the baby boy of the family who plays a womanizing, going-nowhere twenty-something. There's a lot of sweet and bittersweet moments and some that hit a little too close to home for me. But it's all endearing and funny and I loved every minute of it.

28. Gone Girl (R) - Runtime: 149 minutes
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Gillian Flynn

I have no clue why David Fincher's newest movie wasn't higher on my list. He hasn't directed a bad movie at all (and yes, I'm including Alien 3 in that discussion) and as far as mystery/thrillers, he's probably the best bet you can get (Zodiac still sends chills down my spine. Every. Damn. Time.). Partnering up with Ben Affleck, another favorite of mine should have landed this movie in the top 10. But I think I just didn't put two and two together. This movie is simply stunning. From the direction and cinematography, to the haunting and beautiful soundtrack to the performances (especially Ms. Pike) - it all seems so effortless. Yes, I read the book before watching the movie, but Fincher really knows how to turn something so beloved into something that seems so original on the screen. No doubt the book is better, but the movie is so good that it stands on its own ground. And the last half an hour is captivating and probably one of the most visceral and thoroughly engrossing endings I've seen all year. This is as close you can get to near-perfect for a movie. I loved it and loved it more the second time I saw it.

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