20. The Maze Runner
I was a bit disappointed that The Maze Runner is more interested in setting up a series than in telling a complete story on its own, but even though it's only a partial story, it tells it in a captivating way. I love how it dumped me into the world cold and made me learn about it along with the main character. And the supporting characters and group dynamics all held my attention, too. Towards the end, the movie gets ridiculous about withholding information to prolong suspense, but I like everything else enough that I'm looking forward to the sequel.
19. John Wick
Total surprise. I knew nothing about this before it came out and if I had known about it, I probably would've ignored it. I enjoy Keanu Reeves most when he's playing air guitar with Alex Winter, not as the wooden tough guy. Some positive reviews piqued my interest though, and I agree with them that John Wick is a fun and exciting movie that almost parodies '80s action flicks, but really ends up just hugging them.
18. Muppets Most Wanted
As a sequel to The Muppets, this was very disappointing. That movie set a high bar and I'm not sure that Muppets Most Wanted even tried to top it. As Muppet films go, it's average; neither among the best nor the worst. If I let it stand on its own though and compare it to most of the other movies I saw this year, its still very funny (especially the Ty Burrell/Sam the Eagle team-up) and I had a great time watching it.
17. The Expendables 3
I didn't enjoy the first Expendables movie really at all, except for the novelty of seeing those actors together in a single film. I was disappointed by the plot and by how little Bruce Willis and Schwarzenegger were in it. The Expendables 2 was a lot better, but Chuck Norris' goofy, squeezed-in-sideways cameo was a big downer. The Expendables 3 was the one I've been waiting for. Lots of my favorite action stars and some of them in small roles, but those small roles made sense for the story and everyone had at least one great moment. The story itself is nothing special, but man I love these actors and the final showdown is a legitimately great set piece.
16. Grand Piano
Like a few other movies on my lists this year, Grand Piano is technically a 2013 release, but I'm going by the dates the movies were made available to people in the US outside of just New York, LA, and film festivals. Grand Piano isn't a perfect thriller, but it's a really good one with Elijah Wood as a troubled pianist who has to save himself and others while playing a concert and not missing a single note. It's overrating it to compare it to Hitchcock's best work, but if you like Hitchcock-like thrillers with normal people trying to make it through someone else's outlandish scheme, I highly recommend this one.
Hilarious, but also surprisingly poignant. Could have just been a Revenge of the Nerds-style war between squares and popular people, but instead it takes the time to explore fears of growing up, on both sides of the battle lines.
14. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Coming out nine years after the first one killed this movie. If it had been released in 2006 or so, it would have been embraced as more of what people liked about Sin City. There's not a thing wrong with it that wasn't also wrong with the first one; it's a perfectly good companion piece. But waiting so long gave people the chance to forget the first one and wonder, "Why make a sequel now?" It feels kind of pointless. Unless of course you really dug the first one and are glad to have another movie just like it. Which is where I'm sitting.
Interstellar is both way more and way less than I wanted it to be. There's a lot going on in it, but at just under three hours long, it still doesn't pay enough attention to any of it's many characters and themes. There are things that I love, like Matthew McConaughey's relationship with his young daughter, and the questions the movie raises about the limits of selflessness and altruism. Sadly, it never develops these very well. But I like it for trying, I like it for its awesome cast, and I like it for its stunning visuals and unforgettable set pieces. I wish the final picture was better, but it's pieces are amazing.
12. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
I almost forgot I reviewed this one, but I did, so I'll send you there. Short version is that the plot is pretty boilerplate (as is Kenneth Branagh's villain, sadly), but I like that Chris Pine's Jack Ryan is still an analyst first and gets dragged into the spy stuff sort of kicking and screaming. What makes the movie though are Keira Knightley and Kevin Costner, who bring a lot of heart and depth to characters who could have been nothing.
11. 22 Jump Street
As much as I was pleasantly surprised by 21 Jump Street, that's exactly why I wasn't excited about the sequel. Now that I knew what to expect, how could 22 Jump Street possibly surprise me again? Wouldn't it just be more of the same? Well, yeah, except that "the same" means that it's still really funny and has a pair of completely lovable leads. It screws around with the formula of the first one though just enough to be fresh and it also adds some great new actors (especially Jillian Bell who nearly steals the movie).