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The holidays are behind us, 2013 is a memory, and a brand new year lies ahead -- and for a lot of us, that means drawing up a list of resolutions that we all know we'll probably end up breaking before St. Patrick's Day. In the spirit of the New Year, we've decided to round up a list of movies that correspond with some of the most popular resolutions. Whether you're trying to quit smoking, change your diet, or get your finances in order -- of even if you feel like your life is in pretty good shape as it is -- here's a cinematic smorgasbord to help you ring in 2014. Should auld acquaintance be forgot, it's Total Recall!
For most of us, unwittingly gulping down a roofie is the biggest danger we face when accepting drinks from a stranger in a strange place. But for recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), his decision to fall off the wagon in The Shining means striking up a deadly bargain with the malevolent spirits that really run the spooky old hotel he's been tasked with looking after over a bitter Colorado winter. Next thing you know, ol' Jack's chasing after Shelley Duvall with an axe and wandering through the world's freakiest topiary -- food for thought the next time you think about ordering that extra drink. And as for The Shining? It is, as Emma Dibdin wrote for Digital Spy, "One of the most viscerally disturbing films ever made."
A blistering non-fiction takedown of empty calories and corporate agriculture might not be the first place most people would look when hunting for books to adapt for the big screen, but Richard Linklater isn't like most directors. Sadly, many critics felt Linklater's ensemble-driven take on Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation failed to turn the book's passionate argument against mass-produced meals into a compelling movie -- although for an equal number of scribes, the powerful performances delivered by the impressive cast (which included Bruce Willis, Luis Guzman, and Patricia Arquette) made up for any narrative gaps. "For slicing through the euphemisms and getting to the heart of the matter," argued Joe Williams of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Fast Food Nation is the most important American film of the year."
Rodney Dangerfield's schlubby humor and salt-of-the-earth persona made him the perfect fit for Back to School, starring the respect-deficient comedian as a self-made millionaire who, needing a distraction from his latest philandering trophy wife, decides to head back to college as a way of bettering himself while reconnecting with his uptight son (Keith Gordon). While it presents roughly the same cartoonishly unrealistic picture of campus life as any other 1980s college comedy, School has a sweet core lacking from most of the decade's T&A-fueled romps, and it benefits greatly from charismatic performances by Dangerfield and a young Robert Downey, Jr. "It's a good character for Dangerfield," nodded the Chicago Reader's Dave Kehr, "one that veers him away from the 'I don't get no respect' pathos that comes too easily to him, and enough attention is paid to the minimal plot to integrate Dangerfield's classically constructed one-liners."
No matter how many degrees you have, moving up the corporate ladder often comes down to who you know. Even then, as naive college grad Brantley Foster (Michael J. Fox) discovers early in The Secret of My Success, your family connections might not be good for much more than a gig in the mailroom -- unless you opt for the non-traditional approach and invent a new employee who rocks the boardroom in spite of the fact that he doesn't technically exist. A major box-office hit in 1987, Success received lukewarm praise from critics, although its frantic screwball pace and slapstick comedy took full advantage of Fox's comedic gifts, and its corporate setting helped make it what James Sanford of the Kalamazoo Gazette referred to as a "quintessential 1980s comedy."
Atkins, Paleo, South Beach...there's a diet for every week of the year, but for sheer effectiveness, none of them can hope to match the pound-shedding power of a gypsy curse. At least, that's what we learn in Thinner, director Tom Holland's rather misguided adaptation of the gripping Stephen King story about a slovenly lawyer (Robert John Burke) who picks the wrong old lady to run over and ends up losing weight at an alarming rate. While none of the story's essential themes translated particularly well to the screen, Thinner still managed to raise a few critics' neck hairs, including Clint Morris of Moviehole, who decreed it "Stephen King's freakiest film in eons."
"But wait," you might be saying. "What does Season of the Witch have to do with getting out of debt?" And while it's true that in narrative terms, this 2011 fantasy action-adventure about a Crusader traveling to a remote monastery with a woman accused of witchcraft might not offer much in the way of lessons about managing one's money, behind the scenes, it was all about getting back into the financial black -- at least for star Nicolas Cage, who signed on for the project after learning he'd incurred a crushing $13 million tax liability with the IRS. Roundly panned by critics far and wide, Witch is just one of many debt-motivated movies Cage has starred in over the last few years -- not that his motivations mattered to writers like ReelViews' James Berardinelli, who opined, "Cage is effective as a falling down drunk in Las Vegas or a treasure hunter navigating goofy road trips but not as a disillusioned champion of the Church going one-on-one with a demon. Steven Seagal would have been more believable."