The nominations for the 2019 Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week. Since then the Vegas odds-makers and Howard Ratners of the world have been going bonkers, so it’s time to announce the winners so that the criminals trapped in that weird vestibule thing can be buzzed out (get it? I’m being topical! For the approximately zero of you who have seen Uncut Gems, at least.) Next week, I’ll announce the winners of some more goofy, freeform categories that we call the Arbitrary Awards, and not long after that, I’ll post my top 10 of 2019 (the Oscars are much earlier this year, so I may post some commentary, time permitting, or more likely not). Alrightly then, enough preamble, let’s get to the winners. And the KMA goes to:
- Best Villain/Badass: Red, played by Lupita Nyong’o in Us. And it’s not even particularly close. Lupita Nyong’o’s performance as Red is full of menace and barely suppressed rage, but it’s a dual role, and she puts forth a distinct performance has Red’s doppleganger too (and without spoiling the movie, the villainy is not diminished by such machinations).
The other nominees aren’t so much bad as they are simply perfunctory. It’s a superhero film or a Star Wars film and so a villain is dutifully trotted out. For the most part, they get the job done, but few leave a lasting imprint. Thanos works less because of himself than because he’s the villain in the culmination of a ten year run of movies (this is Marvel’s superpower – the individual films matter less than the whole). Jake Gyllenhaal makes Mysterio work better than he does on paper, but is ultimately a little silly in Spider-Man: Far from Home. Mark Dacascos is interesting in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, but it’s hard not to see him as the Chairman from Iron Chef America, which adds its own surreality to the proceedings, I guess, but perhaps not intentional. Plenty of fine villains, but nothing stands out as much as Red…
- Best Hero/Badass: Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. An altogether better year for heroism, even for a more atypical, perhaps even ambiguous character like Cliff Booth. Tarantino doesn’t explicitly tell us what happened with Booth’s wife, but what we do see in the film proper is certainly badass and heroic. It’s one of those things where your interpretation of the character in the film probably says more about you than the film itself.
Lots of other strong contenders in this category too. I don’t know how John Wick keeps losing this award, but it appears he’ll have another chance soon enough, and we’ll certainly be talking more about this film below (this is perhaps why I don’t feel compelled to give him this category – it gets recognized elsewhere). Scott Adkins puts in a fun, badass performance in Avengement, pouring himself a pint after beating the hell out of every gangster in a bar with a cricket bat. Even bit parts like Tilda Swinton in The Dead Don’t Die warrant some mention, though that character has a distinct lack of heroism (which is not to say that she’s a villain either). Samara Weaving in Ready or Not also does well, though she suffers in comparison to Sharni Vinson’s Kaedrin Movie Award Winning Hero/Badass performance in You’re Next. Actually, the grand majority of nominees are pretty close, with only a couple standouts. It’s a pity that most of them were not opposed by proper villainy.
- Best Comedic Performance: Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name. This movie was clearly a labor of love for Murphy, and his passion for the material really shines through. This is an award that is often muddled due to the prevalence of comedic ensembles (and a glance through the nominees shows some of that), but Murphy’s performance really does stand out in a way that most others do not. A bunch of the nominees are smaller, side characters who manage to steal scenes from the larger narrative (Keanu Reeves in Always Be My Maybe, Zoey Deutch in Zombieland: Double Tap, and perhaps most impressive due to the young age, Archie Yates in Jojo Rabbit). Other nominees are more conventional, or perhaps less conventional but not defined so much as comedic roles. In the end, Murphy’s performance is why this award exists.
- Breakthrough Performance: Florence Pugh in Midsommar and Little Women. For whatever reason, I had a tougher time populating this category this year, but Florence Pugh was my first thought and the obvious winner due to a strong lead performance in Midsommar and her thankless ensemble work in Little Women (“thankless” might not be the right word for this, but the character of Amy is fraught with some baggage for sure). The woman can frown like no other, but she has a nice smile too (there’s a scene in Little Women where the sisters are doing one of Jo’s plays and she clinks her pipe with her sister and for some reason that moment is very memorable for me.) Anyway, Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U is here as a sorta “sorry, I forgot to nominate you last time”, but she genuinely seems up for anything in this sequel (the glee with which she kills herself to reset the day, jumping out of the airplane or headfirst into a woodchipper, really does stand out). Samara Weaving in Ready or Not again gets a nod here and I’m expecting good things from her going forward. Did I say it was hard populating this category? Huh, because all the nominees are pretty great, actually.
- Most Visually Stunning: Shadow. It’s an odd choice, because the color palette of this movie is quite muted, to the point where it almost feels like a black and white film at times, and yet that only makes the visuals in the film stronger and more memorable.
Strong runner up in the form of 1917, whose single take shenanigans are impressive to say the least. The rest of the nominees range from the gorgeos spectacle to the more sober but very well photographed that usually populate the category…
- Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film: Us. Jordan Peele’s sophmore directing effort isn’t as lean or focused as his first effort, but it’s still good and interesting stuff. The rest of the nominees are a pretty fun bunch and well worth checking out. They skew towards horror, as I wasn’t taken with a lot of this year’s high-profile artistic SF (like Ad Astra or High Life), but the lone SF nominee, Prospect, is quite good and it feels underrated (or at least underseen) too.
- Best Sequel/Reboot/Remake: Avengers: Endgame. As mentioned above, this movie’s strength is not just that it’s a fun movie with lots of good stuff, but rather that it’s the conclusion to more than a decade’s worth of films, and the achievement as a whole seems worhty of recognizing (and what better place than the best sequel category). Given my usual distaste for sequels, this category is often difficult to populate and it’s hard to believe that I never had “Remake” as part of the category before (though I’m sure I had some nominees that were remakes in the past? Maybe?), but two decent remakes this year in Little Women and Cold Pursuit) persuaded me to add that to this category. The other nominees are just fine and well worth checking out if you liked their respective previous films…
- Biggest Disappointment: The Laundromat. Remember when Steven Soderbergh quit directing films? Well, he made two in 2019, one of which was pretty great (High Flying Bird), and the other just fell completely flat. So many of the elements of The Laundromat should work, but it just continually fails to inform or entertain, culminating in a bizarre non-sequitur of a 4th wall break that’s just plain boorish. This is not a category I like to dwell on, but I will say that I generally enjoyed the other nominees, but for whatever reason, I had higher expectations that I probably should have going in, which makes them disappointing. But the Laundromat takes the cake here.
- Best Action Sequences: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Hey may not have won the best Hero/Badass, but this film certainly had the best action sequences of the year. With each new installment, these movies one-up the action, and this one contains a few amazing setpieces, most notably the knife fight and the one with the good doggies. This marks the year in which I discovered Jesse V. Johnson’s direct to video/streaming offerings, so a couple nominees show up here that are worth watching for action fans (Avengement and Triple Threat). I didn’t love Ad Astra, but what’s not to like about the moon rover battle? Also of note, S. Craig Zahler’s more measured, deliberate action setpieces are tense and unpredictable, punctuated by gruesome violence. Oh, and not nominated but should be: T-34, a Russian tank movie with great, propulsive action sequences and extensive bullet-time-esque shots (the one on Amazon Prime is dubbed, but who cares, you’re not watching this for the dialog). A decent crop of action this year, for sure.
- Best Plot Twist/Surprise: Knives Out. “It is not a doughnut hole, but a smaller doughnut with its own hole, and our doughnut is not holed at all!” I won’t go into details here due to spoilers (and I suppose the fact that there’s a twist/surprise is spoiler all on its own, but in the case of a whodunit, what else would you expect?) Some other good nominees here, but again, I’ll refrain from details due to spoilers…
- Best High Concept Film: 1917. The idea of a “high concept” is a bit of a nebulous one and maybe the “stringing together shots so it looks like one continuous take” isn’t enough of a high concept for you, but it really worked in 1917, so here we are. Much has been made of whether this is a gimmick for gimmick’s sake or otherwise effective, but it worked well for me, building tension and claustrophobic dread over the course of the film (with little in the way of release). Other nominees had some neat ideas for sure, and most are worthy, even when the high concept doesn’t quite work out in a way I loved (i.e. Cold Case Hammarskjöld is a bizarre documentary and I’m not entirely sure it works but it’s interesting nonetheless…)
- 2019’s 2018 Movie of the Year: A Simple Favor. It’s a nice, twisty little thriller. Once I get past a given year, I don’t usually catch up with stuff from that year, especially when it comes to more challenging films. This year wasn’t really an exception to that, but I did catch up with a lot of fun things. Perhaps another benefit of the streaming era… One notable nominee would be Suspiria, which felt a little overlong and overindulgent, but which I ultimately liked a lot. Most of the other nominees are worth a watch here or there too, though none are really lighting the world on fire.
So there you have it. Congrats to all the winners. Stay tuned for the Arbitrary Awards, coming next week!