Movies

Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, Part 2

This is a continuation of last week’s discussion of the book The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. This sort of nuts-and-bolts stuff is endlessly fascinating, so let’s get back to some quotes from the book:

M: In film there’s a costume department interested in showing what it can do – which is only natural – so, on the smallest pretext, characters will change clothes. The problem is, that locks filmmakers into a more rigid scene structure. But if a character keeps the same clothes, you can put a scene in a different place and it doesn’t stand out.

… there’s a delicate balance between the time line of a film’s story – which might take place over a series of days or weeks or months – and the fact that the film is only two hours long. You can stretch the amount of time somebody is in the same costume because the audience is subconsciously thinking, Well, I’ve only been here for two hours, so it’s not strange that he hasn’t changed his clothes.

Page 162

This makes me wonder about films where characters are constantly changing outfits. Is there a point where, if you change costumes often enough, the disadvantages boomerang back to being flexible because every scene has a different costume anyway? Probably not entirely, but maybe there’s something to that…

M: I guess I am drawn to stories where you have to get under the skin of rather unlikely and sometimes unlikeable characters.

How you do that, as an editor, ultimately comes down to selecting the shots, and moments within shots, where the character looks appealing yet problematic at the same time – conflicted, in other words. If you have a choice of seven different shots, which one shows that conflict best? There are many tiny but telling details the editor includes or eliminates in order to make the audience aware of the deeper aspects of character.

For instance, if you are wearing a hat, as soon as you tip the hat slightly back on your head, it gets noticed – you’re sending a message via the angle of the hat: I’m a happy-go-lucky guy. Or if you ram the hat down on your head, you’re saying, I don’t want to talk to anybody. Or if you tip it forward, you say, I’m aggressive…. But if you’re trying to be earnest, the tipped-back hat doesn’t quite send the right message.

In film there are endless versions of this, where a look, an aspect, an attitude, a gesture is fortuitously correct or incorrect, and either amplifies or contradicts the message the filmmakers want to convey.

I’m using “hat” as a metaphor: one moment is always going to be the most revealing, in the best sense, of the inner character, at that point in the film.

Page 174

Sometimes when you read criticism of a movie, people read a lot into the smallest detail and there are certainly times when that sort of extrapolation is inaccurate, but then you read stuff like the above and it isn’t always as far-fetched as it might seem.

Gene Hackman and an Air Freshener in The Conversation

They reference a scene in The Conversation where Gene Hackman’s character blows on a little air freshener – it’s a tiny moment, but revealing.

M: There’s a wonderful quotation from Goethe – he must have been frustrated at some point about the difficulty of communication. He said, “Utterly futile trying to change, by writing, someone’s fixed inclination. You will only succeed in confirming him of his opinion, or if he has none, drenching him in yours.”

O: There’s a poet in Vancouver who said, “I’ll see it when I believe it!”

M: Exactly. I’m sure Goethe didn’t think that way most of the time, otherwise he wouldn’t have kept writing. He was talking in black-and-white terms: Agree with me or not! The richest zone of communication is in the grey area, around things like your staircase, where the reader is somewhat receptive to what the author writes but also brings along his own images, and ideas, which in a creative way do violence to the author’s vision and ideas. A synergy results from what the writer presents and what the reader brings. That communication, initially present in neither the sender or the receiver, is greater than the message of the writer alone or the thoughts of the reader alone.

Page 209

There’s a lot here that’s relevant to the current state of discourse in the world. That rich zone in the grey area is obliterated by most of what passes for discourse these days. Everyone’s so afraid of being misinterpreted that the sort of synergy that Murch is referring to here becomes difficult. A lot of people complaining about making things “too political” are talking about this sort of thing. It’s not that politics exist that’s the problem, it’s the lack of potential synergy…

M: There’s a great game… Negative Twenty Questions. … It was invented by John Wheeler, a quantum physicist who was a young graduate student of Neils Bohr’s in the 1930s. … he thought up a parlour game that reflects the way the world is constructed at a quantum level. It involves, say, four people. Michael, Anthony, Walter, and Aggie. From the point of view of one of those people, Michael, the game that’s being played is the normal Twenty Questions – Ordinary Twenty Questions, I guess you’d call it. So Michael leaves the room, under the illusion that the other three players are going to look around and collectively decide on the chosen object to be guessed by him – say, the alarm clock. Michael expects that when they’ve made their decision they will ask him to come back in and try to guess the object in fewer than twenty questions.

Under normal circumstances, the game is a mixture of perspicacity and luck: No, it’s not bigger than a breadbox. No, you can’t eat it… Those kinds of things.

But in Wheeler’s version of the game, when Michael leaves the room, the three remaining players don’t communicate with one another at all. Instead, each of them silently decides on an object. They call Michael back in.

So there’s a disparity between what Michael believes and what the underlying truth is: Nobody knows what anyone else is thinking. The game proceeds regardless, which is where the fun comes in.

Michael asks Walter: Is the object bigger than a breadbox? Walter – who has picked the alarm clock – says, No. Now, Anthony has chosen the sofa, which is bigger than a breadbox. And since Michael is going to ask him the next question, Anthony must quickly look around the room and come up with something else – a coffee cup! – which is smaller than a breadbox. So when Michael asks Anthony, If I emptied out my pockets, could I put their contents in this object? Anthony says, Yes.

Now Aggie’s choice may have been the small pumpkin carved for Halloween, which could also contain Michael’s keys and coins, so when Michael says, Is it edible? Aggie says, Yes. That’s a problem for Walter and Anthony, who have chosen inedible objects: they now have to change their selection to something edible, hollow, and smaller than a breadbox.

So a complex vortex of decision making is set up, a logical but unpredictable chain of ifs and thens. To end successfully, the game must produce, in fewer than twenty questions, and object that satisfies all of the logical requirements: smaller than a breadbox, hollow, et cetera. Two things can happen: Success – this vortex can give birth to an answer that will seem to be inevitable in retrospect: Of course! It’s the ______! And the game ends with Michael still believing he has just played Ordinary Twenty Questions. In fact, no one chose the ______ to start with, and Anthony, Walter, and Aggie have been sweating it out, doing these hidden mental gymnastics, always one step ahead of failure.

Which is the other possible result: Failure – the game can break down catastrophically. By question 15, let’s say, the questions asked have generated logical requirements so complex that nothing in the room can satisfy them. And when Michael asks Anthony the sixteenth question, Anthony breaks down and has to confess that he doesn’t know, and Michael is finally let in on the secret: The game was negative Twenty Questions all along. Wheeler suggests that the nature of perception and reality, at the quantum level, and perhaps above, is somehow similar to this game.

Pages 210- 212

Murch then applies this to filmmaking and the collaborative process of constantly adjusting due to various aspects of the production. This sort of collaboration can be precarious, but Murch argues that it’s preferable to a monolithic vision.

M: One of the reasons I lobby for the increased collaboration of everyone who can have a voice on a film is that through collaboration you add facets to the work. The work is going to be seen by millions of people, over many decades and under very many different circumstances, and even though the film is a fixed thing, you want it to be multifaceted so that different people will see different things in it, and come away rewarded.

The best, easiest way to get that multifacetedness is to allow the collaboration of lots of people, as well as Chance, which is sometimes Fate in costume. Each of those moments of collaboration, each contribution by someone other than the director, adds a slightly different perspective to the work, some chisel mark slightly at an angle to the central vision. And each of these moments, these facets, has the potential to make the work “sparkle” in a creative sense, and make it more accessible to a greater variety of people over a longer period of time.

If, instead, the film is a single, monolithic vision, the viewer has no option other than to submit to it on its own terms, bow down to it, or turn away from it.

Page 242

Easier said than done, for sure, and you’re inviting that catastrophic failure element from Negative Twenty Questions, but when it works? Seems worth it.

M: In film, at the moment of the cut you are juxtaposing one image with another, and that’s the equivalent of rhyme. It’s how rhyme and alliteration work in poetry, or how we juxtapose two words or two images, and what that juxtaposition implies. Either by emphasizing the theme or by countering it, modulating it, like an invisible Greek chorus. What’s being stated may be one thing, but by juxtaposing two different images at the moment of the cut, and makin them as striking as possible, we can say, Yes, but there’s something else going on here.

The trick is to make that flow an organic part of the process. Editing is a construction, a mosaic in three dimensions, two of space and one of time. It’s a miniature version of the way films are made, which is an artificial, piece-by-piece process.

Page 268

Murch has being doing this long enough that he says he knows when to cut because he almost involuntarily flinches when watching a shot, and he knows that flinch moment is when to cut. He apparently does this down to the frame (i.e. 1/24th of a second), which is astounding and seemingly tedious.

M: … what he meant was, How are you doing? … So I answered, Oh yeah, I’m very happy. Things are great! But later that evening I kept mulling over that question, thinking, What I said was the right social response, but what’s the real response to that question – from one director to another? The closest I came was, No, I’m not happy, but I would be absolutely miserable if I were prevented from doing what I’m doing now. Don’t stop me – I’m miserable, but don’t stop me. I’m miserable in the amazing, cosmic way that a director is miserable.

There’s a phrase from something Martha Graham once said about that process. She calls it “blessed unrest.”

Pages 282 – 283

That’s a great phrase and gets at a core contradiction of the human condition. It reminds me of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. The “flow” state is difficult to get into and often involves very hard work that doesn’t seem like it would be enjoyable, but once you get there, you lose track of everything else and never want to leave. “Blessed unrest” seems like a good descriptor of that sort of thing.

M: … films, when they work, are functioning at a complex level of harmonic interaction – of sounds and images and acting and costume and art direction and photography and on and on. At the beginning we have a script which, complex as it may be, is like a simple melodic line, but we don’t yet have an orchestrated score. The director – who is the closest we have to the conductor of the piece, visually speaking – doesn’t have a way of orchestrating all these things except through talking and instruction by example and sometimes, it seems, through some kind of divine intervention. If every decision that had to be made on the film had to be articulated, spelled out in detail, the film would never get done…

O: But surely on one level, the lack of rules and codes,and the lack of a too pre-meditated theory is what keeps film alive. Obviously film is an art form and it’s a made form, but what’s wonderful about film is how it also catches an uncontrolled reality. There’s the chance of the accidental, which then can be selected, chosen, and shaped by the director and the editor. But to begin with something too controlled… it’s why I cannot stand cartoons, which are a hundred percent premeditated, totally manipulative, and therefore completely artificial.

Pages 306 – 307

Alrighty then, I think I’ve mined this book enough for now. though there’s lots of other fascinating topics discussed throughout (for example, I didn’t even get into Murch’s attempts to develop a sorta Movie notation like music has, based on the I Ching). Suffice it to say that it’s a highly recommended book for anyone interested in how film actually works.

Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, Part 1

A few weeks ago, the Academy Awards were wracked with controversy. I speak, of course, of the decision not to air several important categories during the broadcast, among them Best Film Editing and Best Sound. Nothing else of note occurred during the ceremony. Anyway, by pure coincidence, I happened to be reading a book about just how important Film Editing can be.

During the making of The English Patient, the author who wrote the book the movie was based on, Michael Ondaatje, was able to observe the whole process. He met the editor of the film, Walter Murch, and the two became friends. Ondaatje became fascinated with film editing, sound, and sound editing, and decided to write a book about those subjects with Murch. The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film basically consists of several in-depth interviews with Ondaatje and Murch. For the uninitiated, Murch is something of a legend in the Editing community. He doesn’t have the cache that the directors he worked with have, but you’ve almost certainly seen (or heard) his work. Between editing and sound, he’s worked on all three Godfather movies, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, American Graffiti, The English Patient, and the famous re-edit of Touch of Evil, amongst others.

It’s a fascinating book and recommended for those who want to understand the lesser discussed aspects of filmmaking. I took note of interesting passages and discussions throughout the book, which we’ll cover now. The first concerns the interrogation (and torture) scene from The English Patient. It was apparently a particularly grueling shoot for the actors, so there was a lot of footage to work with.

And what did Walter Murch do with this scene?

Well, he had been reading the Italian writer Curzio Malaparte on the “Nazi character,” and he plucked from his reading the fact that the Nazis hated any demonstration of weakness. This idea was certainly not in my original paragraph, not in Minghella’s script, nor in any of the hundred minutes of footage that had been shot and that somehow had to be cut down to a nerve-racking three or four minutes. Every scene, every film, for Murch, needs to have a larger science of patterns at work within it, and this would be the idea or concept that governed how he cut the scene.

At one point Caravaggio/Dafoe says, before he even sees the razor, “Don’t cut me.” He says it once. Walter has the interrogator pause in his questioning when he hears this, extending the time of his response. He has threatened the spy with the idea of cutting off his thumbs, but only in a casual, not serious, way. When Caravaggio says, “Don’t cut me,” the German pauses for a second, a flicker of disgust on his face. The interrogation continues. Walter found another take of Dafoe’s line, this one with more quaver in the voice, and decided to put it in again, a few seconds later. So Dafoe repeats his fear. And now time stops.

We see the look on the German. And now we know he has to do what he was previously just thinking about. To emphasize this, Murch, at that very moment, pulls all the sound out of the scene, so there is complete silence. And we, even if we don’t realize it as we sit in the theatre, are shocked and the reason is that quietness. Something terrible has been revealed by the spy, about his own nature, and now something terrible is going to happen.

Page xx

But sure, editing isn’t important enough to reward on the broadcast. Apparently Murch liked to quote French filmmaker Robert Bresson to the effect that a film is born three times – in the writing of the script, in the shooting, and in the editing. In the case of The English Patient, there was also a fourth, which was Ondaatje’s original novel. The above anecdote, about Murch injecting a repeated line that wasn’t in the script and wasn’t shot, is a good example of Bresson’s notion.

Willem Dafoe in The English Patient

In discussing a re-edit he did for Robert Duvall’s The Apostle, Murch makes a fascinating observation about the perceived length of a film:

M: … Linearity does sometimes present its own problems, however, particularly regarding a film’s perceived length. That was true with The Coversation, and The Talented Mr. Ripley as well. Those three films are told from the point of view of the central character: the Apostle, Harry Caul, Tom Ripley. FIlms with a single point of view are on borrowed time if they are more than two hours long. Since there’s only one point of view, there’s no relief if the audience is not one hundred percent with the film, and it can subsequently seem too long even if it isn’t objectively so.

O: When you say point of view, in terms of film, you’re talking about focusing on just one character –

M: In The Talented Mr. Ripley, everything the audience sees is either Tom Ripley or something Tom Ripley sees. There are no scenes where we go off with other characters – as is always happening in The English Patient, for instance, where you have a complex dance, different people with different attitudes to the same events. But Ripley is about Tom Ripley. Likewise The Apostle – there’s only the Apostle’s story.

O: And that’s deadly, you think?

M: No, no, it’s not deadly, it’s just that the clock runs faster with that kind of film, and unless there’s something wildly unusual or different about it, it’s better not to have those films be more than two hours long. The Conversation is only one hour, fifty-two minutes. Even then, some people think it’s too long. With more points of view, you can sustain that juggling act for longer, just because it’s richer and more complex. A symphony can be longer than a sonata.

Pages 33-34

Not so much editing, but more on framing:

I’ve never thought about it quite like that, but as I get older, I do seem to keep thinking that a given movie (or book) is too long. This sort of perception could certainly play a role, and I’ll have to keep it in mind.

It’s a rule, of course, that normally you never allow anyone to look into the camera unless you want to “break the frame” and have the characters directly address the audience, usually for laughs.

Yet in Apocalypse Now, you’re right, actors look into the camera quite often and it seems to integrate effortlessly into the flow of the film. … In that briefing scene where Willard gets his mission, the characters are looking straight at the camera when they talk to Willard. If they are doing that, the mathematically correct thing would be to have Willard looking at the camera too. Instead he’s looking to the left side of the lens, which is correct according to conventional film grammar. Yet you never feel the general is looking at the audience: you believe he’s looking at Willard. But when Willard finally does look at the camera, at the end of the scene, you feel he’s looking at us – at the audience – and thinking: Can you believe this?

Pages 70-71

Again, there’s not editing here because Coppola apparently never shot the scene in a conventional way, but it’s interesting nonetheless. It speaks to the collaborative nature of filmmaking though, and Murch has some interesting thoughts there too:

M: … How do you get 150 temperamental artistic types to work together on the same project, and make something that not only comes in on schedule, on budget, but that has an artistic coherence. It’s simply beyond the ability of a single person, a director or a producer, to cause that to happen by any series of direct commands. It’s so complicated that it just can’t be done. The question is: How does it happen?

If you’ve ever remodelled a house, you’ll know how difficult it is even to get four or five carpenters to agree on anything: billions of people have been building houses, for thousands of years – “houseness” should almost be encoded in our DNA. And yet when you remodel, it’s very common to go double over budget and schedule. By comparison, we’ve only been making films for a hundred years, and a film crew is made up of sometimes hundreds of people, yet somehow, miraculously, at the end of “only” a year, there is, one hopes, a wonderful, mysterious, powerful, coherent, two-hour-long vision that has no precedent – and the more original the vision, the more the process is amazing. And yet studios are furious with us if we go ten percent over budget and schedule!

Pages 84-85

As someone who is currently working on some large scale software development efforts, I can say there’s something similarly complicated going on there. It turns out that predicting effort, predicting the future, is kinda difficult, especially as a project grows in size and scope.

Murch also does a lot of sound editing, and there are similar dynamics at work:

M: … Not having music also gives the emotional effect of not cutting away.

When music makes an entrance in a film there’s the emotional equivalent of a cutaway. Music functions as an emulsifier that allows you to dissolve a certain emotion and take it in a certain direction. When there’s no music, the filmmakers are standing back saying, simply, Look at this. Without appearing to comment.

Page 103

One of the observations Murch and Ondaatje make about The Godfather is that the music almost always punctuates at the end of the scene.

The Godfather

For instance, the scene at the restaurant is mostly played quietly, without music, until the deed is done and Michael is walking away.

M: And also all this is predicated on Francis’s decision to not have music during the scene. In the hands of another filmmaker, there would be tension music percolating under the surface. But Francis wanted to save everything for those big chords after Michel’s dropped the gun. Even after he shoots, there’s silence, and in your mind you hear Clemenza saying, “Remember, drop the gun. Everyone will be looking at the gun, so they won’t look at your face.” So Michael shoots them and then there’s this moment of silence and then he drops the gun.

O: He doesn’t even drop it, he tosses it! It’s a much more extraordinary gesture than a subtle drop.

M: Yeah, as if to say: Look at this gun! The gun hits the ground, and then the music finally comes in. It’s a classic example of the correct use of music, which is a collector and channeler of previously created emotion, rather than a device that creates the emotion. …

Most movies use music the way athletes use steroids. There’s no question that you can induce a certain emotion with music – just like steroids build up muscle. It gives you an edge, it gives you a speed, but it’s unhealthy for the organism in the long run.

Page 122

Music is often overused or used as a crutch for removing ambiguity from a scene and heightening the emotion, but ambiguity can be a good thing…

O: It’s an odd thing: I’ve heard you talk before about the importance of ambiguity in film, and the need to save that ambiguous quality which exists in a book or painting, and which you think a film does not often have. And at the same time in a mix you are trying to “perfect” that ambiguity.

M: I know. It’s a paradox. And one of the most fruitful paradoxes, I think, is that even when the film is finished, there should be unsolved problems. Because there’s another stage, beyond the finished film: when the audience views it. You want the audience to be co-conspirators in the creation of this work, just as much as the editor or the mixers or the cameraman or the actors are. If by some chemistry you actually did remove all ambiguity in the final mix – even though it had been ambiguous up to that point – I think you would do the film a disservice. But the paradox is that you have to approach every problem as if it’s desperately important to solve it. You can’t say, I don’t want to solve this because it’s got to be ambiguous. If you do that, then there’s a sort of haemorrhaging of the organism.

Page 105

In case you can’t tell, Murch is something of a renaissance man, and that comes out in these conversations, like this one about seiche tones:

M: I did think of an experiment which would be fascinating to do. To record the bell tone – the carillon, in fact – of San Francisco Bay. Every body of water – it doesn’t matter whether it’s a puddle or Lake Superior – has what they call a seiche tone. Even if you can’t see it, the water is vibrating, undulating at a resonant frequency that is keyed to the size of the body of water. San Francisco Bay I think has a seiche tone of one hour and forty three minutes. A wave will cross the bay and then come back in that time period. These are very large waves, undetectable by our normal senses.

On top of that are the waves – the chop – that we can see, and then little micro-waves that are just part of the texture of the water. If you set up a pole at some point in the bay, and has a laser beam that reflected off the surface of the water and continuously measured the distance between the tip of the beam and the surface of the water, you would be plotting a series of curves. You could print that out as a series of wave forms, like the record of an earthquake seismograph. One of the wave forms would be this big seiche tone, which would vary over a long period of time, hours. Others would be quicker and more obvious.

Now you can take that wave form and speed it up and render it audible as a series of tones. I don’t know what it would sound like, but the bay would have a (hums) tone. Then superimposed on that would be all these other tones of the smaller and smaller waves. It would be some kind of music.

Page 110

Jeeze, why didn’t I think of that?

M: … Renoir in particular was extremely interested in realistic sound. He went so far in one direction that he almost came around the other side. There’s a wonderful quote by him where he says that dubbing – replacing the original sound with something else – is an invention of the devil and that if such a thing had been possible in the thirteenth century, the practitioners would have been burned at the stake for preaching the duality of the soul!

Renoir felt that a person’s voice was an expression of that person’s soul, and that to fool around with it in any way was to do the devil’s work. The devil is frequently represented as having a voice at odds with what you see. In The Exorcist, the voice that the girl speaks with is not her own voice. This idea of devilry and duality and dubbing, there’s something to be explored there.

Page 113

I don’t think Renoir would have liked the Italian filmmaking of the 70s.

M: … At a certain point during the editing of The Godfather, Francis cut it down to two hours and twenty minutes. But it was clear it didn’t work at that length. Then, when we restored the length, somehow, having gone down so deep, it didn’t come back exactly to where it was before – we had learned things by going that far.

Page 130

Interesting how taking things to extremes can recontextualize the whole process and result in something better.

O: You developed a wonderful theory about editing a few years ago, in your book In the Blink of an Eye: that often the best place to cut from one shot to another coincides with the actor’s blinking, especially if the actor is good – since a blink naturally signals a closure to a thought.

M: From my early editing experiences I became convinced that there was a connection between the patterns of a person’s eye blinks and the patters of their thoughts. That blinks are the equivalent of mental punctuation marks – commas, periods, semicolons, et cetera – separating and thus providing greater articulation to our thoughts. I owe the equation Cut = Blink to the director John Huston – he put forth the idea in an interview with Louise Sweeney in the early 1970s.

The upshot of all this is that I believe the pattern of cuts in a film, to be at its best, needs to reflect or acknowledge the pattern of thoughts of the characters in the film – which ultimately means the thought patterns of the audience. In arranging the sequence of shots, the editor is in effect “blinking” for the audience, and the resulting cuts will seem most natural and graceful when they fall where the blink would fall in an exchange between two people in conversation.

Pages 141-142

This seems like the sort of thing most of us would notice subconsciously, but because an editor has such a difficult job, it has to be more conscious.

I’ll end this post here for now, but there’s plenty left in the book to cover, which I’ll save for next week….

Weird Movie of the Week: Witch Hunt

Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we noshed on Champagne and Bullets. This time, we engage in a private-eye-led Witch Hunt:

Detective Philip Lovecraft lives in Los Angeles in the 1950s when an ambitious Senator is holding hearings, on Magic. Magic is the new influence in Tinsel Town. Lovecraft is unique in that he is the only one who refuses to use magic in his work. Shortly after he is hired, he finds his client, Kim Hudson, accused of the murder of her husband, a film executive. Philip uses the talents of a local witch, Kropotkin, to explain what is happening only to see her accused of the murder and sentenced to be burnt at the stake. Reminiscent of Roger Rabbit, without the toons.

It’s a made-for-HBO movie from 1994 (i.e. before they kicked off the whole prestige cable drama thing) that is directed by Paul Schrader, stars Dennis Hopper as Detective Lovecraft, and Penelope Ann Miller as the femme fatale. With music by Angelo Badalamenti. It’s a sorta sequel to Cast a Deadly Spell (directed by Martin Campbell and starring Fred Ward as the detective), which was actually a pretty fantastic mashup of 40s gumshoe noir and Lovecraftian horror.

Witch Hunt

By all accounts this sequel is not as good, but the frustrating thing about it is that it doesn’t appear to be available to watch anywhere (there’s a VHS on Amazon for $54). I know that movie productions are complicated legal constructs and that rights can get messy, but it was made specifically for HBO, how is it not on HBO Max? Well, you can watch Cast a Deadly Spell on HBO Max, so there is that (and I’d recommend it if you’re in the mood for this sort of thing).

A 4K Wish List

The recent release of the 4K Godfather Trilogy boxed set has prompted me to think of other movies from my 4K Wish List. I know it’s deeply uncool to be interested in physical media, the various competing formats for HDR, and so on, though I guess streaming services also benefit from 4K restorations and HDR (even if bitrates can’t really compete with physical, but there I go again with the uncool focus on technical details).

The Godfather Trilogy 4K Boxed Set

Anyway, physical media is clearly in a weird place right now. On the one hand, it’s clearly on the decline. The sheer convenience of streaming can’t be overcome by the marginally better quality of the image, and it makes sense. On the other hand, boutique physical media shops like Criterion, Arrow, Shout/Scream Factory, Vinegar Syndrome, Severin, Kino Lorber, and others are other here releasing special editions ranging from current releases to screen classics to the most obscure exploitation trash from the 70s and 80s that you’ve never heard of…

Even weirder, though, is that while you’ve got pristine, 4K UHD special editions with commentary tracks and other special features of something like Tammy and the T-Rex, lots of popular, classic movies don’t have anything nearly as impressive (please don’t interpret this as a slight against Tammy and the T-Rex, which is great and absolutely deserves the treatment…)

Up until a few weeks ago, The Godfather was #1 on my list, but they finally put out a release aligned with the 50th Anniversary and it looks fantastic. So what else am I pining for? Some of these are just generally unavailable, but some are infamous for having many double-dip releases and so on, so it’s weird that they haven’t made the leap to 4K.

  • The Terminator – This might be the movie I’ve seen the most times in my life, talking at least triple digits here. And yet, even the Blu-Rays that are available are the barest of bare-bones releases. James Cameron movies in general seem to be lagging behind in terms of releases. Aliens is also lacking 4K, though there are rumors that it’s coming sometime in 2022. I wouldn’t mind a 4K of The Abyss or, really, any of Cameron’s other movies. There is a 4K of Terminator 2, but they had done the restoration for a theatrical 3D release a while back, and so the colors are apparently all off from what it should be (and I hate 3D in general, so…) Still, if I could only choose one Cameron, it would be the original Terminator.
  • Pulp Fiction – And again, most of Tarantino’s catalog in general is missing from the 4K world, and I’d probably go for… all of it? I know Tarantino doesn’t want to do commentary tracks on his own movies (and I get it!), but they’re so infused with cinematic references that they could really benefit from one of them film historian commentaries that are common on a lot of these boutique physical media releases…
  • Heat – This was supposed to come out last year, but got delayed. It’s “in limbo, but is still expected to arrive on the format sometime” in 2022. Fingers crossed.
  • Star Wars – Duh. Of course, there are 4K releases of the trilogy, but not on physical media and they’re the whole Special Edition that no one likes.
  • Raise the Red Lantern – And once again, we have a director (Zhang Yimou) whose whole early filmography is largely absent from US releases. Indeed, even the old, poor quality DVDs are out of print and ridiculously expensive. I blame China, but hopefully someday we’ll get some Zhang releases…
  • Sleuth – As far as I know, the rights are all tied up by some gigantic pharmaceutical company who thinks the money to be gained by a release of a good movie like this is small potatoes (which, when compared to the multi-billion dollar drugs they make, is probably true). Not sure why they don’t just sell off their library of films that they have no interest in… (I believe this same company owns the rights to The Heartbreak Kid, which is why there’s no good release of that either).
  • The Driver – And yes, most of Walter Hill’s early filmography (there are some Region 2 Blu-Rays out there, but they’re not great). Dude’s got an interesting filmography, would be great for one of these boutique companies to resurrect. Who doesn’t want a 4K of Streets of Fire?

I’ll stop it here, but there’s tons of movies that could really benefit from that 4K bump in quality, and honestly, there’s lots of stuff (particularly foreign movies) that could just do with any release whatsoever.

The Oscars 2022

It’s been a rough couple of years for the Oscars. Declining ratings, the impossibility of finding a host that will please anyone (let alone someone who won’t spark outrage and controversy), and oh yeah, a worldwide pandemic that made getting large groups of people together in an enclosed space a bad idea. As much as we all complain about the Oscars, one of the few things it had going for it was the pageantry. That’s never been my favorite part of it, but people like to see their favorite stars get dressed up and do glamorous things on the red carpet and so on.

For a second there, I thought that Steven Soderberg would manage last year’s ceremony well. It started with a great, long tracking shot following Regina King as she made her way to the stage to present the first award. It was a cinematic way to start the proceedings, but alas, the host-less nature and continued weird choices throughout the ceremony quickly bogged the whole thing down. Not to mention that the pandemic year produced odd shortlists. It’s usually fun snarking about the awards on Twitter, but it felt a little like shooting fish in a barrel last year, and I think everyone knew it.

Will things return to “normal” this year? The producers continue to make some bizarre choices, including leaving some pretty hefty categories out of the broadcast (notably film editing, makeup and hairstyling, original score, and sound), not to mention shuffling the lifetime achievement awards out of the main ceremony. Look, I get that the producers have a difficult job and they have to balance the artistic against the popular, but, like, Samuel L. Jackson got a lifetime achievement award. He’s gotta be one of the most popular actors in the history of cinema and one of the great success stories of the industry. As presenter Denzel Washington (um, also a pretty popular dude) noted:

“152 movie titles,” Denzel Washington said, beginning to rattle off Samuel L. Jackson’s accomplishments in a tribute to the actor. “I got IMDB Pro. $27 billion in box office.”

Jackson reflected on a 50-year career that began with roles with names like “gang member number two,” “bum” and “Black guy.” He thanked his agent, manager, lawyer and publicist for “making sure I lived in the comfort zone of knowing what the next two jobs would be.”

Jackson and Washington embraced (multiple times), and Washington was clearly overjoyed that Jackson had finally gotten some recognition from the Oscars (he’d previously only been nominated once, for Pulp Fiction). It was a very moving moment that would have been fantastic on the main broadcast. Again, I don’t want to underappreciate how difficult it is to produce something like the Oscars, but this particular Lifetime Achievement Award seems like a no brainer.

Alright, enough complaining, it’s time for the annual reminder that the Oscars broadcast is the biggest source of income for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is actually a very useful organization. As Steven Soderberg noted a few years ago, what the Academy does for film archiving and preservation alone should be praised, and it’s all paid for by the broadcast. So while most complaints about the ceremony are valid and we all have our own strategy for shortening the ceremony (mine has always been remove the shorts categories and the musical performances), actually putting on the show is difficult and it does have a lot of benefits for the industry and cinema as a whole. Anyway, let’s look at the categories and make some predictions:

2022 Oscars Predictions

  • Best PictureCODA. The buzz was that The Power of the Dog would take this and I suppose there’s still an off chance of that, but support fell off a cliff after some awards season missteps, and I suspect voters will still be able to recognize it elsewhere. The notion that Best Picture and Best Director are coupled has pretty much disappeared since they instituted the longer list of Best Picture nominees, so I think CODA will take it this year. There’s maybe an off chance that Belfast will win, and an even more off chance that West Side Story will win. I’ve seen 9 of the nominees, and 3 of those did make my Top 10, which is actually a decent showing. Of course, there’s an approximately 0% chance that any of those 3 will win. I think CODA is a fine movie, but it is so cliched and predictable that I find it hard to call it the best of the year. It’s your standard inspirational artist coming of age story about following your dreams etc… and it’s a pretty well done version of that, but you’ve seen this movie before. Maybe not with a deaf family, but there’s been a surprising amount of much better, much more subtle looks at the deaf community in the past couple of years. Look no further than last year’s Sound of Metal (also nominated for best picture, but nowhere near a contender) or even this year’s Drive My Car (which has a deaf side character). Anyway, I think CODA is going to win. My choice amongst the nominees would have been Nightmare Alley or Dune, but again, no chances there.
  • Best Director – Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog. She’s long been a favorite for director and her film for picture, but some recent controversy involving some ill advised comparisons has maybe dulled the shine a bit. I think she’s still a favorite as director though. I suppose it’s possible that Kenneth Branagh will pull an upset, or maybe even Steven Spielberg (though I suspect we take him for granted these days – I would probably vote for him this year though, even if I don’t love West Side Story).
  • Best Actress – Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Penelope Cruz had some early buzz but seems to be falling behind the popular Chastain.
  • Best Actor – Will Smith in King Richard. Pretty much a sure thing.
  • Best Supporting Actress – Ariana DeBose in West Side Story. This is probably the only place voters think they can show some love to WSS, and to be fair, she is great in that movie. Maybe Kirsten Dunst could sneak in, but I’m doubting it.
  • Best Supporting Actor – Troy Kostur in CODA. He’s got buzz and the only competition comes from two nominees from The Power of the Dog, which historically means the vote gets split and someone else wins.
  • Best Original ScreenplayBelfast. I suspect voters will want to award this movie, but that it won’t be in Best Picture or Director, so it’ll be here. There’s a strong possibility that it won’t win though, as Licorice Pizza has a similar situation going on and Andersen could easily take this.
  • Best Adapted ScreenplayCODA. Though again, The Power of the Dog could sneak in. It’s really going to be a battle between those two movies this year.
  • Best CinematographyWest Side Story. I honestly don’t know about this category, it could easily go to most of the nominees. Maybe I should have picked Dune? It’s absurd that The French Dispatch and/or The Green Knight didn’t get nominated.
West Side Story
  • Best Visual EffectsSpider-Man: No Way Home, as appeasement for not nominating in Best Picture. Or they’ll just give it to Dune (which is probably the better choice, actually)
  • Best Production DesignDune.
  • Best Costume DesignDune. Maybe Cruella? That’s a movie that exists, right?
  • Best Makeup and HairstylingThe Eyes of Tammy Faye. I have no idea on some of these.
  • Best Animated FilmEncanto. Pixar dominance is over, welcome back Disney (yes, I know, I know, but still).
  • Best DocumentarySummer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised). I have no idea here, haven’t even seen any of the nominees…
  • Best International FilmDrive My Car. I mean, it’s the only one of these that is also on the Best Picture ballot…
  • Best SongNo Time to Die. I don’t know, I like Bond, I suspect it’ll do well here.

And that’ll about cover it. If, for some odd reason, you want to plumb the depths of the Kaedrin archives for old Oscars commentary (if you go far back enough, you can even read what used to be called “liveblogging” of the event, you know, back before Twitter was a big deal and blogs were still a thing), all my previous entries are here: [2019] [2018] [2017] | [2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004] (I didn’t post in 2020 because I was lazy and ran out of time before posting my top 10, and I didn’t post last year because I had much more important films on my mind on the day of the ceremony). If you feel like watching along, I’ll be on Twitter @mciocco (and when the musical performances start, I’ll be posting alcohol @kaedrinbeer). I won’t post that often, but feel free to say hi…

Weird Movie of the Week: Champagne and Bullets

Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we covered the touching tale of a black devil doll from hell. This time, we’ve got a tasty meal of Champagne and Bullets. As per usual, the plot descriptions vary:

Two cops are fired after being setup by their corrupt boss, who gets appointed as judge, but secretly heads a satanic cult. After his wife is killed by the cult, one of the cops is determined to bring the cult down.

Alright, I can see some weirdness emerging there, let’s look at a different plot descripton:

The Corruption of The System is given a swift lopsided kick by Vigilante Justice as a Disgraced Former Cop emerges from exile, automatic weapons blazing and mediocre martial arts akimbo, to bring down a murderous satanic cult headed by his former partner. His only allies? A boatload of swagger and one leggy blonde.

Ah yes, now we’re getting weirder. Let’s explore some Letterboxd reviews:

truly no words, defies a rating, i’ve never winced more, the loser vanity project to end all loser vanity projects. alternates between john de hart giving himself very long and cringe softcore scenes with the female lead while his own terrible songs play in the background to scenes of wings hauser having a psychotic break.

That’s the stuff. The whole “loser vanity project” bit does remind me a bit of The Astrologer, which might be promising since that’s an almost accidental masterpiece. That being said, all accounts are that Champagne and Bullets (aka Get Even, aka Road to Revenge) is just plain bad. Unfortunately, it’s one of those movies that’s difficult to track down. Vinegar Syndrome did a quick run a while back, but it’s out of stock and selling on secondary for upwards of $100. I enjoy watching bad movies and all, but not that much.

Let’s look at some images:

Action Star
Nothing says action star like a mustache…
More action star
It’s a very menacing mustache…
Marriage attire
Typical marriage attire
Wings Hauser going full ham
Wings Hauser going full ham
Villainy also has a mustache
Villainy also has a mustache (at least, I’m assuming that’s also a villain)

So yes, I definitely want to catch up with this at some point. I’m sure I’ll be able to find a copy somewhere, through… methods. But I’d rather, you know, support artists and companies like Vinegar Syndrome.

Favorite Movies of 2021

So we conclude our recap of last year’s movies with a traditional top 10 list of my favorite movies of 2021, only a month and a half (or so) late! This marks the sweet sixteenth year in a row that I’ve posted a top 10. For reference, previous top 10s are here: [2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006]

It’s traditional at this point to discuss themes of the year. A tricky endeavor even in the best of times, but while 2021 wasn’t quite as tumultuous as 2020, we’re still living through a pandemic sprinkled with political and social strife. With the rollout of vaccines, a long, slow, sometimes halting march towards normalcy commenced. Movie studios attempted to cope in numerous ways with various experiments in the realm of streaming. Particularly notable was the HBO Max program of simultaneous releases online and in theaters for the entire slate of Warner Bros. movies, but other streaming services tried their hands at various attempts to reestablish a revenue stream. Near as I can tell, these streaming gambits were all well and good, but could not make up for what movie theaters used to represent. People might have signed up for HBO Max to watch Godzilla vs. Kong or something, but we’re starting to see some indications that people are much more fickle about maintaining a given streaming service long term (and will often cancel quickly). This is maybe good news for theaters? Only time will tell.

In terms of the movies themselves, I’m definitely gravitating towards more genre fare than ever before. Not sure if that’s just a “me” thing or if the industry as a whole is also going there. Box office results do tend to emphasize this sort of thing, perhaps due to the demographics of the audience willing to go to theaters (i.e. mostly young and mostly male), but there were lots of things that should have appealed to that group that did not catch on, so who knows?

One theme that seemed to emerge this year is stories surrounding various forms of grifters, hustlers, and con-artists. Sometimes this results in a sense of catharsis as we see such characters get their comeuppance, but sometimes the fallout of their actions is still unescapable and occasionally they even just get away with it. Another theme that was big this year was coping with trauma, though in at least some cases, that might be due to an audience or critic projecting their own feelings on a movie. Still, the movies this year were darker and more depressing than usual, and that’s reflected on my list. Finally, in accordance with the “Everyone Gets a John Wick Act of 2014”, there were a solid 5-10 movies with varying degrees of Wickian characters and plot points.

As usual, there were tons of good movies in 2021, if you were willing to seek them out. The pandemic has certainly thrown marketers for a loop, and generating awareness and excitement can be challenging these days, what with new Covid variants and releasing delays and whatnot. Once I got vaxxed up, I did manage to see a hefty amount of movies in the theater this year, but I’m obviously not back at pre-pandemic levels.

As of this writing, this top 10 list is pulling from a total of 102 movies I’ve seen that could be considered a 2021 release. This is less than your usual critic, but probably much more than your typical moviegoer. Standard disclaimers apply, and it’s always worth noting that due to release schedules (especially in these plague years), some movies from 2020 that didn’t become available until 2021 qualify for this list. That’s enough preamble, let’s get to the show:

Top Ten Movies of 2021

* In roughly reverse order

Malignant – James Wan’s schlocky nonsense is certainly not for everyone, but as a shot of pure genre adrenaline, it was the most fun I had during the Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon. It took a bit to acclimate to the tone, but once I was locked in, I found myself cackling with glee, especially during the final half hour.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Review] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]

Licorice Pizza – Paul Thomas Anderson’s filmography is sprinkled with unconventional romantic comedy sequences that might make you wonder about his love life, but this is probably his most accessible and direct foray into the much maligned sub-genre. It’s still got its odd components, but the way the characters find each other and themselves in the course of this episodic hang-out movie is hard to deny, and the excellent performances from the young leads bring the whole thing home.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

The Trip – This Scandanavian thriller about a couple who take a vacation, each plotting to murder the other, was one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. The comedically violent hijinks that ensue from that basic setup are fully put through their paces and the over-the-top elements always keep things moving briskly. Great soundtrack, a twisty plot, stylish visuals, and excellent performances, especially from Noomi Rapace, who’s having a lot off fun.

More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix] [Kaedrin Review] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]

Pig – This Nicolas Cage flick where he plays a truffle hunter tracking down his kidnapped pig seems, at first, like it will be one of the many “Wick Act” recipients, but as it slowly unfurls, it reveals itself to be a more restrained and thoughtful movie than you might expect. Cage can be great when he wants to be, and this movie has these exceptional sequences that basically amount to quiet conversations. It works better than you’d expect.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

Dune – Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the classic Frank Herbert novel somehow finds the perfect balance of tricky elements. Visually spectacular without feeling like a boring CGI-pixel stew, thoughtful without being insufferable, dense with information without going too hard on straight exposition. It’s only half of the story, which is a drawback, but it’s so much better than previous attempts at this story that it doesn’t matter.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Review] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]

The Card Counter

The Card Counter – Paul Schrader’s entire filmography tends to pull from the same Bressonian DNA, but as he remixes and splices different elements together, he sometimes discovers a new angle. Schrader’s visceral anger at systemic abuse is palpable, and the use of Poker as a backdrop is metaphorically apt, in that it’s a game that’s more about the people than the cards themselves.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

Nightmare Alley

Nightmare Alley – Guillermo del Toro’s neo-noir carnie epic is one of the few remakes that compares favorably to, and in some ways even surpasses the original. It’s maybe a hair too long, but that extra time fleshes out the blind spots of the original, and the bitter, sardonic ending is far more effective here in the remake. Everyone’s a grifter and everyone’s lying to you, and to themselves. There seems to be a lot of this going on in the world these days…

More Info: [IMDB] [HBO Max or Hulu]

Riders of Justice – A well calibrated, darkly comedic reflection on acceptance and forgiveness and the patterns in the chaos of life. Another Scandanavian thriller, this one a bit more meditative about looking for meaning in the random events of life, with a bit of (much needed, given the rest of this list) optimism in the end.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Review]

No Sudden Move

No Sudden Move – I love it when Steven Soderbergh tosses off a zippy crime thriller out of nowhere and somehow crafts it into one of the best, most entertaining movies of the year. It’s got a twisty mix of genre elements; heists, gangsters, and double crosses galore. There’s deeper themes here if you want to explore them, but the movie doesn’t lecture at all, which is the right way to do this sort of thing.

More Info: [IMDB] [HBO Max]

A Glitch in the Matrix – Ostensibly about simulation theory, director Rodney Ascher’s modus operandi of focusing on a few personalities and letting them talk at length takes this documentary in a very different direction by the end. It’s the best metatextual examination of The Matrix in a year in which there was an actual Matrix sequel that was trying to do the same thing.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

The Last Duel – Ridley Scott’s Rashomon-esque medieval me-too movie was overlooked and underseen in theaters, but seems to have garnered a second life on streaming. Exceptional performances all around, but Ben Affleck, of all people, steals the show as a privileged, blond-haired Count. The titular duel is brutal and uncompromising, and it’s so effective because the underlying conflict is so aptly established before the fight. Even though you see the same story from three differing perspectives, I suspect there’s much to be gleaned from subsequent viewings…

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Review] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]

Honorable Mention

* In an order I dare you to discern

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar – Probably the funniest movie of the year, this Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo vehicle very nearly snuck into the top 10 (indeed, I think you could say that this movie and Malignant were the two best comedies of the year, even if one isn’t labeled as such). Wiig and Mumolo’s comedic deliveries are so thoroughly in sync that they almost represent a singular performance, and the silly, ridiculous nature of the whole endeavor is perfectly calibrated.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]

The Beta Test – Jim Cummings’ acidic takedown of Hollywood and social media culture might be a bit on the nose, but it’s still trenchant, relevant, and it’s all tied together and harnessed in an interesting way. This isn’t quite as good as Cummings’ previous (The Wolf of Snow Hollow), perhaps because it wasn’t quite able to balance the uncomfortable elements as well.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]

Copshop – Joe Carnahan has this sheen of macho posturing that somehow always sucks me in. Great performances from Gerard Butler (in full Den of Thieves dirtbag mode), Toby Huss, and Alexis Louder anchor this twisty crime story. It could have snuck onto the top 10 if it managed to stick the landing in the final act, which feels a bit choppy and rushed. Still, I rather enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]

The French Dispatch – Wes Anderson’s brand of weaponized quirk is a bit inconsistent for me, and this anthology film is a good example of how I can go hot and cold on his work. I absolutely loved a couple of the segments here (and the connective tissue between segments), but some didn’t work nearly as well.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Review]

The Green Knight – Interesting and gorgeous spin on Arthurian legend from David Lowery, who is perhaps a bit too ponderous and deliberate with the way he lays this out (and thus the runtime is a bit too long). Still, I found myself more taken by this than I thought I would be, and the style kept my attention even when the plot was flagging…

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]

Happily

Happily – This under the radar flick is something more folks should catch up with, as it’s got a winning combination of genre elements and comedy, and a great ensemble cast. The ending sours a bit, but the journey is still pretty great. Weird, dorky fun.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

The Harder They Fall – Jeymes Samuel’s stylish western featuring a mostly black cast is the best Netflix movie of the year. It looks great, it has an amazing ensemble cast, and there’s enough twists and turns and action to keep it moving briskly. It’s still a tad too long, but it’s hard to fault it for that, because there’s so much good stuff here, even when it does drag.

More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix] [Kaedrin Review]

I’m Your Man – This German android gigolo movie got snubbed at the Oscars, but I’ll be including it on my Hugo Awards ballot for sure. It’s a well observed drama about the awkwardness of romantic relationships and conflicting human desires, and it could probably use a bigger audience.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

Nobody – Bob Odenkirk is not the first guy you’d think to tap for a Wick Act flick, but that unconventional choice is part of what makes this work so well as its own thing, even if it does wind up being a bit on the derivative side. Still quite entertaining and one of the better Wick imitators out there…

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

One Shot – Scott Adkins stars in this action flick that is made to appear as one, single, continous shot. Yeah, it’s a gimmick, but it’s a pretty impressive and effective gimmick, and it’s one of the more thrilling action flicks of the year.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]

Spider-Man: No Way Home – Marvel seemed to be losing their way this year, but they got back on track with this latest installment of the Spider-Man franchise, which is far better than I thought it would be. I’m still a little annoyed at the Marvel Spider-Man movies for being so focused on the broader Marvel universe and characters. That being said, there’s always that base level Marvel competence, and then you occasionally get something like this, which finds a better register. It was also probably the most raucous theater experience I had this year, which may color my thoughts a bit.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

The Suicide Squad – A massive improvement over the last installment, mostly due to James Gunn’s sensibility and humor. It certainly retains the violence and cynical elements of the first, but there’s actually some heart and dark comedy at its core that really shine through, even when the group fights something as silly as Starro…

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]

Werewolves Within – Bouncy little horror comedy that probably deserves a bigger audience. Its politics are a bit ham fisted, but Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub are great together and really carry the movie. Both deserve more lead roles like this, and I could see this being a somewhat regular revisit during future Six Weeks of Halloween marathons…

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]

Wrath of Man

Wrath of Man – Guy Ritchie is at his best when he’s working in the Brit crime genre, and his collaborations with Jason Statham are all pretty fantastic, this one included. Interestingly, this does feel more like a 70s inflected version of Brit crime than Ritchie’s usual more modern take, but that’s all the better.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

Just Missed the Cut

But still worthwhile, in their own way. Presented without comment and in no particular order:

Should Have Seen

Despite having watched over a hundred movies made in 2021, there are plenty that I probably should have caught up with. Sometimes they weren’t readily available, sometimes I couldn’t muster up the will to get to the theater in the midst of Omicron, sometimes I just didn’t wanna watch (because reasons, that’s why). I will almost certainly end up seeing some of these and loving them, which is why the Kaedrin Movie Awards always has a category about the previous year’s movie…

Normally, at this point in the year, I’d be talking about Oscars, but while the nominations just came out, I don’t feel like I have that much to say about it, other than that I hope it gets back on track after last year’s rudderless show…

2021 Kaedrin Movie Awards: The Arbitrary Awards

The 2021 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners were announced last week, so its time to get arbitrary. The idea is to recognize aspects of films that aren’t reflected in more traditional awards or other praise like a Top 10 list. However, any awards system will fail to capture all the nuances and complexity available; hence the Arbitrary Awards, an opportunity to commend movies that are weird or flawed in ways that don’t conform to normal standards. A few of these “awards” have become an annual tradition, but most are just, well, arbitrary. These are always fun, but in a year as weird as 2021, they are also necessary. Previous Arbitrary Awards: [2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006]

The “You know what happens when a toad gets struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else” Award for Worst Dialogue: Halloween Kills. From the chants of “Evil dies tonight!” to people opining about the true curse of Michael Myers being fear or “the anchor that divides us” (that’s not what anchors do!) or just absolutely excusing an angry mob murdering some random guy, claiming that the fear of Michael Myers made them do it… this just has the most memorably bad dialogue of the year.

The Proximity to Jason Vorhees Award for Heroic Stupidity: Halloween Kills. Might as well rename the award to be Michael Myers instead of Jason. The people in this movie are so damn stupid that I was basically rooting for Michael by the end. When he finally turns the tables on the mob, it was actually kinda, sorta satisfying. But it’s not supposed to be? Like, are we supposed to care about the main characters in this movie?

The “Weiner” Award for Unparalleled Access to Documentary Subjects: The Beatles: Get Back. Copious amounts of lovingly restored behind the scenes footage of The Beatles as they rehearse and refine an album, they captured a lot, including George Harrison quitting the band temporarily, some hidden microphone candid stuff, the rooftop concert, and boatloads of jamming on songs they’re trying to figure out. I don’t know that it needed to be 8 hours long, but they captured some amazing moments. Runner up is Val, which has some great behind the scenes footage from movies like Top Gun and the notorious The Island of Dr Moreau, amongst lots of other moments from Val Kilmer’s career.

The Garth Marenghi “I know writers who use subtext, and they’re all cowards” Award for Achievement in Didacticism: Don’t Look Up. This movie is many things, but subtle is not one of them.

Best Running Gag: Don’t Look Up. Early in the movie a three star general charges the scientists for snacks while waiting to warn the president of an impending disaster. It turns out the snacks are actually free, which blows Jennifer Lawrence’s mind and she keeps bring it up throughout the movie. It’s just a perfectly deployed joke that somehow doesn’t wear out its welcome.

Best Video Game Adaptation: Werewolves Within. Based on an early VR game (that leverages the mechanics of Werewolf/Mafia style games), this movie retains only the “one of us is a werewolf” premise, which is a pretty solid conceit to anchor a movie on… The movie probably qualifies for the Garth Marenghi award above, as they really stress the obvious political metaphor with some cringingly dated ideas, but the movie overcomes that thanks to the delightful duo of Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub, who are both very funny and have great chemistry together.

Achievement in the Field of Gratuitous Violence: The Suicide Squad. It’s easy to forget because there’s comedy and even a little heart buried in this rated R gorefest.

Best Badass/Hero (non-Human Edition): Godzilla from Godzilla vs. Kong. I guess it could also go to Kong, but I kinda like the way Godzilla handles himself in these recent Hollywoodified movies. Also of note: King Shark from The Suicide Squad (he’s great, but the part is maybe a tiny bit too small).

Best Badass/Villain (non-Human Edition): Starro the Conqueror from The Suicide Squad. It’s such a ridiculous, tonally weird concept that they somehow managed to pull off perfectly.

Starro the Conqueror

Best Motion Captured Performance: Caleb Landry Jones in Finch. In the movie, we see a robot quickly grow and learn, and this is all demonstrated through Jones’ excellent motion capture performance (and I’m assuming he did the voice work too, which also gradually morphs throughout the film as he matures).

Best Duel: The Last Duel. Duh. I mean, yeah, it’s in the title, but the actual depiction of the eponymous duel is some of the best filmmaking of the year. It captures the absolute brutality of the fight, made all the more effective because the underlying conflict is so aptly established before the fight.

Best Meltdown: The Beta Test. Writer/director/actor Jim Cummings knows how to meltdown onscreen. He’s done so in all his movies, and while The Beta Test isn’t as good as The Wolf of Snow Hollow overall, the meltdown scene is better and more intense and cutting here. (This movie is another strong candidate for the Garth Marenghi award, but it still works pretty well.)

Should Host the Oscars: Gabriel from Malignant. I’m not sure I thought this one through.

Best Monster Who Likes Hunky Boys: Psycho Goreman. Despite protestations to the contrary, PG likes hunky boys.

Best Bond Girl: Ana de Armas in No Time to Die. I liked the movie overall, but the best parts were when Ana de Armas showed up as a superficially inexperienced agent who ends up kicking all sorts of ass when the shit hits the fan. Spoilers, I guess, but it’s great. I’d watch a spinoff with her character…

Stay tuned, moar 2021 movie commentary incoming, including the traditional Top 10 list and, probably, some Oscars commentary…

2021 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners

The nominations for the 2021 Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week. The overall awards season is in a bit of a shambles these days, for numerous reasons. The pandemic certainly plays a role, with numerous publications and even the Oscars delaying their ceremonies. The Golden Globes has nearly disappeared from the zeitgeist, though that’s at least partially due to numerous controversial scandals and corruption. But the Kaedrin Movie Awards chugs along on the same, slightly delayed schedule that befits my status as “not a critic with access to screeners”. January is generally a time when I can finally catch up with poorly distributed movies that only received qualifying runs at the end of the year, and so on. Also, I’m sometimes lazy and/or have other things going on in my life. I know, I’m sorry. Anyway, that’s enough preamble, let’s get to the winners!

Best Villain/Badass: Bob Viddick, played by Gerard Butler and Anthony Lamb, played by Toby Huss in Copshop (tie). Yes, it’s a cheat, but the way this sort of thing usual goes is that movies with multiple nominations in the same category split the vote, leading to something else winning. Since there’s only one vote that matters here, I figure I can get away with this pretty easily. Copshop was a movie that sorta fizzled at the box office and it has that Joe Carnahan sheen of macho posturing that will turn off some viewers, but I greatly enjoyed it. And the best part was the villainy.

Gerard Butler in Copshop

Gerard Butler is swaggering around in full Den of Thieves scumbag mode, while Toby Huss steals every scene he’s in as a gleeful lunatic rival dirtbag. The movie falters a bit towards the end, but it’s quite entertaining.

Toby Huss in Copshop

The other nominees are all well and good, but this wasn’t an especially accomplished year in villainy. Tony Leung in Shang-Chi was a possibility, but I didn’t love the way that plays out. Similarly, Michael Myers is an accomplished villain, but I genuinely disliked Halloween Kills to the point where I was kinda rooting for him (a win here would be more like a “lifetime achievement” award, the sort of symbolic gesture common in the Oscars that I’d like to avoid).

Best Hero/Badass: Sam, played by Karen Gillan in Gunpowder Milkshake. In accordance with the “Everyone gets a John Wick” Act of 2014, this last year arguable saw 5 to 10 examples of this sort of thing. Indeed, three (arguably four) were nominated for this award. I’m giving it to Gillan because she’s great and Gunpowder Milkshake has three memorable action set-pieces that are fantastic. The movie is a bit flawed in its self-conscious copying of Wickian ideas, but Gillan and the rest of the cast (including Lena Headey, Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, and Angela Bassett) are absolute badasses that carry the day.

Runner up goes to to fellow Wick Act nominee Bob Odenkirk in Nobody, which is also excellent. Honorable mentions to Daniel Craig’s send off of James Bond in No Time to Die (who won the very first Best Hero/Badass Award back in 2007) and Alexis Louder in Copshop (it turns out that good villainy breeds good heroism – if the heroic competition wasn’t so strong and villainy so weak, we could have had a reverse situation…) All in all, an excellent year for heroics, which given the state of the world, is probably a good thing.

Best Comedic Performance: Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. One of the challenges of this award is that comedies are so often reliant on interactions between an ensemble for the laughs, and nothing exemplifies this concept as well as Wiig and Mumolo here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this pair of performances… Indeed, they are so in sync with each other that it almost becomes a singular, joint performance that single handedly justifies this win. The movie itself is a weird, silly, insane delight that requires those core performances.

Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

There are a couple other pairs in the nominees that are worthy, but the real runner up is a sole performance, and that’s Eric André in Bad Trip. Dude is really going for it and largely succeeding in a Borat-like farce. Other nominees are also worth checking out, but either I didn’t seek out enough comedy this year or people aren’t making enough comedies… Ideally, this category would have more nominees!

Breakthrough Performance: Jodie Comer in Free Guy and The Last Duel. She’s had quite a year, and these two performances are excellent and distinct, requiring different things in each case. This demonstrates an impressive range, from the subtlety of The Last Duel to the bombast of Free Guy, and she succeeds admirably. Strong, agonizing runner up from Alana Haim, who put forth a remarkable performance in Licorice Pizza. Overall, it’s a pretty solid list of nominees, and here’s to hoping they all pan out with great careers…

Most Visually Stunning: The Green Knight. This is one of those movies that is so gorgeous that nearly any shot, even any frame, is worthy of recognition. The movie is a tad long and episodic, but it’s never boring and visually impressive.

The Green Knight

The other nominees are no slouches either, whether it be Dune‘s desaturated but still effective palate or Wes Anderson’s trademark quirkiness in The French Dispatch or Edgar Wright’s manic camera in Last Night in Soho, there were a lot of visually nifty movies last year…

Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film: Dune. After two quasi-failures in adapting Frank Herbert’s epic novel, it was tempting to claim it was an unfilmable story. And now we’re proven wrong, or at least, half-wrong, as this is one of the best first halves of a movie I’ve seen all year. Director Denis Villeneuve sometimes has a tendency to become overly ponderous and slow, but he struck an almost perfect pacing and tone with this movie. Here’s to hoping that he can stick the landing. Runners up all worthy, especially Malignant, which I get will rub some folks the wrong way, but I kinda loved. Another category I feel is kinda light this year, this time almost certainly due to my own viewing habits. I need to catch up with a bunch of other stuff…

Best Sequel/Reboot/Remake: The Suicide Squad. I can’t get over the gulf between this movie and its predecessor. Dark but still fun and just ridiculous enough to match the premise. Obviously Dune is the strongest contender here and probably the better movie, but I wanted to spread the love, and technically you could argue that Dune is more of a new adaptation than a remake or reboot, but whatever. Also of note: Zack Snyder’s Justice League was also much better than expected, though obviously it’s still indulgent and far too long. That said, it almost justifies its choices and is clearly far superior to the original cut.

Biggest Disappointment: Without Remorse. This movie had so many factors going for it. A screenplay by Taylor Sheridan, based on one of the better Tom Clancy novels (that isn’t Jack Ryan centered), starring Michael B. Jordan? This should have been a great action thriller, but the whole thing feels fumbled and sloppy. The other nominees are all mixed bags that aren’t necessarily terrible, but nevertheless scored poorly on Joe Posnanski’s Plus-Minus Scale. I suppose part of that is a me thing, but Without Remorse really took this award by the largest margin.

Best Action Sequences: One Shot. Call it a gimmick if you like, but it’s a pretty impressive gimmick. This is another one of those movies that is made to appear as one continuous shot. There have been a few of these, but none that have incorporated anywhere near this much action. And it’s not small scale stuff either. The action ranges from large scale gunfights and explosions to stealth missions across the compound to martial arts battles. Scott Adkins stars in his fair share of DTV junk, but a few of those really stand out, and this is one of them. He’s a great action star and it would be nice to see something like this on the big screen someday. Tons of great action to choose from in 2021, a really solid slate of nominees here (one that I caught up with this week that would have made the list: The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill, which has an exceptional set-piece on scaffolding that works incredibly well.)

Best Plot Twist/Surprise: The Trip. As usual, just noting that these movies have twists and surprises in them is a bit of a spoiler, so read on at your own peril. But this Scandanavian thriller doesn’t just rely on one big twist at the end or something, instead favoring a steady stream of surprising developments throughout the entire movie. One of my favorite discoveries of the year, and well worth checking out (it’s one of those foreign flicks that Netflix has that you will never stumble on because algorithm or something). Lots of other good twists in the nominees, and even some better overall movies, but when looking at just the twists, The Trip has it.

Best High Concept Film: The Last Duel. What appears to be a spin on Rashomon turns into something that distinguishes itself quite a bit by the end of the film. It’s a great film, and the concept of telling the same story through three different perspectives seems like one thing that somehow still manages to pull the rug out from underneath you in the end. It’s a remarkable film and one we’ll be seeing more about in the top 10. The other nominees have their moments, ranging from a high concept you have still probably seen before to things that are still pretty unique.

2021’s 2020 Movie of the Year: The Empty Man. I was really taken with this horror flick that got dumped due to being the last movie produced by Fox before it was gobbled up by Disney and also the bad timing of the pandemic. I’ve already said my piece on The Empty Man so I’ll leave it at that for now. Of the other nominees, I was really quite taken with The Kid Detective and annoyed with myself for not catching up with it last year. It would have certainly made my Honorable Mentions, if not the top 10…

So there you have it, please congratulate all the 2021 Kaedrin Movie Award winners! And stay tuned, for next week the awards get arbitrary!

2021 Kaedrin Movie Award Nominees

Welcome to the 2021 Kaedrin Movie Award season, which we’re kicking off with nominees in our standard categories! The idea is to recognize films for achievements that don’t always reflect well on top 10 lists or traditional awards. There are lots of formal award categories and nominees listed below, but once those are announced, we’ll also leave some room for Arbitrary Awards that are more goofy and freeform. Finally, we’ll post a traditional top 10 list (usually sometime in early/mid-February). But first up is the awards! [Previous Installments here: 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020]

Standard disclaimers apply: It must be a 2021 movie (with the one caveat that some 2020 films were not accessible until 2021 and are thus eligible under fiat) and I obviously have to have seen the movie. As of this writing, I have seen 94 films that could be considered a 2021 release. This is a tad below where I’m normally at by now and below what many critics have seen, but probably a lot more than your average moviegoer and certainly enough to populate the awards…

The pandemic is obviously a driving factor here, though things were a lot better in 2021 than in 2020. Streaming services stepped up, including some major releases (notably Warner Bros. entire slate being released on HBO Max), but theatrical seems to be experiencing a slow rebound. This will most likely take a hit as omicron variant works its way through the US, but I started returning to theaters after being vaccinated and look forward to the coming year. But I digress, let’s get back to awards talk:

Best Villain/Badass
Not the greatest year for villainy, though the category did round itself out nicely enough. It’s just that standout villains were rare, and in some cases, I found myself kinda rooting for the villain, which isn’t usually a good thing. In accordance with tradition, my picks in this category are limited to individuals, not groups (i.e. no vampires or zombies as a general menace, etc…) or ideas. I’m kinda expanding this to include creatures, even individual creatures (we’ll get to those in the Arbitrary Awards).

Best Hero/Badass
A better year for heroism, with plenty of good choices here. Even in situations where I nominated a movie to have a best villain and best hero, it still feels like things were balanced towards heroism this year, which given the state of the world is probably not the worst thing. Again limited to individuals and not groups/creatures.

Best Comedic Performance
This is sometimes a difficult category to populate due to the prevalence of ensembles in comedy movies (this year being no exception). As such, I’m kinda breaking with tradition here by including some nominees with two names/performances. In both cases I could technically break them out into separate noms, but their interactions with each other are a key part of the humor, and so I’m including both in one nom.

Milana Vayntrub and Sam Richardson in Werewolves Within

Breakthrough Performance
This used to be a category more centered around my personal evaluation of a given actor (rather than a more general industry breakthrough), but it’s trended more towards the youngsters breaking through as time has gone on…

Most Visually Stunning
Sometimes even bad movies can look really great… but this is actually a pretty solid list all by itself.

The Green Knight

Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film
It’s always nice to throw some love to genres that don’t normally get a lot of recognition in end-of-the-year lists. As an avid SF fan, it’s sad that the genre usually has to be combined with Horror in order to come up with a well rounded set of nominees.

Best Sequel/Reboot/Remake
Always an awkward category to populate, especially given my normal feeling on this sort of thing.

Biggest Disappointment
A category often dominated by sequels and reboots, but the pandemic and delayed releases means that some original stuff has to pick up the slack. Note that these movies don’t necessarily need to be “bad” in order to be a “disappointment”. Basically, these movies scored poorly on Joe Posnanski’s Plus-Minus Scale.

Best Action Sequences
This award isn’t for individual action sequences, but rather an overall estimation of each film. This has been a pretty great year for action movies, and there’s a fair chance I’m going to catch up with even more action movies before next week. Will we get the rare (but not unprecedented) win by a movie that wasn’t nominated? Only time will tell.

Best Plot Twist/Surprise
I suppose even listing that there is a twist is a bit of a spoiler, so I guess we’ll just have to risk it.

Best High Concept Film
A bit of a nebulous concept for this one, but I think the category fills out nicely, with a couple of standouts.

2021’s 2020 Movie of the Year
This is a weird category that is sometimes difficult to populate, but apparently not during a pandemic because this is a fantastic crop of nominees. Some of this is due to the weird way movies were released during the pandemic – an exclusive theatrical release pre-vaccine was not going to due well. Others were just things I neglected to catch up with. I don’t know that any of these would knock something off my Top 10 from last year, but definitely some honorable mentions here. There are some years when I think this award should be removed, but it’s obviously a banner year here…

So there you have it, please congratulate all of the 2021 Kaedrin Movie Award nominees. I realize most publications have already done their year in review stuff, but we like to take our time here at Kaedrin and hey, at least we’re more prompt than the Oscars. Er, during the pandemic at least. Stay tuned for the winners (probably next week, but you never know), followed by the Arbitrary Awards and Top 10 list. I’m still catching up with various flicks, because as usual, those 9 and 10 slots in the top 10 are a little difficult to fill (not, I should add, because there aren’t worthy candidates, but more because there are so many vying for those slots)…