2009 Movie Awards

Best Films of 2009

As of right now, I’ve seen 78 movies that were released in 2009. This is probably less than a lot of critics, but more than most folks. Overall, I had a much better feeling about this year than I had in the past couple years. I had a really difficult time with my 2008 list (which I’m actually pretty happy with now, after a year of reflection), but here in 2009, things came together pretty easily. I had 9 movies right away and the 10th movie came when I finally caught up to a movie I knew I would like.

As always, lists like this are inherently subjective and I know that gets on some people’s nerves. Both from a you’re stupid because you don’t like the same movies I do perspective as well as the lists are inherently evil argument. Indeed, due to this year also marking the end of the decade, the multitude of best of the decade lists has also prompted an increase in the typical backlash of anti-list sentiment. This post covers the usual complaints about lists: they’re lazy criticism and basically represent filthy linkbait whoring. There’s obviously more to it than that (read the full post). He makes some good points and there are certainly a lot of crappy lists out there (hey, here’s one!), but on the other hand, who the hell cares what he thinks? I like lists. Apparently Americans Love Lists (and you know who doesn’t like lists? Joseph Stalin!) So without further ado:

Top 10 Movies of 2009

* In roughly reverse order

  • (500) Days of Summer: This has emerged as something of a polarizing movie for some reason, but count me among the film’s admirers. Great performances, genuine emotion, a playful, non-linear narrative structure and a wonderful ending all helped elevate this movie above the usual romantic comedy cliches.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [My Cryptic Twitter Review]

  • The Brothers Bloom: Rian Johnson’s sophomore effort is perhaps not as tight as Brick, but it’s still a blast. It hits all the con movie tropes while still managing to carve out an identity of its own, and while the ending isn’t quite perfect, it’s still better than I was expecting. All of the performances are good, but Rachel Weisz was a revelation and Rinko Kikuchi steals every scene she’s in… Overall, it’s a big barrel of fun and well worth watching (and judging from the box office results, you haven’t seen it).

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]

  • Paranormal Activity: This low-budget found-footage horror flick isn’t especially innovative and it’s not as artistically accomplished as most films on this list, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the creepiest movie of the year. I still get chills thinking about this movie, and I’m very rarely scared by horror movies. The movie employs an effective scheme of tension and release and, thankfully, it also features a tripod (which mitigates many of the issues associated with found-footage movies). It was perhaps hyped too much upon initial release, but I saw it in ideal conditions, which may have something to do with how much I enjoyed it.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Capsule Review]

  • Anvil! The Story of Anvil: This documentary follows the trials and tribulations of a once-influential heavy metal rock band that failed to ever find a real audience. It’s a tale of perseverance and hope in the face of adversity, and even though their music isn’t especially great (at least, not today – apparently their early stuff heavily influenced bands like Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax), you can’t help but root for these guys.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD]

  • A Serious Man: Yet another Coen brothers curveball, I found myself surprisingly riveted to the screen on this one. It has a big smattering of the Coens’ trademark humor and at least one exceptionally well executed set piece (not exactly the right term, but I’m trying not to give anything away here). An excellent performance by Michael Stuhlbarg and the usual stable of great side performances (including the scene-stealing Fred Melamed, playing the smarmy Sy Ableman) anchor this film. The ending is abrupt and will undoubtedly infuriate some people, but I found it surprisingly fitting. But then, I’m apparently a sucker for the Coen Brothers.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]

  • Star Trek: The most fun I’ve had in a movie theater all year. J.J. Abrams took an old, crusty franchise and made it fresh and interesting again. I wish there was a little more science in the fiction, but in the end, it’s a highly enjoyable, action packed, crowd-pleasing popcorn film.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Full Review]

  • Up: The first 20 minutes of this movie are the most devastating of any movie this year (in a good way). Luckily, the rest of the movie reels it back in, leaving you feeling pretty good by the end (which is no small feat considering the intensity of the prologue). Oh, and did I mention that this is an animated kids movie? Pixar continues it’s amazing streak of great films.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]

  • Red Cliff: John Woo’s triumphant return to Hong Kong is a wonderful movie and his best since he left. Whether armies are being strategically maneuvered or a woman is pouring tea, Woo manages an elegance that has eluded most of his filmography. He’s always choreographed excellent, almost balletic, action sequences, but everything in this film is pulled off with the same precision. So you get wonderful epic battle sequences (a first for Woo, I think) and also some more personal touches. I saw the theatrical cut, but there is apparently a two-part, 5 hour version that I am now quite interested in seeing.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Capsule Review]

  • Fantastic Mr. Fox: A near perfect melding of Wes Anderson’s quirky aesthetic with a classic children’s story. The stop motion animation looks great and Anderson’s visual style complements Roald Dahl’s story quite well. Great voice performances from George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Jason Schwartzman (ok and Bill Murray and hell, everyone else too) and overall just a wonderfully fun experience. I’m suddenly interested in Wes Anderson again, as I think he’d fallen into a bit of a rut before this film, which shows that he’s capable of growing as a filmmaker.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]

  • Inglourious Basterds: The single most audacious movie of the year (if not the decade). Anchored by Quentin Tarantino’s best writing since Pulp Fiction and a manic villainous performance from Christoph Waltz, playing Colonel Hans “The Jew Hunter” Landa like a Nazi version of Columbo, this movie pulls no punches and never falters. Mildly controversial when it came out, I think such criticism ignores Tarnatino’s expert use of exformation, while at the same time exploding any preconceived notions of his WWII epic. Truly an astounding movie and without a doubt my favorite of the year.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Full Review] [Winner of 3 Kaedrin Movie Awards]

Honorable Mention

* In alphabetical order

  • 4bia: This Thai horror anthology, the awful title of which is supposed to be a play on the word “phobia,” has a lot going for it. As you might expect from the fact that it’s an anthology, there’s not a lot holding it together and some of the segments are better than the others. It was an early year favorite of mine, but eventually it yielded to other films. Also, as time went on, it began to feel more derivative than I had originally thought (a few of the segments feel exactly like other movies… interestingly, I think my favorite segment was also the least scary and most referential). Still, there’s something to be said for a well executed genre pic, and this one fits that bill well. Definitely worth a watch for horror fans.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [Capsule Review]

  • Bronson: The semi-true story of Michael Peterson (aka Charles Bronson), the UK’s most infamous prisoner. Ultimately not a lot of insight into Bronson, but the film is stylish and features one of the most spectacular performances of the year from Tom Hardy. As Bronson, Hardy is a font of volcanic rage and so, despite there not being much here, the film is never boring. I don’t normally like this kind of movie, but I couldn’t help but respect what this movie has done.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Capsule Review]

  • Crank: High Voltage: I can’t believe how much I enjoyed this movie. Indeed, I seriously considered it for a top 10 position, but it ultimately got pushed off the list by the Coen Brothers. This is a movie that just seems like it would be terrible, but again, I found myself very enthusiastically embracing the movie for what it is. It’s just a huge amount of fun, playful and energetic filmmaking at its best. Probably not for everyone, but I had a lot of fun with it.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]

  • Drag Me to Hell: Sam Raimi’s return to his horror roots didn’t blow me away the way it did with some other folks, but I did have a lot of fun with it. Really, it was the little things that I enjoyed the most. The handkerchief as villain motif, the anvil in the shed, and so on. It doesn’t really approach Raimi’s earlier low budget films, but it’s still quite entertaining and well worth a watch for fans of the genre.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]

  • Duplicity: Another strong contender for the top 10, I think this is a criminally underrated movie. I think perhaps this tale of corporate espionage and one-upmanship suffered from being released during a global economic depression. Still, it’s well written and entertaining. The only bad thing to say about it is that the chemistry between Clive Owen and Julia Roberts wasn’t exactly lighting the screen on fire. That’s a small complaint though, and this movie would make a great rental. Check it out.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]

  • The Hangover: I think this might have been the most I laughed in a theater this year. Sure it’s completely random and overly raunchy, but I do like that sort of thing from time to time, and this movie is a fine example of the genre. In any other year, it might also have the best cameo, but as we’ll see below, there’s some stiff competition this year.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]

  • The House of the Devil: I finally caught up with this brooding horror film last night, and I have to admit that it gave me pause about including Paranormal Activity in my top 10. Both movies are quasi-haunted house movies, but similarities wind up being mostly superficial. The House of the Devil is made with more artistry and in a more unconventional manner. It’s a masterpiece of misdirection and tension building. Unlike the repeated tension and release of Paranormal Activity, The House of the Devil opts to continually build tension while withholding release. This is an interesting approach and the foreboding atmosphere of dread is hard to shake. I wish I was able to catch this a few months ago, as I’d like to see how well it ages. Highly recommended for fans of slow burning horror films.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]

  • The Hurt Locker: Director Kathryn Bigelow’s tense tale of a bomb defusing squad in Iraq is getting a lot of Oscar buzz, and Bigelow is certainly deserving of the best director title. Unfortunately, I’m not a huge fan of the movie as a whole. The action scenes are exceptionally well done, but some of the other sequences are a bit lackluster and the film ends without much of a real resolution. It’s the best Iraq war movie made yet, but then again, that’s not saying much.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]

  • Moon: This little science fiction film features a great double performance by Sam Rockwell and a reasonably good SF story too. Unfortunately, I found myself nitpicking a lot of the plot points, especially towards the end, which makes for a less satisfactory experience. I think a lot of SF fans are so starved for good, hard SF movies (as opposed to huge budget special effects extravaganzas like Avatar or most super hero movies) that they’re willing to overlook some of the less rational plot points. So I go back and forth on this. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I’m infuriated by the plot.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]

  • Playing Columbine: What can I say, I’m a sucker for video game documentaries. The film is directed by Danny Ledonne, the creator of a game called Super Columbine Massacre RPG! where you actually play Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and act out the massacre. Unsurprisingly, the game was very controversial and this movie delves into that a bit, but Ledonne wisely uses his game as a mere jumping-off point, preferring instead to explore broader and more interesting concepts such as the demonization of video games in the media, the value of video games as an artistic medium, censorship, responsibility and the nature of violence and school violence. If you like video games, it’s well worth a watch, though I guess it’s not available on DVD yet.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Full Review]

  • Surveillance: Jennifer Lynch (yes, daughter of David) directed this rather twisted tale. The film begins with a modern, dark Rashomon type feel, but it eventually eschews that style for something else. It’s perhaps a little too reliant on the big twist, but I thought it was rather well done. It’s also worth noting for some unconventional casting choices and surprisingly good performances. I’m apparently somewhat alone in even liking the movie at all, but I thought it was pretty good.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]

  • Trick ‘r Treat: This long-awaited horror anthology was worth the wait, but I think perhaps my expectations had become too inflated. Still, it’s a worthy movie and one that I think will take its rightful place among Halloween themed movies, if only because of the way it incorporates all sorts of Halloween lore and rituals as plot elements (in a way that no other movie has). Unlike the aforementioned 4bia, the various segments here are all interconnected, and the movie benefits from that structure. Well worth a Halloween night watch next year.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Capsule Review]

  • Watchmen: This movie adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic graphic novel Watchmen was a long time coming. It’s certainly not perfect, but I think it’s about as good as an adaptation could ever be. It’s a little uneven, but it absolutely nails some areas of the story. Given that the comic book was created specifically to show off the comic book medium, I’m still surprised that the movie turned out as well as it did. Again, not perfect, but well worth it.

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

  • Zombieland: I’m not a big fan of zombie stories and I’m also not a big fan of Woody Harrelson, yet I really had a lot of fun with this movie. Sharply written, well acted and it also features the best cameo of the year. Just a big ball of fun, it hits all the right notes. What more can you ask for?

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Capsule Review]

Just Missed the Cut…

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

Should Have Seen

Despite the fact that I’ve seen 78 movies this year (and that this post features 30+ of my favorites), there were a few that got away… mostly due to limited releases, though a few of the flicks listed below didn’t interest me as much when they were released as they did when I heard more about them. Unlike last year, I’m not really expecting any of these to break into the top 10, though I guess there’s always a chance. Anyway, in no particular order:

Well, that wraps up 2009… actually a pretty solid year for movies from my perspective. Not the best ever or anything, but probably better than the past couple years. Hey, perhaps I should put together a best of the decade list? Eh, that would be reallly difficult (not to mention reallly late), but perhaps I’ll give it a shot at some point. Indeed, at some point, I want to post a top 100 of all time… but that’s even harder! Someday…

2009 Kaedrin Movie Awards: Arbitrary Awards

So we’re finished with the formal awards, but there are always some other awards that I don’t really bother to come up with other nominees for… and there are some movies that have something so uncommon that it’s worth bringing up. Interestingly, some of these awards have actually become a yearly thing, despite never really being conceived as such. In any case, here they are:

  • The “You know what happens when a toad gets struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else” Award for Worst Dialogue: Avatar. This is quite an accomplishment, though Cameron is certainly no Shyamalan (last year’s “winner” of this award). I wish I had a copy of the shooting script so that I could pick out the exact lines, but a big part of bad dialogue is also bad delivery, which isn’t especially in short supply here either.
  • The Proximity to Jason Vorhees Award for Heroic Stupidity: Friday the 13th. This seems like a no brainer, but this probably could have been a real category if I really wanted to do that. But in the end, it’s hard not to give the award its own namesake, right?
  • The Divorced Man’s Fantasy Award: Taken. There has to be thousands of divorced guys who list this as their favorite movie, right?
  • The Blatant Disregard to History Award: Inglourious Basterds. But in a good way (which is actually a pretty impressive feat all by itself)!
  • The Blatant Disregard to Physics Award: Star Trek. Red matter? Really? It’s not so much that this was the worst movie in this category as that I’m most disappointed by Trek (a movie I still love and which will make my top 10).
  • Best Incongruous Action Sequence: The sniper battle in The Hurt Locker. This is the best sequence in the movie, which is weird because it’s ostensibly a movie about a bomb disposal squad (those sequences are good too, but they’re not as good as this one).
  • The “I Can’t Believe They Went There” Award for Dumbest Plot Twist: Knowing. This is one of those movies where you guess the ending long before hand but dismiss it because it’s so stupid, only to find that it actually was the ending. Touché.
  • The Rod Serling Memorial Award: The Box. The movie plays like a feature length episode of The Twilight Zone. It attempts to explain too much towards the end, but is otherwise a lot better than the abysmal reviews its garnered…
  • Best Return To Their Roots: Sam Raimi and Drag Me to Hell. I’m not as in love with this movie as a lot of old-time Raimi fans, but it is very nice to see him back in the genre (and he did produce one of the best horror movies of the year).

As with last year, no real runaway movies taking a lot of awards. Indeed, Inglourious Basterds is the only movie to get more than 1 award (Avatar got 3, but two of those were negative awards… similarly, Star Trek got 1 positive and 1 negative)… guess what’s going to be near the top of the top 10? Speaking of which, it might be a couple weeks before that list gets posted. Still want to check out a couple of movies before nailing it down.

2009 Kaedrin Movie Awards: Best High Concept Film and 2009’s 2008 Movie of the Year

The nominations for the 2009 Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week. This week, I’ll be announcing two winners every day, culminating in a post with my top 10 movies of the year and possibly some other wrap-up posts.

Best High Concept Film: Stingray Sam

An obscure pick, to be sure, but I had a lot of fun with this eclectic Musical/Comedy/Sci-Fi/Western film. In an homage to old SF serials, the movie is actually constructed as a series of six ten minute shorts, each with their own opening and closing credits as well as faux sponsors. The storylines are beyond absurd, and the music is actually pretty entertaining (this from a guy who doesn’t normally like musicals). The official website actually has the first 20 minutes or so available to watch online (the second episode has the most awesome song in the whole movie too). It’s a pretty weird movie, but I had fun with it. Other nominees were pretty good as well, but nothing approached the sheer strangeness of this movie.

2009’s 2008 Movie of the Year: Tell No One

There are always movies that I wanted to see but which I couldn’t see until later in the year, so this category is for a discovery made the year after a film was released. Tell No One is a French thriller, and it’s actually quite good. It most certainly would have made my top 10 of last year, and if I wasn’t lazy, I probably would have updated the top 10. But now it’s here, along with several other quality nominees. Still, this was an excellent film.

And that about wraps up the formal categories. Stay tuned for more Arbitrary Awards on Sunday. I’m not sure when I’ll actually get to the top 10, but it should be within a week or two…

2009 Kaedrin Movie Awards: Best Action Sequences and Best Plot Twist/Surprise

The nominations for the 2009 Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week. This week, I’ll be announcing two winners every day, culminating in a post with my top 10 movies of the year and possibly some other wrap-up posts.

Best Action Sequences: Chocolate

In terms of traditional action set-pieces, the Thai martial arts film Chocolate takes the cake. The film is certainly not perfect, but you can’t fault the action sequences, which are well choreographed and a whole lot of fun. Some of the action recalls early Jackie Chan prop-driven stuff, though it doesn’t really approach that level either. None of which is to detract from the other nominees. Red Cliff certainly had some excellent action, though it’s more of an epic battle variety and the real strength of the film are the strategic/tactical planning, rather than the individual fights. Avatar certainly puts quick-cutting morons like Michael Bay in their place, and while I have my problems with the movie, the action sequences are superbly executed (if only I cared about the outcome). The Hurt Locker had some of the most suspenseful sequences of the year (especially the sniper sequence – ironic considering the bomb defusing focus of the film), but they’re more harrowing than exciting. Watchmen had it’s moments, as did Taken. Crank: High Voltage is so crazy insane that its action is more for comedic effect, but still worthwhile. In the end, I guess I was just in the mood for some martial arts rather than big explosions this year.

Best Plot Twist/Surprise: Inglourious Basterds

Naturally, any discussion of this would ruin the whole point. I will say that Inglourious Basterds doesn’t feature a traditional twist a la Shyamalan. It’s more that the film is just so shockingly audacious in what it’s doing. The other nominees had solid twists, but I have to admit that some of them were easy to see coming, and in at least one case, predicting the twist ahead of time nearly sinks the movie. Still, they’re all solid films… but I just can’t get over Inglourious Basterds.

And coming down the homestretch, tomorrow we’ve got the final categories: Best High Concept Film and 2009’s 2008 Movie of the Year

2009 Kaedrin Movie Awards: Best Sequel & Biggest Disappointment

The nominations for the 2009 Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week. This week, I’ll be announcing two winners every day, culminating in a post with my top 10 movies of the year and possibly some other wrap-up posts.

Best Sequel: Star Trek. Or maybe Crank: High Voltage!

Dammit. For a category with only 3 nominees, this is hard. Star Trek is definitely the better of the two. It took an old, crusty franchise and made it fresh and interesting again. This isn’t a small feat, especially when considering that I never really cared much for the original series/crew. In fact, the only real series I got into was The Next Generation, so the prospect of a prequel wasn’t all that exciting to me. But JJ Abrams seems to be building his movie directing career on resurrecting franchises (like he did with Mission Impossible). Anyway, I’ve already reviewed Star Trek, so I’d like to talk for a minute about Crank: High Voltage, which is one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. When I first saw the previews my reaction was something like: That movie looks soooo bad… I can’t wait to see it! As it turns out, my enthusiasm wasn’t entirely misplaced. This really is a giant ball of outlandish fun. Sure, it makes no sense, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t playful and energetic filmmaking at its best. Of course, it wasn’t much of a hit with critics… or audiences, for that matter, but I really enjoyed it. Sue me.

Biggest Disappointment: Avatar

Earlier this year, I posted a list of 5 Upcoming Movies I Want To See Even Though I Know They’ll Suck (at the bottom of that post). At the bottom of the list was Avatar, with the note that “I’m pretty sure this movie won’t suck.” My expectations were drastically lowered by the previews for the movie, and even then, the film was disappointing. True, the first time I saw it, I was a bit taken by it. Indeed, I’ve already established that Avatar is a jaw-droppingly gorgeous movie to look at, but for me, the story is the most important part of a movie. Now, Avatar doesn’t necessarily have a bad story, after all, it’s the same story we’ve all seen a thousand times. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that, and I think there’s something to be said for a really well executed cliched film. Unfortunately, aside from special effects, Avatar was terribly executed. The dialog is among the worst of the year (I think we’ll talk more about this when we get to the arbitrary awards). The character development is nonexistent (I’ve read a lot of reviews that claim otherwise, but after seeing the movie twice, I think what’s happening is that people have seen the same story so many times that they can just fill in the blanks with character development from other, better, movies). The Na’vi, while animated through technological brilliance, aren’t a particularly interesting race. As portrayed in the movie, they’re homogeneous and bland. Their monolithic nature could perhaps be explained away by the genuinely interesting idea that Pandora is basically a giant, living computer or distributed brain… but the entirety of that concept lives in a throwaway line in the middle of the movie. Sigourney says it, then the Burke character ignores it and that’s pretty much that. Incidentally, Sigourney argued that whole thing wrong. She should have said something like “This entire planet is a gigantic biological computer. That’s got to be worth billions to the biological weapons division!” There’s a lot to explore in that concept, but it was mostly wasted in favor of stupid mechas with proportionally sized Bowie knives (seriously? I mean…really?) Speaking of the mechas, I have to wonder how differently that last battle would have played out if the humans were using real tanks (or other mechanized armor).

I don’t think I’ll ever get around to a full review of Avatar, but while I’m ranting, I might as well bring up a few other things. A lot of critics seem to dismiss the bad story stuff by saying something like “yes, it’s James Cameron. You’re not there for stellar dialogue, intricate storytelling, or nuance. And you’re not going to get it.” As MGK notes:

But this is exactly why Avatar disappoints so on this score: because James Cameron movies traditionally have all of those things.

The really depressing thing about Avatar is that it fails so spectacularly at things that Cameron has always been great at. Remember in Aliens, after the Colonial Marines get their ass whooped by the aliens and everyone’s arguing about what to do? Ripley immediately cuts through the crap and says “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.” This makes so much sense! It’s so rare that a character in a movie says something that rational that it’s become a modern geek aphorism. Again, Cameron used to be great at this sort of thing. But in Avatar, there are a million questionable plot points. Why use mechas when tanks will do just fine? Why not use jet fighters to deliver the bomb to the tree of souls (No! No! We have to use slow moving helicopters so that the Na’vi will have a chance to fight back!)? Hell, as a race, the humans have mastered interplanetary travel. You mean to tell me the can’t figure out orbital bombardment (even just kinetic weapons would do the trick)? And why wouldn’t the humans just come back in a few years and obliterate the planet? The list goes on and on and on and on.

This award has traditionally been difficult because I have to account for expectations. Often a disappointing film is not truly bad… it just doesn’t meet lofty expectations. This was the case with most of the other nominees (except for Terminator: Salvation, which I knew would be bad). But Avatar still wins. There’s a lot of potential there, most of which is wasted.

On deck: Best Action Sequences and Best Plot Twist/Surprise

2009 Kaedrin Movie Awards: Most Visually Stunning & Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film

The nominations for the 2009 Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week. This week, I’ll be announcing two winners every day, culminating in a post with my top 10 movies of the year and possibly some other wrap-up posts.

Most Visually Stunning: Avatar

For all its faults, you have to admit that Avatar is a gorgeous movie to look at. Amazingly, the Na’vi seem real. James Cameron has somehow vaulted across the uncanny valley and emerged unscathed on the other side. While I don’t know that his use of 3D is really all that revolutionary, I appreciate the fact that Cameron doesn’t take the opportunity to poke me with stuff (like every other 3D movie). Pandora (though a ham-fisted name for a planet) is a fully realized planet. Well, actually it’s not, but visually, it is. The rest of the nominees are pretty good, but none can really match the spectacle of Avatar.

Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film: Paranormal Activity

This is always a difficult category, probably because I mix two of my favorite genres. Usually there’s not enough SF to warrant a full category, but this year there were 3 pretty solid SF films. Of course, only Moon even comes close to a true hard SF story, with the other two (Star Trek and District 9) lacking a little science in their fiction, but even Moon had me nitpicking over plot details. It’s definitely worth watching, if only for Sam Rockwell’s performance(s), but it didn’t quite hit me the way horror films did this year. I had a blast with Drag Me to Hell and 4bia (a lame play on the word phobia) was an early favorite, but no horror film stuck with me the way Paranormal Activity did. It got a bit too hyped, which is never good for scary movies, but it still worked well for me. While the “found footage” premise is hardly unique, they did provide one major innovation for the sub-genre: the tripod. There’s still some shaky camera footage, but for the most part, it’s sitting on a tripod, and it’s more effective because of that. Anyway, my favorite horror movie of the year and it will probably find a spot on my top 10.

Coming tomorrow: Best Sequel and Biggest Disappointment

2009 Kaedrin Movie Awards: Best Comedic Performance & Breakthrough Performance

The nominations for the 2009 Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week. This week, I’ll be announcing two winners every day, culminating in a post with my top 10 movies of the year and possibly some other wrap-up posts.

Best Comedic Performance: Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover

Truth be told, I’m cheating with this one because the award isn’t so much because Galifianakis was the funniest part of the movie, just that the movie was probably the funniest of the year. For some reason, there weren’t any really standout comedic performances this year. Sacha Baron Cohen was certainly an option, but after Borat, his shock value seems to have waned for me. Bruno was all about shock value, and once you got accustomed to it, it fell a little flat. I also seriously considered giving this to Michael Peña, but I think his role ended up being a little too small, and while he was fantastic, the movie wasn’t really that funny (but it was still a solid movie, just not in a straightforward comedic way). In any case, this was a difficult award and I’m not entirely happy picking a winner… I guess being nominated will have to be award enough…

Breakthrough Performance: Tom Hardy in Bronson

Another impossible category, except this time there were too many standouts. I would be happy giving the award to any of the nominees, but in looking at the criteria I had laid out for this award, I had to go with Hardy because I had seen him before and totally dismissed him as an actor. Yes, he played the villain from the absolutely terrible Star Trek: Nemisis, and despite looking almost the same, he’s a completely different actor in this movie. He’s a total force of nature and his performance is really what holds an otherwise uneven movie together. The real competition for the award comes from Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds, who I’ve already established as being fantastic (having won the Best Villain award). I also totally fell in love with Rinko Kikuchi in The Brothers Bloom. I was surprised to learn that her previous high-profile role was a rather serious one in Babel… yet her comedic timing in the underrated Bloom was spot-on. In the end, it comes back to the forceful performance of Tom Hardy.

Next up: Most Visually Stunning and Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film

2009 Kaedrin Movie Awards: Best Villain/Hero/Badass

The nominations for the 2009 Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week. This week, I’ll be announcing two winners every day, culminating in a post with my top 10 movies of the year and possibly some other wrap-up posts.

Best Villain/Badass: Colonel Hans Landa, played by Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds

In a year of lackluster villainy, Christoph Waltz’s scenery chewing performance as Colonel Hans “The Jew Hunter” Landa was without a doubt the best selection here. The other nominees don’t even come close. As I’ve commented before, Waltz plays Landa as a Jew hunting, Nazi version of Columbo. Charismatic and disarming, he draws you in and makes you comfortable before pulling the rug out from beneath you. He plays the character with a slightly effeminate panache and you grow to hate him pretty quickly. Best villain of the year.

Best Hero/Badass: Rorschach, played by Jackie Earle Haley in Watchmen

This category was a little more difficult as there were lots of good heroic performances this year, but none quite so effective as Jackie Earle Haley’s turn as as a morally uncompromising sociopath/superhero. He’s the most memorable character in both the comic and the film, and despite his ruthless tactics, you find yourself rooting for the guy. Honorable mention goes to Liam Neeson for his surprisingly badass performance in Taken and also Yanin Vismitananda for her spectacular martial arts skills in Chocolate. Tom Hardy’s titular performance in Bronson is also worth a note, but that will come up later in the week. In the end, this is all about Rorschach. I’ve had him penciled in to this award since March, and no one managed to knock him off…

Up next: Best Comedic Performance and Breakthrough Performance. Check back Monday for the winners.

2009 Kaedrin Movie Awards

As of today, I’ve seen 74 movies that would be considered 2009 releases. This is on par with the past few years, if not a little bit more than usual. Believe it or not, this is probably a lot less than your typical movie critic, but it’s also a whole lot more than your average moviegoer. In any case, this post constitutes the kickoff of my year end movie recap (only a few weeks late!) The categories for this years movie awards are mostly the same as last year (with one notable addition), and will proceed in a similar manner. Nominations will be announced today, and starting next week, I’ll announce the winners (new winners announced every day). After that, there might be some miscellaneous awards, followed by a top 10 list.

2009 seems to have been a decent year for movies… better than 2008 and possibly 2007 too. Perhaps we’ve finally emerged from the black whole of bad writing caused by the writers strike, though I think we’re still seeing some of the effects. In any case, the top 10 has come together relatively quickly, though the last couple of spots are still a bit of a challenge to fill. There are a couple of movies I’m still hoping to catch up with before I release my top 10, but there’s no reason to delay the awards for that. Besides, one of the points of these awards is that they allow me to give some love to films that I like, but which aren’t necessarily great or are otherwise flawed (as such, the categories may seem a bit eclectic). Some of these movies will end up on my top 10, but the grand majority of them will not.

The rules for this are the same as last year: Nominated movies must have been released in 2009 (in the US) and I have to have seen the movie (and while I have seen a lot of movies, I don’t pretend to have seen a comprehensive selection – don’t let that stop you from suggesting something though). Also, I suppose I should mention the requisite disclaimer that these sorts of lists are inherently subjective and personal. But that’s all part of the fun, right?

Best Villain/Badass

It’s been a pretty lackluster year for villainy… Some easy choices, but this was a hard category to populate this year. As with previous years, my picks in this category are for individuals, not groups (i.e. no vampires or zombies as a group).

Best Hero/Badass

It’s been a pretty damn good year for heroic badassery. Again limited to individuals and not groups.

Best Comedic Performance

Not a particularly strong year when it comes to comedy, but there still seem to be plenty of good performances, even in films I wasn’t particularly fond of…

Breakthrough Performance

Not a particularly huge year for breakthrough performances either, but definitely several interesting choices. As with previous years, my main criteria for this category was if I watched a movie, then immediately looking up the actor/actress on IMDB to see what else they’ve done (or where they came from). This sometimes happens for even well established actors/actresses, and this year was no exception.

Most Visually Stunning

Sometimes even bad movies can look really great…

Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film

I’m a total genre hound, despite genres generally receiving very little attention from critics. Interestingly, SF makes a pretty good showing this year, even though I wish there was a little more science in the fiction for most of the nominees. As usual, some solid horror films round out the list well enough…

Best Sequel

Honestly, I only saw a few sequels this year, so this was a difficult category to populate (as it is every year). Still, there were a few decent options (even if I cheated a little with one of them, which is more prequel/reboot than sequel)…

Biggest Disappointment

Always a difficult award to figure out, as there are different ways in which a movie can disappoint. Usually, expectations play just as big a part of this as the actual quality of the film, and it’s possible that a decent movie can win the award because of astronomical expectations. This year had several obvious choices though.

Best Action Sequences

This was a decent year for action, though not especially a standout year. This award isn’t for individual action sequences, but rather an overall estimation of each film.

Best Plot Twist/Surprise

Not a particularly strong year for the plot twist either, though there are a few standouts.

Best High Concept Film

This is always a strange category to populate because the concept is a bit nebulous, but nevertheless, there are a few interesting choices…

2009’s 2008 Movie of the Year

A 2008 movie I didn’t get to see until 2009… This is always a problem for the amateur movie lover. Towards the end of the year, 500 movies come out, but they only play in New York or LA for a grand total of like 3 hours (enough for 2 showings at each theater!) Plus, there’s always a movie I dismissed and neglected to see which I end up seeing a year later and loving. Last year, I was having so much trouble putting together a top 10 that I even revised the list to include Mad Detective. But there were a couple other interesting 2008 movies that I didn’t catch up with until later…

Anyone have any suggestions (for either category or nominations)? Comments, complaints and suggestions are welcome, as always.

It looks like Ingourious Basterds is leading the way with 5 solid nominations. Following that with a solid 4 nominations is Star Trek. Surprisingly, Avatar was also nominated for 4 awards, but one of those is “Biggest Disappointment” which I think puts it behind Trek. At 3 nominations, we’ve got Watchmen and Crank: High Voltage, while a whole slew of other films garnered 2 noms, and an even larger amount earned a single nomination. As I mentioned earlier, I’m going to give myself a week to think about each of these. I might end up adding to the nominations if I end up seeing something new. Winners will be announced starting next Sunday or Monday. As with the last few years, there will be a small set of Arbitrary Awards after the standard awards are given out, followed by the top 10.