2011 Movie Awards

Favorite Films of 2011

Once again, I find myself attempting to sum up a rather unusual year for movies. Here we have a year of movies that managed to transcend mediocrity, but none which achieved true greatness. There were a ton of good movies released this year, ranging from a good way to spend a few hours to… a very good way to spend a few hours? Again, nothing seemed to really hit on all cylinders this year.

The theme of 2010 was a questioning of reality. I don’t see a theme in 2011, but I do see some patterns. The one that sticks out to me is that there seemed to be a preponderance of art house genre pictures. These movies tend to be low budget schlock-fests, even when they’re good. But this year, several talented directors took on unusual genres, and instead of schlock, we got deliberate pacing punctuated by visually spectacular moments of beauty. From cosmic existentialism (The Tree of Life, Melancholia, Certified Copy) to straightforward action (Drive) to westerns (Meek’s Cutoff), we got a ton of unusual takes on standard genres this year. There are even more examples that will be listed below. Does this really qualify as a Theme (capital T) for 2011? Probably not, but it’s the pattern I’m most struck by… it seems that all the interesting movies this year were playing with form and genre…

As of this moment, I’ve seen 75 movies that would be considered 2011 releases. Add in the 19 movies I saw at Fantastic Fest, and that brings the grand total up to 94 movies. This is a record for me, though probably much less than a lot of critics would see in a year.

The standard disclaimer goes double for this year: creating a list like this is an inherently subjective process, and I seemed to have struggled with the list more than expected, to the point where I’m having trouble orienting films on a pure 1-10 scale. For the past several years, I’ve always had a pretty easy time with the top 5 movies of the year. I would have a little more trouble with the 6-8 picks, and the final two were always impossible to pick. This year? I feel like I’ve got 10 movies I want to cram in those 9 and 10 slots, with maybe a few in the 6-8 realm… As such, I’m breaking from tradition this year and listing out my top 10 in alphabetical order. A bit of a cop out, sure, but what are you going to do? Sue me?

I used to put this list together by trying to figure out the best films of the year, but in the past few years, I’ve been gravitating more towards my favorite films. There were films I really respected this year that never quite connected with me the way they did with critics, so I have a feeling my list will be more personal and unusual than most top 10s… Indeed, this is probably the least commercial list I’ve ever put together (there are normally at least a few big budget Hollywood type films on the list, but not so much this year…) My hope is that this will make for a more interesting list to read, but enough babbling, let’s get this show started:

Top 10 Movies of 2011

* In alphabetical order

  • 13 Assassins: Takashi Miike’s period Samurai action flick is among the prolific director’s best films (that I’ve seen at least). A rather straightforward tale following the titular 13 assassins as they take on an evil lord bent on domination, this film is often graphic and disturbing, but also thrilling. Especially in the final action centerpiece of the film, which sustains the tension for a remarkably long time. Well worth watching for action fans.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Winner of 1 Kaedrin Movie Award]

  • A Boy and His Samurai: Set in modern day Japan, a child and his mother stumble upon a man in Samurai garb. It turns out that he is actually from the Edo period. It’s something of a cliched premise, a fish out of water story, but the film studiously executes on every level. What could seem derivative ends up being simply charming. A sweet, sincere, and heartfelt film… Unfortunately, it hasn’t really received much of a distribution outside of Japan, but if you get a chance to see it, it’s well worth your time.

    More Info: [IMDB]

  • Extraterrestrial: Nacho Vigalondo’s take on an alien invasion film is actually a romantic comedy, and it’s all great fun. Julio wakes up in Julia’s apartment with quite a hangover. After some awkward pleasantries, he seeks to depart… and that’s when they notice. Cell phones, land lines, television, and the internet are down. And there’s something massive in the sky above Madrid. Again, we’ve got a cliched premise, the alien invasion, but Vigalondo almost completely ignores it in favor of the romantic comedy aspects of the story. Twisted, a little silly, and very funny. Unfortunately, this is also not really available yet…

    More Info: [IMDB] [Capsule Review]

  • Hanna: Director Joe Wright’s take on a modern day fairy tale, this is dark, action packed, fantastical stuff. Excellent performance from 17-year-old Saoirse Ronan in an exceedingly difficult role. Also a wonderful Chemical Brothers score. I initially thought of it as being a bit thin, but it has only grown in my mind as time goes on. I really quite enjoyed this film and recommend it highly.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Winner of 2 Kaedrin Movie Awards]

  • Knuckle: This intriguing documentary follows 12 years in a longstanding feud between two Irish Traveler clans. The strife goes back decades, and through numerous interviews and bare-knuckle fights (officiated by third-party clans, this is the seemingly preferred way to resolve arguments), we get a close look at the circle of violence in action. This specific tale is heartbreaking, not just because of the people involved, but because it’s a microcosm of all human conflict. The pattern presented here is instantly recognizable and applicable to a wide range of conflict. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s one that has stuck with me since I saw it…

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

  • Rubber: What a wonderfully absurd and weird movie. Another deliberately paced genre film, this one is visually interesting enough to keep momentum, and it has a lot to say about movies and audiences. Plus, come on, it’s hard not to like a movie about a sentient tire named Robert who can use his telepathic powers to make people’s head explode. There’s no way to really encapsulate the greatness of this film in a short paragraph, but this is an intriguing movie and a must-watch for any genre fans out there…

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Winner of 2 Kaedrin Movie Awards]

  • Tabloid: Errol Morris’ documentary about a former beauty queen charged with abducting her quasi-boyfriend, a Mormon Missionary in England. The whole story was covered in the British Tabloids, and boy is this a corker of a story. Just when you think it can’t get any crazier, it does. And then it just keeps going… An interesting story in itself, but also more broadly applicable and thought provoking when it comes to the nature of attention seekers and the tabloids that feed them (and us). And the British tabloid reporters are hysterical (particularly the one who keeps talking about the “spread eagle” position, even verbing it at one point!) I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [Winner of 1 Kaedrin Movie Award]

  • The Artist: This modern day silent film is getting a lot of Oscar buzz and it’s already gotten some backlash, but when I finally caught up with it, I found myself surprised by how much I enjoyed it. To me, this one falls under Howard Hawks’ belief that all you need to make a good film are “three good scenes, and no bad ones.” For me, there might even have been more than three scenes – the deafening silence of applause, a lady and a jacket, and a few others… Yeah, Hollywood is going to be all self-congratulatory about this movie come Oscar time, and I don’t think I’d put this near the top of my list were I not ordering it alphabetically, but I think it still deserves recognition (now if only they’ll make one of my other proposed silent films!)

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD]

  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: This was the slot that was really hard to fill. If this were an ordered list, this is the slot that would be interchangeable with a bunch of the honorable mentions below. And this movie is flawed, but very interesting. At once jam packed and deliberate; overstuffed, but leisurely. Maybe I’m a sucker for intricate spy stories that are less complicated than they seem, but I found myself very taken by the movie. An exceptional performance by Gary Oldman anchors the film and makes it more approachable, despite the bland emotionlessness the role requires. Dour, stoic, bleak, and contradictory. Somehow the movie worked for me, despite the fact that most of my description makes it sound like a movie I wouldn’t like. I’d have a hard time recommending this to anyone, actually, but I did really enjoy it myself, so here we are…

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

  • Tucker and Dale vs Evil: One wouldn’t expect a film playing with the genre conventions of Hillbilly Horror could also represent an interesting statement on the nature of prejudice, but here we are. Indeed, because of the humorous nature of the film and its subject matter, it’s almost more effective than films that tackle the subject head-on. But don’t let any of this high-minded talk fool you, it’s a really funny little film that doesn’t have any pretensions about what it’s trying to do, and a must watch for horror fans. Another highly recommended film.

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

Honorable Mention

* Also in alphabetical order

  • Attack the Block: A big ball of genrerific fun that just never quite reached the heights for me that it seemingly did for some critics. I really enjoyed it though, and there were some thematic confluences with real world events that helped make this movie more interesting than I think it even really intended. Another alien invasion cliche here, though this one actually plays up that side of the story, and it manages to succeed where a lot of lesser movies fail (in particular, it takes some initially unlikeable protagonists and makes you root for them). Another film that could have subbed in for Tinker Tailor on the top 10 proper, depending on my mood…

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Winner of 1 Arbitrary Award]

  • Cedar Rapids: A most unusual comedy, this one follows a small-town boy as he makes his way to the big city for an insurance convention and quickly gets in over his head. Great ensemble cast – Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith, and even Sigourney Weaver. Lots of hijinks ensue, but things go deeper than expected without getting overwhelming either. A neat trick, that. Another candidate for that tenth slot on the top 10…

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

  • Certified Copy: This is a movie I like thinking about more than I actually liked watching. It’s a study in ambiguity. It makes no real sense, and thus there are so many differing interpretations you could take that it becomes something of an existential exercise. Unfortunately, films where two mildly unlikeable people just talk around each other for a few hours with no real point aren’t usually my thing, and thus it was a bit of a slog to sit through. Director Abbas Kiarostami grounds the movie in realism, but about midway through, a conversation with a woman working at a coffee shop changes everything. It’s a movie where I was constantly asking myself what was going on. There are lots of interesting ideas here, for instance the idea that in art, often a copy can be as good as the original. How does that play out in the movie? What is the real relationship between the man and the woman? I’m at a bit of a loss here. I really like a lot of the discussions surrounding the movie, but I didn’t particularly enjoy sitting down and watching it…

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

  • Drive: Nicolas Winding Refn’s art-house version of The Transporter, but much better than that sounds. After an intense and exciting opening chase sequence (that focused more on subterfuge and concealment than pyrotechnics and speed), the film switches gears, telling a bit of a love story through nothing more than long, meaningful glances and facial expressions. Oh, and explosive, gratuitous violence. This one narrowly missed out on a top 10 slot, and who knows? I think that if I were to compile this list on some other day, it might have made the list ahead of Tinker Tailor. But then, it could just as easily have not made the list due to at least a few of the other Honorable Mentions here…

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Winner of 1 Arbitrary Award]

  • Elite Squad II: The Enemy Within: A Brazilian film about police corruption, I was a little worried about the politics of this film, but it eventually settles on a synthesis, not endorsing either side, but rather, emphasizing that both sides must work together in order to succeed. It’s an interesting, well considered position, and films that can pull off that balancing act are few and far between. I’ve actually never seen the first film in the series, but I did find this one quite well done. Yet another candidate for that coveted tenth slot of the top 10…

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

  • I Saw the Devil: Kim Jee-woon’s epic revenge film is certainly a sight to behold. Ultimately it didn’t stick with me as much as I initially expected, but it’s still one of the surprisingly many Korean films about Vengeance that’s worth watching. In this particular case, you better be prepared for some particularly brutal and disturbing stuff, but that’s the way these films seem to go.

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Winner of 1 Arbitrary Award]

  • Midnight in Paris: I’ve never been a particularly big fan of Woody Allen, and this film does have a lot of his stamp on it, but on the other hand, the fantastical trips to the past were absolutely delightful. It was the present-day stuff that seemed so caricatured and mind-numbing and so… Woody Alleny. This is totally a film worth a watch, just to see the interactions with historical figures in Paris, but I just couldn’t get past Allen’s usual ticks, nor could I quite reconcile the apparent message of the film (nostalgia for the past blinds us in the present – an intriguing idea, actually) with what Allen was actually showing us on screen. Instead of demonstrating his point to us, he tells it to us through dialogue… but what he actually shows us is the opposite message…

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

  • Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol: Good old fashioned, action packed fun. From director Brad Bird, who has made some of my favorite animated movies (notably The Incredibles), in his live action debut, he has shown a deft hand here. I’m not sure I ever really considered it for a top 10 slot, and there are things about it that I don’t love, but it was still a ton of fun and I’m really excited to see what Bird will do next…

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

  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes: I enjoyed this movie, but I have to admit that I’m surprised by the amount of praise heaped upon it by critics. For all the fun and successful motion capture performances, the film still suffered a bit from awkward dialogue (some awful clunkers in here, as well as a few groan-inducing clichés) and a stilted story (which is ultimately what put it down here in the honorable mentions). Still, a rousing climax and a great character arc for Caesar the ape. And let’s not forget Maurice the CGI orangutan, the only true the voice of wisdom in the film!

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

  • The Greatest Movie Ever Sold: Morgan Spurlock made a name for himself with a concerted effort at brand assassination, so it took guts to make this movie: a movie about product placement and branding that was completely financed by… product placement and branding. It’s a great idea for a movie, and the fact that it’s Spurlock making it adds a bit of tension to the proceedings that wouldn’t be there for other filmmakers. Then again, that might not be such a great thing. Ultimately only a surface-level affair, it was still interesting and very entertaining stuff. Worth watching!

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Winner of 1 Arbitrary Award]

  • The Guard: An eccentric Irish policeman teams up with a straight-laced FBI agent to take down a drug ring. Another most unusual movie that doesn’t really go down the way the premise would have you believe. Great performance by Brendan Gleeson as the baffling and confrontational Irish policeman, and a mostly endearing character, despite his many quirks. It’s an interesting movie and I’m glad I got the chance to watch it, but something about it never clicked with me either…

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

  • The People vs. George Lucas: A documentary covering the career and movies of George Lucas, and the many complaints the man has garnered over the past 10-15 years. It’s an interesting and entertaining documentary, provoking questions about the ownership and meaning of art itself, as well as providing something of a catharsis over some of the beloved films Lucas has made and… changed. It’s not quite as one-note or unfair as it sounds – this isn’t a long bitching session about, for instance, Greedo shooting first, though there’s certainly a lot of that there. It’s a fair movie, albeit one that ultimately comes down on the side you’d expect. Definitely worth a watch for any Star Wars or Indiana Jones fans out there who are hurting…

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD]

  • The Muppets: A delightful little film that nonetheless had me wondering about a few things when it was over. There’s nothing particularly interesting about the plot and indeed, it seems unnecessarily disjointed and a little confusing in the end. That being said, the movie is filled with fun gags and nostalgic callbacks that are really wonderful fun. I had a great time with it, but it’s also not something that really stuck with me, so it falls down here in the Honorable Mentions…

    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Winner of 1 Kaedrin Movie Award]

  • Win Win: An interesting little film about families trying to make it by. I find it difficult to really talk about this movie. It’s got lots of funny moments, but it’s not really a comedy. Perhaps you’d call it a dramedy. It’s got dramatic substance without being overwhelmed by heft, and it was one of the more enjoyable underseen films of the year. Definitely worth a watch and a contender for that coveted tenth slot…

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

Just Missed the Cut

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

Conspicuously Absent

These are films that are almost universally recognized in critics’ circles, but which didn’t really connect with me. Again presented without comment and in no particular order:

Should Have Seen

Despite the record number of movies I saw this year, there were still a few that got away. This could be because of limited distribution, or because I just didn’t find the movie that compelling until after it was out of theaters or something like that… Again presented without comment and in no particular order:

Well, there you have it. More than you could ever want to know about my favorite movies of 2011. Did I miss anything? Are my picks wildly off-base? Feel free to leave a comment. I have to say that I’m sorry that two of the films on my top 10 aren’t even really available on DVD/BD/Streaming yet. I usually hate it when critics do crap like that, but I do love both of those movies, so they have to stay on the list. I think this might also be my least commercially successful list ever. I don’t quite know what to make of that, but here we are…

Anyways, stay tuned next week for the annual Kaedrin Oscars Liveblogging event! It should be a real corker.

2011 Kaedrin Movie Awards: The Arbitrary Awards

So we’re finished with the formal awards, but there are always some other awards that don’t really require a lot of nominees… and there are some movies that have something so uncommon that it’s worth bringing up. Some of these awards have actually become a yearly thing, though most are still just random and, well, arbitrary. 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: Battle Los Angeles. This one gets harder and harder to pick every year because who wants to go back and revisit horrible movies looking for bad dialogue? In this case, I just went from the memory of cringing at the dialogue when I saw the movie. “Maybe I can help. I’m a veterinarian.” How convenient. Cowboys & Aliens merits attention here as well.
  • The Proximity to Jason Vorhees Award for Heroic Stupidity: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. So a little girl moves into a haunted house, and her father gets her the creepiest nightlight thing ever, then people start getting into not-so-mysterious accidents and blah blah blah, this film makes no fucking sense. Everyone in the film is a moron.
  • Most Surprisingly Mediocre Movie of the Year: Limitless and The Lincoln Lawyer (tie). For some reason, I was expecting both of these to be nigh unwatchable, but they were both decent movies. Not fine cinema or anything, and probably won’t be making their way onto my top 10 or honorable mentions, but a good way to spend a couple hours.
  • Best Long Take/Tracking Shot: Hanna. So Eric Bana gets off a train, and the camera follows him as he walks through the station. As he walks, you start to notice people following him; eventually he’s surrounded by enemies and has to fight them off, which he does. And this all happens in a single tracking shot. It’s a bit of a bombastic, showy sequence, but I loved it anyway.
  • The Park Chan-Wook Award for Excessive Vengeance: I Saw the Devil. Those wacky Koreans really seem to enjoy their revenge movies.
  • Best CGI Animal Not Named Caesar: Maurice the CGI orangutan from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Maurice might be my favorite character in the movie, actually. Heck, he was smart before he took the drug – he was a circus orangutan and learned signing, and he’s somehow the voice of wisdom or something in the movie. He doesn’t get the emotional arc that Caesar does, but he’s still awesome.
  • The About Face Award: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. I have to admit, it took guts for a guy like Morgan Spurlock, who went out of his way to destroy a brand with an earlier movie (with arguably unfair tactics) to make this movie, a movie about product placement financed completely by its sponsors and product placement in the movie. It’s a clever idea and he did manage to pull it off despite his reputation.
  • Best Old People Fight Sequence: The Debt. Haha. Old people fighting.
  • Best Opening Sequence:: Drive. The opening chase sequence was fantastic, tense, and exciting stuff. It tells you everything you need to know about the driver, and it’s a chase that’s more about subterfuge and hiding than pyrotechnics and speed (i.e. it’s not a Fast and Furious movie…) Also worth calling out for opening sequences: Scream 4, a pitch perfect opening for the post-modern, self-referential nature of the series. Unfortunately, neither Drive nor Scream 4 quite lived up to the promise of their opening sequence, though I think Drive managed to pull off that switch (i.e. it wasn’t a great action movie with lots of chase scenes, but it was still a good movie).
  • Best Closing Shot: Another Earth. The movie has its flaws and I really wasn’t with this movie until about the last half hour, when things started to turn around. And then there’s the last shot, which is just ambiguous and surprising enough to be satisfying without spelling anything out.
  • The John Carpenter Memorial Award: Attack the Block. This is a nebulous concept, but this movie really does feel like the sort of thing a circa-1985 Carpenter would have made… and it’s a ton of fun too.

And that just about wraps up the awards for the year. Look for a top 10 list in a few weeks…

2011 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners!

The nominations for the 2011 Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week. Today, I’ll be announcing the winners of those awards. Later in the week, I’ll cover less traditional categories in what we like to call the Arbitrary Awards, and at some point in the near future, I’ll post my top 10 of 2011 (this will most likely happen in early to mid-February). So let’s do this thing:

  • Best Villain/Badass: The Plague (Rip & Grinder), played by Nick Bateman and Peter Simas in Hobo with a Shotgun. They might not be the main villains of the piece and they’re only in the film for a short time, but they stole the show. The Plague are basically a duo of over-armored demonic bounty hunter assassins. Or something like that. At one point in the film, you see their lair, and they have a bunch of old, crossed-off bounties on the wall. Among their victims: Jesus Christ, Joan of Arc, and the Easter Bunny. The Plague was best thing about Hobo With a Shotgun and certainly the best badass villain of the year.
    The Plague

    Competition wasn’t weak either. Mickey Rourke was pretty great in Immortals. Michael Fassbender was fantastic as a young Magneto in X-Men: First Class, though he sorta straddles the line between villain and hero in this particular installment. The film wasn’t all that good and the character wasn’t written that well, but Christoph Waltz seemed to be having a lot of fun in The Green Hornet (though again, not much of a villain). And so on, but no one can compare to The Plague. My understanding is that there will be a Plague spin-off movie, which is something I would normally find uninteresting, but for whatever reason, I do want to see that movie!

  • Best Hero/Badass: Hanna, played by Saoirse Ronan in Hanna. And so a young female character takes this award two years in a row. I loved the movie, a sorta art-house action flick, and young Hanna was pretty damn badass throughout (and her dad, played by Eric Bana, is no slouch either.) Competition was high for this award. Rutger Hauer’s hobo from Hobo with a Shotgun was most assuredly a runner-up, as he’s totally badass and pretty damn funny (I love the “bear” monologue in the film). Immortals had lots of heroic badassery, but it was spread out between lots of characters. I ended up picking Poseidon as the nominee because his trident made him instantly recognizable, and he was totally kicking ass against the titans at the end. I think Sucker Punch, while not without its flaws, was unfairly maligned this year, which is why I nominated it for a bunch of awards, including this one.
  • Best Comedic Performance: Ellen Page in SUPER. If comic book nerds weren’t already in love with Ellen Page, then they are now. Her performance was the highlight of SUPER. She’s just so quirky and enthusiastic. A little demented too, but Page makes it work and because of her liveliness, she takes the award. None of her fellow nominees had to rise to that sort of challenge, but there’s still some good ones on the list. In a lot of ways, Midnight in Paris suffers from typical Woody Allen tropes, but the scenes in the past with the historical figures were wonderful – I picked Corey Stoll because his performance as Hemmingway was one of the more memorable things about the movie. I love the hell out of Tucker and Dale vs Evil, and Tyler Labine led that charge. I liked Bridesmaids a lot, but it just wasn’t that funny. I have a soft spot for Harold and Kumar and I was nice to see them again, but it all still pales in comparison to the original. The Muppets was a delight and Cedar Rapids was a lot of fun (and come to think of it, perhaps I should have nominated John C. Reilly for that one), but neither could really compare with Ellen Page in this category…
  • Breakthrough Performance: Elle Fanning in Super 8. A mildly disappointing movie that was elevated significantly by Fanning’s performance. Her “acting” scenes in the film were probably the most memorable thing about the film and instantly had me penciling her in for this award… and no one could unseat her! Runner up would be Michael Parks’s intense performance as a cult leader in Red State. Chris Hemsworth is one charismatic guy, and he managed to single-handedly make Thor kinda interesting (despite the fact that the film kinda stunk). Alison Pil was great, but I probably should have nominated her for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World last year as that was the more memorable breakthrough performance (she was great in Midnight in Paris too). Rooney Mara did an excellent job in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a film that otherwise fell a little flat for me.
  • Most Visually Stunning: The Tree of Life. Say what you will about how pretentious it is or how personal it is or how much you like/hate it, you have to admit that it’s a gorgeous film. I kinda hated a lot of things about this movie, but I was so mesmerized by the visuals that I watched the whole thing without complaint. Lots of competition for the award this year, but nothing even really comes close, which says a lot when you’ve got a category with Tarsem Singh and David Fincher movies. Sucker Punch gets another nod here too, because it was also a very pretty movie to look at. Meek’s Cutoff, Melancholia, and Drive were a little slow, but immaculately composed and shot. Rubber was too, but it connected with me a lot better… but I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll talk more about this movie in just a moment…
  • Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film: Rubber. What a wonderfully absurd and weird movie. It’s a little slow moving, but visually interesting enough to keep momentum, and it has a lot to say about movies and audiences. Plus, it’s about a tire named Robert who can use his telepathic powers to make people’s head explode. Not sure it’s really “scary”, but it was among the most interesting films of the year for me (genre film or not), so it wasn’t hard to pick this one as a winner.

    Attack the Block would probably take the silver here, as it was just a big ball of fun and there were some thematic confluences with real world events that helped make this movie more interesting than it even intended… Source Code doesn’t entirely work, but I enjoyed it quite a bit anyway and it’s hard to knock Duncan Jones for producing original SF material (I had a similar conflicted feeling about his previous effort, Moon). I enjoyed both Insidious and Paranormal Activity 3, but both owe a little too much to the original Paranormal Activity to warrant serious consideration. Rise of the Planet of the Apes certainly had its moments, but there were lots of things that didn’t really work for me in that movie… Also worthy of note, a last-minute addition to the nominees (as I just watched it yesterday): Another Earth was a very interesting SF movie that seems like it’s just using SF as a background, but eventually makes much more of the premise…

  • Best Sequel/Reboot: The Muppets. Always a difficult category to pick, but as already mentioned, The Muppets was a delightful little film and a ton of fun. Is that nostalgia talking? Maybe, though I never watched the Muppets that much as a kid, and I probably haven’t even seen all their previous movies, so I wouldn’t say I was overwhelmed by subjective feelings here. It’s certainly not a perfect film, but how can you not like The Muppets when they’re at the top of their game? Old favorites (Rainbow Connection) and new numbers (Am I a Man or a Muppet) both connected well for me, and I generally hate musical numbers. Again, not perfect, but still fun. I’ve already talked about a few of the other nominees, but I should call out Scream 4, which I think had one of the best opening sequences of the year, and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, wherein an animation director made a pretty great action flick. Also, I nominated Elite Squad II: The Enemy Within because I really enjoyed it, but I never saw the first one, so I should probably catch up with that…
  • Biggest Disappointment: Cowboys & Aliens. And it’s probably the worst movie on the list too. It’s not like I was expecting fine cinema here, but this movie utterly failed to deliver anything of note. Awful script, mediocre performances, and rather poor visual design as well. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was also quite disappointing, though they did manage to evoke some sense of atmosphere in that movie (still not worth watching). The Squad was a movie that had some buzz going into Fantastic Fest (apparently Tim League loved it), but it was a terrible, terrible movie (for reasons I’ve already belabored). The remaining nominees were all actually decent movies that just didn’t manage to live up to high expectations.
  • Best Action Sequences: 13 Assassins and Immortals. I couldn’t decide. This category was the most difficult of the year, as most of the nominees could easily take home the award. 13 Assassins gets the nod for its climactic battle, a well constructed 45 minute action sequence that has a lot of heft. Immortals is just gorgeous to look at, and some of the action sequences are very well composed. One thing that I’m very happy to see is that most action films this year tended towards clear, steady photography (as opposed to shaky-cam/quick cut), and that went over very well in a movie like Immortals (which also used slow motion to great effect). Rise of the Planet of the Apes really only had one great action sequence (on the Golden Gate Bridge), and Drive, well, didn’t have enough driving in it (aside from the first sequence of the film, which was superb – and I like the rest of the film a lot too, just not necessarily as an action movie). The Yellow Sea is notable mainly for its hatchet fights (yeah, you read that right – one of the characters in particular favors the hatchet as his weapon of choice, and it’s pretty badass). Hanna had a fantastic single tracking shot action sequence that was pretty astounding too (this one was also pretty close for the win). Really, this has been a great year for unconventional action movies – all of the nominees are worth watching.
  • Best Plot Twist/Surprise: Tabloid. I bet you didn’t see this one coming. Especially since I didn’t nominate the winner. In looking at the nominees, nothing was really jumping out at me, so I went back through all the movies I saw, and I realized that Tabloid fit pretty well. It’s a documentary, so there’s no real “plot” twists, but the movie consistently surprised me in the direction it went. Just when I thought the story couldn’t get crazier, it did. And then it got even more crazy. None of the other nominees feature what would traditionally be called a huge plot twist, which is perhaps my problem. However, they all have surprises in them, and I actually quite enjoyed all of them. I do want to call out Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which has taken a lot of flak because it doesn’t feature a typical spy thriller twist at the end. But I found the movie quite surprising at times, and while the ultimate “mole” was kinda irrelevant, there were enough other things going on that I thought it was a worthwhile venture…
  • Best High Concept Film: Rubber. I mean, come on, how much more high concept can you get? A sentient tire becomes self-animated and gains telepathic powers which it uses to go on a killing spree in the desert, all orchestrated by a weird police officer who has also commissioned an audience to watch the whole thing. Sheer insanity, and one of my favorites of the year. Other nominees are pretty good too. I love the premise of Tucker and Dale vs Evil and The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, both of which are really clever. A Boy and His Samurai has a really tired high concept premise, but executes it so well that it doesn’t really matter. Hobo with a Shotgun would have been a potential winner if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s not the first movie to be made that’s based on a fake movie trailer. But ultimately it has to be Rubber. It was always Rubber.
  • 2011’s 2010 Movie of the Year: Red Hill. This is an Australian movie with no real stars (closest thing to it is Ryan Kwanten, who plays Jason on True Blood) and a pretty simple plot: A young police officer on his first day in a small town has to deal with a murderer who escaped prison and is seeking revenge. As it turns out, though, it’s a very well executed thriller. And it features someone that would have made a great nominee for best villain/badass last year (a pretty thin year for villainy). Anyways, this was a pretty lackluster category this year – I guess I saw most of the important stuff last year!

Well there you have it. Stay tuned for the Arbitrary Awards on Wednesday and, eventually, the top 10 of 2011.

2011 Kaedrin Movie Awards

Welcome to the 6th Annual Kaedrin Movie Awards! As of right now, I’ve seen 65 movies that would be considered 2011 releases. Add in the 19 movies I saw at Fantastic Fest, and that brings the grand total up to 84 movies, a record for me. This post thus commences my end of the year recap, only about one week late! [Previous Installments here: 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010] I’ll post the nominations now, and like last year, I’ll post all the winners next weekend.

2011 has been a strange year of movies. Nowhere near the lows caused by (or maybe blamed on) writers strike (or the first half of 2010 for that matter), but I don’t know that it ever really soared either. Looking through the movies I’ve seen this year, there are lots of standouts, but nothing that really hit me full on. It’s not a year of mediocrity, really. There were a ton of good, above average movies this year… but few that approached perfection (usually there’s at least one or two for me). I’m not even really close to compiling my top 10, but I have a feeling that every selection on that list will end up featuring some sort of caveat or flaw that I’m not entirely comfortable with (again, there are usually at least a few movies that are definites). There are still a few movies I want to see before I finish my top 10, but one interesting side effect of my feelings on film this year is that they’re really perfect for the movie awards. 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 (and thus 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 2011 (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? So here are the nominees for this year’s awards:

Best Villain/Badass

A decent year for villainy (not great, but respectable), though I should note that there were a few characters in here who are only borderline villains (for example, Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto isn’t really the villain of the piece, but he sorta is and he certainly becomes one later in the chronology, but he’s not, but he is a villain?) 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 a rare year. Usually, a year is filled with good villainy or good heroism, but not both. This year has ample supplies of both, though perhaps a slightly better slate of heroes. Again limited to individuals and not groups.

Best Comedic Performance

Actually not a bad year for comedic performances, a category that has suffered in recent years.

Breakthrough Performance

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 there’s at least one of those this year…

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. This is a category normally dominated by Horror, and this year probably still favors that, but a decent showing from SF this year (including some hybrid SF/Horror movies)

Best Sequel/Reboot

Typically a difficult category to populate, but we had some decent stuff this year. I also changed the category a bit to include reboots, as there are at least a couple every year that are worth checking out…

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 good movie can win the award because of high expectations.

Best Action Sequences

A pretty darn year for action, actually. This award isn’t for individual action sequences, but rather an overall estimation of each film.

Best Plot Twist/Surprise

Well, I suppose even listing nominees here constitutes something of a spoiler, but it’s a risk we’ll have to take, right? A decent year for plot twists, though I don’t see a clear winner either… this is going to be a hard category to pick!

Best High Concept Film

This is always a strange category to populate because the concept is a bit nebulous, but nevertheless, there are always a few interesting choices… and we’ve got a pretty big slate of nominees this year…

2011’s 2010 Movie of the Year

A movie originally released in 2010 that I didn’t catch up with until 2011. This is a problem all amateur movie lovers have to confront. 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. This ended up being a lackluster category this year – I guess I’d already seen most of the great stuff from last year…

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

Both Drive and Rise of the Planet of the Apes take in the most nominations, with 4 a piece. I’m a little surprised about Apes – I mean, I liked the movie, but it’s not something that’s even close to top 10 territory for me (but perhaps it will end up in the honorable mentions). Trailing closely with 3 nominations were a whole slew of films: Hobo With a Shotgun, I Saw the Devil, Immortals, Midnight in Paris (another surprise for me), Rubber, Source Code, Sucker Punch, and Tucker and Dale vs Evil. A whole slew of other films got only 2 or 1 nomination, with a grand total of 42 different films nominated (I haven’t calculated this number for all previous years, but it’s a lot more than last year’s 34 nominated films… also note, this doesn’t include the 6 “disappointing” films, nor does it include the 4 movies from 2010). Again, I think this speaks to the sort of weird above-average but not quite stellar year we’ve had.

So I’m going to let these nominations stew for a week, then announce the winners next Sunday, followed by the traditional Arbitrary Awards and eventually culminating in my top 10 of 2011 list (which may be a few weeks)…