2020 Movie Awards

Favorite Films of 2020

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

At this point, I usually try to suss out some themes for the year. This is a fool’s errand even in the best of times, but probably even moreso in 2020. A year marked by pandemic, lockdowns, social unrest, protests, riots, a particularly contentious election, and just all-around anxiety, 2020 might also be the death knell for movie theaters. Many of the movies this year complemented these events eerily well (considering that they were made before the events in question happened), but thankfully there were at least some that contrasted the year’s nasty tone. Last year’s “Eat the rich!” theme seems almost equally prevalent this year, with numerous films tackling capitalism and income inequality (amongst other inequality). The continued growth of streaming services accelerated markedly this year, for what I assume are obvious reasons. I feel like there were a bunch of movies this year that were inspired by The Most Dangerous Game, and good ones too (you’ll see a couple below).

On a more personal level, my general tendencies to indulge in genre exercises continues, with the bulk of my top 10 being comprised of such efforts. The word “elevated” has been overused and thus overanalyzed, but then, I wouldn’t be recognizing these films if they weren’t elevated by something. I recently read William Goldman’s collection of essays The Big Picture, and he had this tidbit about top 10 lists:

… When movie critics give their ten-best lists, they may cite historical precedent, they may pretend erudition – all b.s. They just liked one movie better than another.

I wish more critics would take this sort of attitude to heart (either that, or critics are a far too homogenous population). As I’ve said before, the world would be a boring place indeed if we all liked precisely the same things.

So many movies were delayed or quietly relegated to streaming that I wasn’t sure the annual awards and top 10 could happen at all. But after a couple months of playing catch-up I did manage to cobble something together. As of this writing, I’ve seen 91 movies that could be considered a 2020 release. This is slightly down from last year, probably more than your average movie-watcher, but less than your average critic. On the other hand, in 2020, who the hell knows? Standard disclaimers apply, and it’s especially worth noting that due to regional release strategies, some of these would be considered a 2019 movie, but not available until 2020. Alrighty then, I think that’s enough caveats, let’s get to it:

Top Ten Movies of 2020

* In roughly reverse order

The Hunt – This riff on The Most Dangerous Game was pilloried by extremists of all colors, perhaps because it’s a bitter condemnation of such politicization. Moderate, politically tribeless people beset on all sides by partisan maniacs bent on isolation and destruction will enjoy this story of bizarre political vendettas quite a bit.

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

Tenet – Christopher Nolan’s latest fits squarely within his traditional oeuvre of cinematic puzzles, combining byzantine plotting with stunning action setpieces. It’s perhaps not for everyone and there are some rough edges, but it’s bold, adventurous, and so large in scale that any weaknesses were overcome by its fulfilled ambitions. In a year where most blockbusters were delayed, it stands out even further.

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

Soul – Pixar may have peaked a while ago, but if they are still capable of putting out bangers like this, they’re doing something right. I’m always fascinated by the way in which Pixar can approach deep existential themes like this in a funny and endearing way that is almost universally applicable. It’s perhaps reminiscent of previous Pixar gems like Ratatouille and Inside Out, but those are two of their best, so this hybrid is most welcome.

More Info: [IMDB] [Disney+] [Kaedrin Arbitrary Award Winner]

Palm Springs – A modern day spin on Groundhog Day that might lose points on originality, but there are enough new elements that it still feels fresh and exciting. Plus, it’s very funny and endearing, and it came right smack in the middle of the bleakest parts of 2020, so it was a truly welcome salve. Also, comedies don’t get enough love in this sort of year-end activity, especially romcoms.

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

Extra Ordinary – Speaking of comedies, this Belgian/Irish gem went mostly unnoticed, but it’s such a good-natured, fun little film. In a year where optimism and hope were in short supply, sweet, delightful movies like this feel almost radical. You’d be much better served seeking this out than watching whatever reboot of Ghostbusters is on its way.

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

The Vast of Night – This alien abduction throwback features lots of other familiar tropes and nostalgia, but the rat-a-tat cadence and filmmaking wizardry keep things feeling fresh and exciting. The film has lots of stylistic energy and is visually impressive, but it also knows when to slow down and leverage a more minimalist approach too.

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

Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal – The story of a musician who is losing his hearing, this is a moving depiction of the human tendency to resist change, especially change that has been thrust upon us by external forces. The desire to return to normality at any cost is surely a natural one, but this film does an excellent job portraying the path towards acceptance. This perhaps takes on added resonance in 2020’s pandemic-infused change… without feeling like a lecture.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

Arkansas – Fascinating country noir about a pair of low-level drug dealers trying to navigate a deal gone horribly wrong. Perhaps another throwback to 90s crime flicks, but the non-linear structure is well played and adventurous, even by those standards. Some found this a bit slow, but I thought it was riveting.

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

Tread – Documentary about a man with deeply dysfunctional relationship with his town. Driven by paranoia and rage at perceived wrongs perpetrated by certain families and political structures, he buys a bulldozer, fortifies it, and goes on a rampage in the town. I should repeat that this is a documentary, and it presents us with a microcosm of 2020’s tendency towards fractious relationships and political strife, albeit a rather extreme example. A fascinating story, well documented.

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

The Wolf of Snow Hollow – Too dark to be a comedy, but too funny to be scary, and too wacky to be dramatic. And yet! It’s all of those things and more. Not everyone will be able to get on writer/director Jim Cummings’ wavelength, but if you can get there, this is a real treasure.

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

Honorable Mention

* In an order I dare you to discern

Another Round – A few teachers test the hypothesis that keeping a low-level of intoxication all the time will improve performance. Fascinating study of humankind’s relationship with alcohol, it manages to walk a fine line between the benefits and deficiencies of booze. As someone who partakes, I found it particularly relevant (even if I think the “experiment” proposed by the film is ludicrous and just asking for trouble). A definite candidate for the top 10 that, on a different day, may have displaced something from the above list.

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

Fatman – Mel Gibson plays a grizzled, down-on-his luck Santa Claus who works for the government and is targeted by an assassin hired by a spoiled brat on the naughty list who got coal for Christmas. It’s not quite the batshit romp that the premise promises, but it has a perfectly calibrated melancholic tone that works well. Very nearly made the top 10.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

The Invisible Man – Leigh Whannell continues to churn out well crafted horror flicks, this time reprising a hallowed Universal monster in fine fashion. This movie makes exceptional use of negative space and other visual strategies while also telling a story with exciting twists and turns and even some satisfying ambiguity in the end.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

Freaky – Christopher Landon has emerged as a reliably fun genre director, delivering fresh takes on derivative tropes. In this case, he takes body-swap comedies and injects a serial killer into the mix, with amusing results. This isn’t the sort of movie that will blow your mind or change your life, but it’s heartily entertaining and a lot of fun. It’s the sort of thing that perhaps plays better in a year like 2020, but it could be appreciated in any year.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

My Octopus Teacher – This tale of a burnt-out editor who moves to an oceanside retreat and, while snorkeling every day, befriends and becomes fascinated by an octopus living in the area. It’s perhaps a bit melodramatic and relies too much on anthropomorphism, but it’s still effective and fascinating.

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

Possessor – With this story of an assassin who uses brain implants to take control of other people’s bodies, Brandon Cronenberg has inherited his father’s ability to unsettle viewers with graphic tales of newly invented avenues of strange science and body horror. Lots of genuinely disturbing subject matter here, both in a literal and visceral way (as in scenes of violence and gore) and in more abstract, thematic ways.

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

Bill & Ted Face the Music – Long gap sequels like this are difficult to pull off and I don’t know that anyone was really clamoring for another Bill & Ted movie, but I have to admit that they managed to pull it off. Another antidote to the year’s downer tendencies, I had a lot of fun with this.

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

The Painter and the Thief – Surprising documentary about an artist who befriends a thief who had stolen her paintings. He was high at the time and doesn’t remember what became of the paintings, but he agrees to sit as a subject for her. Along the way we gain a lot of perspective on both thief and artist, and the story takes some unexpected twists and turns. Well worth seeking out.

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

Bacurau – What starts as a sorta day-in-the-life profile of a small, out-of-the-way town in Brazil slowly morphs into something far more strange. I won’t spoil it, but it becomes almost cartoonishly violent and features an interesting third act twist that was certainly eye opening. As social commentary, it’s perhaps overly blunt, but I also have to admire the brazenness of the approach.

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

The Quantum Jury Prize

Awarded to films that exist only in a quantum superposition of two or more states. If you’re not sure what that means, that’s kinda the point. To confuse matters even further, the “two or more states” tends to also change from year to year. Last year, this was awarded to four movies that could have been #10 on the top 10. Previous years have been about movies that I go back and forth on and can decide whether I like them or not, even if I recognized the skill and craft on display.

This year, I’m awarding this prize to two efforts that straddle the line between television and movie. As we grow into the streaming revolution and the strict definition of “movie” gets broken down little by little, more examples of works that are hard to categorize are appearing. Like Shcrodinger’s Cat, the answer exists in a superposition that will only experience a waveform collapse once we observe it. But every time I observe it, I get a different answer. Hence the need for the Quantum Jury Prize. This year’s winners are strangely related, almost reflections of one another, adding another interesting wrinkle.

The Last Dance – This ten part documentary covering the life and career of Michael Jordan was surprisingly riveting, especially given my general distaste for the the sport of basketball. The episodes move effortlessly between Jordan and his teammates, and they intercut it all with a non-linear exploration of his career that works well. This was another one of those key pieces of early quarantine viewing that was very welcome at the time. Hard to categorize this 10 hour series as a film, but worthy of recognition anyway.

More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix]

The History of the Seattle Mariners – This six-part documentary on MLB’s most embattled franchise is pretty well done for a film centered on a big graph of wins/losses, and the perfect double feature with The Last Dance. Also it’s almost the complete opposite experience: low budget, no access, and covering a terrible team. But they’re a lovable team! As the narrator intones, “The Seattle Mariners are not competitors. They’re protagonists.”

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

The Speed Cubers – Radically nice documentary about a pair of speed cubers (i.e. people who can solve Rubik’s cubes really quickly). Surprisingly touching stuff and a great antidote to the relentless pessimism of 2020. Clocking in at 39 minutes, it has the opposite problem of the previous two flicks, but again, worthy of recognition.

More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix]

I suppose I could also include Small Axe, Steve McQueen’s self-described “anthology series” of five stories about the people in London’s West Indian community, but I did not watch all of them and to be honest, the individual entries in this series feel overrepresented in the general critical community, so I’ll just leave this mention here and move on…

Just Missed the Cut

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

Should Have Seen

Despite having seen around 90 of this year’s releases (and listing out 30+ of my favorites in this post), there are a few that got away. Or never made themselves available here. Or that I probably need to watch, but don’t wanna because reasons. Regardless, there are several movies here that I probably should have caught up with:

Normally, at this point of the year, I’d be talking about the Oscars, but they’ve been delayed. I’m genuinely curious to see how they go this year though, because it’s such a strange set of circumstances we find ourselves in…

2020 Kaedrin Movie Awards: The Arbitrary Awards

The 2020 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners were announced last week. 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 2020, they are also necessary. Previous Arbitrary Awards: [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: Tenet. Look, I really love this movie and it will most likely find a spot on my top 10… but it has the absolute worst howler of the year. Upon discovering that her husband’s plan will kill everyone on the planet, the character of Kat feels compelled to inform us that this is “Including my son!!” Elizabeth Debicki is a good actress, but no one could deliver that line in a way that would not result in at least a snort from the audience. The rest of the dialogue in the film isn’t particularly noteworthy either way, though it does seem like Nolan is trolling people a bit for complaining about all the exposition in Inception (and thus we get the “just feel it” line here). And yet, the “Including my son!!” line is just so bad that it wins this award all by itself. (There are probably movies that overall have worse dialogue, but it’s the extreme contrast here that just sinks it – how can a movie this carefully constructed and well thought out include such a terrible line?)

The Proximity to Jason Vorhees Award for Heroic Stupidity: Save Yourselves! Of course, that’s kinda the point of the movie. However, just because a movie is self aware and pits two know-nothing hipsters against a Critters-like alien invasion doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable. It feels more sad than funny. Again, that’s kinda the point of the movie, but still, I couldn’t get past how stupid these two were.

The Garth Marenghi “I know writers who use subtext, and they’re all cowards” Award for Achievement in Didacticism: Bacurau. I go back and forth on this movie in general, but it is unquestionably a blunt commentary. Again, not sure how to take that. On the one hand, I don’t usually like that approach… on the other, you have to admire the brazenness. I have a feeling this is going to become a recurring Arbitrary Awards category (like the previous two).

The “Weiner” Award for Unparalleled Access to Documentary Subjects: The Painter and the Thief. It’s a rather amazing story, and the documentary covers a very long period of time. That the thief agreed to be a subject for the painter in the first place is pretty amazing. The documentary footage is just icing on the cake at that point. Certainly not as amazing as this award’s namesake, but still pretty good… Honorable mention to Tread, which certainly had a wealth of audio to pull from, but mostly because the subject thoughtfully left it for people to discover.

The Beer Baron “To alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems” Award For Contemplating Man’s Relationship With Alcohol: Another Round. There are times when I think this movie nearly endorsed alcoholism, but it clearly backs away from that by depicting some rather severe consequences while still retaining the idea that alcohol itself can be a fine thing in moderation.

Another Round

Best Action-Packed Long Take of the Year: Extraction. The movie clearly hews to the Netflix mold of generally bland storytelling, but there is one action sequence that is portrayed as a single long take that is very well executed.

Achievement in the Field of Gratuitous Violence: Possessor. Perhaps an unconventional pick, as it’s not like this is wall to wall violence, but when it goes there, it goes hard. The violence is absolutely gruesome here, and hard to watch. A more conventional pick would be VFW, which isn’t exactly cartoonish violence, but not as affecting as Possessor.

Best Motion Picture Score: Soul by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross with Original Jazz Compositions by John Batiste. Around 30 years ago, Trent Reznor was writing songs about fist fucking and commissioning music videos that bordered on snuff films. Now, he’s composing movie soundtracks for G-rated Disney/Pixar fare… and it’s amazing. Reznor and Ross effortlessly transition between Batiste’s jazzy compositions and the more whimsical numbers reserved for the afterlife. It also demonstrates the protagonist Joe’s love of music and the inspiration it can provide. Honorably mention to Carpenter Brut’s synthy score on Blood Machines, a movie that is otherwise mostly awful. Do yourself a favor and skip the movie, but look up the score. It’s great.

Award for Pandemic Creativity: Host. Most of the stuff produced whilst in lockdown during the pandemic has been painfully bad, but this short found footage horror jam was very well executed. A bit derivative, for sure, but entertaining and spooky.

Best Faked Death Sequence: The Air Conditioner in Dick Johnson Is Dead. This is a very strange film, a little messy at times, but the concept at its core is an eye-opening one. A documentary filmmaker works with her aging father to stage a bunch of fake death scenes, perhaps as a way to cope with the coming grief of his inevitable passing. It’s an interesting, if a bit indulgent, conceit. It gets a bit messy when other things develop, but it’s all worth checking out if you’re in an existential mood.

The Irishman De-Aging Was Terrible Award for Best Flashback Alternative: Da 5 Bloods. I wonder if Spike Lee tried to convince Netflix that de-aging his cast for the Vietnam sequences was worthwhile… In any case, I’m glad he didn’t get that de-aging money, because the alternative he devised – just using the actors, unchanged – is far more effective.

Best Badass/Villain That Didn’t Get Nominated Because I Hadn’t Seen the Film Yet: Han, played by Hae-soo Park in Time to Hunt. I caught up with this post-apocalyptic heist flick a few days ago, and it’s a neat little flick, if a bit derivative. Han is the character that is hunting down our protagonists after the heist, and he’s pretty darned badass. He wouldn’t have won the category, but if I’d seen the movie before the nominations came out, he would have garnered a nom.

Best Badass/Hero (non-Human Edition): My Octopus Teacher. What a neat little film. It’s a little stilted, but the octopus at its heart makes for a great subject for a documentary.

So there you have it, another bout of Arbitrary Awards. Stay tuned for the traditional Top 10 list (with honorable mentions and the coveted Quantum Jury Prize), which will probably be up in two weeks (though maybe I’ll have a productive week and get it down by next Sunday, who knows?)

2020 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners

The nominations for the 2020 Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week. The Vegas odds-makers, starved for movie-related action due to the delay of the Academy Awards, have been chomping at the bit ever since. Next week, I’ll announce the winners of some more goofy, freeform categories that we call the Arbitrary Awards, and not long after that, I’ll post my top 10 of 2020. Alrighty then, that’s enough preamble, let’s get to the Kaedrin Movie Award winners. And the KMA goes to:

Best Villain/Badass: Nix, played by Samara Weaving in Guns Akimbo. A sorta cheat, to be sure, because while undoubtedly a badass and a joy to watch onscreen, her villainy is a bit suspect (trying to avoid spoilers here). Still, I suppose the badassery was enough to overcome the villainy and Samara Weaving is a Kaedrin fave, so here we are (plus: putting her in the hero/badass category is fraught with similar issues).

Samara Weaving in Guns Akimbo

Funnily enough, another nominee (Saju, played by Randeep Hooda in Extraction) has the same sorta relatable villainy problem (again, trying to avoid spoilers). Anyway, while I like a good deal of the other nominees, none could really overcome Weaving’s performance. Runner up would probably be Skinny Man, played by Walton Goggins in Fatman. Goggins isn’t exactly treading new ground, but he’s good at this sort of thing and I enjoyed his performance quite a bit. I’ll also give a shoutout to Anne Hathaway in The Witches, who is having a lot of fun in a middling movie.

Best Hero/Badass: Crystal, played by Betty Gilpin in The Hunt. This movie became a political football, which is weird to me because it’s much more about moderate, politically tribeless people beset on all sides by partisan maniacs bent on isolation and destruction. Betty Gilpin’s Crystal is caught up in a bizarre political vendetta wherein rich liberals hunt conservatives for sport, but it’s not really about left and right, but rather the ever widening partisan gap and extremism. It’s another in a long line of spins on Richard Connell’s infamous story, “The Most Dangerous Game”, where the hunted turns the table on the hunter, and Gilpin does a great job in the role.

Betty Gilpin in The Hunt

Runners up include Charlize Theron in The Old Guard, who is always great (and a former Kaedrin Movie Ward winner of hero/badass) and Colin Farrell in The Gentlemen (which I seemed to like a lot more than other folk, and while I zeroed in on Farrell, there’s plenty of badassery to go around in that movie…

Best Comedic Performance: Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti in Palm Springs (tie). The biggest problem with this award is that so many comedies rely on an ensemble, so while there are certainly singular performances that win this award (which justifies the existence of the award in the first place), it’s often one person representing the movie as a whole. In this case, I opted to just choose the two leads, and chalk it up to this being a weird year. This movie came out in middle of lockdown and provided some much needed laughs, and a big part of that is the performances (and chemistry between) Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti. Second place in the voting was Maria Bakalova in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, a movie I didn’t much care for, but her performance is certainly worth singling out. I also quite enjoyed Vince Vaughn in Freaky and Seth Rogen in An American Pickle, both doing good work. Also just a quick shoutout to Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Birds of Prey, who was very funny (and probably could have qualified for best badass too), though that’s a small part of the movie…

Breakthrough Performance: Van Veronica Ngo in Da 5 Bloods and The Old Guard. I guess it’s just a weird year all around. It’s really hard to call these breakthrough performances because they’re so small, but a key criteria here is that I see someone in a movie and immediately check IMDB to see what else she’s been in. I really do suspect that she will breakout in the next few years, and she could be a top tier action star if given the opportunity (see also: Furie). Some other good performances listed amongst the nominees, but few true standouts, hence the weirdness of the winner.

Most Visually Stunning: The Vast of Night. Another tricky award without an obvious winner, I gave it to this one for its visual inventiveness and propulsion. This wasn’t a huge budget extravaganza, but it still managed some breathtaking camera movements and long takes, and it also knows when to dial it back to just a black screen and audio. The obvious alternate choice was Tenet, but as we’re about to see, it’ll be recognized in other ways. Blood Machines is certainly a visual feast for the eyes, but wow does the story just sink that flick (the special effects crew and Carpenter Brut deserve better). Bacurau features some gorgeous photography and landscapes, and David Fincher apes the old-school Hollywood look well in Mank. Still, I’m glad I could get The Vast of Night some love, and it certainly deserves it.

Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film: The Wolf of Snow Hollow. A divisive choice for sure. On paper, this is one of those movies that’s too funny to be scary, but too creepy to be funny, and too silly to be a serious drama. And yet it manages to be all of those things in a more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts kinda way. I loved it, but can’t fault anyone for not getting on its wavelength.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow

The aforementioned The Vast of Night is certainly a contender here too, and not to give anything away, but both will be showing up on my top 10, so there’s that. The Invisible Man is another success from Leigh Whannell and worthy of attention for sure. Freaky and Satanic Panic were both really fun horror comedies that deserve more love too. Tenet certainly has the chops for this award too. In the end, I’m giving it to Snow Hollow because of its strange dedication to cross-genre flare.

Best Sequel/Reboot/Remake: The Invisible Man. Leigh Whannell strikes again, this time taking on a classic Universal monster movie and updating it from both a technology and thematic perspective. Great performances and amazing use of negative space taking full advantage of the invisibility concept. It’s unusual that a remake/reboot like this connects with me, as I usually come away just loving the original that much more. Here it’s a situation where both movies are great, just for different reasons. Bill & Ted Face the Music was also a big surprise and a whole bucket of fun just when we needed it. Many sequels/reboots/remakes were obviously delayed last year, so the pickings were slim, but these two films are certainly worthy, even in a normal year.

Biggest Disappointment: Wonder Woman 1984. There’s actually a lot to like about WW84 and I actually quite enjoyed the first hour or so of the movie, but even that felt a bit messy and then it went off the rails and never really recovered. There were certainly worse movies last year, but the first Wonder Woman was so good and showed so much promise that I really had high hopes for WW84. The second film in a superhero franchise is often better than the first… alas, WW84 joins Iron Man 2 in the disappointing sequel department. One can still hold out hope for WW3 though. The general lack of blockbuster releases and sequels last year also puts a damper on this category, though there were still a few big disappointments. That said, it’s not like I was expecting much out of Scoob!, so the it doesn’t register as much on the Plus/Minus Scale.

Best Action Sequences: Tenet. I keep feeling like there should be a better, less-obvious candidate for this award and it’s true that I haven’t gotten to much in the way of martial arts movies this year, but Tenet certainly has tons of cool, large-scale action going on. There’s some Bond-like setpieces and the whole temporal pincer movement and it’s all very impressive. Perhaps this category is also impacted by a lack of blockbuster releases in 2020. The other nominees certainly have decent action, but Netflix fare like Extraction and The Old Guard, while entertaining and diverting enough, can’t really compete with Christopher Nolan’s more ambitious staging.

Best Plot Twist/Surprise: Tenet. Look, don’t ask me to explain it in great detail, but once the movie starts to take shape and you realize what’s happening… it just gave me that sense of wonder jolt that I love so much. Sure, some of the intricate plotting and details might require some additional noodling, but it’s easy enough to discern that shape of what’s happening, and the cascade of revelations in the film’s second half is worth digging into. The other nominees include some twisty crime thrillers and some genre exercises, but nothing quite surprised me like Tenet.

Best High Concept Film: Freaky. I feel like this is one of those films that would have been a sneaky box office success. Instead, it sorta faded into VOD for a week and didn’t get much play. And sure, it’s not exactly breakthrough stuff, but as body-swap horror-comedies go, it’s pretty great and a ton of fun. The idea of a “high concept” film is pretty nebulous to start with, but this year didn’t exactly rock the boat in this respect either. Most of the other nominees are worth checking out though, and are either doing something new and weird, or they’re putting a new spin on an old trope.

2020’s 2019 Movie of the Year: Doctor Sleep. Mike Flanagan’s woozy sequel to The Shining manages to find a line between servicing the book and the very different Kubrick adaptation. Some might see that as trying to have your cake and eat it to, but it worked well enough for me. Sure, I don’t think it would displace any of my top 10 picks from last year (none of the nominees would), but I’m really glad I caught up with it. Portrait of a Lady on Fire was the critical darling of the year and having seen it, I can see why it garnered praise and I like some bits a lot, but if you had asked me to create a parody of a French art house film, it would have looked something like that movie. That’s probably more of a me problem than anything else, but still. The other nominees are mostly solid genre exercises that are worth catching up with if you’re a fan of those genres. But I do want to single out I See You, which seems like a criminally underseen movie. What starts as a sorta rote, dour serial killer thriller takes a fascinating turn about halfway through that makes the whole exercise worthwhile. It’s worth catching up with!

Congrats to all the Kaedrin Movie Award winners in this strange year. Stay tuned for the Arbitrary Awards, coming next week!

2020 Kaedrin Movie Awards

Welcome to the fifteenth annual Kaedrin Movie Awards! The idea is to recognize films for various 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]

Standard disclaimers apply: It must be a 2020 movie (with the one caveat that some 2019 films were not accessible until 2020 and are thus eligible under fiat) and I obviously have to have seen the movie. As of this writing, I have seen 80 films that could be considered a 2020 release. This is significantly less than previous years and probably most critics, but probably more than your average moviegoer and enough to populate these awards.

It’s tempting to blame this entirely on the pandemic, but the truth is that there’s been a lot of small films available, I just didn’t do as well seeking them out until it was pretty late in the year. I’m still working through some things for sure, but delaying any more than normal seems ill-advised (I’m already posting this a couple weeks after most folks do their year end jamboree). The show must go on, and so here goes:

Best Villain/Badass
An interesting year for villainy with a few pretty solid choices, but to my mind, not a real standout. Complicating matters are two villains who turn out to be kinda/sorta not villains. Or at least more sympathetic than you’d usually expect out of a villain. 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.

Best Hero/Badass
A solid year for heroism, and despite the number of lopsided movies (i.e. where you don’t have both hero and villain roles well filled), there’s actually something like parity between the Hero/Villain lists. Again limited to individuals and not groups.

  • Coach, played by Colin Farrell in The Gentlemen
  • Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey
  • Fred, played by Stephen Lang in VFW
  • Crystal, played by Betty Gilpin in The Hunt
  • Tyler Rake, played by Chris Hemsworth in Extraction
  • Andy, played by Charlize Theron in The Old Guard
  • Kyle, played by Liam Hemsworth in Arkansas
  • Chris, played by Mel Gibson in Fatman
  • Diana Prince / Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman 1984
  • The Protagonist, played by John David Washington in Tenet

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). I also noticed a distinct bias towards smaller side roles or cameos this year, which is neat, but makes it hard to pick those roles as a winner.

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 (this year, we get a minor resurgence in relatively well established actors turning my head for the first time).

Most Visually Stunning
Sometimes even bad movies can look really great… A middling year for this sort of thing, perhaps leaning towards more sober, well-photographed beauty than flashy spectacle, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Blood Machines, a nominee for Most Visually Stunning category

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. This year, though, I probably could have created two modestly populated categories if I wanted, as there were lots of good options in both genres.

Best Sequel/Reboot/Remake
Always an awkward category to populate, especially given my normal feeling on this sort of thing. This year complicates matters a bit because many sequels/reboots/remakes were delayed due to a goddamn plague, but there were still a few decent options.

Bill & Ted Face the Music nominated for best sequel

Biggest Disappointment
A category often dominated by sequels and reboots, but the relative lack of big-ticket franchise entries this year sees a downtick in this category… Some original films are picking up the slack. I should note at this point that sometimes I actually enjoy these movies… but my expectations were just too high when I saw them. Related reading: Joe Posnanski’s Plus-Minus Scale (these movies scored especially poor on that scale).

Best Action Sequence
This award isn’t for individual action sequences, but rather an overall estimation of each film, and there’s a decent enough range here, but I suspect the pandemic put the brakes on some of these too.

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.

2020’s 2019 Movie of the Year
This is a weird category. Once I get past my top 10, I rarely tackle challenging material from the previous year, though I do sometimes find a few diamonds in the rough. This category emerged from one frustrating year in which I saw two movies far too late for the top 10, so I created this award to recognize them. Since then, the nominees are pretty lackluster (and indeed, the amount of films I watch that qualify are usually pretty low to start with). The last couple of years, for whatever reason, I’ve managed to see more things that would qualify for this than usual. None that I think would override my top 10 from last year, but it’s always nice when this category fills up.

So there you have it! Another set of nominations for the Kaedrin Movie Awards, well ahead of the Oscars, which have been delayed due to the Pandemic. This means that all the Kaedrin Movie Awards, including Arbitrary Awards and a Top 10 will most likely be posted before the Oscar nominations even come out, which will be a first (we’re usually well correlated, with only a week or so’s difference), though in true Kaedrin fashion, we’re still well after everyone else in the world has finished their 2020 recaps.