Hugo Awards Season 2022

The nomination period for the 2022 Hugo Awards ends in a few weeks, so it’s worth thinking about the year in SF. After taking a year off from the awards, I decided to jump back into the fray this year due to a couple of really strong nominees (that will, hopefully, become finalists) that I wanted to support. As per usual, I didn’t actually read that much eligible stuff, so I’m scrambling a bit at this point to catch up with some things. Assorted thoughts below.

Best Novel

I’ve read 6 books that would be eligible for the best novel award, and these two are the best SF I’ve read in a while:

Both books are exceptional and highly recommended. My experience nominating novels is somewhat mixed, but I estimate that both of these have a good chance of garnering a finalist spot on the Hugo ballot, and they’re probably my favorite I’ve gotten to nominate in the approximately one decade in which I’ve been playing along.

I quite enjoyed Artifact Space by Miles Cameron, a fun little space opera that I’d probably nominate in a normal year, but pales in comparison to the above two. Similarly, I had a lot of fun with Master of the Revels by Nicole Galland, but I don’t think it necessarily stacks up. I might just plop these two on my nominating ballot if I have space, but I doubt either will garner a finalist slot. I want to catch up with Machinehood by S.B. Divya and Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky before the nomination period ends, but time is tight, so who knows if I’ll get to both?

Short Fiction

I’m not particularly great at keeping up with short fiction, but I did read two of the best and yet most boring choices for nominees released last year:

Fugitive Telemetry, by Martha Wells

I say these are boring choices because, well, the Murderbot stories that Wells writes have already won several Hugos, including Best Novel and Best Series just last year. Bujold might be the most awarded author in the history of the Hugos, and the above work is the tenth novella in a series that has been nominated before (and part of another Best Series). That being said? They’re both fantastic. What can I say, I’ll try to mix things up next year. I’ll try to catch up with some short stories before the nomination period ends, but I don’t really have much on my radar at the moment.

Best Series

I still have reservations about this award from both a logistical (who can read all these series in time to vote?) and purpose (winners tend to have already won Hugos for the novels in the same series, sometimes in the same year) perspective. That being said, it is an award, and I think the spirit of the award is meant for something like this:

One good thing about this award is that a lot of the obvious choices are now ineligible this year (because they’ve already won or been nominated too much), but there’s still quite a large number of possibilities. I like the Bobiverse books a lot, even if an individual entry doesn’t quite rise to the level of a Hugo Best Novel. This is kinda what the award is all about though, so I’ll throw this a nom.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

The Hugo Voters tend to have strangely generic taste in movies, often nominating high budget superhero fare over smaller, more thoughtful independent stuff. I always try to nominate stuff that’s off the beaten path (with a nod towards some of the mainstream stuff, if it’s great), but they rarely make the cut with Hugo voters. A decent crop this year though:

I really wanted to throw some love to Malignant, but there’s an approximately 0% chance of it getting other votes. Horror tends to do poorly when it comes to the Hugos, and I’m already pushing it with Werewolves Within. Anyway, I fully expect the finalists to consist of things like Spider-Man and The Matrix, but I hold out hope that something like I’m Your Man could sneak onto the list.

Other Categories

Some assorted nominations in more obscure categories:

That about covers it for what I’m nominating for the 2022 Hugo Awards (for now). I have a busy few weeks coming up, so I don’t know how much I’ll be able to get to ahead of the nominations deadline, but this is a good start, I think.

Vintage Science Fiction Month: Belated Double Feature

Vintage Science Fiction Month is the brainchild of the Little Red Reviewer. The objective: Read and discuss “older than I am” Science Fiction in the month of January. Eagle eyed readers may recognize that it is now February, so yes, I’m playing a bit of catch up here. That said, I read both of the below during January and better late than never.

Vintage Science Fiction Month

Judgement Night by C.L. Moore – Moore is one of those early female SF authors that are often glossed over in genre discussions. She was one half of the foremost husband-and-wife team in SF history (the other half was her husband, Henry Kuttner), and they were quite prolific together, publishing under numerous pen names (most famously Lewis Padgett), but also wrote solo stories. The standard take is that Kuttner was faster and more prolific, but Moore was more original and more highly regarded as a writer. There’s also complicating factors because some of Moore’s stories were published under Kuttner’s name, owing to the fact that he had a higher word rate than she did. Still, the notion that their strengths and weaknesses offset each other is the prevailing narrative, and it does make a certain sort of sense.

This 1952 novel is one of Moore’s later solo efforts, and I think I can see some of the dynamics here. The story is about Juille, headstrong daughter of the emperor, an amazon warrior who wants to take a hard line against the barbarian hordes that threaten the empire. It’s a story about an empire, so naturally it all hinges on an attempt to overthrow the emperor. Both sides are developing frightening weapons of great power, and seem hellbent on destruction. Egide is a leader of the barbarian faction, and he develops a rather strange relationship with Juille. There’s a simultaneous attraction and repulsion between the two that is consistently revisited throughout the story, and represents the emotional core. There are other factions and the requisite schemes and betrayals, as befits this sort of tale.

The proportion of exposition is perhaps a bit too high given the simple adventure story, leading to some inconsistent pacing. However, Moore is great at evocative atmosphere, and she pulls from all sorts of elements that we’d be familiar with. There’s definitely a Western vibe to a lot of the setting, though instead of horses and swords you get spaceships and fire swords (perhaps one of many precursors to the light saber?) For some reason everyone still walks around with spurs on their boots too, which I found kinda funny. The star-crossed lovers trope is certainly common, but it’s common for a reason, and it’s well done here. Moore’s prose is colorful and creative, especially when it comes to Cyrille, a sorta pleasure planet (moon?) that features tons of artificial environments. I kinda thought of it like Risa from Star Trek, and we see it a couple of times throughout this novel.

The ending is surprisingly downbeat for a golden age work, but it absolutely fits with Moore’s common themes (and actually, her husband’s as well). She described the fundamental theme she revisited in her work often as “The most treacherous thing in life is love,” and she summarized her husband’s too: “Hank’s basic statement was something like, ‘Authority is dangerous and I will never submit to it.'” The ending of Judgement night is certainly fitting with both of these; a powerful statement on the folly of war, if not particularly satisfying. As Moore herself comments towards the end “The human mind is not constructed to accept defeat even in the face of finality.” I think she pulled it off and this represents an interesting deviation from the genre at the time, but it’s probably not an entry point or must-read.


The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance – Another story about a power struggle in a monarchy, this one with considerably more idea content that reaches for that fabled SF sense of wonder. Young Beran Panasper’s father and Panarch of the planet Pao has just been murdered. Beran must flee his home to survive, and is aided by a man named Palafox from the planet Breakness. Growing up in this foreign planet, Beran learns their ways while struggling to maintain his Paonese culture and mindset. Meanwhile, Palafox works with the current leader of Pao, who is unpopular with his people and vulnerable to an outside threat. But Palafox is basically setting up Pao to meet his own needs, and Beran will need to find a way to navigate back to Pao, save it from its current leader (thus avenging his father’s death), fend off other attackers, and eventually defeat Palafox himself.

This is one of the earlier works of SF exploring linguistics and in particular, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. The idea is that the structure of a language affects its speakers’ worldview to a large degree. Vance rather directly presents these ideas in the text:

“Think of a language as the contour of a watershed, stopping flow in certain directions, channeling it into others. Language controls the mechanism of your mind. When people speak different languages, their minds work differently and they act differently…”

The Languages of Pao, Page 41

This idea has been a powerful influence on the field. For instance, it’s the driving principle behind Ted Chiang’s 1998 “Story of Your Life” (which was adapted into the film Arrival in 2016). In The Languages of Pao it is perhaps more contrived, but no less interesting. To make it work, Vance creates two very different societies. Different from each other, and different from our own. Pao is a very passive, accepting society, almost communal in nature. Breakness is extremely individualistic. Pao’s indifference makes them vulnerable to outside attack, and in order to defend against it, they develop several new languages in order to generate a warrior class (as well as a technology class and a merchant class). Eventually these new classes are successful, but at what cost? If language changes your outlook away from traditional Pao society, are you still Paonese?

This is a short book, and despite the rather bald way some of these ideas are presented, the pacing is still quite brisk. It actually represents an interesting contrast to Moore’s Judgement Night, which definitely gets bogged down in its atmospheric prose. Vance is perhaps not as much of a stylist, but he’s clear and concise, and while the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is debatable, it does still make an intriguing basis for a story. As I understand it, this early Vance work is not one of his best, though it is something of a turning point for him. After reading this, I’m definitely curious to seek out more from him, which is usually a pretty good sign. I enjoyed this well enough and it has all the right elements, but the balance feels a bit off. Definitely recommended for anyone interested in the genre’s usage of linguistics…

Favorite Movies of 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Ten Movies of 2021

* In roughly reverse order

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

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

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

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

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

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

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

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

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

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

The Card Counter

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

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

Nightmare Alley

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

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

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

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

No Sudden Move

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

More Info: [IMDB] [HBO Max]

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

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

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

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

Honorable Mention

* In an order I dare you to discern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happily

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

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

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

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

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

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

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

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

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

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

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

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

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

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

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

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

Wrath of Man

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

More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

Just Missed the Cut

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

Should Have Seen

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

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

Link Dump

The usual spin through the depths of ye olde internets:

That’s all for now. Still working on the Top 10 movies of 2021 post, coming soon!

2021 Kaedrin Movie Awards: The Arbitrary Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starro the Conqueror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2021 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners

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

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

Gerard Butler in Copshop

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

Toby Huss in Copshop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Green Knight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2021 Kaedrin Movie Award Nominees

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milana Vayntrub and Sam Richardson in Werewolves Within

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

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

The Green Knight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vintage Science Fiction Month: Slan

Vintage Science Fiction Month is the brainchild of the Little Red Reviewer. The objective: Read and discuss “older than I am” Science Fiction in the month of January.

Not long after Superman made his debut in the pages of Action Comics in 1938, A.E. van Vogt was pitching a more scientific version of the idea to John Campbell, the infamous editor of Astounding magazine (the resultant novel Slan would be serialized in that magazine in 1940). van Vogt had already been exploring the idea that humans would need to transcend themselves in order to better explore the universe. He proposed a novel wherein a new species of Homo Superior emerges out of humans as we presently know them. Because van Vogt proposed that the story be told from the perspective of the new, higher order being, Campbell initially rejected the idea. His main point was that you couldn’t tell a superman story from the superman’s viewpoint… unless you were a superman yourself!

In what Campbell would later describe as a “beautiful trick”, van Vogt’s solution to this conundrum was to tell the story from the point of view of an isolated, immature superman who had not yet come into his full powers. As Slan begins, nine-year old Jommy Cross has just seen his mother captured and killed. Young, vulnerable, and on the run, he spends the rest of the novel seeking to learn more about himself and his kind.

Slans are the next phase in human evolution, named after their creator, one Samuel Lann. They are stronger, faster, and more intelligent than their human counterparts, and even exhibit fantastic psychic powers, including the ability to read minds. Humans, lead by the dictator Kier Gray, are fearful of slans and plotting ways to exterminate the entire population.

I won’t get into more specific plot points because part of the joy of this novel is the way in which van Vogt continually recontextualizes information that has been laid out earlier in the story. He accomplishes this through a tightly connected series of episodic conversations. Sure, there are the occasional action setpieces involving daring escapes, spaceships, and secret passages, but the real fireworks are in the scheming battles of wits between various characters. Whether it be young Jommy Cross guardedly interrogating a suspected fellow slan or dictator Kier Gray fending off political foes, these conversations constitute the bulk of the novel.

I certainly wouldn’t characterize van Vogt as a tremendous prose stylist, but he does have a tendency to employ a dreamlike vagueness in the way he constructs his sentences. This sometimes comes off as a clumsy turn of phrase, but it can also provoke a creative response if you get on its wavelength. So the story initially appears to have a lot of open questions or silly elements, but there is an almost mystical method to this madness, such that the nitpicking parts of my brain tended to be overcome by the more imaginative impulses that a good story can induce. A steady stream of twists and turns coming at a rather fast pace also doesn’t hurt… Not everything works perfectly (I’m thinking of a particularly abrupt death that, while certainly surprising, also felt a bit cheap – especially at the very end when you get those final couple twists that call back to this moment), but it puts on a good show.

One recurring motif that occurs several times throughout the novel is the scene of mutual recognition. When Jommy finally meets a fellow Slan and they both experience a simultaneous rush of discovery, it’s quite well done (there are several similar sequences throughout the book). This apparently struck a nerve with early fandom, with people jokingly referring to their communal living spaces as “slan shacks” and developing the slogan that “fans are slans!” Again, this was more of a joke than anything else, but it does bely early fandom’s comradery, pleasure at discovering a fellow fan of SF, and willingness to aspire to something more (i.e. slanhood!)

Reading this novel 80 years later, I’d say that it’s a fairly representative example of what made Golden Age science fiction so popular. Lots of ideas and twists, awkward prose that nevertheless possesses a deceptively clever underpinning, short and sweet. It is not a perfect novel, but it is interesting that as a novel about the the next stage of evolution amongst humans, it’s also a clear step forward for the science fiction genre. I enjoyed catching up with it…

2021 in Movie Watching

2021 was an odd year in all respects, and my movie watching was no exception. Since time continues to march on, I figure it’s time to take a look back at the year that was… in movies. I know that this sort of navel gazing is perhaps too trivial given that we’re in the midst of a pandemic and assorted social strife, but that’s what makes it sort of fun. In accordance with tradition, we’ll be doing a much deeper dive on the movies of 2021 including the Kaedrin Movie Awards and the usual Top 10, but it’s also instructive to take a look at overall movie watching for the year.

I keep track of all my movie watching on Letterboxd, so if you’re reading this and are a member, we should be friends there. They also provide some stats, which I’m going to dive into below…

Overall Stats

This is what I watched in 2021:

  • 384 films watched
  • 725.2 hours watched
  • 32 movies a month on average
  • 7.4 movies a week on average

Breaking that down by decade:

Movies by Decade

While this is a lot of movies, it is basically returning to pre-pandemic numbers. Last year’s record 445 movies watched is great and all, but it was set while the world was fighting a pandemic with lockdowns and social distancing. In other words, ideal conditions for sitting around and watching a bunch of movies. I honestly wouldn’t be too surprised to see these numbers continue a decline, though it might be nice to see an uptick in pre-1980 movies…

This year did see the conclusion of the 1978 project, but I only watched 11 of those movies this year (the bulk of that project was covered in 2020). Not sure if I will be embarking on another effort like that this year, but they are a good way to provide structure to the media diet. I’ve considered doing a 50 from 50 (watch at least one movie from 50 different countries), but I probably come pretty close to that without even particularly trying (more below). I could do another year, or perhaps a companion to 50 under 50 that would be for movies between 1950 and 2000… but again, I kinda do that already. Well, there’s no requirement to start this at the beginning of the year (the 1978 project was started mid-year and lasted nearly 2 years, for what it’s worth), so we don’t need to keep speculating about it now.

Films by Week

More variability by week than last year, but pretty consistent throughout the year. A few spikes driven by various events throughout the year (like The Six Weeks of Halloween), but pretty much on par with pre-pandemic levels of viewing. In terms of day of the week, Tuesday and Wednesday continue to lag behind the rest of the week (at least partially due to a group of friends and I maintaining a remote RPG game night over discord). The biggest divergence from previous years is that Saturday dips below Friday and Sunday. I suspect this is partially driven by a halting return to normalcy and a bit of a social life on Saturdays. Go figure.

Genres, Languages, and Countries

Genres, Countries, and Languages

The usual dominance of US and English language presents itself here, with a solid showing from other anglosphere countries like UK and Canada. South Korea and Spain make the top 10 in countries, while Australia and Hong Kong fall off the list (the latter probably because the 1978 project concluded, and thus the inexhaustible supply of Hong Kong martial arts movies made in the 1970s was temporarily skipped in favor of other stuff). The top 10 genres are basically the same, but the ordering is different (comedy stumbled from the top spot in 2020 to #6 in 2021)

World Map of movies watched

The map this year has pretty good global coverage, though obviously the number of movies from each country is relatively small. The map is also a little odd in that there are lots of movies that have broad financing and that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as a movie from that country (i.e. a large proportion of Chinese movies are co-productions with Hollywood, etc…) That said, the grand majority also have real movies made in that country as well.

Ratings and Other Patterns

Ratings and other patterns
  • 24.2% of my watches were a 2021 release, a big increase from last year (which was 16%). This is partially due to last year’s higher volume of movies watched, but also because studios held back a lot of releases until this year, which sorta gave me a double bump this year. This number usually hovers around 20%, so the variance isn’t that high, and I certainly still have a lot of movies to watch before I do my top 10, etc… but anecdotally, this year felt more packed with new releases, even during the pre-vaccine times…
  • 24.2% of my watches were actually rewatches. Not a typo – same number of rewatches as 2021 release (93 movies). A minor decrease over last year, but pretty much on par.
  • Ratings continue to resemble a bell curve centered on the 3 out of 5 star rating. Slightly lower than the past due to an increase in 3.5 star ratings, though the numbers are surprisingly even above and below 3 and 3.5. I suspect part of the higher rating bias has to due with rewatches (i.e. I tend not to rewatch low rated movies, though there are certainly some!)
  • Letterboxd has a watchlist where you can add movies you want to watch (or at least, not lose track of). This year wasn’t so bad – almost parity between movies added to that list and then subsequently watched (though at least some were added long before this year). The list continues to grow. Some of this has to due with availability – I might want to watch a movie, but it could be out of print or only available via physical media, etc…

Stars and Directors

Most Watched Stars

Keanu and Tom take the top slot this year, mostly driven by rewatches (particularly of the John Wick and Mission Impossible franchises), though there were new watches from both. I did go on an Eddie Murphy kick earlier this year, which was really a lot of fun and recommended if you haven’t seen his early movies recently. Jamie Lee Curtis is the lone woman on the list, something that has been sadly prevalent in these year end roundups. It strikes me that a lot of the people that show up on this list are there more because of franchise rewatches, which is fine, but doesn’t really capture the breadth and depth of what I watched over a year.

Most Watched Directors

In terms of directors, I’ve tended towards white and male in the past, but while still plenty of white dudes, there’s a woman this year, and a few men of color too. Not going to claim I’m the most diverse dude out there, but I’m moving the in the right direction I think. As with last year, I followed along with the Blank Check podcast a bit this year, so some of these folks are certainly there because of them. Onwards and upwards.

Highs and Lows

Highs and Lows

Welp, the highest rated movie I watched all year was… a tv show. A glorious tv show, but still. I know it seems a bit tacky to track tv shows as movies on Letterboxd, but there are a handful that make sense and this is one of them. Lowest rated was actually an MST3K watch, but before that it was Abduction, a not so great thriller with a surprisingly good cast that was directed by John Singleton. Again, not good, but also almost certainly not the worst thing I watched all year. Knives Out takes most popular for the second year in a row. I don’t know why, but I’ve rewatched that movie quite a few times the last few years. Finally, the most obscure is actually a short film about a real-life 1996 tornado which hit a drive-in movie theater that was playing the movie Twister.

So there you have it, 2021 was a fun year in movie watching here at HQ. Not record setting, but again, that’s probably a good thing.

2021 in Books

As time marches inevitably on, it’s usually a good idea to take a look back at the year that was, and while it’s arbitrary and something of a cliché to do this at the end of the calendar year, it is the natural time to do so. After another year of pandemic fun and other political and cultural strife, it’s actually somewhat of a relief to take a closer look at something as mundane as the books I’ve read over the year.

I keep track of my reading at Goodreads (we should be friends there), and they have a bunch of rudimentary statistical visualization tools that give a nice overview of my reading habits over time, especially now that I’ve been logging books there for over a decade.

Graphs

I read 63 books in 2021, slightly off the pandemic fueled record pace set last year (69 books, nice), but there are always complicating factors that we’ll get to.

Graph of Number of Books Read

You can see the full list on Goodreads. This falls short of last year, but is otherwise still far above previous years. While pandemic restrictions eased a bit this year, things are still not back in full swing, so that still drives plenty of reading time. Or listening time, as audio books still comprise a pretty significant proportion of the list.

Average page length clocks in at a measly 312, far below last year’s robust 343 and the previous year’s 345, not to mention my personal record of 356. This was mostly driven by the inclusion of a serialized series of short stories and novelettes that pumped up the overall count of books while dropping the average page numbers (the count of books would probably still be above pre-pandemic numbers, but this certainly had an impact).

Graph of Number of Pages Read

Of course, we must acknowledge the inherent variability in page numbers, but this still feels about right. Still better than pre-pandemic numbers, but not as overwhelmingly so.

The Extremes

The Shortest and Longest Books of the year
The Most Popular and Least Popular books of the year

The obvious clarification needed here is that the “Least Popular” book is Pain Don’t Hurt, by Sean T. Collins, a non-fiction book where a film critic decided to write about the Patrick Swayze film Road House every day for a year. It gets a bit repetitive and it could use more pictures (especially when discussing the minor side characters and mostly unnamed trustees of modern chemistry), but it’s an amazing book worth reading for any fan of that film. I suspect it would be more popular if Collins actually released this book through more traditional means (it’s not really available at major retailers – you can find it online, but it is pricey, even though it’s a signed edition). For the record, Pain Don’t Hurt is also the highest rated book I read all year, though that’s most likely due to the low number of ratings.

Anywho, I’m glad to see that Project Hail Mary was so popular. It’s probably my favorite Science Fiction novel of the year and if I were participating in the Hugos this year, I would definitely be nominating it.

Assorted Observations and Thoughts

At this point, I’d normally show the graph of books read by publication date, but ever since I read Twelfth Night, by Shakespeare, the chart’s Y axis got so large that the graph is essentially ruined. I’ll try to make up for that with some observations below.

  • Slan by A.E. van Vogt was the oldest book I read in 2021. Published in 1940, I was actually trying to get ahead of Vintage Science Fiction Month and just finished it a couple days ago.
  • 20 non-fiction books in 2021, a minor increase over last year but given the lower count of overall books, it’s proportionally higher too. A little less than 1/3 non-fiction feels alright, but I suspect we’ll continue to see this number go up over time.
  • 18 science fiction books in 2021, a significant decrease over the past few years. The difference this year was mostly due to an increase in thrillers, horror, and crime fiction. I suspect not formally participating in the Hugos also has something to do with it.
  • Only 8 books written by women in 2021, which is a significant decrease over the last few years. Of course, this was not intentional at all, but maybe I should pay some attention to that in 2022.
  • Without doing any formal analysis, despite a few vintage reads, this year was mostly above 1990 in terms of age, and recent releases were a higher proportion than usual I think. Nothing wrong with that and again, nothing intentional here, but maybe worth looking into older reads in 2022.

So it’s been a pretty good year in books. While I’m a massive introvert and greatly enjoy reading books, I’m still happy to see that the pandemic appears to be easing a bit, though who knows what Omicron will bring (I suspect the next month or two will be ruff, but after that…). Still, while I love staying home and reading or listening to audio books on long walks, it would be nice to get out into the world again in 2022. Unless we see a significant worsening of the pandemic, I’m guessing the reading numbers will decrease a bit again in 2022… (and as much as I love books, that will still be a good thing!)