Nothing in or around film underwhelms so completely as the Oscars. The hype is too great, the surprises too few. So, for a second year, we offer our own awards for cinematic merit with no hype and practically nothing you could guess in advance. Thus, for the Esseffies 2014, we hope to leave you completely or at least mostly whelmed.
Best Schizoid Soundtrack: Spring Breakers
Sherilyn's favorite film of 2013; the soundtrack is a mix of elements that shouldn't work together, including Skrillex's trademark "Bwaaaaaaaaamp!"-heavy dubstep, Cliff Martinez's most atmospheric ambient since Sex, Lies, & Videotape, and hip-hop with varying amounts of James Franco. It's as peculiar a beast as the movie itself, and it all gels.
Most Pandering Pander in the History of Panderology: Evil Dead
The film itself is actually a very worthy remake, following the structure of Sam Raimi's 1981 The Evil Dead while still finding its own voice, and bucking the genre's gender conventions. And then, after the closing credits, Bruce Campbell appears and says, "Groovy." No. Just, no.
Best Stickin' it to the Man, Retro-Style: Our Nixon
In this collage film composed of home movies and news footage of our 37th president, we get to relive a famous incident at a 1972 White House dinner honoring Reader's Digest: Carole Feraci, one of the ultra-square Ray Conniff Singers, holds up a banner reading "Stop the Killing," and asks the president to please stop bombing things. She ends by saying "Bless Daniel Ellsberg," the 1972 equivalent of "Bless Edward Snowden."
Worst Tone-Deaf Act of Youth-anizing: Last Vegas
It's by no means a deep or insightful film to begin with, or even a particularly good one, but whatever Last Vegas is trying to say about embracing life as a retiree is severely undercut by a poster that makes the cast look 10 years younger.
Spookiest Moment in a Music Documentary: Twenty Feet from Stardom
There were a plethora of music documentaries this year, but few chilled the spine quite as much as current-day Merry Clayton listening to her isolated vocal track from "Gimme Shelter" — "rape, murder, it's a just a shot away," her voice breaking — as she sits alone in the same studio she recorded it in back in 1969.
Best Acronym-Titled Movie: G.B.F.
Most Demographically Ignorant Racism: John Dies at the End
The picture's white protagonist calls himself David Wong (also the pseudonym of the source novel's white author), and when called on the fact that he doesn't look Asian, he replies, "I'm not. I was born right here." Fun fact: so were many Asian-Americans, with and without the last name of Wong.
Best Nostalgic Drug Sequence: The Wolf of Wall Street
The whole film is practically a love letter to the extinct Quaalude, and during the legendary "crawling to the car" scene, people of a certain age at screenings have been known to turn to each other and say, "Been there, done that."
Best Nerd Outrage, "What a Twist!" Department: Iron Man 3
It's just fun when nerds get outraged, and comic book fans in particular, so there were lulz aplenty when the villain known as the Mandarin was revealed to be a British actor, hired as an Oz-like figurehead to spook the American public. This commentary on America's inherent fear of the Other (see also: John Dies at the End) was not appreciated by the fanboys.
Similarly, the Internet went kablooey when Ben Affleck was announced as the next Batman. When confronted with the fact that a similar fury greeted the announcement of Michael Keaton as Batman in 1989, the modern nerd's response was, "Shut up! That was different!" Okay then.
Best Translation of a Cultural Touchstone into an American Indian Language: The Navajo Star Wars
And it's thus far the only major motion picture to be translated into Navajo, or any other American Indian language. The producers of this translation have promised that it will not be the last; here's to hoping future translations are of movies with better dialogue than Star Wars.
Best Day of Music: KrOB's Film Farm Presents Jonathan Demme Concert Pictures, The Castro Theatre
A day-long festival of performance films directed by Jonathan Demme: Heart of Gold (Neil Young), Storefront Hitchcock (Robyn Hitchcock), Swimming to Cambodia (Spalding Gray), and Stop Making Sense (Talking Heads). And all were projected in glorious 35mm, likely for the last time.
Most Hypocritical Backlash: The Smurfs 2
Children's movies filled with product placement marketed toward the small fry have existed for decades, but the rage against The Smurfs 2 acted like such a thing had never been done before, or so venally. Many of those same critics went on to make a feature-length Lego commercial into 2014's most overpraised movie.
Best Porn-Version-Ready Title: Inside Llewyn Davis
Clearly the Coens meant their movie's title as a riff on the 1964 album Inside Dave Van Ronk, whose cover pictures the titular brooding folkster having a smoke in a dark doorway with a cat looking on. But you just know they had a giggle about it at least once — as I did just now while typing "titular."
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