I freely admit to nicking this idea from my friend Bob, who has to have regular dialysis and so gets through a lot of films and awards his own annual Bobs to them. So, here are the 2010 Ben Awards, for movies seen during 2009.
The guiding criterion of the Bens is the principle oft-stated by Roger Ebert and repeated by me so often that Bonusbarn now likes to get in there first: it’s not what it’s about, it’s how it’s about it. Also (like the Bobs), as any movie seen is eligible the winner in any category doesn’t have to be new.
Best movie shortlist
Bubbling under: Layer Cake, Valkyrie
The winner: Inglourious Basterds
The judges note: for its sheer panache, exuberance, total in-your-face disregard of history and recycling of Ennio Morricone, it can only be this one.
Best performance shortlist
- Daniel Craig (XXXX, Layer Cake)
- Tom Cruise (Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, Valkyrie)
- Con O’Neill (Joe Meek, Telstar)
- WALL·E (WALL·E, WALL·E)
- Christoph Waltz (Col. Hans Landa, Inglourious Basterds)
Bubbling under: Sacha Baron Cohen (Brüno, Brüno), John Malkovitch (Buck Howard, The Great Buck Howard); Meryl Streep (Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada). All very good, all cursed by the fact that they are in fact so good they could do it in their sleep.
The winner: Christoph Waltz
The judges note: rare as it is for Tom Cruise to get any kind of acting award, he is certainly worthy of consideration for so completely burying his film star persona in his portrayal of the noble but ultimately doomed von Stauffenberg. Quentin Tarantino is good at getting actors you wouldn’t normally associate with the part to turn in a master performance (cf. Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill pt 2) and in 2009 he triumphed with Christoph Waltz, whose name may be on everyone’s lips in his native Germany but is barely heard of outside it; the creator of the charming, slimy, ruthless, highly intelligent, mesmerising Col. Hans Landa – one of the few baddies you actually want to win and then kick yourself for realising that he’s sucked you in too.
Best SF or Fantasy shortlist
The winner: Let the Right One In
The judges note: the only vampire movie it has been worth watching the past decade.
Best animated movie shortlist
The winner: WALL·E.
The judges note: while the other movies on this list successfully used animation to portray real people, WALL·E used animation to ascribe emotions and feelings to a mechanical device that are more realistic than many actors can manage.
Best comedy shortlist
The winner: Brüno
The judges note: awarded even though, or perhaps because, the judges spent half the movie with their eyes shut; and even though he’s done it all before.
Best quirky / indy movie shortlist
The winner: Telstar
The judges note: comedy, tragedy, good acting, excellent music and a faithful recreation of period. The same could almost be said of The Boat that Rocked andStone of Destiny but in the former (fictitious recreation of the Radio Caroline heyday) the tragedy is just a bit too fluffy and nice and in the latter (slightly fictioned-up account of how some genuine Scottish students stole the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey and brought it back to Scotland) you only really care about the outcome if you’re Scottish.
Best crime movie shortlist
The winner: Layer Cake
The judges note: this is probably the role that got Daniel Craig the Bond gig, but here he shows he is so much better than that. This is the movie Guy Ritchie would make if Guy Ritchie could actually make movies.
Best movie featuring Bill Nighy shortlist
The winner: Valkyrie
The judges note: not only does Nighy actually resemble the historical character he plays, but apart from the only occasional trademark Nighy grimace he actually acts the part.
Best previously seen and worth rewatching shortlist
Bubbling under: The Whole Nine Yards
The winner: Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World.
The judges note: one of the very few cases where Hollywood takes rights to a book and improves on the original. They also note that while Paul Bettany is far too young to be Dr Stephen Maturin, this is made up for by the flawless casting of Jack Aubrey, Killick, HMS Surprise and other roles.
Best overcoming of the plot’s sheer predictability shortlist
The winner: The Commitments
The judges note: you have to be brain dead and/or historically illiterate not to work out how any of these are going to pan out, but The Commitments does it with Irish humour and great music.
Best phoned-in performance shortlist
- Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
- Bill Nighy, The Boat that Rocked
- Al Pacino & Robert de Niro (tie), Righteous Kill
The winner: Clint Eastwood
The judges note: for most of the movie he is, while still very good, undeniably Clint Eastwood doing a post-retirement pensionable Dirty Harry. Then suddenly we get taken by surprise.
Finally, for the record, here is the full list of all contenders for 2009.
- Full Metal Jacket
- The Closet
- The Fabulous Baker Boys
- The Thomas Crown Affair
- Intolerable Cruelty
- The International
- The Exorcist
- Inglourious Basterds
- The History Boys
- Catch Me If You Can
- The Young Victoria
- The Boat that Rocked
- Is Anybody There?
- Stone of Destiny
- The Great Buck Howard
- Gran Torino
- Righteous Kill
- The Commitments
- Planes, Trains & Automobiles
- The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008 version)
- The Wind that Shakes the Barley
- Låt Den Rätte Komma In / Let the Right One In
- Star Trek
- Body of Lies
- Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels
- Layer Cake
- The Miracle Maker
- The Game
- Phone Booth
- Slumdog Millionaire
- The Devil Wears Prada
- Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
- Sliding Doors
- Grosse Point Blank
- The Whole Nine Yards
- The Good Shepherd