Best big movie: Even though it's not technically "big" in the traditional sense, I'm gonna go with Fruitvale Station, because it just feels big. Gorgeous cinematography, stellar soundtrack, pitch-perfect dialogue—that's big enough for me.
Best small movie: With so much hype surrounding the other late-17th-century-naval-battle movies released this summer (Cádiz, The Lullaby of Bantry Bay) no one gave much of a chance to Swedish filmmaker Gurg Boue's lovely ode to a months-long skirmish between the Dutch and Portuguese. Yet, here we are in September and we're still talking about Festive Trudy Woke The Beaners, thanks to the Oscar buzz lead actress Stephanie Bolsonbison has received for her mesmerizing portrayal of Trudy, the tambourine-playing line cook who managed to keep the doomed Marhina Portuguesa well fed and slaphappy.
Worst movie: For me it was Sacramento Hot Winds. Hey don't hate me for this, but I've never been a 3-D guy. This is a bloated, overacted, mechanical, maniacal, juvenile, peripatetic, antediluvian, farcical, facile farce of a film. I adore director Henry Von Chong-Chong's other popcorn movies (Guns Blaze First, But Race Car Dreams Die Last; Run Now If You Want Me Naked Next Sunday) but even I had to jam in the earplugs during some of those excruciating waterski scenes.
Biggest surprise: I, like most critics, thought that longtime stage actor William Hedson had given up on challenging roles after he'd cashed so many checks playing goofball stamp collector Beano Marinelli. (He signed on for a fifth installment of the series Beano Goes to Town Again, which will begin shooting this winter in New Zealand. Ugh.) Then Hedson went and dusted off his old theater duds and and took on the role of Hank Aaron in this summer's only true blockbuster, Hammer No Hammer, Wot Up? This was the first time I'd stood up and applauded for a full five minutes of credits since Prince Horse Jumped the Fence. (I know, real original.)
Best performance: Is this even up for debate? Pedro Boriengo. His breathtaking turn as the perpetually haunted King Stone Wallace IV in The 14 Knights Were Slain by Moors, is one for the ages. I can't get his speech at the top of the old hill during the ax battle next to the mouth of the volcano out of my head: "Ye who find this shield rent asunder shall rise like ye mighty oxen ghosts of neigh!" Wow.
What I learned: If there were more movies like Fruitvale Station Hollywood might be saved from eating itself. Great, great film.