3Ramping (aka, Everything Slows Down Then Speeds Up)
Have You Ever Noticed:
Modern action movies can't just show you the hero landing the final blow. Oh, no. They just have to sloooow it down and make really, really sure you understand that, yes, that is a punch to the face.
In Troy, we have to slow down Brad Pitt's flying dagger attack while he's in mid-air, as if he can stop time like the freaking Prince of Persia:
In Watchmen, we have to bring the action to a virtual dead stop when a fist meets flesh (or anything else significant happens in the fight), to freeze the moment in time to make absolutely extra sure that the audience saw it.
Or there's the 300 method, where the action slows waaaaay down right as the hero is about to do something badass...
...and then SPEED IT UP REALLY FAST WHEN HE STRIKES THE BLOW!
The new Sherlock Holmes movie actually turns this into a plot device, slowing down fight scenes to simulate how lightning-fast Holmes thinks on his feet.
What's Going On?
The film suddenly slowing down is done by a process called "ramping." Instead of film being shot at the normal 24 frames-per-second, it'll be shot at 48, or 72, or 96. The more frames per second, the slower the action.
Now, we've had slow motion since the beginning of film (if you wanted a slower shot back then, you just cranked the handle on the camera faster) but today's digital cameras just make what was already a simple process even easier. So where before you would have an entire shot in slow-motion, aka the bad guy slowly falling to the ground...
...now they can't get through one shot without building slow and fast motion into the same action. The hero draws back the sword at 96 frames-per-second, and drives it into the bad guy's eye at 24. They'll do it 10 times in the course of one action scene, as if it's suddenly boring to watch a couple of guys doing kung fu at normal kung fu speed.
We can lay the blame on two movies: The Matrix obviously played a part with bullet time (which proved you could move the camera around AND have slo-mo at the same time), and 300, which at normal speed is roughly 15 minutes long. Once again, a technique progresses from "innovative" to "standard procedure" to "OK, please stop doing that."
2Faking the Documentary Look, Even When it's Not a Documentary
Have You Ever Noticed:
We're not talking about movies that have actual documentary elements (aka Cloverfield), but rather little touches designed to make you think what you're seeing was filmed by a fly-on-wall documentarian with a handheld camera, rather than a gigantic film crew on a sound stage. Even when it makes absolutely no sense for that to be the case.
Even worse, they do this by painstakingly inserting elements that used to be considered embarrassing mistakes.
You've no doubt noticed the painfully obvious "shaky cam" that's so popular these days, where they jerk the camera around the action so you can't tell who's punching who (as if we're supposed to think the opening battle in Gladiator was being shot by some time-traveling war correspondent, and one of the side effects of time travel is apparently severe loss of muscular control).
And this was the clearest shot we could get of Quantum of Solace.
But there are more subtle, and sillier ones. For instance, crap landing on the camera lens. District 9, awesome as it was, actually obscures the lens with blood from time to time. But before that you saw it in Braveheart and We Were Soldiers. During the opening battle in Saving Private Ryan you got both blood and water splashing on the lens.
Then you have the, "Whoops, we accidentally pointed the camera into the sun!" lens flare, where the light actually glares off the lens and obscures part of the shot:
Fans complained so much about the lens flare effect in Star Trek that J.J. Abrams had to issue a statement basically apologizing for it.
What's Going On?
The idea is if the shot looks accidental, then that is supposed to subconsciously say "realism" to the audience (rather than "sloppy"). Movies shot the old way (that is, in a way where you could clearly see what was freaking happening) now look too clean and staged. If you want to make the movie look real and gritty, you need to mess it up, so it looks more like a documentary. Though we're not sure how that still works if it's in every movie.
We suppose that's where you draw the line between directors who do it for a reason, versus ones who are just hopping on a bandwagon. For instance, those battle scenes in Saving Private Ryan had an unsettling sharp, almost stuttering effect because Spielberg intentionally messed up the camera's shutter to make it look less like a movie and more like real war footage for newsreels back in the day.
The goal was to bring home the horror of the war. A decade later, you can see the same effect in the fight scenes in Crank: High Voltage.
The ridiculous irony with all of these is that technology has been carefully crafted over time specifically to prevent them. For instance, modern camera lenses have reflective coating and other treatments specifically to prevent lens flares. Virtually every time you see it in a movie, some poor bastard has had to go back in and add it with CGI, or else they had to specifically stage the shot so the sun was in perfect position to give them a shot that used to get cinematographers fired.