Michael Keaton in Birdman
In 1992 Keaton followed up his massively successful turn as the Caped Crusader with the sequel Batman Returns. But then his Batman didn’t return. After more than two decades without another role of that size—by choice as much as by opportunity—Keaton flew back into the conversation this year with Birdman, a gonzo backstage comedy-drama from director Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The role is so bespoke that it’s practically meta: Riggan Thomson is a Hollywood actor whose heyday is a memory and who’s trying to recapture the spotlight long after he walked away from his own superhero franchise. Keaton, 63, plays Riggan with a perfect cocktail of self-destructive hubris and panicked desperation. He’s the center around which the whole crumbling enterprise revolves, and he keeps everything in orbit with a star’s gravity. It’s a performance that made us realize how much we’d missed him. —Keith Staskiewicz
Scarlett Johansson in Lucy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow
Don’t let their size fool you (Blunt tops out at 5’7”): Johansson and Blunt were nothing less than believable as a drug-assisted superwoman, a Black Widow, and a time-defying soldier savior.
Best Title of a Bad Movie
Can we blame this clunker on the Cloud, too?
Worst Title of a Good Movie
Edge of Tomorrow
Ambiguous in all the wrong ways. The project formerly known as All You Need Is Kill really needed a better naming convention.
Best Worst Wife
Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
Meet Amy Dunne: loving wife, sadistic sociopath. Forever puncturing the ”cool girl” myth in David Fincher’s scabrous thriller, British actress Pike plays Amy as an icy blond perfectionist with the instincts of a criminal mastermind (duh—she went to Harvard). ”Amazing Amy” is introduced as a model of long-suffering domestic forbearance, but is gradually revealed to be much more than she seems. Her blood-stained disappearance sets her husband (Ben Affleck) on a collision course with a murder rap—and Pike’s slippery performance keeps us on our toes till the very end. ”Amy is the female brain—both the wonderful and darker parts of being feminine,” says Pike, 35. ”She’s complicated. She’s goal-oriented. She’s out to win.” Mission. Accomplished. —Chris Lee
Best Soul Mates, Millennials
Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort in The Fault in Our Stars
The love story between cancer-afflicted teens Hazel (Woodley) and Augustus (Elgort) spanned continents, proving bigger than life, death, and all the little infinities in between.
Best Soul Mates, Gen-X
Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck in Gone Girl
Come on, they deserve each other!
Best Soul Mates, Boomers
Alfred Molina and John Lithgow in Love Is Strange
Separate but delightful, the longtime partners tried to keep their shared life together even as circumstances pulled them apart.
Best Worst Teacher
J.K. Simmons in Whiplash
Music professor Terence Fletcher wields tough love like a shiv. His mission: to forge greatness by applying physical and psychological pressure to his students, especially precocious drummer Andrew (Miles Teller). Fletcher’s rants leave marks on them and us. After all, wasn’t he the sweet dad from Juno? Simmons has built a career playing memorable supporting characters, including Schillinger, a sadistic inmate on the HBO prison drama Oz. ”When I first met J.K.,” says Whiplash writer-director Damien Chazelle, ”I told him, ‘Remember how you were in Oz? I want to make that guy look like the teacher in Mr. Holland’s Opus.”’ Simmons, 59, sympathized with Fletcher’s quest for excellence, but not his brutal methods. ”In my experience, that can be antithetical to creating artistic genius,” he says. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have fun, though. ”Smacking Miles around was a joyous day on the set.” —Jeff Labrecque
Best Long-Suffering Moms
Patricia Arquette in Boyhood and Laura Dern in The Fault in Our Stars and Wild
Both Arquette and Dern turned in some of the best work of their careers as maternal figures helping their children navigate growing up and giving up a loved one.
Best Use of Horns
Angelina Jolie in Maleficent
Wicked has never been so wonderful.
Worst Use of Horns
Daniel Radcliffe in Horns
Like the parseltongue throwback to Harry Potter, Radcliffe’s devilish transformation into murder-accused twentysomething Ig was somewhat lost in translation.
Best Trail Guides
Mia Wasikowska in Tracks and Reese Witherspoon in Wild
The movies love tales of men communing with nature. (Think Cast Away, Into the Wild, 127 Hours.) But this year, two women ventured into the great outdoors and made cinema all the better for it. In September, Wasikowska, 25, crossed the Australian desert with four camels and a dog in Tracks, propelled by nothing more than a need to be free. And in this month’s Wild, Witherspoon, 38, goes on a soul-healing trek along America’s Pacific Crest Trail. Based on the experiences of real women (writers Robyn Davidson and Cheryl Strayed, respectively), both films are elegant, understated meditations on the beauty of solitude and the invaluable power of silence. Together, these two characters hike some 2,800 miles, every last one of them lived to the fullest. —Nicole Sperling
Most Egregious Product Placement (Ever, in the History of Cinema)
Transformers: Age of Extinction
And we saw Need for Speed this year, too. Still worse!
Worst Biblical Epic
Just kidding. It’s Exodus: Gods and Kings. No, no, wait! It’s this one! Son of God!
Best Use of Time
X-Men: Days of Future Past
He didn’t get that name for nothing. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver moves so fast seconds become minutes—and we loved every moment of it.