Best Avengers : X-Men: Days of Future Past
Uniting three very different strands of a long-in-the-tooth franchise with an uneven track record: Future Past could’ve been a last-chance cash-grab. (Don’t even mention the fuzzy time-travel science.) Instead, director Bryan Singer tweaked the franchise-mash model perfected by 2012’s Avengers, turning the seventh X-Men film into a swan song for the original (future) X-Men, a showcase for the new (past) X-Men, and an opportunity for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine to stab people wearing ’70s clothes.
Best Action Hero Who Was Not a Superhero or a Robot or an Ape: Rita Vrataski, Edge of Tomorrow
Wearing a futuristic ex-suit, swinging a gigantic broadsword made out of a helicopter blade, teaching sniveling coward Tom Cruise how to be a hero by shooting him in the face over and over again: There’s not a wrong note in Emily Blunt’s performance, and the actress’s no-bull toughness gives an actual edge to Edge of Tomorrow.
Best Villain: Koba, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
This was another summer filled with bad guys with big ambitions and zero personality. Leave it to the movie about the apes to come up with the most human villain. It helps that Toby Kebbell’s rebellious Koba is motivated by something beyond evil—his suspicions about the local human population derive from years of abuse as a lab animal—and watching him corrode from trusted ally to megalomaniacal dictator gives Dawn its tragic undercurrent. Every Caesar needs a Brutus.
Single Best Scene of the Summer: The School Car in Snowpiercer
Director Bong Joon-Ho’s gonzo-pocalyptic thriller is a genre-hopping delight, never more so than in the sequence when the protagonists find themselves inside of a schoolhouse train car presided over by a loopy, pregnant, half-mad Alison Pill. Catchy propaganda tunes and unexpected horrors ensue. Important note: This is also the scene where, apropos of nothing, Octavia Spencer cracks an egg on an unsuspecting child’s head.
Most Non Sequitur Bleak Scene in an Otherwise Fun Movie: The Guardians of the Galaxy prologue
Guardians already had the reputation as the ”fun,” ”crazy” superhero movie. And the film lives up to that reputation?once you get past the prologue, where young Peter Quill watches his cancer-stricken mother die before his eyes.
Most Non Sequitur Interesting Scene in an Otherwise Pointless Movie: Expendables 3's gay couple
The third Expendables squandered whatever was left of the public’s interest in seeing fading action stars hang out on screen. But the final scene does strongly imply—and the director has explicitly stated—that the characters played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jet Li are in a happy, healthy homosexual relationship. Serious question: Why can’t they make a whole movie about that?
Single Most Non Sequitur Scene of the Summer: Lucy time travels in Lucy
Lucy is much loopier than it maybe should be—what could’ve been a fun action romp occasionally gets bogged down in Freeman-narrated pseudo-science. But no other action movie this summer featured a climax where the lead character returns to the dawn of human evolution and re-enacts Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam with the Mitochondrial Eve. So that’s something.
Best Use of Bad Music: Coldplay's ''Yellow,'' Boyhood
Among the many ambient pleasures of Richard Linklater’s decade-in-the-making opus is how the soundtrack tracks young Mason’s journey through the first part of the 21st century. And so credit must go to the filmmaker’s savvy decision to open with ”Yellow,” a variously beloved and despised track by a variously beloved and despised band, which sets a just-right tone of nostalgia and spiky self-awareness.
Worst Use of Good Music: All of Jersey Boys
Even your mother was disappointed.
Best Over-Use of Good Music: M83's ''Wait,'' The Fault in Our Stars
The mournful-cosmic tune by everyone’s favorite French dream-pop band soundtracked the young lovers’ walk through Amsterdam and the sad-triumphant final narration.
Single Biggest Waste of Acting Talent: Godzilla
Sure, sure, the movie’s okay. But this is a movie that stars three Oscar nominees, one Oscar winner, and Bryan Cranston, who just finished five oft-awarded seasons incarnating our generation’s Willy Loman. And they all play third fiddle to Aaron Taylor-Johnson and a weirdly defanged nice-guy Godzilla.
Best Batman Voice: Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, Neighbors (TIE)
What could’ve merely been a goofy concept comedy turned into a darkly resonant generational clash, with Rogen and Rose Byrne cast as grown-ups not quite ready to leave behind the youthful pleasures represented by Efron’s raucous fraternity. The lines get drawn, ever so casually, in an early bonding scene, wherein Rogen and Efron argue over the definitive Batman. Rogen-as-Keaton vs. Efron-as-Bale = impossible to choose.
Least Accurate Title: A Million Ways to Die in the West
Like, a few dozen, tops.
Best Non-Human: Caesar, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
It was a big summer for monsters, alien robots, raccoons, and turtles. But in this inhuman season, one primate stood out. Andy Serkis further minted his status as the Lon Chaney of the performance-capture era in this sequel, which savvily repositions his Caesar as a family man and a peaceful leader attempting to hold his society back from the brink of chaos.
Worst Humans: Everyone in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Forty-six years ago, the original Planet of the Apes starred Charlton Heston as one of the most brutally caustic protagonists in science-fiction history. The Apes franchise has never really conjured up a human character half as interesting—a streak maintained by Dawn, which squandered its human actors in subplots that played out like Post-Apocalypse For Dummies.
Single Best Line of the Summer: Guardians of the Galaxy
”We’re just like Kevin Bacon!” —Gamora
Single Worst Line of the Summer: Transformers: Age of Extinction
”I’m an inventor!”” —Cade Yeager (Oh and also, ”Cade Yeager” wins Worst Name of the Summer.)
Supporting Actor Who Clearly Should've Been the Star: Eva Green in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
The Sin City sequel starred interchangeable gruff-noir heroes and assassin-hookers. But it’s almost worth seeing for Eva Green. It’s her second Frank Miller femme fatale role of the year, after the good-by-comparison 300: Rise of an Empire. Someone give this crazy French broad her own movie, stat! Maybe she can play the villain, and Emily Blunt can play the hero, and also Dave Bautista somehow?
Minor Character Who Most Requires a Spinoff: Dean Gladstone from Neighbors and Drax the Destroyer from Guardians (TIE)
To the annals of Crusty Old Dean-dom, we now add something new: Lisa Kudrow’s unfussy Carol Gladstone, who steals her few scenes and suggests a whole lifetime of bored guidance of troublesome college kids. And to the annals of tough-guy sidekicks, we also now add something new: Dave Batista’s musclebound Drax, a vengeful widower who doesn’t understand irony and so wound up stealing a movie filled with scene stealers. More of both, please!
Best Cameo: James Marsden in X-Men: Days of Future Past
We knew Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were coming back. We kind of maybe guessed Famke Janssen would be making another appearance—after all, she gamely showed up to play Flashback Ghost in The Wolverine. But of all the wrongs righted by Future Past, few resonated more than the sudden appearance of Marsden’s Cyclops, who disappeared from the franchise unceremoniously in the first act of The Last Stand.
Best Example of How to Radically Alter Your Source Material While Staying True to Its Spirit: Snowpiercer
The original graphic novel Le Transperceneige is a bleak, monochromatic, talky trip through the socially stratified uber-train. Co-scripters Bong Joon-Ho and Kelly Masterson took the basic concept and the rough linear outline of the original work, but invented essentially all the characters and the central revolutionary narrative. The result is a movie that does justice to Le Transperceneige‘s deeper themes while also sending the concept in several colorful new directions.
Worst Example of How to Slightly Alter Your Source Material While Completely Defeating Its Spirit: The Giver
The adaptation of the Lois Lowry novel never really overcame the initial wave of bad buzz that ensued from casting 25-year-old handsome person Brenton Thwaites in a role written as a 12-year-old. But the movie generally attempts to be faithful to the content of the book—which makes its few major changes feel all the more off-key. A kiss here, a punch there, an unnecessary Taylor Swift cameo: It all contributes to the uncanny-valley feeling, a sense that the movie didn’t really get what made the book special but also couldn’t figure out anything special to add.
Tom Hiddleston Memorial Prize for Stealing a Blockbuster out from under the Bigger Stars: James McAvoy in Days of Future Past
Reprising his role as Charles Xavier opposite ascendant idol Michael Fassbender, perpetual idol Hugh Jackman, elder statesman Patrick Stewart, and your best friend Jennifer Lawrence, McAvoy was the glue holding the megasequel’s disparate parts together. If nothing else, it’s never been more fun to cosplay Professor X.
Haley Joel Osment Memorial Award for Most Convincing Trailer Moment: This smile, Lucy
Promised a fun, sexy, sneakily smart time at the movies. In the process, wrote some checks that the movie couldn’t quite cash, but over $200 million worldwide for an original movie about a girl with drugs in her stomach is nothing to sniff at.
Most Underrated: Edge of Tomorrow
The summer’s most riotous action movie took a nifty Groundhog Day plot and produced sequences that veered wildly from madcap farce to mournful romanticism. Deserves a second life and a new title.
Best Summer Movie That Wasn't Actually a Summer Movie: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Would have been a serious contender for essentially all of these awards if it came out in anything resembling the summer.
Best Trailer for a Movie Coming out in Summer 2015: Mad Max: Fury Road
Please, movie gods, please: Let the actual movie be the bonkers mash-up of The Road Warrior and The Raid that this trailer seems to promise.
Worst Trailer for a Movie (Not) Coming out in Summer 2016: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
A glorified two-hour-plus advertisement for Amazing Spider-Man 3. Which is coming out in a couple years. Wait, no it isn’t!
Best Trailer for a Movie Coming out Sometime in the Next 10 Years: Thanos' scene in Guardians of the Galaxy
Megafranchise megabad Thanos got his official introduction in Guardians of the Galaxy, two years after his quickie appearance in The Avengers. As played by Josh Brolin, he looked imposing and sounded tough. And he did?nothing, really. But you gotta figure he’ll be cool in Guardians 2 or Avengers 3 or The Infinity Gauntlet, Part One or whatever movie he ultimately winds up actually doing stuff in.
Single Most Memorable Image from the Summer (that wasn't in the trailer): Dancing Baby Groot, Guardians of the Galaxy