That sound you hear, you know, the one like a bunch of air escaping from a bag? That’s the sound of the summer movie season ending and the doldrums of September arriving. Here we are about to enter the month that’s typically home to the most easily ignored and forgotten new releases. The only thing to do is look forward to the fall and look back on the summer.
So let’s do the latter! Summer 2014 may be over, but the movies are going to stick around. So let’s do what all reasonable and rational movie fans do when it comes to talking about blockbuster movies: hand out imaginary awards.
Most Pleasant Surprise: X-Men: Days of Future Past
After almost a year of toxic buzz, negative press and lame trailers, Bryan Singer’s grand return to the superhero genre with X-Men: Days of Future past ended up being… pretty good! Sure, this isn’t the best superhero movie of the year (let alone the summer), but it’s fast and funny and surprisingly fun, mixing the old and new X-Men casts in a crazy time-travel story that does justice to both sides of the franchise.
Runner-up: Edge of Tomorrow
Because who thought it would be that good?
Best Performance: Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars
The summer movie season normally isn’t home to many truly great performances, with movie-star charisma typically winning out over honest and raw acting. However, there was at least one great performance this summer and it occurred in one one the year’s biggest successes. Shailene Woodley’s work as a young girl with terminal cancer in the heart-shattering The Fault in Our Stars is phenomenal, proving that she has the chops to headline a weepy teen drama and young-adult adventure adaptations. Yes, the Jennifer Lawrence comparisons are apt.
Runner-up: Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy
Because this was a movie star being born before our very eyes.
Best Performance in a Bad Movie: Stanley Tucci, Transformers: Age of Extinction
Stanley Tucci doesn’t show up until the second half of the abysmally long Transformers: Age of Extinction, but he’s the drink of water that makes the rest of this death march remotely possible. Acting like he already has his paycheck in his pocket and he just doesn’t give a damn, Tucci screams and shouts and overacts like a master, effortlessly stealing the show from all of his CGI robot costars. Expect his furious shout of “Algorithms! Math!” to become a YouTube sensation alongside Nicolas Cage’s “Not the bees!”
Runner-up: Eva Green, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Because Eva Green is the patron saint of bad movies.
Best CGI Performance: Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The human characters aren’t bad in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but it’s weird how they’re so much less, well, human than the motion-capture apes that actually drive the story. This sequel is better than its predecessor because it takes the number one thing that worked about Rise of the Planet of the Apes and multiplied it, giving Andy Serkis’ superintelligent chimpanzee leader Caesar even more screen time. All of the humans are (pardon the pun) second banana — this movie is all about Serkis and his team of skilled visual effects artists, who create one of the great modern movie heroes out of pixels.
Runner-up: Vin Diesel, Guardians of the Galaxy
Because “I am Groot.”
Funniest Sequence: Every Moment in 22 Jump Street
Seriously, just pick any random stretch of 22 Jump Street and it would still win this category and make it look easy. Few films are as funny as 21 Jump Street, but 22 Jump Street responded to the first film by finding a way to be just as funny (if not funnier). Directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord keep the pace manic, never letting the flow of jokes (both huge and subtle) stop, but the real MVPs are Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, who once again prove themselves to be the best and most unlikely comedy duo since, uh… well, it’s been a long time.
Runner-up: Tom Cruise Gets Killed Over and Over Again, Edge of Tomorrow
Because it’s funnier than most comedies.
The Backhanded Compliment Award for a Movie Under Two Hours: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
In an age where Transformers sequels get perilously close to three hours in length, it’s a genuine relief to see the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles run a breezy 101 minutes. This is by no means a good movie (it’s fairly okay but forgettable), but at least it doesn’t waste our time. It gets to the point, it gets there quickly and it ends before people in the audience start to wonder if it’ll ever be over. That’s a lesson that good movies should actually learn.
Because it’s blissfully, beautifully brief.
Best New Character: Groot, Guardians of the Galaxy
What’s with Vin Diesel bringing beautiful life to monosyllabic science fiction characters? Everyone’s favorite marble-mouthed meathead brings that Iron Giant majesty to Marvel’s talking tree, taking an alien that can only speak three words and embodying him with humor, toughness and simple beauty. Groot says more with a single CGI expression or an offhanded “I am Groot” than most characters accomplish with an entire screenplay.
Runner-up: Sergeant, The Purge: Anarchy
Because Frank Grillo is the man.
Best Returning Character: Godzilla, Godzilla
Godzilla is back! And he’s angrier than ever! And cuter than ever. And sleepier than ever. Seriously, by treating this version of the king of the monsters as a big animal with basic animal needs, director Gareth Edwards makes him lovable and weirdly relatable outside of the carnage. This Godzilla doesn’t give a crap about humans — we barely even register as ants to him! He simply wants to kick rival monster butt so he can go back to the ocean and go back to sleep. It’s so elegant and simple that we cant help but wonder why we ever tolerated a different take on the character.
Runner-up: Magneto, X-Men: Days of Future Past
Craziest Action Scene: The Street Battle, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The summer was full of crazy and jaw-dropping battle sequences, but there was only one action scene so intense and emotionally affecting that we wish it wasn’t happening. The first major battle between the apes and the humans in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has to be seen to be believed, combining cutting-edge special effects with cinematography that feels truly next level. Director Matt Reeves and his team’s technical expertise ultimately serve the story through and through. We like both sides enough that this battle, no matter the outcome, is a tragedy.
Runner-up: Godzilla Throws Down with the MUTOS, Godzilla
Because HOLY CRAP DID WE JUST SEE THAT?! WHAT?! OH MY GOD.
Best Movie That Was Not a Sequel: Edge of Tomorrow
Emerging from a turgid marketing campaign to mediocre box office, Edge of Tomorrow is the kind of movie that people will discover on Blu-ray and wonder why the hell they skipped a movie this good when it was in theaters. A pitch-perfect examination of video game culture hidden behind an exciting and frequently hilarious science fiction story, the film is a helpful reminder that Tom Cruise is still the greatest movie star on the planet and that completely original worlds with no baggage are just as exciting as sequels, prequels and reboots.
Runner-up: The Fault in Our Stars
Because it got awfully dusty in that theater. Seriously. It’s just allergies. Stop looking at me.
Best Scene of the Summer: Baby Groot Dances, Guardians of the Galaxy
The action in Guardians of the Galaxy is fine, but it’s a sign of Marvel Studios’ unique strengths that the scene everyone is still talking about is just a quick sequence where a newly regrown Groot dances to the Jackson 5. It’s an adorable capper to a charming movie, proof that audiences will always respond to great characters before they respond to spectacle. Hell, this scene is so great that it inspired a toy after the fact. Everyone is going to own a baby Groot.
Runner-up: Godzilla Finally Uses His Atomic Breath, Godzilla
Because we knew it was going to happen eventually and then it happened and then it was fantastic.
Most Romantic Scene: The MUTOs Do Their Biz-Ness, Godzilla
What’s crazy about the two Big Bads in Godzilla is that all they want to do is get it on and make babies. They have no hatred toward humanity and they bear no ill will toward civilization. They’re just animals and they want to do what animals do. We don’t actually see these two massive beasts consummate their relationship, but we do it to see the buildup and it’s as weird and beautiful as any nature footage. There have never been two “villains” whose motivations have made more sense.
Runner Up: That Controversial Anne Frank Scene, The Fault in Our Stars
Because romantic scenes that take big, crazy risks should be rewarded.
The WTF Award for the Moment That Made Us Say “WTF!”: The Final 15 Minutes of Lucy
Look, I won’t beat around the bush: spoilers, okay? Ahem. The final 15 minutes of Lucy find Scarlett Johansson accessing 100% of her brain’s power and then the real crazy starts to happen. Instead of just being an unstoppable warrior with the ability to tap into people’s phone calls, she can now travel through time. And she does. And she sees thousands of years of history. And she meets the first human on a riverbank. And then she witnesses the birth of the universe. And then she, uh, creates the universe? And becomes God? Maybe? Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman watches in horror as her corporeal form transforms into into a liquid computer. WTF?
Runner-up: The Climax of Into the Storm
Because Matt Walsh reenacts that scene from The Matrix Revolutions.
Hero of the Summer: The TIDUS, Into the Storm
Forget Star-Lord. Forget Tom Cruise. The real hero of the summer of the summer is the Tidus, the Badass F***ing Tank Car built to withstand tornadoes in the instant camp classic Into the Storm. While the humans barely leave an impression, the TIDUS gets entire scenes dedicated to how badass it is, including a sequence where a character speaks directly the camera and explains everything it can do. And then there’s the climax, which revolves entirely around whether or not the TIDUS can just stay in one place while the biggest tornado in human history rides over it. Oh, man. This car is so great and so stupid and it deserves to star in so many sequels.
Runner-up: Caesar, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Because if we’re being perfectly honest, there were no summer movie characters this complicated and fascinating.
Special Grand Jury Prize for the Movie You Forgot Existed: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
What? This movie actually came out? No one told me. Oh. Wait. I did see this! Oh. Oh, man. Oof. Never mind.
Runner-up: Jersey Boys
Worst Movie: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Outside of Eva Green’s truly insane performance, there are few pleasures to be found in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. It may look like the 2005 original and the Frank Miller comics that inspired it, but the heart and humor are nowhere to be found. This is cheap, ugly nonsense that emphasizes the flaws of the source material in a way that makes everyone look bad. It’s time for someone to give director Robert Rodriguez an intervention.
Runner-up: Transformers: Age of Extinction
Because it’s a Transformers movie that’s perilously close to three hours.
Best Movie: Godzilla
A blockbuster that zagged when everyone was expecting it to zig, Godzilla is one of the most surprising movies of 2014. Embracing its schlocky material while treating its monsters like living breathing animals with no human characteristics, this film literally feels like nothing that came before it, blazing a new trail and not caring who doesn’t get it. In director Gareth Edwards, we have found a filmmaker with the scope, imagination and playfulness of a young Steven Spielberg. He deserves to make movies until the day he dies.
Runner-ups: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 22 Jump Street, Edge of Tomorrow
Because why pick one when you can pick three?
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