We love top-10 lists as much as the next schmuck. But there's a lot they may have trouble capturing—the tiny but brilliant cameos, the grossest gags, the ways in which Clint Eastwood and Cameron Diaz have failed us. So in lieu of another top 10, here's a ragtag assemblage of cinematic highlights (and lowlights) from the past year.
Best Nutjob: Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhaal put forth a career-best performance as the year's most terrifying sociopath. (He should really hook up with Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl.) Looking like a chihuahua in a death grip, his morally clueless crime-scene videographer could have been the bastard son of Travis Bickle. AP KRYZA.
Best Punk Rock Anthem: "Hate the Sport"
The 13-year-old Swedish girls in the delightful We Are the Best! may want for musical talent. But they've no shortage of pluck and passion, and they caterwaul their way through a screed against sports fanatics who give no thought to starving kids or the threat of nuclear meltdown. Sample lyric: "Children in Africa are dying/But you're all balls flying." Also: "The world is a morgue/And you're watching Björn Borg." REBECCA JACOBSON.
Best Use of Creative Weaponry: The Raid 2: Berandal
There are a half-dozen fight scenes in this Indonesian action flick better than any single one Hollywood yawned out last year. Part of that is the cast: amazing martial artists who perform (and in many cases choreographed) their own fight scenes. And part is the batshit fight scenes themselves, in which characters maim and disfigure each other with—among other things—baseballs, a hot plate, hammers, seat belts, the door of a toilet stall, crockery and a surprisingly deadly broom handle. RUTH BROWN.
Best French Feminist Weepie: Violette
Martin Provost's biopic about 20th-century French writer Violette Leduc is pure angst and gloom wrapped in the warm colors of summer. We watch Violette cry about being a bastard child, cry about being alone, cry in a nun's habit, cry in a bathtub, cry over Jean-Paul Sartre and cry over Simone de Beauvoir. BLAIR STENVICK.
Best Anti-Heroine: Cameron Diaz in The Other Woman and Sex Tape
The hungover owl glare, the addled rhythms and brusque intimacy of post-coital amusement, the nihilistic slapstick…Cameron Diaz is aging into Robert Mitchum—the late-'50s version, bloodied yet unbowed and still willing to give a damn but unable to pretend it'll make any difference. JAY HORTON.
Best Performance by the State of Oregon: Wild
Sure, the Columbia River Gorge looks pretty great in this adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. But even better is an earlier scene in a forest so dense and verdant it would look like CGI to anyone who hasn't spent time in western Oregon after a heavy rain. (RJ)
Best Off-the-Rails Craziness: Snowpiercer
Snowpiercer packs a Margaret Thatcher-channeling Tilda Swinton, an ax-wielding Captain America, poison fish, cannibals, ravers, sushi, debutantes, surrealist propaganda, drugs and bugs into one perpetually chugging train, turns out the lights and lets them all clash. It's the most purely wacko and visceral film of the year. (APK)
Best Earworm: "Everything Is Awesome," The Lego Movie
Sure, Guardians of the Galaxy had you humming "Hooked on a Feeling" for the rest of the day, but "Everything Is Awesome" has taken out a long-term lease in your vestibulocochlear nerve—right next to "Let It Go" and the cantina song from Star Wars. (RB)
Best Psychedelic Animations of Toilet-Seat Bacteria: Wetlands
Wetlands had a depressingly short run in Portland, perhaps because its teenage heroine's quest to turn herself into "a living pussy-hygiene experiment" proved too much for audiences. That's a shame: The German film boasted more than its share of gross-out material—anal fissures, cum converted into chewing gum, the nastiest public toilet since Trainspotting—and a whole lot of heart. (RJ)
Best Action Figures: Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy and Channing Tatum in 22 Jump Street
Shruggably two-fisted charmers with deft timing and easy physicality, Chris Pratt and Channing Tatum lean heavily on an Old Hollywood presence—a manipulative transparency indistinguishable from actual flirtation. (JH)
Best Reminder of Clint Eastwood's Deteriorating Mind: Jersey Boys
Remember when Clint Eastwood spent 10 minutes talking to a chair on live TV in 2012? Watching his adaptation of Jersey Boys gives a good glimpse of what it must have felt like to be on the chair's end. Terrible pacing, lost opportunities, meandering plot lines and a completely disconnected dance number at the end turned this Broadway musical into 2014's most frustrating bore. (BS)
Best Movie Filmed Over the Course of 12 Years: Boyhood
But also just one of the best damn coming-of-age movies ever. (RJ)
Best CGI Penises: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
There were a lot of reasons to knock the Ninja Turtles reboot: incomprehensible action sequences, laughably bad dialogue, and the cold hard fact that Megan Fox gives far and away the most nuanced performance in the entire movie. But its most heinous crime is the appearance of the titular turtles. The film took the Turtles of our youth—lovably anthropomorphized and cartoony—and made them look like steroidal dongs. JAMES N. HELMSWORTH.
Best War Beasts: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Truth in advertising at last: Nearly half of The Battle of the Five Armies is the battle itself. Amid the skirmish, don't miss the beasts of burden who make this elegant warcraft possible—some familiar, some fantastical, all awesome. A giant boar charges into battle with a hammer-wielding dwarf at the reins, giant trolls go into business for themselves, and wizards transform into bears in midair. They steal every scene they're in. MICHAEL NORDINE.
Best Visual Pun: Usher Raymond's Cameo as a Wedding Usher in Muppets Most Wanted
I mean… (RB)
Best (Er, Worst) Timing: Let's Be Cops
In a year that's been characterized by police brutality, Fox put out a goofy movie starring two knuckleheads as dudes who pretend to be cops just so they can screw around and have fun. There may yet be a way to use comedy to address police violence. This movie is not it. (JNH)
Best Film Without Words: The Great Flood
Bill Morrison's documentary is a giant middle finger to voice-over narration. The film, about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, patches together archival footage—often splotchy or scorched—and sets it to a mesmerizing score by Seattle guitarist Bill Frisell. It's astounding. (RJ)
Best Thing We Didn't Know We Needed: Apes With Machine Guns
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes finds greatness in a scene in which an ape on horseback double-fists machine guns while galloping toward a war zone. It tops that when the same ape hijacks a tank. (APK)
Best Role Model for Our Times: Jenny Slate, Obvious Child
Would a condom have been a good idea? Yup. But as a bumbling comedian who winds up pregnant after a one-night stand, Jenny Slate doesn't reduce her character to clumsy gaffes or airheaded quirks. She's messy, but not in the way of a manic pixie dream girl. And she's real, in a way that the Girls girls (or even the Broad City gals, bless their hilarious hearts) aren't. Thanks to her canny performance—and Gillian Robespierre's smart script and direction—Obvious Child normalizes a common, legal medical procedure without ever growing preachy or strident. (RJ)
Best Sex Scene: Gone Girl
No! Worst sex scene! Worst! Poor Doogie. (APK)
Best Reason to Kill a Franchise: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Learning nothing from the overstuffed failure of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3, Marc Webb gave us three supervillains, an origin story for Peter Parker's dad, a romance, and an attempt to create an interconnected universe of spinoffs. The result would make a great double feature with Batman Forever. (APK)
Best Real-Life Soap-Opera Cast: The Galapagos Affair
It's 1934 on the Galapagos Islands, and we've got a Nietzsche-obsessed egomaniac, some Swiss Family Robinson wannabes, and a horse-toothed, revolver-wielding baroness with a "pair of servile gigolos." Death and sex ensue. It's nearly as pulpy as Gone Girl—and that isn't a documentary. (RJ)
Best Ensemble Cast That Was Utterly Wasted: The Monuments Men
What's the best thing to do with a cast that includes George Clooney, Bill Murray, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin and Bob Balaban? Right, stick them in a vanity project about the importance of art and then separate them for the entire movie. (APK)
Best Unintended Consequence: Rosewater
Rosewater may have underwhelmed critics, but it kept Jon Stewart busy for eight weeks last year, which led to John Oliver's breakout turn as guest host of The Daily Show, which in turn led to the creation of his own show, Last Week Tonight—one of the best TV programs of 2014. (RB)
Best Instance of White People Losing Their Shit at a Dinner Party: Coherence
There's nothing more unintentionally hilarious than privileged people watching the world as they know it dissolve. James Ward Byrkit's quantum mechanical thriller offered plenty of genuinely creepy moments, but the main characters' small personal grievances and self-involved paranoia cut the tension with plenty of comic relief. Yes, the universe is splitting itself into infinite realities existing side by side, but when your friend brings your ex to a dinner party, well, that's the real mindbender. (BS)
Best Performance By A Giant Toenail Clipper: Interstellar
TARS, a blocky robot deck hand in Christopher Nolan's space odyssey, provided Interstellar with its only real sense of humor. Too bad you couldn't hear a damn thing it said with the blasting organ score drowning him out. (APK)
Best Idiot Savant: Sean Anders
If the unassailable Hollywood rule states that comedy pilots are uniformly terrible, why should movies be any different? By only stepping in for the sequels to Dumb & Dumber and Horrible Bosses, Sean Anders blithely ignores backstories, character motivation, and all the other vestigial remnants of traditional filmmaking. The resulting pictures, though never remotely believable, hurtle forward with a demented fever dream logic all their own. (JH)
Best Trend: Streamlining
Three of the year's best genre films—actioner John Wick, horror drama The Babadook and redneck revenge flick Blue Ruin—clock in right around 90 minutes, which is kind of the money spot. You could watch all three in the same time it would take to finish the special edition of Return of the King. (APK)
Best Mind-Crushingly Awful Line: William Fichtner, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
"I want you to drain every ounce of their blood. Even if it kills them." (JNH)