Summer movie season comes to a close this Labor Day weekend. We’ve been through a lot this year, with more sequels, remakes, reboots, and adaptations than ever before. In this season of excess, it’s easy to lose track of the small details, the special performances, and the mini-trends. The 2015 Grantland Summer Movie Awards are here to celebrate the actors, filmmakers, and dinosaurs that made this a season to remember.
Best Supporting Actress
Shea Serrano: There is an accepted line of thinking that the most captivating female character from a 2015 summer movie is Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road, and I don’t hate that notion. Furiosa was smart, compelling, and moved with a very discernible agency (also: She was super good at shooting a gun, possibly a very important thing to you). She was all the things that, were you working at writing an ultra-elite female character, you’d hope to accomplish. And yet, let me offer an alternate selection, a character I am only slightly embarrassed to admit that I developed a very strong attachment to, one I found both intellectually fascinating and physically attractive: Blue, from Jurassic World.
Blue was the lead velociraptor in the all-female pack that Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady oversaw. And should you try to interject here and say something about how Grady, a man, controlled/trained/dominated the raptors, I’d argue otherwise. He didn’t control them so much as Blue allowed him to exist near them without being eaten. And tempting as it is to say I’d make that argument based on some subtle nuance I observed during one of the movie’s raptor/Grady interactions, mostly it’s because there was a point early in the movie when he explicitly said, “I don’t control the raptors. It’s a relationship. It’s based on mutual respect.”
I loved Blue. I loved her smile (or snarl, as it were). I loved how complicated she was. I loved her story line. I loved that she was the character the raptor army revolved around, Grady included. I loved that, at the end of the movie, she was the character who charged heroically into an impossible fight. I swear to you this is true: When that raptor barking battle noise started vibrating the theater and then they cut to the shot of Blue sprinting into the death fray, I legit cheered out loud. And I loved that she was the character who was tasked with the most philosophically overwhelming moral dilemma. She essentially had to decide whether she wanted to be responsible for helping a dinosaur kill humans, which quite possibly would’ve led to the advancement of the dinosaur species, or for helping humans kill a dinosaur, which very likely was going to lead to the containment and commercialization of the dinosaur species. Imperator Furiosa was an A-plus-level movie character. But Blue was the Imperator Feminist. And she was a fucking dinosaur. We should all aspire to leapfrog our perceived and ascribed capabilities as thoroughly as she did.
Best Music Business Scumbag
Alex Pappademas: Is it wrong that after this summer, I just want Paul Giamatti to keep playing legendary record-industry heels forever? He’s been humanizing two-dimensional creeps since his breakthrough performance as Pig Vomit in 1997’s Private Parts, essentially a rock biopic without the rock; can we make sure he gets first refusal next time a biopic needs an Allen Klein, a Lou Pearlman, a Salieri?
In June’s Love & Mercy, as Dr. Eugene Landy, the Svengali shrink who gaslights John Cusack’s Brian Wilson by depriving him of Canter’s matzo ball soup and Elizabeth Banks, he was a breezily despicable Zen fascist straight out of “California Über Alles” by the Dead Kennedys — “You will jog for the master race / And always wear the happy face.” The real Brian Wilson gave Giamatti’s Landy two traumatized thumbs up by admitting he’d found himself “absolutely in fear” while watching the film.
Then in August, playing N.W.A manager and Ruthless Records cofounder Jerry Heller in Straight Outta Compton, Giamatti basically swooped in and stole the Best Bad-Guy Performance in an Otherwise Wobbly West Coast Pop-Genius Biopic from himself. The real Heller appears to be mulling legal action over the way he’s portrayed in Compton, which is understandable but also funny, since Jerry is arguably the most nuanced and complex character in the film, and the only one whose contradictions the programmatic screenplay doesn’t streamline away. Suge Knight, played by the glowering ex-stuntman R. Marcos Taylor as Rictus Erectus in blood-red sweats, is the movie’s villain; the relationship between Giamatti’s Heller and Eazy-E is its true love story. Only Jerry calls Eazy “Eric”; we’re meant to see his affection for the man as real, and Jerry’s (alleged) crookedness as the complication that keeps them apart. The figure of the white patron for whom genuinely caring about black artists and unscrupulously exploiting their talent aren’t mutually exclusive was a time-honored music-biz archetype long before Jerry met Eazy. But when Eazy finally walks out of Heller’s suburban kitchen and takes the future with him, the panic and guilt on Giamatti’s face as he calls out in vain tilts the movie in Heller’s favor.
Whatever Heller did to or for N.W.A, this kitchen now represents the sum total of what he has to show for it. What shall it profit a man, if he loses the world and gains a juicer and one of those wooden hooks you hang bananas on? “It’s perfectly comfortable, if a bit unassuming,” wrote Grantland’s Amos Barshad upon visiting the now-74-year-old Heller at his home, which turned out to be a modest two-story house in Westlake Village. “The thought does come to mind: If Jerry Heller stole money, perhaps he didn’t steal enough.” On the surface, on the level where Straight Outta Compton and most other rock biopics work, that’s irony; only Giamatti could make it feel like a tragedy.
Best Director Who Nobody Wants to Like But Who’s Aging Quite Likably
Wesley Morris: There was a time not too long ago when typing “best” and “director” in the same sentence as “Guy” and “Ritchie” would have hospitalized me. The gassy gangster talk, the contorted flashiness. He was Tom Ripley to Quentin Tarantino’s Dickie Greenleaf. He was a thief making movies about thieves, which is honest but was rarely honorable. Yet every once in a while, he’d steal from a different source and change your mind. Cracking Lina Wertmüller’s safe to remake her Swept Away, for instance, made his filmmaking seem twice as hot, only half as ridiculous, and, for once, interesting.
This summer, Ritchie recaptured my interest with the movie I least wanted to see (yes, even less than Pixels). Maybe he knew the expectations were low for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., that remakes of old-ass television haven’t been fashionable for 15 years, that his stars were leaden market-correctees, that he’s more convincing with versions of law enforcement than breakers of the law. Who can say? But I salute the lightness afoot here. The sheer “whatever” Ritchie gives this movie is a form of confidence. He knows where to put the jokes and where the action is — and four or five times he gets them going simultaneously. Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill are still lumbering mannequins, but this is the first director to build an entire department store around them. For once, I enjoyed my time shopping at Ritchie’s. I look forward to coming back.
Worst OSHA Workplace Violations
Jason Concepcion: Once upon a time, there were dinosaurs and the uninsurable Central American stunt-science playland in which the leviathans roamed free, inevitably slaking their hunger for live prey by crunching their giant teeth upon the khaki-clad gristle-and-bonesicles that were once various employees of the theme park. Then, the dinosaurs died out — not with the celestial bang of an asteroid splatting into the bull’s-eye, but with the insidious whimper of diminishing box office returns.
But life, gritty and implacable, is not so easily dispatched. Not when there are billions of consumers — both in America and, perhaps more importantly, in overseas markets — who have never felt the thrill of watching computer-generated lizards terrorize vacationers. Dinosaurs, after slumbering off their late-’90s hangover in the cozy shells of their intellectual property eggs, have emerged to rule the world again.
And, once again, it’s the workaday wage slaves who toil in close proximity to the beasts who bear the true cost. None more tragically than the unnamed InGen mercenary seen above, flying shotgun in a helicopter piloted by novice flyer and Jurassic World resort owner Simon Masrani on a mission to take down the rampaging Indominus Rex (“Untameable King”). Jurassic World is essentially an extended meta-commentary on the economic imperatives that drive Hollywood to crank out universe-expanding sequels and reboots. In this metaphor, Masrani (played with appropriate Branson-esque swagger by Irrfan Khan) represents the influence of developing markets.
The dead dino-wranglers, concession workers, and security guards? They represent the kindling that fires the furnaces of late capitalism.
In the above still, Masrani had just asked the mercenaries in his helicopter if they had served in the armed forces. Unnamed InGen mercenary answers that he fought in Afghanistan.
Imagine it: InGen merc survives the depredations of Afghanistan, fighting America’s war on terror in a fierce landscape littered with the bleached bones of empires. He comes home to find the country ideologically divided and the systems for post-combat medical and mental health support for vets mired in endless swamps of red tape. So, surveying the career opportunities for combat veterans, he figures, Why not take a security gig with Jurassic World? There is a steady check in the high five figures, rock-solid medical and retirement benefits, and, unlike standard security contractor jobs, no fedayeen planting IEDs under my Humvee, no pirates launching RPGs at my cargo ship. What could go wrong?
Then he was impaled by the spiny beak of an escaped pterodactyl.
Best Review of Minions on the Internet/Pulitzer Prize for Journalism
Dave Schilling: I know Rembert Browne. I know him to be a humble man who would blush at the notion of accepting an award for excellence. “You’ve got the wrong guy,” he’d say. “Don’t you mean to give this to Dave Schilling for his fantastic recap of the pilot episode of West Texas Investors Club? I mean, sure, that’s a TV show and this is a movie awards blog post, but wasn’t it really very good?” Yes, it was very good, but we’re not here to talk about me, are we? No, we’re here to talk about Minions.
The genius of Rem’s review isn’t technical or cerebral. It goes without saying that his prose is without peer. No, the brilliance of the piece comes from the incredible level of bravery he showed by even writing it in the first place. What other Internet writer was in touch with his or her true feelings enough to call Minions an instant classic not once, but twice?
Talk about a Profile in Courage.
Somehow, some way, Rembert is able to reference Jay Z, Betty Friedan, Pootie Tang, Independence Day, and the Million Man March all in a single review of Minions.
I know. I’m having a hard time standing up, too.
Oh, and remember this:
Without Rembert Browne, would you even know there was a stickup in Minions? No, because you didn’t see Minions; you just read his amazing review. Thanks, Rem.
“If you give the Minions an inch of love, they’ll give you a mile.” —Rembert Browne
“THE BABY HANDED HIS DAD A GUN AND THEY WENT TO GO ROB A BANK WHILE THE MINIONS WERE IN THE CAR.” —Rembert Browne
The Music Movie We Won’t Forget: Amy
Sean Fennessey: Documentaries are not exempt from Hollywood’s culture of more. The spidering effect of the Best Documentary Feature Oscar wins for 2012’s Searching for Sugar Man and 2013’s Twenty Feet From Stardom created a web of music docs, a little cottage industry about the unknown heroes of recorded sound. These were the reverberations of compelling music stories from a decade prior, movies like 2004’s Dig!, which traced the frenemies in the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols, and 2002’s Standing in the Shadows of Motown, about the Funk Brothers — deep studies of idiosyncratic outsiders, or process films about the mechanics and joy of pop music. In the aftermath, the focus in these movies began to zero in on the individual. In the past 24 months we’ve seen thoughtful, narrow-execution docs about Nick Cave, Kathleen Hanna, and Nas — icons in miniature.1
1. In writing about Sugar Man and the specter of the rock doc, Steven Hyden reflected on the National-focused 2012 movie Mistaken for Strangers: “… like most 21st-century rock documentaries, it implies that music has no larger meaning.”
The churn that pushed many of these films forward has resulted in a bizarre confluence of music-related stories this year. There’s Netflix’s Bob Weir hagiography The Other One, pegged to the Grateful Dead’s recent fare thee well; Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the primary-sourced film about the Nirvana frontman that premiered at Sundance and later on HBO; The Wrecking Crew, another unsung heroes ode to the in-house instrumentalists on many of the most indelible pop hits of the ’60s and ’70s; and What Happened, Miss Simone?, a meditative look at the rise and unraveling of the incomparable Nina Simone. (Fiction films have also cracked into rock idolatry of late, with Jonathan Demme’s Ricki and the Flash and the faux–Barry Manilow melodrama Danny Collins.)
Asif Kapadia’s Amy feels unbound from this trend — its subject has been dead for only four years, and while Amy Winehouse was beloved in her time, we had just reached a moment when her ghost had gone quiet. Amy is a process movie, too, but of a different sort — the gradual ungluing that we see across Simone’s life happened in just a scant few years for Winehouse. So we see Amy — a fully formed talent, even as a “Happy Birthday”–singing teen — developing her aesthetic, her look, her loves, her habits, her addictions. Her lyrics appear onscreen, written out in a girlish purple tint, the curlicues of a diary entry writ large.
Her recording of “Back to Black” — “in two or three hours,” according to producer Mark Ronson — is one of those things you can’t believe someone had the good sense to film. In the film, the backing track drops out, Winehouse unleashes, her voice 1,000 years old and brand-new, and then she cheerily exits the recording booth. Winehouse was not a star in America at this time, but she was consumed by an on-again-off-again romance with Blake Fielder-Civil that inspired something in her that can’t be explained. Ronson calls it “a magic moment,” which is not hyperbole. The same is true of Amy.
Best Performance by a Quadruped
Holly Anderson: I do not know where Andrew Bujalski dug up this cat to serve as Kevin Corrigan’s onscreen companion in Results, but he’s the best part of the movie, and it’s a really good movie. Like Corrigan himself, the cat neither seeks nor requires your approval to find success in his chosen field.
Like Danny, Corrigan’s character, the cat should probably reexamine some of his life choices, but he’s probably also going to be just fine! He serves as the visual punch line of one of the film’s best jokes simply by showing up; in close-up, he neither wastes the moment nor preens for the director. He is subjected to that worst of feline indignities — being put on a leash — made worse still when Danny picks up the cat and jogs with him, and bears the moment with affronted dignity. He is everything a cat, and a performer, should be.
The cat’s final appearance is a tour de force of verisimilitude: skulking around avoiding the feet of the assholes who don’t understand this is his house and he did not sign off on a kegger. It may not be the cat’s house, but it’s his screen. This cat should replace Edward Norton the next time he tries to wrest control of a movie he’s in.
Best Performance by a Former NBA MVP in a Movie That Does Not Costar Danny DeVito, Bill Murray, and a Talking Pig-Man
“I’m not going to go to practice and all the guys are talking about it and I’m left out.”
—LeBron James on Downton Abbey
That’s the funniest line in a movie packed with people who are paid to be funny. And it’s possibly the funniest line of a summer that saw a new comedy released almost every other week. The revelation that LeBron James can project the kind of profound onscreen charisma that even The New Yorker was calling the best performance by an active basketball player ever has been the pop cultural revelation of 2015. And at bare minimum, we have a little more insight on why Kevin Love came back.
Best Performance by a Pajama-Clad Flamethrower-Guitarist Dangling From Bungee Cords on the Front of a Truck Made of Amplifiers
Mark Lisanti: If Mad Max: Fury Road was the thinking blockbuster aficionado’s pick for best movie of the summer,2 then it’s a short pole-vault hop across two speeding trucks to consider its surprise star the season’s breakout performance. We speak not of ostensible lead Tom Hardy and his 12 lines of ball-gagged dialogue delivered from his perch as the world’s most ruggedly handsome hood ornament, nor of Imperator Theron, Fury Road’s rightly praised actual hero who reduced Hardy to little more than an afterthought rifle stand. No, we’re talking about the inscrutably named Doof Warrior.3
2. Just stipulate to this presumption right now, and life will be so much easier for all of us. What are you going to pick instead, Mr. Theoretical Contrarian, Fantastic Four?
3. Also referred to as the Coma-Doof Warrior, if you’re not into the whole brevity-in-absurdist-nomenclature thing.
Who? Come on. Weren’t you already Googling “Mad Max flamethrower guitar guy giant amps on wheels holy shit WTF” as you exited through the multiplex lobby? And discovering both untold backstory (he’s blind and wears a mask made of his mother’s face) and production fun facts (the guitar, flamethrower, and amps all were practical) in your thirst to know more about him? As great as Theron was — she was great, and the line for her Oscar campaign forms behind us, someone will be along shortly to arm-check your prosthesis — for the purposes of these awards, we’re handing the hardware to one of the strangest, most giddily inventive cinematic characters we’ve ever seen and declaring this the Summer of Doof. Furiosa will live to win another day. She’s tough like that.
Best Side 1, Track 1
Amos Barshad: For about 45 minutes of its two-and-a-half-hour running time, Straight Outta Compton was the most entertaining thing I’ve seen in a long, long time. Before every beat of internecine feuding was squeezed together and rattled off, what we had was a madcap adventure: five young men, high on their own talents and particular wherewithal, running around together having the time of their lives. Salute the young unknowns in the big roles, most specifically Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E and O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube (the latter, against all odds, making us, and the old man, proud): Their cockiness was earned and, at least in that first half, never taken all that seriously. By the end, the thing collapsed under the rigors of biopic formula: infamous anecdotes and bold-name cameos were being checked off, one after the other after the other. But in the beginning, the movie had enough time to show us the recording of “Boyz-n-the Hood” as it may have actually happened: full of happenstance and painstaking effort and joy.