The 25 best movie characters of 2014

Image for The 25 best movie characters of 2014

A wise owl once said that character means “doing what you don't want to do but know you should”. That doesn’t always apply to our quarter century of fantastically charismatic, chilling, bruised, battered or just plain larger-than-life figures from the movie year just passed. Our tally includes two aliens, several sociopaths, an 8000 year-old vampire, a transgender footballer and a security guard called Barry. Read, digest and then leave your picks in the usual place...

25. Barry (Paddington)

Barry (Paddington)

You don’t need to hog screen time to stick in the mind, as Simon Farnaby’s stupendously slow-witted and sleazy security guard proves. He’s the reason Paddington bagged a PG rating, coming onto Hugh Bonneville’s bedraggled and bedragged Mr. Brown, in the guise of a cleaning lady, in the annals of the Geographers’ Guild HQ. We said ‘annals’. Farnaby, an old friend and colleague of director Paul King’s, turns Barry into a fabulously dim horndog, somehow unable to fathom that the one-armed woman in front of him is, in fact, a two-armed man. And his final line - “stop that sexy woman!” - is racy stuff.

24. Quicksilver (X-Men: Days Of Future Past)

Quicksilver (X-Men: Days Of Future Past)

The first time the internet got a look at Evan Peters as the fastest mutant alive, they cried ‘foul’. He looked dorky, they said. All wrong, they said. It was proof that the late addition of the silver-haired speedster to Days Of Future Past was dirty pool, a ploy to muddy the waters ahead of the character’s appearance in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. But they were silenced when they saw Quicksilver move. Figures. Played with braggadocio by Peters, Peter Maximoff (Americanised from the comic book’s Pietro) steals the entire movie, and turned out to be so powerful that he was sidelined for the rest of the movie, lest it be over in five minutes.

23. Shep Gordon (Supermensch)

Shep Gordon (Supermensch)

A ‘supermensch’ is an extraordinary man, which makes sense when you realise that ‘mensch’ means ‘a person of integrity and honour’ in Yiddish. This real-life supermensch was the original entertainment industry svengali, shepherding the likes of Alice Cooper, Blondie and a host of celebrity chefs through the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s and on to fame, glory and buckets of cash. Seen through documentary director (and bezzie mate) Mike Myers’ eyes, he’s a loveable rogue, a consummate foodie, a love-lorn romantic and born-again Buddhist, whose only real vice is vice itself.

22. TARS (Interstellar)

TARS (Interstellar)

A worthy addition to the canon of movie robots, Interstellar's TARS - the bulky ‘droid that accompanies Cooper on his mission – initially doesn’t look like much, but quickly reveals hidden depths. His weird Kit-Kat-meets-the-2001-monolith design makes sense when you see him in action, particularly when he whips across waves to save Anne Hathaway, and the unthreatening voice of Bill Irwin (who also puppeteered TARS and his ‘brother’, CASE, on set) humanises him, and neatly subverts our expectations that he’ll go on a homicidal, HAL-a-like rampage; expectations of which TARS is all too ready to mock. We wouldn’t mind seeing his humour setting at 90 per cent or more - a regular spot on Mock The Week beckons.

20. Cliff (Pride)

Cliff (Pride)

In a film full of showier performances, none were as nuanced and as touching as the work Bill Nighy put in as Cliff. Quietly but warmly embracing the new arrivals to his quiet mining town makes him finally admit to long-time friend Helena (Imelda Staunton) that he’s hid his true sexuality from the community. “I’ve known for years,” she admits in a lovely, powerful scene that just lets two great actors do their thing.

19. Maurice (Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes)

Maurice (Planet Of The Apes)

Much praise has been rightly showered upon Andy Serkis’ return as Caesar and the intense, relatable aggression of Toby Kebbell’s Koba. But it’s Karin Konoval who draws true affection as the hulking, wise and occasionally child-like Maurice. An orangutan just as at home teaching the tribe’s young simians as he is bonding with Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Alexander over comic books, Maurice is the beating heart of the Apes movies, one that can speak volumes with a look.

18. Jim Bob Luke (Cold In July)

Jim Bob Luke (Cold In July)

Now this is how you do a career renaissance: screeching up in a bright red, souped-up sports car, then proceeding to drawl, quip, punch and shoot everyone else in the film off the screen. Don Johnson is so gosh-darn perfect as the wry, seasoned private dick in Jim Mickle’s twisty thriller that we had to check that it wasn’t directed by Quentin Tarantino instead. A joy of a character, Jim Bob pops up in several Joe R. Lansdale novels and stories, so there’s every chance Johnson could return to the role. We’d give that a big fat “yessir”.

17. Hammer Girl (The Raid 2)

Hammer Girl (Raid 2)

Although The Raid 2 is more brutal and quote-unquote realistic than its predecessor, Gareth Evans was careful to populate its criminal underworld with a series of increasingly outlandish, almost cartoonish nemeses for Iko Uwais’ Rama to plough his way through. Most striking - quite literally, of course - is Julie Estelle’s Hammer Girl, a sunglasses-wearing deaf-mute who, much like Daredevil, has sharpened other senses to lethal effect. Announcing her presence in style on a crowded commuter train, she uses both ends of a hammer in a way that would make Laurence Llewelyn Bowen’s eyes water.

16. Dwight Evans (Blue Ruin)

Dwight Evans (Blue Ruin)

It was the year of the rural noir – Cold In July, Joe and, on telly, True Detective all stocked up the genre with high-calibre backwoods bloodletting – but it was Blue Ruin’s loveable, gormless, self-imperiling drifter Dwight who lingered longest in the imagination. Vengeance is a minefield for the poor bloke as he sets about striking back at the man who murdered his parents, setting in train a series of bloody acts (and one particularly drastic haircut) he has absolutely no control over, all while looking like he what he really needs is a good hug.

15. ‘David’ (The Guest)

‘David’ (The Guest)

If, for whatever reason (boredom, contract expiration, forgotten toothbrush), Chris Evans bails on playing Captain America in the MCU, Marvel need look no further than The Guest for his replacement: Empire’s new spirit animal, Dan Stevens. The Guest’s David is a bizarro take on Steve Rogers, an endlessly polite, all-American blond-haired, blue-eyed boy who just happens to be a stone-cold psychopath, the product of a super-soldier program gone horribly wrong. Charming as hell in public, deeply scary in private, David (we never learn his real name) could teach Paddington a thing or two about hard stares, and Michael Myers a thing or two about being an unstoppable killing machine.

14. Havana Segrand (Maps To The Stars)

Havana Segrand (Maps To The Stars)

If the idea of Julianne Moore channelling Bette Davis from Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? into a modern Hollywood parable by David Cronenberg sounded pretty outrageous, nothing prepared us for the reality. Ageing starlet Havana Segrand was one of the ogres of the year – think Frankenstein’s Monster having crashed through an outlet of Prada – as she schemed, contorted, screwed, phoney-baloneyed, boozed and psychoanalysed her way around Tinseltown. We couldn’t get enough.

13. Galgo (Expendables 3)

Galgo (Expendables 3)

The Expendables movies don’t exactly call for subtlety when it comes to acting, and the manic energy that Antonio Banderas brings to explosives whizz and enthusiastic mercenary Galgo. Almost a panto squire among the muscle heads, he’s part Greek chorus commenting on the madness and part Romeo who enjoys hitting on Ronda Rousey’s Luna, much to her bemusement. Somehow, the character works well in a film that just about manages to be the best of the three.

12. Mercedes (22 Jump Street)

Mercedes (22 Jump Street)

Amidst the joy of the endless sequel-riffing and the tongue-in-each-other’s-cheek rom-com stylings of the relationship between Jonah Hill’s Schmidt and Channing Tatum’s Jenko, 22 Jump Street’s secret weapon was the relentlessly sarcastic Mercedes, whose sole raison d’etre, it seems, is to taunt Schmidt about his age with a series of caustic (and mostly improvised by Jillian Bell) one-liners. Then she turns out to be the movie’s Big Bad, of course, leading to the year’s most uncomfortable fight scene. This could be a breakthrough role for Bell.

11. Drax (Guardians Of The Galaxy)

Drax (Guardians Of The Galaxy)

He is not Groot. In a movie bursting with memorable characters, where a scene between a CG raccoon and a CG tree moved many to tears for pity’s sake, few pegged a preening, pumped-up punching machine played by a former wrestler as the standout. But that’s just what happened. Dave Bautista brought vulnerability, likability and innate comic timing to a role that could have been just bluster and big arms, and bagged a Bond bad guy role off the back of it. He’s helped, of course, by the fact that James Gunn gives the fabulously literal Drax more than his fair share of the best lines. Thumb in the air means job well done.

10. Jaiyah (Next Goal Wins)

Jaiyah (Next Goal Wins)

“Soccer’s become cynical and big business,” sighs America Samoa coach Thomas Rongen during this breakout soc-doc, “and I don’t want that to happen here.” There was no danger of that where his big-tackling defender Jaiyah Saelua was concerned. A mainstay of an improving team poised to win its first ever World Cup qualifier, she was also the first transgender (technically ‘fa'afafine’, Samoa’s third gender) footballer to be recognised by FIFA and a for-the-love-of-the-game counterblast to the cash-grabbing and prejudice of the Premier League.

9. Petyr (What We Do In The Shadows)

Petyr (What We Do In The Shadows)

In a Buzzfeed-style ‘Which What We Do In The Shadows Vampire Are You?’ quiz, Petyr would be the one you’d end up with if you answered every question with “eat their liver”. A man of few, okay, no words, the weathered bloodsucker is a man so old even his better days have seen better days. He’s still strangely loveable in a domestic context though, like a Gumtree Nosferatu, and lurks in a kind of DIY crypt in the basement of their New Zealand houseshare with the low-energy demeanor you’d expect from a man of 8000. Happily, this gets him out of a lot of chores.

8. Rayon (Dallas Buyers Club)

Rayon (Dallas Buyers Club)

Jared Leto won a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing Rayon, an HIV-positive trans-woman created out of whole cloth for the film. Freed from the constraints of keeping to the real life story of a character, Leto imbued Rayon with humanity and harm in equal measure. Credit must also go to the key make-up and hair team of Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews, who took home their own Oscars for their work.

7. Batman (The Lego Movie)

Batman (The Lego Movie)

There is so much to praise about The Lego Movie that to highlight one element almost seems unfair. But Batman would expect it, so we’re going to anyway. With the perfectly suited vocal tones of Will Arnett, this take on the Dark Knight is privileged, arrogant and firmly believes in every man for himself. Oh, and in making horrendously great music about his darkness. He was so successful, his spin-off film is leap-frogging the Lego sequel.

6. Mr. Turner (Mr. Turner)

Mr. Turner (Mr. Turner)

As directed by Mike Leigh and embodied by Timothy Spall, Joseph Mallord William Turner is a grunting, shuffling, grumpy, passionate perfectionist who’ll sometimes strap himself to a ship’s mast to discover would it would be like to be strapped to a ship’s mast – in the snow. Whether he’s butting heads with Constable or varnishing something that needs a good varnishing, Turner has a gruffly fascinating screen presence that reminds you that not every artist looks like Smart Arty from 1990s kids show ZZZap!.

5. Gustave (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Gustave (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

We’ve become so accustomed to Ralph Fiennes as either dark villains or brooding everymen that it’s a revelation to see him let loose – albeit in a mannered style that meshes perfectly with Wes Anderson’s tightly framed and constructed world – as the fussy and fastidious hotel concierge. Whether he’s romancing the likes of Tilda Swinton’s crinkly Madame D. or on the run from the law, he’s a comic delight who uses language like a knife.

4. Patsey (12 Years A Slave)

Patsey (12 Years A Slave)

There was something in the character of Lupita Nyong’o’s Patsey – a second generation Guinean whose birthplace and date aren’t even known – that nailed the slave experience more eloquently than a thousand viewings of Gone With The Wind. She’s sexually exploited and brutalised on one side by her booze-swilling owner Epps (Michael Fassbender) and hated and brutalised by his jealous wife (Sarah Paulson) on the other. It’s Catch 1822. Amid all this casual cruelty and one flogging that’s almost unwatchably agonising, only her own blazing defiance and the fellowship of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Solomon keep her steady… then he’s gone too. Solomon is our guide through this bleak world but Patsey is possibly its truest face.

3. Laura (Under The Skin)

Laura (Under The Skin)

If E.T. had landed in Glasgow instead of California and picked up a transit van rather than a bike – bear with us here – his adventures may have looked a little like Scarlett Johansson’s alien lifeform as she wrestles with age-old stumpers like what it means to be human, the nature of mortality and Tommy Cooper’s fez in Jonathan Glazer’s masterful sci-fi. Johansson’s mostly wordless performance mixes the quiet control of the predator with a growing sense of wonderment and fragility at the species she’s been sent to prey on. It was a bold choice of role for a Hollywood A-lister but turned out to be a remarkable showcase for her talents. With her dark wig, fur coat and raspberry lipstick, siren calls to Scotland’s lustier blokes, she boasts one of the get-ups of the year too.

2. Lou Bloom (Nightcrawler)

Lou Bloom (Nightcrawler)

Somehow Jake Gyllenhaal and writer/director Dan Gilroy distilled Gollum into human form, crossbred him with the overenthusiastic formality of Steve Carell’s Michael Scott from the American version of The Office and poured him onto the nighttime streets of Los Angeles to trawl for human misery without truly understanding what it means to be human. Bloom is a bug-eyed vampire with shiny, greasy hair and a look that shows the sheer poison seeping from every pore. And it’s not as if he’s a malignant mole on the face of a film filled with moral people – everyone around him is a chancer or a bloodsucker looking for their pound of flesh. The neon lights give his sallow features the perfect lighting and the film presents him as a key facet of today’s newsgathering, possibly the most worrying aspect of the story. Sociopathic and driven, he’s a standout character in a murky world that needed illumination.

1. Amy Elliott Dunne (Gone Girl)

Amy Elliott Dunne (Gone Girl)

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't watched (or read) Gone Girl, do not read any of the following words.

The next time Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader and Hans Gruber throw one of their huge Masters Of Movie Evil dinners, they’d best save a seat at the head of the table for Amy Elliott Dunne. Rosamund Pike)’s vengeful, scheming sociopath is a villain for the ages, switching effortlessly from doe-eyed America’s Sweetheart to cold-eyed, cold-hearted American Psycho in the blink of an eye. Beautifully played by Pike in one of the best ‘where did that come from?’ performances in years, Amy is utterly terrifying, a monster wearing human skin, calculating all the angles instantly and fiercely, and in one memorable case, fatally rejecting anything that doesn’t end up with her getting what she wants. Hers is the face that launched a thousand uncomfortable ‘you don’t think of me like that, do you, honey?’ conversations in the car on the way home from the screening.