2015 at the movies proved to be another memorable year for engaging, interesting, flawed, funny and fascinating characters. Our list is as diverse as ever: this year’s crop includes a vampire, an astronaut, a dinosaur, a sheep, two spies, three robots, a transgender prostitute, and a weird pink cat-elephant hybrid that reduced us to tears. Here, in no particular order, are the ones that stood out from the crowd.
Furiosa (Charlize Theron) – Mad Max: Fury Road
With bleached shaved hair and bionic arm, Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa dominated George Miller’s incredible fourth Mad Max film – much to the chagrin of some of Max’s own online cheerleaders. They were wrong about that. Furiosa was the perfect counterpoint to Tom Hardy’s taciturn Max. Max drifts, getting into adventures by happenstance. The adventures themselves have generally been somebody else’s. Furiosa’s fierce purpose – like Pappagallo’s and Savannah Nix’s before her - drove the entire movie. Without her, Max is just a blood bag.
Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) - Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Forget Bond. MI6’s finest this year actually appeared in a Mission: Impossible movie. Ilsa Faust is no longer with Her Maj’s secret service when we meet her, and it’s hard to imagine her thing for assassinating heads of state ever played particularly well with M and his fellow pen-clickers. In fact, Faust's motivations remain fairly opaque throughout her Mission: Impossible debut. With Rebecca Ferguson's Scandinavian roots and action chops, here was the closest thing you'll see to a Terminator played by Ingrid Bergman.
Ava (Alicia Vikander) – Ex Machina
If Alien, Terminator, and, erm, Austin Powers have taught us anything, it’s that you probably shouldn’t trust an android. Impossibly beautiful and infectiously inquisitive, Alicia Vikander pulled the wool over the eyes of Domhnall Gleeson (and her audience) as the AI tasked with passing the Turing test. With his unconventional dance moves, Oscar Isaac may have been handed one of the year’s best scenes, but the image of Ava leaving Gleeson’s Caleb to an inconceivable fate is nigh-on impossible to shake. After all, as movie legend has proven, hell hath no fury like a robot scorned.
The Girl (Sheila Vand) – A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
Ever wished vampires spent less time bloodsucking and more time skateboarding? Indie kids the world over rejoiced when Sheila Vand’s ‘Girl’ did just that in Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature-length debut. Blurring the genre lines, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is coming-of-age tale and horror, romance and Western – its chador-donning heroine purging Bad City’s streets of the criminal and depraved. Beyond her immaculate eyeliner and impeccable music taste, The Girl is undeniably a cast-iron, feminist icon for the ages.
Bing Bong (Richard Kind) - Inside Out
It’s a testament to the extraordinary levels of invention achieved in Pixar’s fifteenth film that a character named Bing Bong, the imaginary friend of Riley, did not turn out to be an irritating bit of comic relief afterthought. It is all the more impressive that, in a film quite literally brimming with emotions – the lead characters are named Joy and Sadness – a pink elephant-cat-dolphin hybrid could steal the film’s most poignant moment of all. He is, as the song went, the friend who likes to play, but ultimately, he was the friend that made us cry.
Vision (Paul Bettany) - Avengers: Age Of Ultron
On Joss Whedon’s wish list of characters to introduce since he made the first film, the Vision is a tricky proposition given his superior powers and complicated backstory. Whedon smartly whittled it down to the basics, merging Bettany’s J.A.R.V.I.S. performance with a calm, reasonable but utterly pragmatic being who could – in a moment that stands out in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – wield Thor’s hammer (cue the obvious porn parody implications). Bettany gives the character a light touch, while still giving you a sense of how dangerous he could be if provoked.
The Earl Of Croydon (Simon Farnaby) – Bill
Forget the titular Bill. Forget the planned murder of Elizabeth I by King Philip II. Forget Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory’s inspired cameos. Of all the players in Bill, Simon Farnaby’s Earl of Croydon is perfectly-coiffed head and shoulders above the rest of the Tudor troupe. Tired of being confused for the Earl of Crawley, Croydon takes claim for Shakespeare’s works in a foppish manner that the brilliant Farnaby could do in his sleep. A gloriously flamboyant villain who is desperate to make his name at court, you’re left reeling that Croydon (or is that Crawley?) isn’t a recurring character in the group’s BAFTA-winning BBC series Horrible Histories.
Luis (Michael Peña) – Ant-Man
Perennial supporting actor Michael Peña struck comic-book gold with his scene-stealing turn as Scott Lang’s ex-con bestie. Fresh out of San Quentin, Luis’ mother has died, his father was deported and his girlfriend up and left, but he got the van. So there’s that. His constant dopey grin, rapid-fire storytelling and puppy-dog charm immediately secured him as a Marvel favourite when Ant-Man hit screens in July. Signed for three Marvel films, we can’t wait to see what else the smoothie machine thief has up his sleeves.
Harry Hart (Colin Firth) – Kingsman: The Secret Service
Who’d have thought that a couple of the standout fight sequences of the year would have Colin Firth in the middle of them? His gentleman spy Harry Hart – codename 'Galahad' – all but stole the show from Taron Egerton’s reluctant hero, to the extent that, despite what happens to him, he’s been much rumoured for the developing sequel. Understandably compared widely to Bond, Hart is much more John Steed, keeping his gentlemanly English poise even when giving a bar full of thugs the lamping of their lives. Ralph Fiennes – who played Steed in the Avengers film we don’t talk about – is now Bond’s M. It’s a weirdly incestuous world, that spy game.
Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) – Whiplash
One of those barnstorming supporting roles that practically screams Oscar: it was no surprise to anyone that J.K. Simmons won it. There’d probably have been some sort of international protest if he hadn’t. Monstrous, terrifying, bullying, reprehensible, indefensible… the extraordinary thing is we come to understand him and kind of like him as the film progresses – even when he spitefully sets Miles Teller’s apprentice jazz drummer up for a worst-nightmare scenario that’s as thrilling a set-piece as in any of this year’s action epics. He only does it out of love. Or is it revenge? Oh, it’s both.
Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) – Tangerine
Sin-Dee Rella, played by first-time actress Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, is the unstoppable driving motor of Sean S. Baker’s iPhone-shot comedy drama. “It took us about three months to figure out the script,” Baker told Empire, “and that came from Kiki, because Kiki was the one who pitched us the idea of the woman scorned and the search from the cis-gendered woman who’s involved in the affair. I’ve used first-time actors a lot. In this case Kiki had studied drama in high school, and done shows either walking a catwalk or performing in a club. So this came pretty naturally to her. Her confidence level was on the same level as James Ransone from day one.”
Rick Ford (Jason Statham) – Spy
Jason Statham’s aptitude for getting laughs has never been in doubt. Whether gabbing through his early Guy Ritchie roles, busting eccentric moves in the Transporters, simmering with annoyance in the Cranks, or playing daft games with Jimmy Fallon, his comedy chops are obvious. So it was great to finally see him unleashed in a specifically comic setting this year: Spy giving him the opportunity to talk about ingesting poisons in secret underground poison rings, reattaching his own arm, and various other bits of immense silliness. He got the girl too! Even if Melissa McCarthy was un-persuaded by his thumb action.
Mark Watney (Matt Damon) – The Martian
In space, as Ridley Scott told us once previously, no one can hear you scream. So when he’s stranded alone on Mars, Matt Damon’s enormously likeable Mark Watney has no option but to get on with things. A tribute to the spirit of dogged determination and sheer positive thinking, Watney’s ingenious solutions to his unimaginably trying circumstances somehow wring great entertainment from sequences of his farming potatoes in his own shit. And the video diaries, in which he’s essentially talking to himself for months, are a constant source of upbeat humour.
Baymax (Scott Adsit) - Big Hero 6
Even from the teaser trailer it looked like Disney had found a new star. And indeed, Baymax was the most iconic element to come out of the film, adapted from a relatively obscure Marvel property about young wannabe superheroes saving their Asian fusion city. Joining the Loveable Movie Robots Roll Of Honour that also includes such luminaries as R2-D2, The Iron Giant and Silent Running’s trio, Baymax was charmingly naive and, unusually for a robot, huggably inflatable. Adsit brought a slightly childlike feel to the ‘bots voice, and he’s the perfect combo of best friend, doctor and warrior machine.
Diana (Tilda Swinton) - Trainwreck
There’s a particular expression to watch for in people’s faces when you tell the unaware that, yes, the perma-tanned, Janet Street-Porter-esque Diana really was Tilda Swinton: it’s a slow-dawning sunrise of shock. Swinton vanished into the character, and though she’s only in a few scenes of Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow’s winning comedy, she might as well be dressed as a thief, because she steals every moment she’s on screen.
Shaun The Sheep (Justin Fletcher) - Shaun The Sheep The Movie
This year’s only feature from Bristol’s Aardman Animations flew under most people’s radar, perhaps because it was erroneously seen as a mere ‘family-friendly’ affair. They missed out on a treat. Justin Fletcher - best known to pre-school tikes and tired parents as CBBC celebrity Mr. Tumble - provides Shaun’s various baas and bleats, but the ever-charming, ever-resourceful Shaun is essentially a silent movie star; his team of eternally-patient stop-motion animators imbuing him with a pluck and wit that transcends his modest plasticine origins. Seek out this movie, whatever your age - ewe won’t regret it.
Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) - Carol
There’s something about Carol. From the moment we first meet her, gliding into a 1950s apartment store as if a lipsticked angel, we are – like Therese (Rooney Mara), her object of desire – fascinated, mesmerised, transfixed, and infatuated. Cate Blanchett’s performance as a Manhattan socialite embarking on a love that dare not speak its name is immaculate in every sense, with a depth and sensitivity that reaches far beyond her mink fur coats.
Butch the T-Rex (Sam Elliott) - The Good Dinosaur
Dinosaur movies typically showcase the Tyrannosaurus Rex as a fearsome, bloodthirsty, alpha-dino, an almighty villain. In a characteristically deft move, Pixar turned the king of the prehistoric beasts into a tough but friendly family of cattle farmers, with the sonorous tones of Sam Elliott – essentially a real-life cowboy – voicing the family’s patriarch. His folksy wisdom around the campfire brings some of the film’s best lines. “If you ain't scared,” he observes, “you ain't alive.”