32 Characters We Loved In Film And TV In 2014

From actors and pop stars to robots and sentient trees, these are the film and TV characters we can’t stop thinking about. Presented in no particular order. WARNING: Spoilers throughout.

1. Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow), The Comeback

1. Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow), The Comeback

When The Comeback debuted in 2005, Valerie Cherish was ahead of her time. The series was a rich satire of reality television and the way the entertainment industry undermines women, subject matters that the mainstream public wasn't quite ready to face. Flash forward to 2014, the year The Comeback made its triumphant return. The show was darker than ever — with Valerie representing an even more damning indictment of how prestige dramas treat female characters, and how Hollywood treats women of a certain age — but viewers were now ready to dive into the show's scathing tone. (It's worth noting that the show isn't quite a ratings hit. Critical perception of The Comeback, however, is far more positive than it was nearly 10 years ago.) More the point, Lisa Kudrow's powerful, multi-layered portrayal of Val gives us a character who is savvier and more emotionally rich than her first impression would have you believe. Without revealing too much about the pitch-perfect Season 2 finale, The Comeback also gifted us with one of the best realized character arcs in television history. In the end, Val's journey, always grounded in a painful reality, brought equal parts humor and pathos. —Louis Peitzman

HBO

2. Noni Jean (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Beyond the Lights

2. Noni Jean (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Beyond the Lights

Gugu Mbatha-Raw has had quite the year — first Belle, and then Gina Prince-Bythewood’s music industry melodrama, in which she plays depressive R&B princess Noni Jean. Noni is always in the spotlight but in other ways has been going totally unseen, with no one getting a glimpse of the actual woman beneath the fantasy girl facade. Mbatha-Raw makes it clear when Noni’s turning the charm on and when she’s being real, and there is an immense, understandable gap between the professional smile and the deep loneliness underneath. It’s not always easy to make the sad celebrity sympathetic, but Noni, groomed from childhood to be the success her mother wasn’t, is wonderfully compelling as someone only now realizing how lost she is. Plus, her triumphant removal of her violet hair extensions is one of the year’s most gratifying scenes of self-affirmation. —Alison Willmore

Relativity Media

3. Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), Nightcrawler

3. Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), Nightcrawler

There is nothing likable about Lou Bloom, the deeply corrupt, arguably sociopathic (a designation that his portrayer Jake Gyllenhaal rejects) protagonist of Nightcrawler. He lies, cheats, and steals — and that's just in the first scene. But no matter how appalling Lou's behavior is, there's an undeniable draw to him. His intensity and utter lack of morals — reflected by Gyllenhaal's gaunt face and fake smile — make him a character unlike any other. We should be repulsed by Lou, who beats the police to crime scenes and deliberately withholds evidence, and coerces his boss Nina (Rene Russo) into sleeping with him, and yet he's magnetic. But that's the power of Nightcrawler, which appeals to the darkest elements of our psyche. Just as television news clamors for more salacious stories, filled with grotesque images of sex and violence, we tune in as hungry consumers. It's easy to look at the film and its main character as a Network-esque criticism of the TV news industry — and it is — but it's just as strong an indictment of human nature. We are all more Lou Bloom than we want to believe. —L.P.

Open Road Films

4. Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), Whiplash

4. Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), Whiplash

Whiplash may not be a horror film, but Terence Fletcher is scarier than any horror film villain. As portrayed by J. K. Simmons, he is a terrifying force of nature, a relentless bully who pushes drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) to his limit — and then keeps pushing. What's scariest about Fletcher is that, despite his shocking cruelty and casual slurs, he might actually be right: Most of the students he teaches have been celebrated for relatively minor accomplishments, and it's only through Fletcher's abuse that they're able to unlock their full potential. Well, maybe. Whiplash refuses to pass final judgment on Fletcher — is he a misunderstood genius mentor, or is he a sadist who routinely goes too far? The most fascinating thing about the character is that he alternates between being an asshole and being an asshole with a point. It's up to the audience to decide whether the results Fletcher gets ever justify his means. Either way, it's impossible to take your eyes off him. —L.P.

Sony Pictures Classics


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