From Kurt Russell to Alicia Vikander -- Here Are the 10 Biggest "Winners" of 2015

From Kurt Russell to Alicia Vikander -- Here Are the 10 Biggest "Winners" of 2015

Dec 31, 2015

2015 is over and it was one helluva year for the movies. Box office records were smashed. Veteran filmmakers returned with a vengeance. Stars were born. Now it's time to take a few steps back, look at what transpired and list-form. Yes, it's time to do what we've done in years past and select the 10 people who "won" the movies in 2015.

These actors, actresses, filmmakers, and entities represent the cream of the crop, the people who dominated this year in one way or another, overcoming great odds or simply wowing us with their output.

Let's begin.

10. Ridley Scott: The Comeback Kid

After nearly a decade of disappointments and misfires, the legendary director of Alien and Blade Runner delivered his best film in decades with The Martian. Critically acclaimed, a box office smash and a legit Oscar contender, this hilarious, thrilling and beautifully crafted crowdpleaser is one of 2015's best films. Who knew Scott still had this kind of work in him? We certainly didn't, and now he's proven us wrong. Here is a living legend reminding us why we respected him in the first place.

9. Kurt Russell: Casually Badass

The great Kurt Russell doesn't have to work anymore. He could quietly retire and no one would blame him. He's created enough iconic characters and crafted enough indelible performances for several careers. But 2015 saw Mr. Russell appear in three films, lending his old school toughness and easygoing charm to three very different movies with three very different performances.

The swaggering machismo of Furious 7, the understated steeliness of Bone Tomahawk, and the ribald nastiness of The Hateful Eight. In one year, the man who already gave us Snake Plisskin, MacReady, Jack Burton, and Stuntman Mike added three new characters to his list of cinematic legends.

8. Peyton Reed: He Stands Triumphant

No one had faith in Peyton Reed. When Edgar Wright left Marvel's Ant-Man, the internet assumed the worst. When Reed took the job, the fanboys reacted with typical scorn. No one expected Ant-Man to be a good movie. And then it came out and it was a very good movie. And then everyone started crediting its best elements to Wright, forcing Reed to explain that those scenes were his own in various interviews.

Here is a talented filmmaker and bona fide geek who stood in a river of crap, kept his head down, worked through a nightmare scenario, and delivered a strange movie about a C-list superhero that is actually good and actually made a ton of money. He deserves all of the accolades you can throw at him.

7. Alicia Vikander: A Star Has Risen

Even if you didn't see her in a single movie this year, 2015 is the year that Alicia Vikander became a star. She played a tragic, terrifying and ultimately all-too-human A.I. in the masterful science fiction thriller Ex Machina. She stole the Oscar buzz right out from underneath Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl. She was the best part of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., matching wits against Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer. She even managed to emerge from Burnt unscathed. She's the real deal, capable of leaping between genres and tones, perfectly comfortable in blockbusters and indies alike. She's a freakin' movie star.

6. Oscar Isaac: The Movie Star of 2015

Cinephiles have already been on the Oscar Isaac train for a few years now. Hell, anyone who saw Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year has known this guy was going to blow up sooner rather than later. And this year, he did blow up. First, he played a skeevy, conniving billionaire computer programmer in Ex Machina (alongside fellow 2015 victor Alicia Vikander), proving himself to be a character actor of the highest caliber, capable of vanishing into an odd and unpleasant character.

Then he played the dashing X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, showcasing his infinite charms and absurd good looks to record-breaking audiences. And this is before you even mention his role in the HBO miniseries Show Me a Hero, where he was able to showcase another, subtler side of himself. Whether you only see huge science fiction movies or haunt your local arthouse or just stay home and watch television, Oscar Isaac gave everyone a reason to love him this year.

5. Jennifer Jason Leigh: Yep, Still Amazing

Although she's continued to work steadily for the past few decades, it often looked like Hollywood didn't know what to do with Jennifer Jason Leigh. She was falling victim to the curse that afflicts too many brilliant actresses; as she aged, the industry pushed her to the side. And then 2015 happened and Leigh reminded everyone that she's one of the modern greats with two performances that could not be more different.

In the stop-motion animated drama Anomalisa, she lends her voice, with devastating effect, to one of the year's most sympathetic and powerful characters. In the grisly western The Hateful Eight, she plays a devious, racist, and terrifyingly intelligent convict who's not afraid to spill a lot of blood to escape the hangman's noose. With her extraordinary range on display for everyone to see, it's time to acknowledge one of the finest actresses working today. How one person can inhabit these characters is beyond us. This is positively Meryl Streep-ian work.

4. Domhnall Gleeson: Omnipresent and Perfect

At one point a few weeks back, I realized I had unintentionally watched three Domhnall Gleeson movies in a row. He chews on the scenery as General Hux in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, delivering a simplistic but hugely enjoyable villain in the Grand Moff Tarkin mold. He is the perfect picture of normalcy and decency in Brooklyn, personifying everything that is safe and reassuring about a childhood home.

And while everyone is talking about Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy's over-the-top, frothing-at-the-mouth performances in The Revenant, he is the film's quiet center and one of the few actors in the movie not trying a little too hard. And like Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander before him, Gleeson is also perfect in Ex Machina, playing a pathetic nebbish who gets in waaay over his head when he starts meddling in the affairs of a seductive and intelligent robot. He was everywhere this year, but we never got tired of watching Domhnall Gleeson. He's been impressive before (see Frank and About Time), but this year was a statement. He's here and he's here to stay.

3. George Miller: The King Has Returned

Like Ridley Scott, George Miller showed all of the young guys a thing or two this year. The 70-year-old director of Mad Max: Fury Road didn't just revive his iconic and influential action franchise with style and grace -- he crafted one of the best movies of the year -- in instant all-timer and the most rewatchable movie of 2015.

The next few weeks will show us if Miller will receive awards recognition for his achievements, but that doesn't matter. Not in the long run. The important thing is that one of cinema's geniuses proved that he's still got it and that age means nothing when you have pure cinema pumping through your veins.

2. Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall: Power Couple of 2015

This slot could have gone to Jurassic World, which shattered box office records this summer. It also could have gone to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which shattered all of Jurassic World's records and gave Star Wars fans something to cheer about for the first time since 1983. However, the two biggest films of 2015 share a wonderful connection: two of the people chiefly responsible for them are married.

So raise your glass to Hollywood's great modern power couple: producer Frank Marshall and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, two industry veterans who revived two beloved franchises and reaped the lucrative rewards. These two have had their hands in some of your favorite movies for years, toiling behind the scenes to bring some of the biggest movies of all time to life. In 2015, their years of experience paid off in an unprecedented way. No two producers had more control over what audiences watched and loved this year.

1. Universal Studios: A Couple Billion Dollars Can't Be Wrong

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is going to be the highest grossing 2015 release -- that's a no-brainer at this point. And while Disney certainly had a tremendous year, they found themselves edged out by Universal Studios. In 2015 alone, the studio released Jurassic World, Furious 7, and Minions, each of which is currently one of the highest-grossing movies of all time.

It also found success with smaller releases with more niche audiences: Pitch Perfect 2, 50 Shades of Grey, Trainwreck, and Straight Outta Compton all performed above and beyond the call of duty. Any movie studio would kill to release a movie that breaks the $1 billion mark at the international box office... and Universal had three. In a year where countless box office records were shattered, Universal led the pack.

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