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Rosamund Pike
What's really hiding behind that smirk, Amy?Courtesy of 20th Century Fox UK

The women taking over the screen

Rosamund Pike's gonzo character in Gone Girl is leading a surge of complex females in film

Nobody could have predicted that Rosamund Pike shoving a bottle of wine in between her legs to feign sexual assault would have sparked a year of intriguingly atypical female characters on screen. We’re talking about her portrayal of Amy Dunne in David Fincher’s Gone Girl, the film adaptation of the best-selling book you’ve probably seen other people reading on public transport.

Gone Girl was a big movie moment for 2014. Pike’s co-star Ben Affleck, being the Hollywood hero he is, was all over the posters advertising the film. Pike wasn’t. What moviegoers and critics really took away from the film was her performance, not his. We hadn’t seen a psychotic woman scorned go quite that far in a long time. The British actress nailed the role with her intense, doll-like stare and insane antics either faking her own death or murdering a man mid-whoopee.

In the wake of the film's commercial success, Pike just so happens to be at the forefront of a new wave of curiously strong screen heroines – the type of female characters that may only appear in split-second fragments of a film’s trailer, but as the movie unfolds, become the real show stealers. Where directors may once have desired near-silent support for their hunks in past, they are now relying on the complexity of these female characters to shine through. With that in mind, we introduce you to the leads and supporting ladies you won’t be able to forget as we ready for 2015.

Jessica Chastain’s ballsy, Bronx housewife in A Most Violent Year

Nothing’s more satisfying than watching an actress turn into a brash broad with an accent (see Amy Adams in The Fighter). Luckily for us, Chastain is already garnering Oscar buzz for her role in Chris Nolan's Interstellar and as Oscar Isaac's wife in A Most Violent Year. Set against a backdrop of early 80s New York, the film tells the story of a businessman trying to keep his head above water as he provides for his family – not always legally. Usually, the role of the wife in this type of set-up includes a lot of dishwashing and looking unaware of her husband’s criminal antics. Not this time. Chastain’s character makes no fuss of flicking cigarettes at the men who come to enquire about her hubby's shady practices.

Sienna Miller’s paranoid housewife in American Sniper

Miller’s spent the past year carefully crafting her career comeback. This includes a leading role in Clint Eastwood’s sniper biopic based on the late Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper), the most lethal sniper in US history. Miller plays Taya, the Navy SEAL’s wife who is left to wait and worry at home with his child while he tours Iraq. The film weaves between Cooper on duty and struggling to fit back into family life: when he returns home, a breakdown ensues. Miller is on track for an Oscar nod for her emotionally hefty work as Taya. Her onscreen chemistry and offscreen friendship with Cooper helps, but so does her ability to play a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown – and this time, it's both raw and convincing.

Emma Stone’s rebel daughter in Birdman

Emma Stone, currently performing on Broadway in Cabaret, can’t really do any wrong. Now she’s proving herself to be an awards season contender with her role in the long-awaited Alejandro González Iñárritu film Birdman. Watch the clip below and try not to agree. She plays the rebellious, slightly strung-out Sam, the recovering drug addict daughter of Michael Keaton. Keaton plays a washed-up actor famous for his role as comic hero Birdman in a dated franchise. As he tries to revive his career, Sam begins working as his personal assistant, but has a keen eye for Edward Norton. Their bouts of flirtation are charming and give this drama something to ground itself in, but it’s the scenes between Keaton and Stone that have really got people talking.

Karidja Touré’s new French rebel in Girlhood

Every year, French cinema seems to give the gift of a gorgeously fragile yet rebellious character. Last year, it was both Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color and this year, it’s new face Karidja Touré in Girlhood. Set amid the backdrop of an urban, French estate, the plot is simple: Touré plays Marieme (Vic) who is bored of her seemingly prospectless life and the boys that come along with it. She meets three new female friends, and does what it takes to fall into with their gang. Written and directed by Céline Sciamma (of Tomboy fame), the film takes the coming-of-age story to a tough new level, with Touré emerging as a new heroine of French cinema.

Katherine Waterston’s shady ex-girlfriend in Inherent Vice

Many were surprised when Paul Thomas Anderson bypassed the queue of leading actresses gagging to work with him and instead cast 34-year-old Katherine Waterston (daughter of Sam Waterston) as his lead in Inherent Vice. Waterston’s been a working actress for more than a decade, best known for her role in Boardwalk Empire. Starring alongside Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, Waterston plays the ex-girlfriend of Phoenix’s character who leads him into a world of kidnappings, dodgy deals and drug cartels as she persuades him to help her find her missing lover. The film is shrouded in nods to film noir, and Waterston has come out of it with a ton of praise.

Kristen Stewart’s tough prison guard in Camp X-Ray

Kristen Stewart continues her devotion to explicitly moving on from all things franchise-related for 2015. She’s been busy promoting her roles in Still Alice (opposite Julianne Moore) and Clouds of Sils Maria (opposite Juliette Binoche), but it’s her turn as army private Amy Cole that’s the real reminder how subtly hypnotic she can be as performer. Demi Moore famously shaved her head to toughen up for her portrayal of an army officer in G.I. Jane. Stewart doesn’t need that or any other gimmicks. In Camp X-Ray, set in Guantanamo Bay, Stewart’s character strikes up a forbidden friendship with a detainee, played by Peyman Moaadi of A Separation fame, who is accused of working as a terrorist. It’s a tense relationship, at first violent but soon becoming emotionally rewarding for her. Stewart gives an uncomfortably tense performance, never bursting into an OTT flood of tears but still emotional and thought-provoking enough to induce sympathy for her character. It’s the kind of gold-star work that will leave you asking "Bella who?"