In years past, I’ve always posted a list of my favorite films of the year. This year, I’ve decided to change it up a bit. Instead of one list which includes my favorite films, I will instead have many lists including some of my favorite characters and moments (etc.) in film this year. Those who know me are well aware that two of my greatest loves are movies and lists. So, for the next few days, I will bring those two loves together in one glorious cocktail. I hope you enjoy reading my lists as much as I enjoyed compiling them.
The first list is my favorite villains of the year. It’s not uncommon for a villain to be the part of a film I enjoy the most. The “bad guy” is often the character who stays with me the longest after the credits role. For example, in 2008, what character was more memorable than Heath Ledger’s Joker? In 2007, what character was better than Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh? Villains can be so delightfully fun, whether you love to hate them, or just plain love them.
***I have to warn you now, these lists are often filled to the brim with spoilers. Not every description of why a character or moment made the list is spoiler-heavy, but it’s safer for you to just skip the ones from films you haven’t seen but plan to enjoy in the future. I don’t want to be that guy who ruins a great movie for someone, so, you’ve been warned.***
Now, on with the villains!! (In no particular order)
1. Col. Hans Landa – Inglourious Basterds
It’s no secret that film villains are frequently heartless, ruthless bastards (no pun intended). There are many variations on the type of villain one might find. There is the balls-out psycho, the angry revenge seeker, the zealot with a cause, the list is literally endless. I think one of my very favorite variations to watch on the screen would be the cold, detached villains who seem to have no emotional response to their evil deeds. When this type of villain is executed well, for example, in the case of the pitch perfect Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, the result can be a satisfying cocktail of equal parts chilling and thrilling.
With Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino took this sort of villain to another level. Colonel Hans Landa wasn’t just detached from the heinous things he did, he was downright courteous about them. All manners and civility, right up until the moment he strikes. He approached his work with downright joy, as if he were doing his victims a favor. He was so matter of fact about what he did; so polite, so personable.
The opening moments of the film are so tense because of how perfectly written and acted the character of Hans Landa was, setting up exactly what our heroes and heroines would be dealing with for the duration of the film: Pure, courteous, delighted, evil. The result was terrible for many of the film’s “Basterds,” but loads of fun for the viewing audience.
2. Zombies – Zombieland and Dead Snow
Obviously, it isn’t much of a stretch for me to include zombies on my list. I could probably find some excuse to include zombies on my movie lists every year. Yet, this year is special because there was not one, but two wonderful zombie films: Zombieland and Dead Snow. The latter of which saw not only zombies, but Nazi zombies! Double your evil, double your fun.
Zombieland featured its wonderfully entertaining and well executed survival rules, great characters, along with one of the best cameos in film history. Dead Snow featured a guy getting his head ripped in half by his eyeballs as his brain drops to the floor, a fantastic and bloody finale, along with the scene in which a woman regains blurry consciousness to the sight of her own zombie disembowelment, (a scene that may be my favorite zombie scene ever!). In both films, all the enjoyment came because when creative filmmaking and the concept of surviving a zombie apocalypse come together, the results are hilarious and awesome.
Hooray for zombies!!
3. The Scary Gypsy Lady – Drag Me To Hell
If there is one life lesson movies have made quite clear, it is that all creepy old ladies are gypsies, that they all know how to perform magic of some sort, and that they are all looking for any excuse to curse another individual with gruesome and terrible consequences. The moral of the story, always be really nice to creepy old ladies.
No, the territory covered in Drag Me To Hell is definitely not new, but never before has it been as fun as it was under the expert hands of Sam Raimi. The antics of the Scary Gypsy Lady, or SGL for short, were disgusting in the most hilarious way imaginable. Eyeballs popping out, staples to the forehead, teeth flying everywhere. There was all sorts of crazy shit going on thanks to SGL. It was gross, it was absurd, and it was loads of fun.
Thank you SGL, you brought your villainous tomfoolery to a movie I had no expectations for whatsoever, and were a large part of making it one of the most surprisingly enjoyable films of the year.
4. The Shadow Man – The Princess and the Frog
While we are on the topic of voodoo type curses and black magic, we might as well stop in with a movie few would expect to see on this list, The Princess and the Frog. Like most children who grew up any time since Snow White, my childhood was filled with Disney, for better and for worse (but that is for another post). Long had I lamented the death of Disney’s traditional animation studios, first on a practical level, in that everything the studio pumped out was garbage, and then on a more concrete level when the studios were officially shut down. Then came the revived talks with Pixar resulting in the resurrection of traditional Disney animation under the leadership of the folks at Pixar. The first movie to come along since these events is the aforementioned The Princess and the Frog. Happily, my experience of the film is that the Disney animation of my childhood, which saw the likes of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King has returned.
The films mentioned above all had at least one thing in common: highly entertaining villains. The newest installment in the Disney catalogue is no exception, with the introduction of the evil Dr. Facilier, also known as The Shadow Man.
Voiced by Keith David, who played the other side of the magical coin this year as the black cat in Coraline, the character is all sorts of intimidating, even while we knew that his power rested in a precarious and fickle relationship with his “friends on the other side.”
Hopefully, Dr. Facilier will renew the tradition of great villains being added to the Disney canon with each new animated installment.
5. Malcolm – In The Loop
His entertaining cussing aside, he is also a great villain as the manifestation of all that is evil in the marriage between international media and international politics. Although, he is also as troubling as he is entertaining, because while he doesn’t exist in the concrete sense, there are plenty of women and men just like him who are all too real.
6. Summer Finn – (500) Days of Summer
Summer Finn is one of the best villains of the year because, well, she isn’t really a villain at all. She functions as a villain for most of the film, but she hasn’t really earned the title by any actions outside of the mind of Tom Hansen. In reality, it was the expectations and selective memory of our young lovelorn protagonist that made Summer a villain, not any actual slight or wrongdoing.
I think most of us have been Summer before, doing everything we could to be up front and honest, only to be hated anyway because our desire for connection led to some poor choices; and I think most of us have been Tom Hansen as well, filled with ire, frustration and angst for the object of our affection when most of the relationship is taking place in our own over-analyzation.
We all have selective memories when it comes to relationships, none more so than when the relationship in question is a crush or infatuation. We edit and filter the information to continue convincing ourselves that fate has brought this wonderful new person into the picture so we might live happily ever after. Most of the time, the result is the creation of a villain out of the unfortunate person on the other end of our obsession. It’s a common part of life, and (500) Days deals with it so honestly and with so much clarity of insight, that it resulted in a delightfully intelligent “villain.”
7. Poverty and Mental Illness – The Soloist
Most often, the villains in film are defeated in the end; they are blown up, humiliated, or overcome in some way or another so that there can be a tidy end to the story in which the heroes live happily ever after. More often than not, the myth of redemptive violence is perpetuated for good measure. Not so with The Soloist. Instead, The Soloist offers a look at the terrifying type of villain who cannot be overcome, in this case, those of poverty and mental illness.
While it is by no means a perfect film, it poignantly sheds light on the pervasive and ongoing pain of those afflicted with mental illness and homelessness, and as is so often the case in our country, those afflicted with both. As a true story, it also isn’t a trite heap of bullshit where magically, the kind-hearted white man saves the mentally disturbed, talented black prodigy from homelessness and offers him healing from his mental issues. Instead, it’s about two imperfect people trying to love one another in the midst of hopelessness and futility, and while the pain continues to exist, we see some of the mystery of how life is a little more bearable with friends.
The villains of this film are important in the way they are portrayed because they are realistically viewed. In life, there is no neat and tidy ending in which everything is alright. We will never be able to overcome the evils that surround us, and yet, all we can do is go forward and love boldly nonetheless.
8. Franklin Bean – Fantastic Mr. Fox
If you’re a a fox, the one person you probably don’t want to fuck with is Franklin Bean. He’s as clever as he is mean, he’s a dead shot with a firearm, and he spends most of his time drinking. He’s angry to begin with, and very well would have went about killing Mr. Fox for fun, so it probably wasn’t the best idea to give him a good reason to want you dead by stealing from him.
This is all true, unless of course you happen to be fantastic, which is exactly what Mr. Fox is, so the diabolical Mr. Bean just ends up being the perfect foil to show the world just how fantastic Mr. Fox really is.
9. Lord Blackwood – Sherlock Holmes
Lord Blackwood is one creepy, ominous son of a bitch. When he isn’t murdering young women, coming back from the dead, or lighting dudes on fire, he is plotting to take over the entire world. Not a bad resume for a villain. However, the best part of Lord Blackwood is that he is merely a dangerous pawn throughout the entire film, unwittingly moved about to serve the purposes of Sherlock’s soon to be arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty. So, here he is being used again, included in this list just so we can discover that it won’t be long before Moriarty is on his way (perhaps Brad Pitt?). Let’s go Guy Ritchie, get this thing rolling.
10. Michael Bay
Michael Bay…. is a dick. He is, bar none, the most baselessly self-important filmmaker in the history of cinema. I believe it is entirely possible that his next film will be entirely in slow motion, and that it will be nothing more than CGI robots fighting in front of a series of large explosions, moving away from the fighting periodically to film down the shirt of Meghan Fox as she runs for cover from the destruction. That’s basically what we got with his last film, with the brief exception being that there were a few scenes in Revenge of the Fallen that took place at normal speed.
Sadly, he isn’t some fictional character in a movie, he’s a genuine, real life villain. His goal? To make an ass load of money by singlehandedly destroying American film.
He ate his fiber, took a huge dump, called it Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and then everyone paid to go see it. My understanding is that even though much of Avatar’s total gross will come in 2010, the fact that it was released in 2009 means that it will still count toward overtaking T:ROTF as the highest grossing movie of 2009. That is somewhat comforting, but the fact that it took one of the greatest technological feats in cinema history to draw more people to the movies than T:ROTF did is at once mind-numbing and rousingly infuriating.
Hopefully, with films like Iron Man 2 and Inception on their way, 2010 will see the forces of good overcome the darkness once again.