First came the “villains,” now it’s time for my favorite “heroes” of 2009. This list is a bit more straightforward than its counterpart, but I still had lots of fun picking and explaining the characters I loved best. As is always the case, they are in no particular order, but I am publishing in two parts because it wasn’t coming along as quickly as I’d like.
***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 may be 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.***
1. Max – Where the Wild Things Are
Max isn’t just one of my favorite heroes this year, I can say quite honestly, and without hyperbole, that he is one of my favorite characters in the history of film. His character, in relation to his family and to the Wild Things, was so remarkable in how it captured and expressed what it means to be a human being.
Our hearts are, every one, filled with wild, dangerous and beautiful things. Max’s journey into his own heart was not just the journey of moving from childhood to adulthood, it is the continual journey of at once growing up and learning to stay childlike that each of us will be on for the rest of our days.
He is angry, sad and afraid, he feels alone and doesn’t understand why he keeps hurting those around him with his desperate and angry outbursts. So, he goes on a journey to learn about those things deep inside that don’t have words.
Max is trying to learn to hold his rage and his sorrow, his joy and his wild playfulness; he is trying to understand how beautiful and wounded his heart is and reconcile all of these disparate things as part of himself. He is learning to howl when he has no words, and how to come home and share in a love and a safety that doesn’t need to be spoken to be felt.
It felt as if Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze had looked deeply into my soul, into all the pain and blood I carry around from wounds that don’t heal, then, after looking and knowing deeply, named that soul Max and told a story of comfort and commiseration which expresses things which can only be articulated in fantastic stories of deep, troubling anger, as well as joyfully wild rumpus.
It is rare that a film or character comes along that has the power to make us feel less alone, more understood, and helps us understand ourselves better. Max, and Where The Wild Things Are did exactly that for me.
2. The Crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise – Star Trek
The odds stacked against the reboot of the Star Trek franchise were considerable. One of the chief difficulties would be in the realm of casting. How on earth do you find new actors to take the rolls of a number of beloved characters? They need to be quickly likable, not an easy feat when one character has to be the lovably arrogant Captain James T. Kirk (that lovable arrogance quickly becomes your garden variety aggravating arrogance in the hands of the wrong thespian). The characters also need to honor the way the character was played before without simply imitating it, and to be successful commercially and critically, the cast needs to be people who get the franchise enough to keep the Trekkers happy, while also being accessible enough to please the masses.
The task is impossible, and yet, J.J. Abrams and company pulled it off gloriously! I enjoyed watching the crew of the Starship Enterprise do their thing as much as I enjoyed watching any other cast out there this year. Even on the third viewing, they were still delightfully entertaining. I hope it isn’t too long until Kirk, Spock and the gang return to give me another fix of that rebooted Star Trek goodness.
3. The bad-ass, but nonetheless ill-fated Norwegians – Dead Snow
Normally, if you were to offer up the prospect of a bunch of young Norwegian medical students vs. a host of Nazi zombies, you wouldn’t put much money on the med students. And, while in the end they most certainly did each come to a terrible and gruesome demise, they certainly fucked up enough zombies to cover the spread.
For the most part, these kids knew their zombie rules, they fought with vicious and brutal tenacity, and even as they died one by one, it was almost never as the result of a stupid decision (like it always was in Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead), but merely a result of being grossly outnumbered by a militarily trained undead horde.
Basically, the film and its heroes are used as an apt representation of the wise, time-honored Norwegian proverb, “When life gives you zombies, grab a chainsaw or a snowmobile and tear some shit up.”
3(a). Columbus, Tallahassee, Little Rock and Wichita – Zombieland
While technically this is cheating, it wouldn’t be fair to discuss zombie-killers without mentioning our fine, young American friends from Zombieland. They instructed us all on the necessity of adhering to some all-important survival rules for the zombie apocalypse, and at the same time they found friendship and love, learned some valuable life lessons about the importance of family and community, and killed the fuck out of some zombies. All in all, a productive endeavor.
4. Holmes and Watson – Sherlock Holmes
It’s not exactly a well kept secret that bromances are pretty popular right now. Yet, just because something is a fad doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable when it is executed well, as it is in Sherlock Holmes. The love affair between Holmes and Watson was immensely enjoyable to watch, thanks to the fantastic performances of both.
Yet, it was more than just the relationship between the two, each character functioned quite well on their own. On just about every level, I found the two dashing gentlemen great fun to watch, and it is a franchise that I can’t wait to see more of (but that is another post still to come). I’m pretty sure that if you don’t love Robert Downey Jr., your brain might be broken.
5. Simon Foster – In The Loop
In the movies, more often than not heroes come ready made with a heaping dose of swagger, he or she is usually a capable and talented individual reinforced by the strength of their convictions and a clear understanding of what is right and what is wrong. Even if the character doesn’t start off this way, the events of the film mold them into the hero we hope for, and when the moment of truth arrives, they shine. Yet, that isn’t really the way it works in real life is it? In real life, heroes usually look quite a bit more like Simon Foster.
Simon Foster is, to be kind, a bumbling, incompetent idiot. He is terrible at his job and everything that comes along with it, especially articulating his positions in a world of sound-bites. Yet, throughout the events of the film, he ends up bumbling his way, granted on a very roundabout and evasive route, into doing the right thing and standing up for truth. It happens almost by accident, but as a conscious choice nonetheless.
Unfortunately for Foster, that isn’t where the similarities to the real world end. Simon’s reward for doing the right thing is being unceremoniously chewed up and spit out by people far more diabolical, and far more competent than himself. His story ends in humiliation and defeat, and the war he tries to prevent happens anyway. He chose good over evil, and in the end had nothing to show for it. To be honest, I think there is something sadly beautiful about that.