17 October 2009

Tops of the Millennium: Villains

Mostly inspired by an offhand remark I made to myself in this post, today I present our Top Ten Best Villains of the New Millennium. I really hate hokey lists like this and I've seen dozens of the same ten or fifteen villains around the internet, hopefully this is more of the same schlock with one or two unusual ringers in there. Let's get started:

#10: Hector Barbossa: The Apple-Lover

Film: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Played Admirably By: Geoffrey Rush

Rationale: Barbossa's the man. He's by far the most watchable character in both the first and third installments of the Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy. Rush really gets into the pirate act and pulls off the look and accent with more enthusiasm and gusto than even John Depp. He's a tortured villain, driven to ghost piracy by his own cursed greed but always with regret and a yearning for a life and world he can feel. He indulges in his immortality however, but always with an eye for the juicy apple he can never taste. It's tragic. He also cuts people.

#9: Miranda Priestly: The Bitch

Film: The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Played Spicily By: Meryl Streep

Rationale: There simply is no better portrayal of the contemporary female office bitch than Miranda Priestly. Ruthless, intelligent, demanding and yes, quite catty Streep captures a lot in this for-some-reason Academy Award-nominated performance. She is immersed in her hyper-specific world with no room for error, but like Barbossa on some level yearns for a simpler existence. She does have the capability to respect and admire her subordinates, but they had better earn it.

#8. Saruman: The Classic

Film: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Played Angrily By: Christopher Lee

Rationale: "You do not know pain, you do not know fear..." Try saying that outloud. Now with more gravitas. MORE GRAVITAS! MOOORE!! You're no where near Chris Lee's level. It's a powerful character and the best villain of LotR (mostly because we hardly see Sauron, the Balrog doesn't talk and Gollum's a putz). Whereas Priestly and Barbossa are tortured villains who may have resigned towards different posts in life had they had the chance, Saruman's a thoroughly corrupted wizard who should have represented Middle-Earth's beacon of light against the Dark Powers. His wickedry in The Fellowship is truly sinister only to be overthrown by Gandalf the White, "Saruman as he should have been" in The Two Towers.

#7. O-Ren Ishii: The Femme Fatale

Film: Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
Played Coldly By: Lucy Liu

Rationale: O-Ren is almost like a twisted version of Batman. Here me out here - little kid witnesses her parents' murder by ganglord, mentally and physically trains herself for revenge and a life of justice. Eh? O-Ren loses her way on this path to nobility however, because she has no code like The Dark Knight. She becomes the horrible atrocity that happened to her and dishes out ruthless punishment, finding her talents much more suited to the world of criminals and assassins than a world of justice. It's a fine line when comparing the two to see how much internal character it requires to truly stand against evil in the world. Also very cute freckers on her face.

#6. White Goodman: The Goofy

Film: Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
Played Sultrily By: Benjamin Stiller

Rationale: Whooaaa! Curveball. "No one makes me spill my own blood." Now say it with MORE gravitas. This was necessary, Goodman is the greatest comic villain of the decade, with layers upon layers of intense masculinity overcompensation disguising homoerotic tendencies as well as over-training problems caused by severe eating disorders and body image issues. He channels all of these problems into a general douchebaggery, which is not only tragic but incredibly funny in many ways. Like when a clown dies. He deserves this spot, if not higher.

#5. Alonzo Harris: The Black Guy

Film: Training Day (2001)
Played like King Kong by: Denzel Washington

Rationale: Denzel's the man, proving he can be brutal in his Oscar Winning Role here alongside his normally heroic acting choices. It's a notable performance of a man who is essentially the most powerful figure in his community, who can only really be stopped by an incorruptible and unrelenting justice. He shows no remorse for any action he takes to uphold the law, as well as any action he takes for his own personal benefit. The slow build-up to the full extent of Harris' corruption is brilliant and the the entire film in general is an interesting view at the dethroning of a madman with unstoppable power in the neighborhood (which amounts to unstoppable power as far as the community members will ever go). Crazy stuff.

#4. The Joker: The Icon

Film: The Dark Knight (2008)
Played Saucily By: Heath Ledger

Rationale: C'mon. This is the only reason you clicked on this post. Another Academy Award Winning Villain performance by the late Heath Ledger is one of the few instantly iconic villains of this decade. The Joker is pure anarchy and pure corruption (notice the slow descent of this list of less and less regrettable villains and more towards pure evil? eh? eh?), whose master plan succeeded as soon as he told Batman the wrong coordinates to save pumpkin-head Rachel Dawes, dooming Harvey "Not-A-Rabbit" Dent. The boat trick is fun but basically a distraction. The Joker works his best almost purely on an ideological level, which is what in part makes The Dark Knight such a good movie. Batman Begins (2005) introduced the notion that a superhero could fight crime by becoming an idea or a fear, The Dark Knight introduced the thought that evil and anarchy can be just as powerful. Deep stuff.

#3. Colonel Hans Landa: The Gentleman

Film: Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Played with Dignity By: Christopher Waltz

The Freshmen on the list gets the Trip Spot. Hellz yeah. I'm very aware that this is the second Tarantino creation here, does that really surprise anyone though? Landa is brutal in this film, the kind of monster that sweeps you into his home with milk and cookies and then strangles you for helping Jews. Sucks. I get into a lot of his character here, which is nifty, but for the purposes of this list you should know that this is an incredibly well-acted role (no major American Awards yet, that should change in a few months), an extremely sinister character as comfortable in formal evening wear attending the opera as he is gunning down Jewish children in a farmhouse. He's a fuckin' Nazi after all.

#2. Anton Chigurh: The Machine

Film: No Country for Old Men (2007)
Played Creepily By: Javier Bardem

Rationale: Seems so easy for great villains to get the Best Supporting Actor nod doesn't it? Chigurh is the ultimate badass, unflinching in his objective and commonly finding neither pleasure nor pain in carrying out his grim assignments. While he's basically the same unstoppable evil from the Coen's Raising Arizona (1987) he's much more developed and centered on. Chigurh provides No Country's only narrative link from beginning to end, thus establishing the audience's connection to the eternal anguish and evil in a chaotic and unforgiving world. Yeah, it's kind of a bummer but it makes him a great villain, number two to the decade, number two all time. Or number one, whatever floats your boat.

#1. Bill Cutting: The American, Dammit.

Film: Gangbangs of New York (2002)
Played with Tuberculosis By: Danny Day-Lewis

Rationale: There were a few pretty shitty music videos for Bill the Butcher, but this speech is the sole inspiration for his taking the #1 spot as well as this entire list, so there ya go. Nominated, but not winning Best Actor (Losing to Adrien Brody for some reason) Day-Lewis is one of the greatest actors out there today and his commitment to method acting (shit like truly living like an 1840s gangleader, eventually contracting some serious illnesses, this is the kind of shit Tropic Thunder made fun of) shows in this stunning performance. The Butcher, like Alonzo Harris is a ruthless leader in his local community who faces an unwanted uprisal. Unlike Harris however, he's willing to snuff out a problem instead of letting it grow which this scene blatantly demonstrates. Like Landa, there is a truly brutal personality lurking underneath a demeanor that at first may seem cordial if not noble. He is as brutal and bloody as Chigurh with a cockiness and charm of an American Gentry. He is truly the greatest villain of the New Millennium.

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