15 November 2009

Tops of the Millennium: Heroes

A few weeks ago I published a look at the Top Ten Villains of the Millennium. No villain is complete without a good hero however, so naturally here follows the Greatest Heroes of the Millennium. Somehow these proved to be much more difficult to pull together than the villains list. I'm counting on the results being extremely controversial and groan-worthy, hopefully inciting a crushing dialogue in the comments section. Right. Spoilers probably follow, but that should be the drill by now. Let's begin:

#10: Neville Flynn: The Motherfucker

Film: Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Played with Anger by: Sammy Jackson

Rationale: Whoa! Drastic curveball right out the gate. I'm sure 90% of you dear readers know this character only as...Sam Jackson, nevertheless the frustration, determination and obstinate intimate knowledge of what to do in absurd reptilian situations earn him the first spot on this list. He also represents an interesting movement in the mid-2000s, when filmakers actually took input from the fans and gave them exactly what they wanted. Of course, this failure was spectacular. C'mon, the first time you heard that this was being made and that THE LINE would be included was a special moment. Sam probably had better heroic roles this decade, but this sums his persona up the greatest. Also watch this list quickly mutate into "Top Ten Badasses."

#9: Tony Stark: The Asshole

Film: Iron Man (2008)
Played with Swarthy Charm by: Robbie Downey, Jr

Rationale: Haha quickly watch this video, I think the Iron Man fights Stitch at one point. Anyway, let me be clear that I really hate Tony Stark in the Comic Book World. In recent years he's basically turned into a government-backed neo-Conservative Illuminati who tries to impose his will on the rest of the Marvel Universe. Of course this has been recently usurped with the Secret Invasion and Dark Reign storylines but I digress...

In the film Stark is the man. Basically a less whiny and brooding Batman, he works hard and plays hard. More importantly, I love how Iron Man blows a lot of superhero conventions out of the air (one reason why you'll see he's the only superhero on this list). There's not a lot of regret or hopelessness with his powers (See Spider-Man) nor is there an immense amount of corniness (See Fantastic Four). Stark enjoys his powers, his status and finally most importantly, has no qualms about the identities of Stark and Iron Man being synonymous. "I am Iron Man." Wow. It's great when a movie has one line that lets it stand above the rest. I probably don't write about Iron Man enough, but it's a cool movie throughout and it is completely anchored by Downey's portrayal (not that it doesn't have its moral problems but let's not get into that here).

#8: Tallahassee: The Cowboy

Film: Zombieland (2009)
Played Wryly by: Wood Harrelson

Rationale: Freshman entry, I realised I don't give Woody enough regular props either. That vid contains a good amount of scenes that could ruin the movie actually, I don't exactly recommend playing it if you haven't seen Zombieland yet. Then again if you didn't see it in theaters I'm sure you're not the kind of reader who regularly follows this blog.

While Jew-Fro Eisenberg is main character with the better hero arc, it's clear that Tallahassee should emerge with the big Hero Credentials from this flick. While he's introduced as a stereotypical redneck badass, the movie works when it unpeals some layers of his personality revealing among other things quite a few soft spots for Bill Murray, Titanic and of course, Twinkies. Part of his intense ire for the undead certainly comes from the revealed fact that he lost his son many years ago, hardening him into a sociopathic loner. When Columbus, Witchita, et all start to form a second family, the movie comes together, even with a touchingly warm ending. Awww...It's the balance of badassery (single-handedly taking out a theme park full of zombies while riding a roller coaster helps) and sweetness (playing dress-up with a real Ghostbuster) that earn Tallahassee his spot here.

#7: Randy "The Ram" Robinson: The Trainwreck

Film: The Wrestler (2008)
Played to the Gut by: Mickey Rourke

Rationale: We're going to continue this list and end up seeing a ton of Oscar Nominees and a scant amount of winners, here's the first. The Ram is a role that Rourke was diecast for but that aside, it's an incredibly redemptive character. He's ultimately incredibly selfish but it comes out of a history of failure and depression. He's driven from desperation to perform the only job he really can or wants to do, at the expense of all around him (and himself). Really a masterpiece performance that contains a true objectivist determination that makes a true hero. Well...maybe not morally, but everything else is top notch.

#6: Theo Faron: The Father

Film: Children of Men (2006)
Played Lackadaisically by: Clive Owen

I really wanted Clive somewhere on this list, and it was probably between this, Dwight from Sin City (2005) or Clive Owen from Shoot 'Em Up (2007). His best performance though is undoubtedly from Children of Men. I remember this saying from somewhere: "It's easy to lead when everything is going well; the true test of a hero is one who leads when everything goes to shit." Something like that. As the intro scene shows, for a long time Theo attempted to go through normal life, but this is ultimately not afforded to him. Things get worse and worse and he breaks down many times as he is constantly betrayed and his friends are murdered or separated. He never wavers from his mission however, at the end of the day he gets the baby where it needs to go. Maybe. He greatly sums up the everyman notion that has embodied the last twenty years of action movies, the past decade in particular.

#5: Xander Cage: The Bullet

Film: xXx (2002)
Played to the Xtreme by: Vin Diesel

Rationale: Whaaat - The Diesel had to get here somewhere. To be honest I really had a hard time deciding between this and The Pacifier (2005). In the early half of this Millennium we had a ton of spy movies come out that uniquely all pulled the genre in different directions (see also The Bourne Identity 2002 and Die Another Day 2002). xXx was really out there, though, capturing that "Xtreme Sk8er" zeitgeist shit beautifully as well as introducing a hero that is thoroughly badass and unpretentious. He's so immersed in the underground world that he's instantly accepted into the villain's cabal where his motivation shifts from extrinsic rewards to finding his line against mass murder and chaos. My favourite moment however is after he saves the day, blowing up the evil missile-launching AHAB sub, the Diesel crawls amongst some flotsam, shivering, vulnerable and visibly shaken up. It's a three-second moment that deals with the emotional toll that kind of ridiculous action can take on a man, even one so Xtreme as Xander Cage. It's that slight pause in thinking about his rationale that brings Xander above Bond and Bourne (at least in this decade) as one of the great heroes.

#4: Walt Kowalski: The Veteran

Film: Gran Torino (2008)
Played Crankily by: Clint Eastwood

Rationale: Virtually completely snubbed by the Academy, Clint Eastwood's final (probably) film role deserves a great deal of respect. Walt is an angry, racist grizzled old codger with a general dislike of everyone and everything around him. He's got a distinct pride and code of honour though as well as a firm notion of what is "right," "wrong," and "respectable" in the world. His life is full of regret and dissatisfaction with his natural family (notice any similarities with the other heroes yet?). When he is finally able to find an unlikely surrogate grandson in a Hmong named Thao, his life tends to have a purpose again, and his (spoiler) death has meaning. Naturally his soul is tied to the eponymous 1972 Gran Torino, the last bastion of class and dignity in a gangbanger's world. Tragic.

#3: Staff Sergeant Sean Dignam: The Poet

Film: The Departed (2006)
Played Snuggly by: Marky Mark

Rationale: Amidst a flurry of naughty language, Staff Sergeant Dignam should remaine one of the most endearing characters of the decade. Nearly every line is classic. His inherent disdain for all those around him is matched only by his commitment to the job. Part of Marky Mark's real acting skills is coming across sarcastic and genuine simultaneously throughout the film. Really robbed by Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine (2006) for this one, c'mon. Needless to say, it's a feat that Dignam not only is one of the very few characters to not Depart the movie, he also gets one of the greatest final scenes in cinema history. Say hi to your mother for me.

#2: Maximus Decimus Meridius: The Champion

Film: Gladiator (2000)
Played Stoically by: Russel Crowe, Fightin' 'Round the World

Rationale: This should have been one of your immediate thoughts upon hearing this list. In between asking people if they are not entertained Crowe delivers a great performance as a former Roman General with nothing left to live for but revenge. Any semblance of charity or joy he may once have found is boiled down to will and vengence over the betrayal of his superiors and murder of his family. He is continually cool and collected, unlike Clive Owen for instance, he never fears because he has nothing left to fear. He ends up rekindling some of his belief in Roman greatness and fights not only for his own retribution, but for the retribution of Rome itself. Not unlike Walt Kowalski, he appreciates and respects the way things once were and fights for a society with respect and honour.

#1: Gandalf: The Beard

Film: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Played Confidently by: Sir Ian McKellen

Rationale: It's tough to pick a single hero out of The Lord of the Rings, but really, it was always Gandalf. This is also clearly the best music video from this list. Very humbly nominated for an MTV Movie Award for Best Fight for this role in 2001, Ian has just the right amount of gravitas to anchor both the massive cast and scope of the trilogy while remaining humble and relatable (most of this was done in early scenes of The Fellowship). Gandalf is equally comfortable smoking leaf with Hobbits as he is leading them into battle. Well, maybe not totally equally comfortable but he's does a bang up job. Rallying the troops throughout the films and proving multiple times that he should be the strongest character in Middle-Earth (after Sauron and the Witch-King of Angmar) Gandalf earns the respect and admiration of even his greatest enemies. His loss in The Fellowship is heart-wrenching, the mysteries of his return and power only serve his legacy. Hero of the decade.

Bonus: I'm frustrated in not finding an adequate female hero that was up to my Top Ten standards. So, the closest I came was Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) in Juno (2007). Her spunkiness, freshness and contention to succeed align best with my general personal criteria here. Yeah, fuck Erin Brockovich (2000).


  1. Like the article, enjoyed your picks. Here's my quick list that most certainly has major flaws, and completely ignores great heroes from Asian and European cinema. Because USA!USA!

    Ron Burgundy - in his struggle, he fought to define (or redefine) the notion of masculinity in a brave new world. Not action oriented (though he can introdce you to Jack Johnson and Tom O'Leary if you want to go fistacuffs, he acts as a shining beacon so others may follow his example, now that's heroic.

    Bale's Batman/Bourne/Craig's Bond - These three helped make dark realism and brooding vengence the defining characteristics of the 00's action flick. Take your pick of who is the best here.

    Jack Sparrow - not my cup of tea, but this oscar nominated role as the couragous yet selfish swashbuckler probably will be remembered for years to come.

    Wall-e - I mean, he saves humanity from fat camp, and was the most critically acclaimed cartoon heor of the decade.

    The Bride from Kill Bill - Bryan, no great female heroes(Juno is not even a hero). Her two film arc kick ass, captivated the audience, and reintroduced America to Hong Kong-style kung-fu.

    Now I dissect you
    10. Sam's great, but I don't see him as an icon of heroism. But you can make the case here.
    9. The action in Iron Man sucked besides the Mach I cave fight. But I guess it is a top 10 hero, for the same reason Reeve's superman is; despite mediocre thrills, the actors fleshed out the character well and escalated the overall quality of the film.
    7. Woody was awesome...but just how memorable is the movie? How does the character compare to other heroes...I need a year to let this digest before I can say.
    6. Loved Children of Men, but Clive Owen's heroics do not stand out enough for me. Or maybe they do. I need to see that long uninterupted action scene again to make an informed decision.
    5. xXx? maybe, but I see that type of hero (ripped, wisecracking, outrageous stunts)as a relic of the 80's and 90's hero molded by Willis and Arnold. By the time Vin put his own spin on it, the Matrix had transformed the Hollywood hero into something more serious, and xXx seemed reactionary and hackneyed rather than revolutionary and fresh.
    4. I am afraid of Clint, and will not criticize him. Gran Torino wasn't his best film of the aughts, but wraps up his career nicely.
    3. Marky Mark is kick-ass, hilarious, and helps achieve justice in The Departed. But as a "hero", you have to have a bigger role. He is more of a sidekick, a foil to complete the plot, than a brave protagonist.
    2. Maximus- NO argument here.
    1. Gandalf. Giving him hero of the decade is like Joe Morneau's AL MVP in 2006. Was he awesome? yes. The Best? ummmm.... Could one make the case he wasn't even the second most valuable player on his own team? Well, the Twins did get landmark years from players in more critical posititions (Mauer and Santana).
    LOTR is an ensemble film, and it is hard to choose one guy as the best "hero" from the bunch. But I think Elijah, Viggo, even Orlando kicked more ass and accomplished more in the three films. What did Gandalf do? Fought fire demon to a stalemate (ties are stupid), lost to Sauromon, arrived for the last two minutes in the battle at helm's deep, let someone else kill the witchking for him, let ghosts finish his job at Gondor, acted as a decoy during Frodo's homestretch. And yes, he is a great wizard, but what is his go to power? a sorta bright light...lucky for him goblins don't wear sunglasses.
    You have to choose one hero from LOTR for the top ten list for sure, but to choose Gandalf is controversial (but acceptable), and crowning him hero of the decade is headscratching.

  2. God I'm an opinionated nerd. In my defense, I'm wasting time at work AND procrastinating studying for the GRE.

  3. Yeah, I might add that I use the term "hero" extremely lightly, if I wanted to riggedly define what a hero should have been for this list's criteria I would have explicitly.

    The Bride escaped me for some reason, maybe I'm too obsessed with Tarantino villains. Also Wall-E is a fantastic pick.

    Ultimately I don't believe the order really matters, I don't personally see Gandalf (or anyone) as the objective hero of the decade, to me this distinction is impossible. My biggest goal is not to give you a predictable list, of course the Catch-22 is that what follows is probably a less valid list.

    So take from that what you will, which should probably infer that these kinds of lists are pointless, but if you disliked things that are pointless I doubt you'd be reading this blog.


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