Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My 25 greatest movie characters (part 2)


Scarlett O' Hara (Gone with the Wind)

Long before Paris Hilton and her celebutante ilk, there was Miss Scarlett O'Hara. She is THE Southern belle: corseted, coy, calculating, and spoiled like a child
. Scarlett is used to getting her way, but unlike the pampered princesses of today, she has an inner strength and indomitable spirit that not even the American Civil War could break. And although her iron will meets its match in the dashing Rhett Butler, and it's he who utters what is perhaps the most famous break-up line ever ("Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!"), it is Scarlett who personifies the beauty, resilience and proud heritage of the South.

Indiana Jones (the Indiana Jones series)

The hat. The leather jacket. The whip. The insolent smirk. Few do not recognize Indiana Jones on sight and acknowledge him to be one of the coolest cinema icons of all time. Being an archaeologist was considered geeky and deathly boring until Indy came along, with his rugged good looks, wry sense of humor, tendency of getting into trouble, and knack for getting out of trouble. Whether it's running to avoid getting squashed by a giant boulder, escaping from a spooky Indian cult, or falling into a pit of snakes ("Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?"), Indy always takes audiences on a wild ride, and it's no wonder his name has become synonymous with adventure, even in his old age.

10. King Leonidas (300)

For weeks after 300 was shown in cinemas, my guy friends were still rattling off Leonidas quotes ("Madness? THIS. IS. SPARTAAA!!"). That speaks volumes about the Spartan king's appeal. It's not just the sculpted pecs and rock-hard abs either. Leonidas' men would voluntarily up and leave their families to follow him to the pits of hell (presumably, to dine), and it takes a forceful, competent and respected leader to inspire that kind of unquestioning loyalty. Not to be mistaken for pure machismo, Leonidas' passion for battle is the true mark of a Spartan warrior ("First, you fight with your head, then you fight with your heart"), and is what makes him the epitome of a man's man. HA-OOH! HA-OOH! HA-OOH!

9. William Wallace (Braveheart)

I debated removing William Wallace from my list due to his many similarities with Leonidas, but I'm someone who can't watch Braveheart without crying myself silly, so I just had to include him. And the distinguishing
factor here is that the legendary Scottish figure has the added element of tragedy in his life: his young wife was slain by an English lord, spurring him to lead a ragtag group of Scots to wage battle against their English oppressors. Wallace's passion is different from Leonidas': it is rooted in love, love for his woman, and love for his country. And those trump a perfect set of 6-pack abs anyday.

8. Aragorn (the Lord of the Rings trilogy)

Yeah, yeah, I realize I ranked 3 macho men consecutively, but I can't help it. I'm a sucker for these types of heroes: brooding alpha males who can lead an entire army and who remain faithful to their lady loves. In Aragorn's case, what puts him above both Leonidas and William Wallace is the internal struggle to come to terms with who he truly is. He is heir to the throne of Gondor, but reluctant to assume the responsibility of becoming king for fear of succumbing to weakness as his ancestors did. Yet his moral compass directs him to help protect the hobbit Frodo and aid him in his quest to rid Middle Earth of Sauron's evil presence. Aragorn's passion is fueled not only by love, but by the desire to fulfill his destiny. And not only is that hot, it's also very, very awesome.

7. The Joker (The Dark Knight)

I wrote in my review of The Dark Knight that the Joker is "the consummate villain: a crazed crook with no moral center, no game plan and no remorse". Yet he is also wickedly, insanely funny, as seen here:

That's the thing about the Joker. He's mentally deranged, inhumanely brutal and all sorts of nasty, but you just can't completely hate a guy with a sense of humor, even if he is a dangerous psychopath.

6. Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump)

At a time when I was being consumed with teenage cynicism, Forrest Gump single-handedly restored my faith in human goodness. Although some may attribute his gentle nature, innate kindness, and child-like trust to his being "slow", I like to think of Forrest as an infinitely better person than the smarter folk around him who wind up doing the stupidest things. A reminder of homespun values in a constantly changing modern world, Forrest proves that not all great characters have to be criminal masterminds or uber-buff, half-naked warriors.

5. Keyser Soze (The Usual Suspects)

In case anyone hasn't seen The Usual Suspects (LOSERS, haha), I'll let this one go unexplained. Because anyone who HAS seen The Usual Suspects knows why I can't explain, and why Keyser Soze is da man.

James Bond (the James Bond series)

It's the tried-and-tested formula: fast cars, shaken-not-stirred martinis, games of baccarat, fancy gadgets, gorgeous girls. No one makes espionage look better than 007 (I'm NOT talking about the Daniel Craig incarnation). Women want him, men want to be him. Granted, Bond's a relic from the sexist, misogynistic ages (as M put it in Goldeneye), but there's no denying the universal appeal of a man who's sharp, suave, cheats death at every turn, and always saves the day. Who needs feminism when you can have Bond, James Bond?

3. Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs)

Very few movie villains are half as chilling as Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter. The cultured criminals are always the most frightening, not only because of their misleading genteel veneers, but because of the deadly potential of their intellects. Hannibal Lecter is the supreme psychopath:
not only does he deny access to the dark recesses of his mind, he can get in others' heads and toy with them, being a psychiatrist himself, and a brilliant one at that. Although obviously an extremely disturbed individual, this cannibalistic serial killer who enjoys his human liver with a side of fava beans and a nice Chianti is coolly cerebral and rarely displays emotion, and it's this quietly sinister aura-- along with the incongrous mix of barbarism and refinement-- that scares the bejeezus out of me.

2. Yoda (the Star Wars series)

Oh come on. Do I even need to say anything? It's YODA.

1. Don Vito Corleone (the Godfather trilogy)

Nobody else but THE Godfather could top my list. Although technically it's Michael Corleone who's the center of the Godfather trilogy, it's his father who's the enduring symbol of everything that is fascinating and cool about the Mafia. Vito Corleone is wise, dignified, generous, a man of his word, loyal to his friends, devoted to his family, and respected across the 5 boroughs of New York. It's easy to forget he's actually head of a crime syndicate. He helps anyone who asks for it, kills anyone who crosses him,
and is not controlled by anyone-- he holds the strings, he calls the shots. And when he makes you an offer, you simply cannot refuse. Vito Corleone is a criminal genius, a businessman, a gentleman, a gangster, and dare I say it, a flawed hero. He's a study in contradictions, a reflection of all that's good and bad in human nature, a reflection of all of that we aspire and avoid to be. That's what makes him the greatest character-- and biggest badass-- in film history.


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