Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Favorite Movie Villains #20 - 11

20. Tyler Durden (Fight Club)

"It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything."

Someone out there may be thinking, "Wait, Tyler Durden isn't the villain, Tyler Durden is-" No no no. I shall prove that Tyler is the villain with my simple formula of villainy: is Edward Norton's Narrator the protagonist? Yes. Does the Narrator spend the final act of the film trying to stop Tyler Durden? Yes. Ergo, villain!

And an extraordinarily memorable one at that; Brad Pitt can do crazy as well as anyone else in Hollywood (see also Twelve Monkeys) and in Fight Club he delivers a wicked combination of hilarious, scary, and unpredictably psychotic. Whether he's splicing single frames of pornography into family films, threatening Raymond K. Hessel, showing the Narrator a chemical burn, or plotting to blow up several major credit card headquarters, he does it with resounding panache. Acting as the walking embodiment of absolute anarchy, he's the crown jewel of one of the seminal cult films of the 90s.

19. Bill the Butcher (Gangs of New York)

"You see this knife?! I'm gonna teach you to speak English with this fucking knife!"

Gangs of New York is a great movie; several flaws hold it back from the level of masterpiece but it's ridiculously ambitious, perfectly realizes its setting of 1860s Manhattan, and above all else has Daniel Day-Lewis' ridiculously jaw-dropping turn as crime boss, gang leader, and political kingmaker Bill the Butcher. If pushed for a single answer, I would name it the best performance of the decade thus far, and while it may be a lazy solution I offer several random YouTube videos to back up my claim.

Bill is truly and completely ruthless, loves knifing / cleavering everyone who crosses him (although he also murders the sheriff with a club), kills Liam Neeson (him and Darth Maul should hang out), and generally steals every scene he sets foot in. The other thing I like about Bill is the uploader comment on this YouTube video - "ai used to watch gangs of new york when i was a little kid and this is my fav part n gangs of new york." What the fuck kind of childhood

18. Biff Tannen (Back to the Future trilogy)

"Hey McFly! I thought I told you never to come in here!"

There are many Biffs. In order of appearance:

1) Mean 1985 Biff, who crashes George McFly's car, refuses to pay for it, and forces George to do his financial reports for him.
2) 1955 teenage Biff, who hassles women, bullies children, forces George to do his homework, tries to murder Marty with his car, and evidently tries to rape Lorraine (what the fuck!).
3) Nice 1985 Biff (created when George punches out 1955 Biff), who waxes cars for a living.
4) Grumpy old man 2015 Biff, who raps Marty's heads a cane, calls Marty a "complete butthead" behind his back, and steals Doc Brown's time machine.
5) And of course Back to the Future Part II's alternate 1985 supervillain Biff, who owns the Hill Valley police, murders people (including George McFly), has Doc Brown committed, forces Lorraine to marry him on threat of jailing her kids, beats her, gets Nixon elected to three more terms, and generally turns Hill Valley into an apocalyptic, crime-raped hell hole.

(And although they aren't technically Biff, Thomas F. Wilson also plays his grandson Griff, a 2015 cyborg / bully / criminal, and his great-grandfather Bufford Tannen, a mass-murdering outlaw in 1885.)

And except for #3, what do all these Biffs have in common? They're all complete assholes.

17. Noah Cross (Chinatown)

"You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don't."

L.A. water mogul Noah Cross' plan involves fabricating a drought, forcing farmers off their dried-out old land and buying it cheap before diverting L.A.'s already-limited water supply to rejuvenate the farmland, dramatically increasing the value and selling it for an enormous profit. He's already rich, but hey, you can always be a little richer. It goes without saying that if a few people have to be murdered in this process, his conscience can easily bear the guilt. In fact, the more sociopathic he's revealed to be, the more off-puttingly jolly and jovial he seems.

But what really makes Noah Cross the king of all noir villains (skip ahead if you haven't seen Chinatown and plan to) is his relationship with his daughter Evelyn Mulwray, who he raped as a teenager, thus fathering his own granddaughter. In the end Evelyn is killed and since private dick J.J. Gittes is unable to prove the case against him, Cross gets off scott-free, no doubt fabulously wealthy, and claims guardianship of his granddaughter. And we already know how it goes with Cross and his teenaged relatives, so we have no reason to believe he didn't father his own great-granddaughter shortly after the film's ending. Ew. Noah Cross is pretty foul.

16. Doc Ock (Spider-Man 2)

"You've stuck your webs in my business for the last time!"

When Dr. Otto Octavius' fusion experiment goes haywire, killing his wife and permanently fusing to his spinal column the four giant steel tentacles he used to safely manipulate nuclear material, Spider-Man's ultimate movie opponent is formed. "Guy named Otto Octavius ends up with eight limbs! What are the odds!"

While much credit must be given to Alfred Molina's great duality of kindly middle-aged scientist as Octavius and the leering menace he projects as Doc Ock, director Sam Raimi is the true hero of this creation. The flawless combination of puppetry, computer effects, and robust sound design make the tentacles among the most seamless special effects from the last decade of film - they look real, they sound and feel heavy and dangerous, and you never think about the fiction of them. And while Spider-Man just barely manages to knock out Ock via a well-placed electrical wire, it really seems like in a no-frills one-on-one Spidey wouldn't stand a goddamn chance. A perfect comic book movie villain.

15. Agent Smith (The Matrix)

"Tell me, Mr. Anderson, what good is a phone call if you're unable to speak...?"

Agent Smith would like to share with you a revelation that he's had during his time here. It came to him when he tried to classify your species and realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and he is the cure. He's also a kung fu master. Let all that sink in for a moment.

14. Harry Lime (The Third Man)

"Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me: would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?"

The man is Harry Lime. The racket is stealing penicillin from military hospitals in post-WWII Vienna, diluting it for increased volume, and selling it back for a profit. Of course, use of the bad penicillin kills and injures lots of people, but Harry Lime has no problem brushing all that away and waxing fondly about how culture is at its finest under times of war and duress.

A week back I discussed Jabba the Hutt, mentioning that the character is made larger than life by the endless discussion of him before he ever appears on screen. This applies quadruple here - until we finally meet Harry Lime near the end of the second act, I would guess that 75-80% of the film's dialogue is about him (Is this the first time anyone has drawn parallels between Return of the Jedi and The Third Man? Maybe!). He's already a resounding, all-encompassing figure before one second of screentime, and who better to embody those kinds of expectations than Orson Welles - Citizen Kane himself! - in possibly his second most famous screen role. He's immensely charming and immensely vile all at once, and a hell of a mystery antagonist.

13. Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men)

"Call it."

One of cinema's purest and most undiluted representations of pure evil, Anton Chigurh slides to the chilliest possible end of the hotheaded lunatic-to-cold, calm badass scale; not only does he never cackle or get hotheaded, I don't think he ever raises his voice. He never shows a sign of feeling threatened, sweats a drop, or breaks stride (even when he actually does get injured), he just keeps moving forward, more a symbol or an idea than a man, killing everyone in his path from law enforcement officers and people after the money he's after to just plain old civilians he met five seconds before whose car he wants.

Now and then he will give someone a chance to live, however, and that's where the quarter comes in. A flip of the coin, you call it, you get to determine whether you live or die. Two-Face style, baby! And it takes a uniquely badass degree of villain to make not killing someone as chilling and memorable as killing them. That's how Chigurh rolls.

12. Ed Rooney (Ferris Bueller's Day Off)

"I did not achieve this position in life by having some snot-nosed punk leave my cheese out in the wind."

When Ferris Bueller takes his ninth sick day, Edward R. Rooney, Dean of Students, decides that he's got to catch Ferris this time, and show the other students that the example he sets is a first-class ticket to nowhere. And Rooney quickly makes his campaign personal, stalking about Chicago like a private detective trying to hunt Ferris down. He eventually breaks into Bueller househouse, knocks out their dog, and catches Ferris on his way home, leering with supreme evil about how Ferris can look forward to another year of high school.

But when Ferris' sister Jeanie comes to his rescue, confronting Rooney with evidence that he broke into their house (his dropped wallet in their kitchen), he is forced to sulk away, having spent the day being humiliated, having his car towed, being mauled by a dog, losing his wallet, and now losing his prey. And we laugh at him, because he symbolizes all the authority figures we hated throughout our primary education. Ha ha, Ed Rooney, you goddamn tool!

11. Vincent (Collateral)

"You killed him?!"
"No, I shot him. Bullets and the fall killed him."
~ Max & Vincent

Collateral is easily my favorite thriller thus far this decade thanks to its three stars. One - the gorgeous digital nighttime photography of Los Angeles, one of the all-time best uses of a location in a film. Two - Jamie Foxx as Max, the perfect thriller protagonist, a wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time and in over his head (which is weird since I don't like him anything else, but he's perfect here). And three - Vincent. 

Decked in pure silver from shoes to hair, Vincent is the goddamn Terminator of thriller villains, a lethal and ruthless assassin who hunts his victims as horrifically unstoppable as a bullet en route. The entire film except for the first fifteen minutes and the climax is an extended conversation between Max and Vincent broken up by interludes of fast-paced and fatal violence, and Vincent's great dialogue, unflappability, and seeming unstoppability make for one of the coldest and scariest bad guys of all time.

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