Friday, August 8, 2008

Favorite Movie Villains #40 - 31

40. Le Chiffre (Casino Royale)

"You know, I never understood all these elaborate tortures. It's the simplest thing... to cause more pain than a man can possibly endure."

Bond villain alert! Some people credited Casino Royale with fundamentally restructuring the Bond formula, but with the exception of dropping the one-liners, I would call it more a refining than restructuring - Bond still has car chases, does stunts, beds women, visits casinos, and battles terrorists across various exotic, photogenic cities while drinking vodka martinis, all scored to brassy, John Barry-esque music - it's just executed with far more style and substance than we'd been accustomed to. 

Fittingly, like a classic Bond baddie, terrorist banker Le Chiffre is rich and callous, speaks with a deep-voiced European accent, wears classy all-black suits and tuxedos, has an exotic deformity (in this case a blood-weeping eye), and calls 007 "Mr. Bond," creating an all-around blast of retro villainous goodness. He also ties Bond to a chair naked and repeatedly strikes his nutsack with a rope. What the fuck!

39. Frank Costello (The Departed)

"You know, past days, situation like this, I'd... kill everybody. Everybody who worked for me."

The Departed is probably Scorsese's all-time most mainstream, purely entertaining, and crowd-pleasing thriller, and while every element of it is executed with energetic panache it's the performances, particularly Mark Wahlberg's Dignam and Jack Nicholson's Frank Costello, that stand the most memorable. Yet another Scorsese gangster, Costello comes at cinematic villainy with a pinch of psychotic killer, a pinch of evil (in this case mob) overlord, a healthy dose of dark mentor / father figure, and a shitload of great quotes and dark comedy. Jack Nicholson can do this kind of role in his sleep, and it was a vastly entertaining return to form after seeing him be a sad old lonely man in About Scmidt. But then he went back to sad old lonely man again in The Bucket List! You're killin' me here, Jack!

38. John Doe (Se7en)

"What I've done is going to be puzzled over... and studied... and followed... forever."

Has anyone not seen Se7en? If you haven't seen Se7en, stop reading this and go rent Se7en! In Se7en (pronounced "Sesevenen"), Kevin Spacey is some sort of religious nut who decides it's high time for seven murders based on the Seven Deadly Sins. So for example he finds a man guilty of gluttony and forces him to eat spaghetti until his stomach ruptures and he dies. He finds a lady guilty of lust so he straps a bayonet to a guy's cock and forces him to fuck her till she dies. He de-limbs and ties a guy guilty of sloth to a bed for a year until his body decomposes while still living. And so on! Needless to say, he's perhaps a teensy bit mentally unbalanced.

37. The Alien (Alien series)

"Game over, man! Game over!" ~ Hudson

Probably the greatest straightforward dumb animal villain of all time, the Alien not only grows inside humans and makes a hell of an entrance, not only bleeds super-powerful acid making killing him on a spaceship suicide, not only has a fucking mini-mouth inside his mouth that like punches through your skull and eats your brain, but he's cross-genre, starring in both perhaps the finest sci-fi horror movie ever made (Alien) and one of the finest sci-fi action movies ever made (Aliens), perhaps the preeminent example of a great sequel to a great film that both exist in totally different genres (the other sequels aren't quite up to snuff, but whaddayagonnado?). The creature design is one of the greatest exercises in pure horror in cinematic history.

36. Tracy Flick (Election)

"Good morning, Mr. M! Looks like you could use a cupcake!"

You could make an argument about whether the feverishly ambitious wannabe-class president Tracy Flick even belongs on a list of villains, but as I see it, civics teacher Jim McAllister is our protagonist and his goal is to stop Tracy even if he has to ruin his life in the process (and he does... oh, he does), so she's our antagonist and our villain. Not to say that anyone in Election comes out on anything close to the light side of extremely morally grey, but even among the nastiness that surrounds her Tracy stands alone as an all-around self-entitled little vision of horror, ranting about how it's her destiny to lead and those who oppose destiny will suffer, getting teachers fired, making legal threats against the administration, tearing her election opponent's posters down, and all around being a sickly-sweet, despicable little pixie of foul portent. A decade later and I still can't fully relax when Reese Witherspoon is onscreen.

35. Magneto (X-Men series)

"We are the future, Charles, not them. They no longer matter."

Erik Lensherr a.k.a. Magneto (a.k.a. Gandalf) is a mega-powerful mutant who keeps trying to commit genocide against non-powered humans. Hugh Jackman always stops him at the last minute, but he just swings right back around and tries again! It's like, take a hint, asshole! He can completely control all metal in a large radius, meaning he can turn people's guns on them, stop bullets, form blades and blunt weapons, and throw the Golden Gate Bridge, so the only way they can contain him is in a plastic prison. However, the plastic prison guard has too much iron in his blood, so Magneto lifts him up into the air, unleashes all the blood from his body like some foul deflating balloon, and forms the iron into a disc which he floats out on like some sort of comic book badass. I suppose it's worth mentioning that he's a Holocaust survivor, giving him a sympathetic background, but he still has an unnecessarily nasty disposition.

34. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (James Bond series)

"Kill Bond! Now!"

Bond villain alert! In fact, Blofeld is not only a Bond villain but for the first seven movies (except Goldfinger) was the Bond villain. Head of SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), an organization that also includes Dr. No, Red Grant (#71 on this list), and Thunderball's Emilio Largo, Blofeld is the arch-nemesis of Sean Connery (and George Lazenby)'s Bond and the foremost prototype for the Bond supervillain. He murdered Bond's wife! His lair is a hollowed-out volcano! He strokes a white Persian cat 24/7! And if that sounds cliché, it's only because Blofeld made it so.

I would love to rank him higher, but the only problem is his dizzying recasting; he shows up in You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Diamonds Are Forever - three consecutive movies - and each time he's played by a different actor. I understand that recasting is part of the Bond franchise, but it can be hard to get a grip of hatred on a guy when you barely even get used to his face. Nonetheless, I applaud his decade-long attempt to kill Bond - he may never have succeeded, but I was vastly entertained in the process.

33. Captain Harrison Love (The Mask of Zorro)

"You're doing well! Your brother would have shot himself by now!"

This is probably a slightly unconventional pick that doesn't usually show up these lists, but this is after all my list, and as a kid I fucking loved The Mask of Zorro. It's a good old-fashioned sword, gun, horse, revenge, and heroism-centric swashbuckler the likes of which they never make anymore, and if it wasn't for Captain Love's murder of Antonio Banderas' brother Joaquín (or his almost-murder before Joaquín shot himself to deprive Love the pleasure), well, Banderas' Zorro never would have come to be! He's a bundle of contradictions - he speaks loftily of heroism and refuses to shoot Zorro, preferring an honorable swordfight, but at the same time he laughs as he guns down unarmed slaves and keeps his victims' heads in jars beneath his desk. Jesus Christ! Why does everyone on this list end up being a psychopath?!

32. Grand Moff Tarkin (Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope)

"Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station."

If you wanna talk villain body count, well, Tarkin wins. He easily beats everyone else on the list so far, put together, times a thousand. According to Wookiepedia, Alderaan had a population of two billion, so Tarkin, who blows Alderaan into fiery dust with the Death Star, has an onscreen kill count of 2,000,000,000! Holy shit! He also looks like a walking skeleton (no offense to the late Peter Cushing, who I understand was an exceedingly nice man), is the only non-Emperor Imperial in the saga who shows no fear bossing Darth Vader around, and above all else has according to Leia a "foul stench." All in all, not someone you'd want to go on holiday with.

31. Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter series)

"I'm going to kill you, Harry Potter. I'm going to destroy you. After tonight... no one will ever again question my power."

And while we're on the topic of genocidal tyrants with visions of eternal Empires, we can't forget Tom Riddle, possibly the most powerful wizard in the entire Harry Potter universe, a goddamn hypocritical half-blood wizard who dreams of a fascist pure-blood society with only Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter standing in his way. 

I'll admit this is a slightly preemptive ranking (because if Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows go according to plan he should be significantly fleshed out in the former and wage a body count-laden genocidal war on the wizard world in the latter) as he's only really had four major scenes in the series so far, one in each movie except Prisoner of Azkaban (where the villain is some combination of Peter Pettigrew and the Dementors). But his scenes in Goblet of Fire and Order of the Pheonix after he has finally taken shape as noseless Ralph Fiennes are badass, memorable scenes that both steal their respective films. I look forward to the final cinematic battle with Voldemort to come.

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