Sunday, August 16, 2009

The 100 most memorable characters of the decade - part 2

The first ten characters have been revealed, so now, we move on to the next ten. The list was narrowed down from more than 600 characters to 100, and it was pretty tough because I set no real ground rules for exclusion.

90 - Selene (Kate Beckinsale) the Underworld film series - Before her turn as a death dealing vampire, Kate Beckinsale was seen as a lovely, modest English rose. Enter Selene. Frosty demeanor, leather corset, crystal blue eyes, and machine pistols with silver bullets. She possesses superhuman strength, agility, and you wouldn't want her to sink her teeth in to you. Or would you? Like Trinity before her, Selene is one of the most recognizable tough chicks of modern cinema.

Beckinsale talked about what it was like to kick ass like one of the boys:

I thought it was great. I must say, I really do seriously always have loved action movies. When you get sent a great script for an action movie, and want to play the boys part.... You know, because normally... it's like in Die Hard. I don't want to be sitting on an airplane making phone calls. I want to be blowing up the elevator shaft!

And that doesn't happen very often. And when it does happen, that the female is the lead of the film, and it's an American movie and it's a bit camp... and I've always wanted to do something like La Femme Nikita.

89 - Christian (Ewan McGregor) Moulin Rouge! - Ewan McGregor never got an Oscar nomination for playing the idealistic young writer. He should have. He was thankfully, at least nominated for a Golden Globe.

McGregor managed to pull of the lovestruck, forlorn, but determined Christian without turning him into a sap. There haven't been many truly romantic male characters over the past few years, but for some reason whenever I mention Ewan McGregor, someone always gets that far away look in their eyes, sighs longingly, and mentions loving him in Moulin Rouge!.

Says McGregor on his experience doing the film:
...I’ve never done anything like it... There’s never been anything like it. The opportunity to sing and dance and be part of a company like that; it felt like we were in the circus. It was an extraordinary experience going to work every day – the colour and the music and crazy Baz [Luhrmann]. It was fantastic! I’d do it all again tomorrow. I’d be quite happy to make Moulin Rouge II.

88 - Mei (Zhang Ziyi) House of Flying Daggers - Mei is a divine blind dancer and courtesan at the decline of China's Tang Dynasty. But, there is more to Mei. She's a mystery. And when one thinks everything about her is revealed, there is still more to learn - even at the very end.

Richard Corliss, saw Zhang Ziyi as the best aspect of House of Flying Daggers, from his review in Time:
Zhang Ziyi...the lady shines brightest. Fierce in a battle with eight soldiers, coquettish as she bathes before the enrapt Jin, Zhang is charisma incarnate. She is already nearing American stardom, playing the lead in Memoirs of a Geisha. You can bet she will reveal a new kind of star quality, even as the dazzling Daggers shows Hollywood how to make an action film with depth and pizazz.

87 - Young Gangster/Gangster 55 (Paul Bettany/Malcolm McDowell) Gangster No. 1 - Most moviegoers don't remember the explosive gangster from 2000's Gangster No. 1 - the character is given no name in the film which only grossed approximately $30,000 in the United States. Most moviegoers haven't watched the film about the rise of a violent English gangster, but for those who have, he may be one of the most terrifying figures in modern film.

With the exception of a few Patrick Batemans, Jokers, Beatrix Kiddos, and Anton Chigurhs, no other character can match up to his love of violence. He's the the type of man who will torture his victims for hours with an axe, or coldly watch a woman as her throat is cut. He's the type of man who will narrate every detail of his crimes - from the suit he wore to the type of car parked beside his - over twenty years after they take place.

Owen Gleiberman from EW once explained what made The Gangster so menacing:

Gangster No. 1 is a canny, derivative, wildly gruesome portrait of a London sociopath who's the scariest of sadists, in part because he's also a very courtly one. Malcolm McDowell, with menacing close-cropped hair, plays this elegant monster in the smugness of middle age, but the heart of the film is set in the late '60s, when he's a ruthless young climber embodied, in a mesmerizing performance, by Paul Bettany...

Pale blond, with a shark bite of a smile and barely visible eyebrows that give him the look of a feral alien, Bettany plays the sort of fellow for whom crime isn't a means but an end. The crazier you think he's going to get, the quicker he ups the ante to the next level of artful viciousness. Bettany is presented as a real-life version of the droogs in ''A Clockwork Orange.''

86 - Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts) Mulholland Drive - Naomi Watts portrayed two starkly different, but equally memorable characters in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive . As Betty, Watts plays a talented aspiring actress. She is optimistic, wide-eyed, and innocent. She is disgustingly cheerful. By the middle of the film, Watts is playing Diane Selwyn - Betty's polar opposite. Diane is unfulfilled and utterly defeated. Are Betty and Diane one and the same - Diane being the "real" entity while Betty is her dream self, or projection? Is each woman one half of the same coin? Or two parallels of alternate realities? It's hard to say. But that's the beauty of the characters.

A New York Times review gives us an introduction to Betty and Diane:
...Betty (Naomi Watts), a blond ingénue...has just arrived in Los Angeles...the apartment belongs to Betty's aunt, who works in the film business and has lent it to her niece while she's away on location. Betty, who traveled from Deep River, Ontario, is a likably gushy caricature of a naïve Hollywood hopeful and, as it turns out, a fine actress.

...Ms. Watts portrays Diane, a hardened, strung-out vixen who suggests what Betty might become after living in Hollywood too long. Or might Diane be real and Betty be a fantasy projection of what she might have been?

85 - Tracy Freeland (Evan Rachel Wood) Thirteen - In looking back at the decade, Tracy Freeland may be the most realistic example of what it was like to be a teenager at the start of the 21st century. Really, it's a film for the adults, and not the children. Tracy starts off as a model student, but as the film unfolds she's transformed into a shoplifting, wrist cutting, drug abusing wreck of a girl. What makes Tracy even more memorable is that Thirteen is autobiographical, and based the film's co-writer, and supporting actress Nikki Reed. Knowing that many of Tracy's actions actually happened, combined with Woods' exceptional performance, and you get a very sobering look at teenage life.

Says Ew:
Tracy snuffs her humanity as an act of revolt, and that's the power -- and terror -- of Evan Rachel Wood's performance. This young actress, best known for her work on ''Once and Again,'' looks like a junior-high Nicole Kidman, and she performs with a radiant fire. She makes Tracy defiant, cunning, morose, gleeful, and frightened, all at the same time; she's like a wobbly colt who grows up in an instant by harnessing her rage.
Evan Rachel Wood had this to say about her experiences on the film:
"It didn't shock me how real it was and that finally somebody had written something like that...[I had to] zone out and really separate myself from the character and remember that it was just acting...those cutting scenes were really, really difficult because when somebody does that, it's something that's really private which you do by yourself, and you're also at your most vulnerable point. So to do that in front of a lot of people is really difficult...I really, really, really, really wanted to shake if off, so by the end of the film I was just completely the beginning...she's having fun but you also see her hit rock bottom and you see everything blow up in her face. It should just be a kind of warning."

84 - Captain Wilm Hosenfeld (Thomas Kretschmann) The Pianist - He only appears in The Pianist for a few minutes. Towards the end. Kretschmann doesn't give a flashy performance. He's nearly as subtle and silent as the film's hero, Władysław Szpilman. Captain Hosenfeld's entire story couldn't possibly have been told in The Pianist. That would have been a different story altogether, but it's one worth knowing. It's a story with a final chapter that was only just completed: in November of 2008, Yad Vashem recognized Wilhelm Hosenfeld as Righteous Among the Nations.

Thomas Kretschmann on the real Captain Hosenfeld and working with director Roman Polanski: the press conference in Cannes, he [Polanski] said, "There was this German actor who read my script like a telephone book. Like a menu. And I thought it was unbelievable." When we started shooting, he comes up behind me, first shot we do, and he says, "You do exactly what you did in casting." I said, "But I didn't act." He said, "Exactly." He was very obsessed with not acting, and being real. You can see it in the film. I think the big power of the film is that you don't have the feeling you're watching actors acting.

...We know he really existed. He was was a teacher originally, then he was a soldier. He saved numerous lives, and he died, like it says in film...There was also, in the book, a diary of him, and you could read it all.

...The scene where Szpilman plays the piano, that was the one scene where I could express the character, because for the rest of the time, he does what he does. He's not talking about it. He just does what has to be done. This is the only scene where you can give the audience an idea how he functions...It was eight and a half minutes, and [Polanski] shot it through. In my mind I tried to go through a whole lifetime of the highest highs and the lowest lows. [Polanski] did one take, and then he said, "That's it." I was actually prepared to start working at that point, but he said, "That's it." He refused to do another take.

83 - Jesminder "Jess" Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) Bend It Like Beckham - In Bend It Like Beckham, Nagra plays a spirited young woman who defies her traditional parents. She is a rebel with a cause.

This review explains why Jess is such an appealing character:
Kudos go to writer/director Gurinder Chadha and the startlingly accomplished performances of a young and largely unknown cast, led by luminous newcomer Parminder Nagra.

The camera loves Nagra, and the audience can't help but root for her character, Jess, a sensible teen, loving daughter and passionate athlete. Jess's traditional Sikh Punjabi family would like nothing more than to host Jess' big, fat Indian wedding.
Her role in the film was so influential that Nagra beat football players like Luis Figo and Ronaldo and won FIFA's International Football Personality of the Year Presidential Award in 2002. She was the first woman, and so far, the only actress to win the award.

82 - Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) Apocalypto - Brave, skilled, and desperate, Jaguar Paw is more than just a character - he's a force of nature.

There are times when Jaguar Paw must do things that are unbelievably violent just to survive. He knows that if he dies, his family will die with him. Towards the beginning of the film, his father tells him not to be afraid. But somewhere underneath his fevered desperation, he has to be afraid: the world as he knows it has been obliterated, and his mentor his gone. In Jaguar Paw's world he must face an army and an empire to survive.

81 - Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) Million Dollar Baby - For some reason I've never been able to quite shake Maggie from my mind.

She's a character who should have given up on her dreams long ago. She's a woman trying to compete in what is traditionally a man's sport, she's too old, and almost totally inexperienced. In many ways she's as tough outside of the boxing ring as she is in it.

Hilary Swank, who famously put on 17 pounds of muscle for the role, could have turned Maggie into a sentimental character. What she does instead is to create an intense, earnest, character with depth and soul. This is why she won the Oscar. Swank has many detractors, especially since she now has two Oscars, but I say she deserved both of the awards she got.

From Ebert:
Hilary Swank is astonishing as Maggie. Every note is true. She reduces Maggie to a fierce intensity. Consider the scene where she and Scrap sit at a lunch counter, and Scrap tells how he lost the sight in one eye, how Frankie blames himself for not throwing in the towel. It is an important scene for Freeman, but I want you to observe how Swank has Maggie do absolutely nothing but listen. No "reactions," no little nods, no body language except perfect stillness, deep attention and an unwavering gaze.

There are 80 more characters on the list, so if you haven't seen your favorite characters yet, there's still a chance they might make it. If you want a character to make it to the list you can leave a comment and they could end up on the list.

Be sure to check out part 1 of the list in case you missed it.

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