Saturday, May 02, 2009

10 Favorite Movie Characters

Will Pfeifer finds out about all the best memes. He's the one who got me started on the Album of the Year Music Meme and here's another cool one: List your top ten favorite movie characters. Not actors. Not movies. Characters.

Pfeifer doesn't mention a specific number to list, but following his links backwards it looks like it started as a list of ten. I need boundaries like that, so I've limited myself to ten as well.

I've also set up an additional rule for myself. I wanted to pick characters that - as far as I know - started life as movie characters. No Rogue; no James Bond; no Tarzan. That was hard to do in a couple of instances where I like the movie version of a character a lot more than the original version (Susan from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or Daniel Day Lewis' version of Natty Bumppo for instance). But after much thought and pruning of a larger list, here's my top ten, more or less in the order that I discovered them.

1. Han Solo (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back)

Harrison Ford's not a big Han Solo fan. He says that Han's a one-note character and that he'd rather play Indiana Jones. I can respect that opinion from an actor's perspective, but as much as I like Indy, I'll take Han any day. He may only have one note, but I love that note. He's too cool for school, but has a heart of gold. He was the first movie character - maybe the first character from any medium - that I wanted to be.

Incidentally, I think Ford was absolutely right about Han's limited potential. That's why he was pretty much useless in Return of the Jedi (which is why I didn't list that movie up there next to his name). But he'll always be my favorite Star Wars character thanks to Star Wars and Empire.

2. John Bender (The Breakfast Club)

If Han was who I wanted to be as a kid, John Bender was who I wanted to be as a teenager. And why not? He's basically Han all over again. Scoundrel With a Heart of Gold and all that.

I was never as roguish as Han and Bender, but these two characters taught me to be okay with myself and not worry so much about what other people think. And that was a very handy tool for a teenager to have.

3. David (The Lost Boys)

I probably should be ashamed to say that the biggest thing I took away from David was his fashion sense. But I'm not.

Also, he was just very, very cool. For an evil bloodsucking vampire.

4. Larry Talbot (The Wolf Man)

I haven't learned any monumental lessons from Larry the Werewolf, but I love how tragic and tortured he is. God bless Lon Chaney Jr for how well he played this role. His hand-wringing, gut-wrenching self-loathing is the highlight of every Universal monster film he's in.

He totally sucks me into the story and I'm always rooting for him to figure out a way to beat the curse. And I'm always heart-broken when he fails.

5. Ilsa Lund (Casablanca)

This was a hard one to pick. I knew I wanted a character from Casablanca, but I was torn between four of them. Rick Blaine is one of my heroes in the mold of Han/Bender. He's also tortured like Larry Talbot. Captain Renault is another lovable rogue and one of my favorites.

I thought hard about picking Yvonne, Rick's girlfriend who hooks up with a Nazi soldier to make Rick jealous. Again, she's tortured. She's totally in love with Rick, but he's completely inaccessible to her. When she sobs while singing "La Marseillaise" I cry. Every single time. By the time she's shouting "Vive le France" at the end of the scene, I'm wiping my eyes and cursing myself for being such a baby. That could have been such a cheesy scene, but actress Madeleine Lebeau nails it. She not only makes me believe she's feeling it; she makes me feel it too.

Here. See what I mean.

But Ilsa... Ilsa made me fall in love with Ingrid Bergman. There are a couple of instances like that on this list where I followed actors' careers longer than I enjoyed them based on a single performance. Watch Ilsa in that scene above. I'm not even tempted to list Victor Laszlo as one of my favorite characters because frankly he's dull and unlovable. But in that scene, you see in Bergman's eyes what Ilsa sees in Victor. She may love Rick, but she admires the hell out of Victor and that's enough to create the movie's central conflict.

And that's why Ilsa's my favorite. She's got an impossible decision to make. She's in an untenable position that she in no way asked to be put in and the entire movie is gripping because you can't stand not knowing which way she's going to go. It haunts me.

There are a lot of reasons that Casablanca is my favorite movie of all time, but Ilsa's conflict is the biggest of them.

6. James McKay (The Big Country)

I mentioned before that I like Han Solo and John Bender because they're so comfortable with themselves and their status as outsiders. James McKay makes them seem like self-conscious, nervous little dweebs. Han actually does want to fit in with his new, rebel friends and Bender's self-confidence is largely a cover-up for deeper insecurities, but McKay will let his fiancé think he's a gutless coward because he refuses to put on a macho show for her.

I need to watch The Big Country again and see if that's pride or humility on McKay's part. I think it may be pride, but if it is, it's a very private pride that doesn't need anyone else to validate it.

7. Phil (Groundhog Day)

Now that I'm writing about each of these characters I'm detecting a pattern that I didn't notice when I was just picking the list. Phil doesn't start off as the kind of guy who doesn't care what people think about him. He's very concerned that people see him as sophisticated and cool. But he grows into that guy. And he also learns to value other people above himself, which is something I keep working on in my own life.

There's a profound connection there, I think. Putting the needs of other people in front of your own somehow eliminates the selfish desire to have them think nice things about you.

8. Lucy Moderatz (While You Were Sleeping)

I was a huge Sandra Bullock fan for a long time and it's mostly because of this movie. Sure the premise is far-fetched, but Bullock's performance as a woman suffering from profound loneliness is absolutely grounded and real. I don't cry during While You Were Sleeping, but I get a little misty at the end when she comes clean at the wedding and talks about being part of a family and not having had that "in a really long time."

Like Yvonne in Casablanca, she makes me feel it with her and I love that. My heart goes out to her, so I love the character too.

9. Elizabeth Swan (Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy)

Butt-kicking pirate girl. Played by Keira Knightley.

Sometimes these things don't need a ton of analysis.

10. Maggie Fitzgerald (Million Dollar Baby)

By the time this movie came around I'd learned that one amazing performance doesn't mean I'm going to love every single thing an actor does. But if I'd seen it ten years earlier I'd have a huge collection right now of every obscure little film that Hilary Swank's been in.

Man, I love Maggie. I love her for struggling through her life and never losing her belief in herself when every... single... person... in her life was telling her that she was no damn good. It breaks my heart what happens to her at the end, but it in no way diminishes my love for her.

So, those are my favorite movie characters of all time. Who are yours?


Josh said...

I'd need to think about this for a little while, but I'll come up with something.

Siskoid said...

Yeah me too! That's a real interesting meme, especially with the imposed restrictions.

And a good variety there Michael. I'd hope my list covered as much ground. Of course the only one that has even a remote chance of making my list is Phil, but we'll see how it works out.

Siskoid said...

Having checked out Jeff's list now, I have to admit Clementine was already on my mind, so she's likely, but Roy Batty has a good chance as well.

snell said...

I've got to say--at her height Ingrid Bergman was maybe the most beautiful woman ever. Not the cutest, or sexiest, or hottest...just straight-up beautiful.

Wings said...

Very good list. I debated using Han, but went with Indy instead. And I chose Rick or Ilsa.

Here is my list: 10 Movie Characters I Love

Siskoid said...

Here's my list.

Brantas Pranata Nusa said...

cool.... i like han solo as well


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