Saturday, January 23, 2010

Characters of the Decade: Part 5

And we reach the thrilling conclusion. If there's one thing that astounded me, it's how many of these actors had a "Mc" in their name. This sure was a lot of work, but pretty rewarding. I hope it's been as enjoyable to read as it was to put together.

Dr. Horrible
Neil Patrick Harris - Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

"Oh, goodness, look at my wrist. I gotta go!"

Neil Patrick Harris is currently one of my favorite people in Hollywood, and this is the largest contributing factor. During the writers' strike Joss Whedon and a bunch of likable actors came together and made one of the most simply enjoyable things of the year a musical comedy about a sympathetic super villain. Neil makes you laugh, he sings, and in the end he's both a tragic figure and the true bad guy he always wanted to be. There's a bit of dissonance regarding how he intended to get the nice girl and take over the world at the same time, but watching him stumble through it was great.

The Joker
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight

"How about a magic trick? I'm gonna make this pencil disappear."

The Joker has always been probably the most popular villain in comic books, appearing constantly in adaptations as well. But one thing Ledger did with the character before his unfortunate death was pretty unique: making him scary. There's always been something disturbing about him, because nobody has any idea what he really wants or how far he'll go for it. But with this movie, they took it farther than most people are used to and created possibly the most memorable villain ever in this sort of blockbuster. Unpredictable, darkly hilarious and sad that this is the last we'll see of that particular performance.

Kirk Lazarus
Robert Downey Jr. - Tropic Thunder

"Everybody knows you never go full retard."

I enjoyed Tropic Thunder quite a bit, but without Downey's performance it would have been pretty mediocre. The Lazarus personality itself is fine, but the character's unrelenting dedication to the role of Lincoln Osiris despite being stranded in the middle of the jungle is pretty amazing. Maybe a bit offensive, sure, but still comedy gold. And the jokes come not from him being a white guy pretending his black, but from just how great that black guy is at messing with people. Every moment he spends with Ben Stiller's character is worth watching more than once. Awesome stuff.

Lafayette Reynolds
Nelsan Ellis - True Blood

"Jesus and I agreed to see other people, but that don't mean we still don't talk time to time."

True Blood was much more enjoyable in its second season, but during the first it was pretty much Ellis' work that prevented it from being a complete train wreck. It can't be easy being a gay black man in the south, but Lafayette thrives there, not taking shit from anyone. He has a rougher go of it in the second season thanks to being kidnapped by vampires, and honestly putting him through it sapped him of a bit of his greatness, but he's still one of the few truly likable people on the show.

Walter Bishop
John Noble - Fringe

"If you were actually going insane, you'd likely have no idea what's happening. Take it from me."

Fringe has gotten better over time, but during its shaky beginning Walter was about the only thing going for it. He's fairly unrealistic, because I'm pretty sure there's never been an actual person with even close to the breadth of encyclopedic scientific knowledge he has, and you'd think some of that would go away after over a decade in an asylum. But he gets away with it because he's funny and weird and the plot needs him to know everything he does. John Noble is the kind of actor that's enjoyable to watch read a shopping list, so seeing him dissect mutated corpses and be kind of crazy is pretty fun every week. I'm not sure I actually care about the tragedies of his past, but it's okay with me that they're going with that.

Kenny Powers
Danny McBride - Eastbound & Down

"I've been blessed with many things in this life. An arm like a damn rocket, a cock like a Burmese python, and the mind of a fucking scientist."

Danny McBride's really come out of nowhere in the last couple years, and this is definitely his best character. I mean, anyone who can craft this big of an asshole and still make you want him to do well is doing something right. His unrelenting narcissism that masks his constant self-doubt is always classic, and watching him waver between stepping all over people and being stepped on himself provides laughter and sympathy at nigh equal levels. We haven't seen anything about the second season yet, but I'm looking forward to whatever new depths he can plumb.

Enver Gjokaj - Dollhouse

"Did I fall asleep?"

This is sort of a cheat, as Victor isn't so much of a character as a blank slate on top of which any number of real or fabricated personalities can be applied. But Enver Gjokaj is such a pleasure to watch chameleon himself into a role that I couldn't not put him here. Plenty of actors have range, but I'm not sure I've ever seen someone with quite his talents, as he jumps between dozens of unique characters over the course of the show and completely sells all of them. Characters being body switched and mimicking each others' mannerisms is a favorite gimmick of Whedon shows, but this is his bread and butter. In the span of maybe ten minutes he had to play both a serial killer and a slutty college girl, and did both with equal aplomb. Just a blast.

King Silas Benjamin
Ian McShane - Kings

"I will endure a party in the company of my choosing, but with none that sour the wine in my cup."

I've already pontificated on why Ian McShane is fantastic, but for all I knew Deadwood was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Then I watched Kings and he did nothing but continue to impress. He doesn't get to swear nearly as much, but he's still a lot of fun to watch, especially with the increase in power from influential bar and brothel owner to sovereign king of a whole country. He bounces between saintly benevolence and fittingly biblical wrath like he was changing hats, and totally carries a show that would have been interesting without it, but not nearly as great.

Sue Sylvester
Jane Lynch - Glee

"I got a satellite interview. That's lingo for an interview, via satellite."

Sort of like Chi McBride on Pushing Daisies, Jane Lynch is what takes the almost impossibly joyful Glee and keeps it grounded in depressing reality. If Glee Club is what makes everything good happen in the world, Sue Sylvester is the source of all rot and decay. And that's why I love her. It's the depression she sprinkles all over everyone she sees that makes sure the show is watchable. Every story needs a conflict, and she is it. It helps that she's constantly cuttingly hilarious. The kind of character you could watch yell at people for longer than is probably healthy.

Alan Garner
Zach Galifianakis - The Hangover

"Your language is offensive."

It's not that I don't like Zach as a figure of independent comedy, I just think that more prominent roles in film and television means more of him in general, and that's definitely a good thing. There are some stand up comedians that simply should not take up acting, but Zach isn't one. And if this bizarre character leads to more, then it's definitely a good thing. I'm sort of out of ammo for things to say about Alan Garner, but there's really just not much about him that isn't funny. And uniquely funny, in ways that we haven't been seeing for years.

Colonel Hans Landa
Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds

"I did have something else I wanted to ask you, but right now, for the life of me, I can't remember what it is. Oh, well, must not have been important."

Hey, at least the Golden Globes got one right. Basterds was amazing in ways I really wasn't expecting, and a lot of that was because of Waltz' magnificent, multilingual performance. I mean, how does he manage to be so menacing while being completely genial the entire time? It's unfathomable. There are a couple moments where the friendly smirk leaves his face, but they're very few and far between. And he ends up being surprisingly fallible for such an intimidating force. But that's sort of why he's great. He represents the Nazi party: nearly unspeakably evil, but in the end still just human.

Arthur Mitchell
John Lithgow - Dexter

"Hello, Dexter Morgan."

And here's our final character, who debuted a mere four months ago. I've always known Lithgow from comedic work like 3rd Rock from the Sun, but apparently he's done dark before, and his return is nothing if not a triumph. He managed to remain a captivating villain even after he was humanized over the course of the season, but I'll never forget what a terrifying presence he was when we still knew nothing about him. And that butt wasn't a very pretty sight either. Even after we knew more though, he still managed to provide buckets of tension for good old Dex, and has ended up getting him better than anyone else to date.

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