Friday, January 14, 2011

Characters of 2010

People seemed to like my list of my favorite characters of the decade last year, so I thought it would be fun to keep it going with the best ones from 2010. Obviously, I don't have the perspective on these people that I did for most of the ones on the decade list, so I can't say for sure how many of them will really stand the test of time. All I can say is that these are the figures that had me most glued to the screen when they were involved, and when it comes to the ones that are still parts of ongoing series, I can't wait to see more of them. Again, these are in chronological order of their first appearance this year. And again, these are all men... but I blame this more on the number of strong female characters in male-focused entertainment than myself.

Abed Nadir
Danny Pudi - Community

"That's sort of my gimmick, but we did lean on that pretty hard last week. I can lay low for an episode."

Abed established himself early as Community's most entertaining character, although it wasn't until this year that I was sure it was more than just a gimmick. He sees himself as a supporting character on a TV show rather than a student at a community college, and while on one hand it makes him a strange and troubled man, on the other it makes him the only character who really knows what's going on. The way they play with that side of him provides some of the show's best comedic moments, but while he has some personality issues, he also has helped provide some of the series' best emotional content to date. The show would still be great without him, but it wouldn't be the same.

Harry S. Plinkett
Mike Stoklasa - RedLetterMedia

"Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is the worst thing ever made by a human."

Like Abed, the Plinkett character was created before 2010, and first came into the public eye near the end of 2009 with his review of the first Star Wars prequel. But 2010 was really the year of Plinkett, as he came out with new looks at the other prequels, Avatar, Star Trek, and even Baby's Day Out, establishing himself as the preeminent humorous pop culture critic on the Internet. The content of the reviews themselves are always great, but it's the addition of Plinkett's weird homicidal tendencies and unique way of phrasing things that puts them over the top.

The Eleventh Doctor
Matt Smith - Doctor Who

"Bow ties are cool."

I wondered how well the youngest Doctor ever would fit the role so well handled by David Tennant for the last four years, but I was sold by the end of his first scene in the season premiere. Smith's Doctor has a bit more range than the other two since the show came back, perhaps the wackiest version yet but also possessing a certain angry conviction when it's called for. He helped prop up a season that was solid but lacked any truly transcendent episodes.

Creighton Bernette
John Goodman - Treme

"This is Creighton Bernette from New Orleans. Yeah, we're still here. I just want to say something to all y'all trying to figure out what to do about our city: blow me."

John Goodman was never officially a part of Treme's main cast, but his character was key to its first season. Creighton is something of a mouthpiece for the creators to speak their minds about how Katrina was handled, but it's easy to look past that with how entertaining the performance is. And on top of that, the end of his character arc helped provide a real sense of weight to the end of the season that it had mostly lacked. I think he was essential to my perception of the show being as positive as it was.

Big Daddy
Nicolas Cage - Kick-Ass

"Oh, child. You always knock me for a loop!"

Hit Girl got all the attention because it's so crazy to see a young girl swear and kill people, but I honestly found her father to be a much more interesting character. Nic Cage basically plays Big Daddy like Adam West played Batman, and while his career is starting to feel like some sort of Andy Kaufman-level genius joke, I really enjoyed his work in this movie. His one big action scene was probably the highlight of the movie for me, and his odd personality both with and without the secret identity was a lot of fun.

John Marston
Rob Wiethoff - Red Dead Redemption

"I left the gang after the gang left me."

Red Dead Redemption had my favorite story in a game this year, and its protagonist was a big reason why. John is a complicated man, with a generally good heart, but prone to a lot of poor decisions that put him and his family in a tough place. He's a killer, but he's also a family man who cares deeply about his wife and son. He's a guy you'd always want on your side if the guns ever came out. And his easy charisma when dealing with anyone new helped keep things interesting. He could also be a real son of a bitch if you wanted him to.

Kale Ingram
Arliss Howard - Rubicon

"The way you live is disgusting."

The villainous Truxton Spangler became the focus as Rubicon's only season came to a pretty solid end, but Kale was the guy who kept the show afloat when it was still trying to figure out what it wanted to be. Even to the end you never really knew what side he was on, but he was a big help to protagonist Will while he was trying to navigate the treacherous waters he found himself in. There's just a cold badassness to him that you wouldn't expect from a calm intelligence analyst. And the show played his homosexuality like it was just a simple part of his home life, which I liked.

Louis C.K. - Louie

"You don't like rape? You don't? That's really weird because you know that you wouldn't even exist if your mom hadn't raped that homeless Chinese guy."

It's hard to say where Louis C.K. the actor ends and where his character on his self titled TV show begins, and I'm not even sure if that's a distinction worth making. Either way, Louis is possibly the funniest stand-up comedian alive, who also happens to be really great at portraying the simple reality of being a middle aged, divorced father of two in New York. Plus the occasionally journeys into his youth or psyche are usually fascinating and informative.

Tom Hardy - Inception

"You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling."

The whole cast of this movie was excellent, but I don't think there's much argument that Tom Hardy was the breakout star, playing the team's "forger", which mostly meant he disguised himself as other people to manipulate the target. He had an enjoyable humorous banter with all the other characters and Joseph Gordon Levitt's Arthur in particular, and was also possibly the best action hero, basically single-handedly keeping the team alive when they got deeper into the nesting dreams-within-dreams they found themselves in. Definitely looking forward to more of his work.

Sherlock Holmes
Benedict Cumberbatch - Sherlock

"I'm not a psychopath, I'm a highly functioning sociopath. Do your research."

I almost don't want to watch or read any of the period Holmes stuff now, because the writing and performance of this modern day Sherlock was so good that it just seems like canon now. There's something very off-putting about Cumberbatch's know-it-all-ness and dismissal of anyone intellectually inferior to him (read: everyone), but he's just flawed enough that you love him anyway. Really looking forward to seeing how they expand on this interpretation of the character.

Richard Harrow
Jack Huston - Boardwalk Empire

"And then they'll tell us if we're normal or not. They're interested in what's in our heads so next time, we'll fight better."

There are a lot of interesting figures on this show, both historical and otherwise. But none were as immediately interesting and disturbing as the war veteran-turned-gun for hire with half a face played by Jack Huston. He grunts a lot and talks with a gravelly voice, and you hang on every word because you know he'll only say them if there's a good reason. We only got a few scenes with him in season one, but he figures to play a bigger part in 2011.

Rooster Cogburn
Jeff Bridges - True Grit

"I do not know this man."

I reject Cogburn as the film's main character, but not as its most fascinating one. It's again a mix of writing and performance, as the Coens used the novel to create a unique take on the grizzled old lawman archetype and Bridges breathed full life into it. Rooster drinks too much and he doesn't always follow the law exactly and he's probably killed more than a few men in cold blood. But he's still a force for good at his core, and what he goes through to see Mattie's job through the end is above and beyond the call of duty. An appropriate hero for a somewhat atypical western.

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