Best of 2013: Top 10 Movie Characters

Bestof13_light

Here we are at the midpoint of my Best Of 2013 lists with my first movie-themed countdown. This year I decided to delay starting the movie-specific lists to allow for the last traditional release date of the year for new movies, Boxing Day, to pass by. Hopefully this will avoid a repeat of last year’s situation where I had to ignore Wreck It Ralph and Les Miserables. That said, let’s count down some memorable characters.

The characters on this list need not be appearing for the first time in a film; fresh interpretations of other material, recurring players in a series and even depictions of real-life people are all fair game. 2013 gave us examples of all these types, and while each character on this list stimulated a different set of emotions from audiences, all managed to be memorable in some way. Many of them are villains, but there are some good guys thrown in there too. Some were actually more memorable than the movies they came from, while others helped their movies to reach great heights. In any case, these are the scene stealers I enjoyed watching the most in 2013. Some spoilers will probably follow.

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VR BEST OF 2013 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s scary. Respectful disagreement is welcome.
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10. Niki Lauda – Rush

Though Niki Lauda is, of course, an actual person, the version of him put to screen in Rush by Daniel Bruhl (of Inglorious Basterds fame) is at once frustrating and admirable. Though his real-life Formula One rivalry with Liam Hemsworth’s James Hunt is exaggerated in the film to the point where Lauda is portrayed as obsessive over beating Hunt (at one moment even lamenting that “happiness is the enemy” if he wants to be successful in his pursuit), Bruhl sells enough of Lauda’s vulnerable and/or appreciative moments to make him the highlight of the film. Though much of the marketing for the film sells Rush as a movie about Hunt’s champion 1976 season, it really belongs to Lauda (and Bruhl).

9. Trevor Slattery – Iron Man 3

Sir Ben Kingsley’s odd, creepy drawl as the big screen version of the Mandarin made him memorable enough, bringing to mind the likes of Heath Ledger’s Joker, Alan Rickman’s Snape and Tom Hardy’s Bane in terms of unsettlingly strange vocal performances. The mix of Middle Eastern and Oriental visual motifs didn’t hurt the intimidation factor. So what would kick Kingsley’s performance up a notch in terms of memorability? How about a twist that many film critics described as Hollywood’s “best kept secret” of 2013? To take a character from scary to hilarious in mere minutes was, in my opinion, a ballsy and remarkably fresh move that added to, rather than subtracted from, Iron Man 3.

8. China Doll – Oz the Great & Powerful

The China Doll from Sam Raimi’s under-appreciated Oz the Great & Powerful is a true animation triumph in the class of Andy Serkis’ Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. There is really no other way to say it. Once you see the introductory scene for this sidekick to James Franco’s Oz, you may realise you’ve never cared for an onscreen character so immediately before in your life. Sobbing in the dark as the ruins of her house lie about her, one leg cracked right down the middle, she fears the flawed man at first but soon accepts his help and begs to be taken along on his journey. She moves and reacts to light in a very unique and believable way, selling fragility like no animated object before her, and the carefree vocal performance Joey King provides in the role keeps her memorable right until the heartfelt end of the story.

7. Stephen – Django Unchained

Samuel L Jackson has had many memorable roles over the years, some of them heroic and some of them villainous, but his long-awaited return to the world of Tarantino in early 2013 (the US counts this as a 2012 film) is among his absolute best. Jackson absolutely disappears into the role of the despicable Stephen, a shaking elderly African-American house servant who sells out the people he might have been expected to side with had he not been so cruel, bitter and twisted. Stephen is a hateful man who seems to despise life, and though his long-time associate Calvin Candie is equally villainous, Stephen’s manipulative nature and background make him the more memorable bad guy.

6. Khan – Star Trek Into Darkness

Benedict Cumberbatch is making quite a name for himself as a go-to actor when you need to make a role more intimidating automatically. His name on the cast list next to the revered Star Trek supervillain Khan for JJ Abrams sophomore effort Into Darkness (though he is given the moniker “John Harrison” in the film’s marketing and in the early part of the narrative to hide his presence) does similarly. Though many Trek fans found much to be upset about over the plot and characterisation of Into Darkness, as an outsider I found the film tremendously entertaining and the number one reason for that was Cumberbatch’s turn. His deep and imposing voice is one of a kind in the current Hollywood environment and when he slowly explains his violent plans for Kirk and co’s end, the blood of many an audience member turns ice cold.

5. Elsa – Frozen

Did someone say ice? Oh, would you look at that. Frozen is an excellent Disney film and one of its chief protagonists, Elsa, is the most interesting princess character Disney has put to screen in a long, long time. As a surface-level embodiment of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, she could quite easily have been a straight villain, but is anything but that in the rather loose new screenplay interpretation. Like the direction of Frozen itself, Elsa bucks several trends in the characterisation of Disney animated females in prominent story roles, presenting a character with layers pretty much everyone who has ever lived can relate to. She is absolutely dominated by fear, a situation that serves as one of two interweaving themes making up the emotional drive of the story. Elsa (and by extension her talented voice actress Idina Menzel) also gets to sing the best Disney song since I’ll Make a Man Out of You some fifteen years ago. Yep.

4. Mother Russia – Kick-Ass 2

In a movie featuring Jim Carrey giving a memorably unhinged performance as Colonel Stars and Stripes, it is a character not even played by a true actor who ends up stealing the show. Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s unnameable villain hires the deliberately stereotypical ex-KGB agent Mother Russia as one of his henchman and even her new allies are forced to admit how damn scary she is. Played by Olga Kurkulina, a bodybuilder from the Ukraine with next to no prior acting experience, Mother Russia’s physical presence and humorous (if rare) line delivery are part of what save Kick-Ass 2 from being just another sub-par Hollywood sequel. The three best scenes of the movie absolutely belong to her.

3. Dean Hardscrabble – Monsters University

Helen Mirren has played some truly memorable characters in her day (and let’s be honest, it’s a really long day). She can now add an animated character to that portfolio, because the Dean of Monsters University is a ripper. Pixar’s intimidating character design and animation helps, of course, but Mirren’s strict and unforgiving vocal delivery is what really sells Ms Hardscrabble, the half centipede half-dragon creature from your worst nightmares. Hardscrabble doesn’t take any nonsense from anyone and will not tolerate potential scarers without ability or work ethic. Our two protagonists Sully and Mike learn this the hard way and her casual dismissal of the two as if they are worth literally nothing burns right through to the audience’s insecurities.

2. Theodora – Oz the Great & Powerful

It’s a testament to the great ability of Sam Raimi to craft memorable characters that I couldn’t help but have two of his creations on the list this year, regardless of the flaws Oz the Great & Powerful may have had. After leaving the cinema pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the film, there was one presence who lingered above all others in my mind: Theodora, played up with a hefty serving of ham by Mila Kunis. The naivete shown by the young witch, very likely dressed deliberately to reflect the ambiguous leanings of the Final Fantasy series’ Red Mage class, lies in stark contrast to the scheming villainy of Rachel Weisz’s manipulative Evanora. After the plot goes all Star Wars on us, Theodora becomes even more memorable, an unstoppable force of hatred and a reminder of just how good Raimi is at directing villainy.

1. Kruger – Elysium

Call me biased if you will, or alternatively just go watch Elysium, because every second Kruger is on screen during that movie is one you’re really glad he isn’t real. Played by Sharlto Copley, who led the cast as the antsy protagonist in District 9 (Neil Blomkamp’s last film before Elysium), Kruger is a social outcast and absolute sociopath with a thick Afrikaans accent and way too many resources. Kruger doesn’t care who he has to hurt to get to and kill his targets, and though he is initially a pawn in the plans of a corrupt organisation, his sheer destructive will cannot be restrained by the shackles of bureaucracy and he soon reveals the full extent of his maniacal power. Kruger needs to pay bills, but he ultimately kills for fun, which is the scariest part of his character. His futuristic weaponry is also really sick, which doesn’t hurt his memorability.

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Honorable Mentions
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Faora – Man of Steel
Though Michael Shannon made an intimidating General Zod in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, the quiet, cocky destruction of his sidekick Faora was the centre of some of the film’s best action set pieces.

Dr Newton Geiszler – Pacific Rim
Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim was a tribute to the Japanese animes he grew up watching in Mexico, in more ways than one. Not only do giant robots fight giant aliens, but several of the film’s characters are deliberately cartoonish charicatures of real people. Few people sell that angle as well as the hyperactive Charlie Day as Dr Newton Geiszler.

Olaf – Frozen
Part of the triumph of Frozen is that it manages to be funny as well as heartwarming, mostly because of Josh Gad’s spot-on comedic timing as the snowman Olaf. His song In Summer is a real highlight of the film, if a kinda morbid one.

Matt Kowalski – Gravity
Gravity really only has two characters, but while Sandra Bullock does most of the dramatic lifting it is George Clooney as the retiring astronaut Matt Kowalski who provides some comic, or at least light-hearted, relief. This proves crucial in the context of the harrowing ride.

Mariko – The Wolverine
As soon as Mariko’s name is revealed during the plot of The Wolverine, comic book fans know what’s coming (although I didn’t when I was watching), but what is most remarkable about Mariko onscreen is the admirable first-ever acting performance granted to her by former model Tao Okamoto. She also gets the coolest moment in a rather weak final act.

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