Best of 2018: Top 10 Movie Characters

There sure were some characters worth remembering at the cinema this year. Half of them weren’t even from superhero movies! No protagonists this time around – Well, maybe one, technically – It’s almost all supporting characters or villains, which seems to be this list’s default form if left unsupervised. Most of this list is filled by actors who aren’t big names – at least in Hollywood – which is always fun to see too.

There are some spoilers ahead. In fact this might be my spoiler-iest character list ever, simply because so many of these characters are defined by what they achieve (and don’t achieve) in their movies.

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VR BEST OF 2018 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 odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

Some spoilers ahead.

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10. Eleanor – Crazy Rich Asians

One of the reasons that Crazy Rich Asians works so well is that it has memorable characters stuffed into every nook of its runtime. I could have gone with Awkwafina’s sweet-hearted comic relief Peik Lin, or Gemma Chan’s near-perfect protagonist-in-waiting Astrid, but I’m going to put Eleanor, matriarch of the uber-wealthy Young family, at the top of this page. In what feels like a grandstand Hollywood comeback role, Michelle Yeoh glides across the screen with measured tact and an arsenal of emotional weaponry she is not afraid to use if it means protecting her family’s legacy. From the opening scene, which well and truly exists in service of the character, to the final moment she locks eyes with our protagonist across a crowded room, Eleanor never completely drops her guard and yet it’s somehow still so easy to empathise with her plight. Yeoh’s graceful performance exhibits danger and safety in equal measure and it greatly strengthens the movie.

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9. Domino – Deadpool 2

The character of Deadpool presents a handful of screenwriting conundrums. One of these is how to anchor and focus the story when your protagonist is so manic, but another one that the first Deadpool movie didn’t really get right (Not that it tried) is how to get more than one type of comedy into your script successfully when your main character is always cracking jokes. Enter Domino. Brought to life with sensational swagger by Zazie Beetz, the superhero with the totally-not-made-up superpower of ‘luck’ puts Deadpool in his place on one or two occasions with an amusing dry sarcasm, but it is her action scenes that really justify her inclusion in the movie. They are simply some of the most creative and exciting set-pieces I have seen in an action movie in the last half-decade or so.

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8. Lando Calrissian – Solo

Donald Glover can seemingly do no wrong professionally at the moment, as on top of his musical performing and production abilities it turns out he can also steal the show as one of cinema’s most beloved supporting characters, the dastardly Lando Calrissian, in Solo. We find out how the eponymous Han Solo wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando in the movie – and it’s not without a serious lack of integrity from the latter – but what should make us despise the cheating scoundrel just simply doesn’t and that’s largely thanks to how damn charming Glover plays the guy. There’s an extra dimension to his relationship with the Falcon – a surprisingly literal one – and Glover makes that potentially creepy element just as charming somehow. I suppose this being a good casting choice wasn’t exactly shocking, but it’s great to see it pay off all the same.

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7. STEM – Upgrade

An entirely vocal performance absolutely dominated by low-profile Aussie actor Simon Maiden, STEM is a tiny, highly advanced chip housing an artificial intelligence capable of assisting a human host’s brain functionality – and even taking over motor functions where it is needed. AI performances aren’t often afforded the credit they deserve in Hollywood given how easy they are to overshadow, but Upgrade is structured in such a way that STEM ends up as one of two main protagonists (alongside his tech-skeptic host Grey), and the more the film goes on – and the more its sentience becomes apparent – the greater the role STEM plays in the story. Great writing and a delivery that’s equal parts badass and chilling make this disembodied voice into one of the most memorable artificial characters I’ve ever seen/heard on a movie screen.

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6. Agent Harvey Russell – Rampage

Jeffrey Dean Morgan clearly doesn’t get enough roles in Hollywood movies because he is just a blast to watch in Rampage. Playing smug government operative Harvey Russell, his default expression throughout the whole movie is a never-ending shit-eating grin and it works wonders to keep the audience guessing who’s side he is ultimately on. He always seems to have a one-liner (in a cheesy Southern accent) for every situation, he chews the scenery into tiny bits of shrapnel every time he’s on screen and he emotes with the kind of devil-may-care attitude befitting of the kind of production Rampage is. When his moment of truth does come near the end of the movie and he proves himself not to be the two-faced suit that his character archetype so often is, I cheered more than I did when the actual bad guys were taken down.

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5. Anya – Annihilation

Gina Rodriguez is a significant percentage of the reason why I got so unexpectedly addicted to Jane the Virgin early this year – I don’t know, whatever percentage isn’t covered by the writing and Rogelio – but as Anya Thorensen in Annihilation she is just next-level incredible. Cut from the mould of Aliens’ iconic Vasquez only with orders of magnitude more depth, Anya is a fiercely protective woman with a witty line always on her lips, capable of reaching out a hand or cutting one off. The scene where the mysterious atmosphere around her corrupts her paranoia and she interrogates a room full of tied-up allies, face half-shrouded in shadow, rolling through a deck of emotions, is one of the tensest of the year and it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Rodriguez deserves bigger roles in the future.

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4. Eric Killmonger – Black Panther

Eric Killmonger’s popularity as a so-called ‘good villain’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe continued a pattern that arguably started with last year’s Ego and Vulture, where the Marvel overseers seemingly started focusing on giving their bad guys more agency and depth. Perhaps that’s due to the fact so many of the heroes in the MCU are now established and so there’s some usable shorthand there, along with a not-insignificant pile of audience goodwill. But whatever the impetus, Killmonger’s unshakeable, unnerving confidence as he enters Wakanda for the first time after a lifetime of pent-up bitterness and demands to be asked his name is a magnetic moment, and Michael B Jordan’s calculating-yet-passionate performance as a simultaneous obstacle and catalyst for the Black Panther throughout the film makes him well deserving of a place in the conversation about who the best MCU villain is thus far.

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3. Thanos – Avengers: Infinity War

Actions that move the plot forward in definitive ways, surface-level understandable goals with heinous means of achieving them, a tragic backstory, abilities that are more than a match for the hero(s) even before they achieve ascended power – Yep, there are a lot of similarities between Killmonger and Thanos, which might explain why the two successive Marvel movie antagonists were both immediately placed so high up on so many pundits’ MCU villain lists. But Thanos takes things a step further – He’s all CG, all the time, which makes the surprising pathos surrounding his characterisation all the more impressive (Josh Brolin nails the motion capture and voice, which helps) and he actually achieves his goal, which happens to be a particularly disturbing genocide of half of humanity. So yeah, he’s memorable.

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2. Billy – Bad Times at the El Royale

Is it too early to call Chris Hemsworth one of the most charismatic actors of his generation? I don’t think so. A year after he put a body of promising past comedic work to good use as the reinvented Thor in Ragnarok, he showed up in Avengers: Infinity War meaning business, almost stealing the movie with his galaxy-spanning determination and very personal vendetta against Thanos. But in Bad Times at the El Royale, when Hemsworth shows up in the role of the Charles Manson allegory Billy, the movie literally stops. Everyone else’s conflicts and disagreements no longer matter. With trademark Hemsworth abs on full display, he is all friendly-looking smiles and malicious intent, dancing around a room of bound would-be victims like they’re his playthings. As those victims gradually get under his skin to reveal the self-centred manchild underneath, the smiles give way to outbursts of rage followed by rapid recoveries of beaming composure and then more outbursts, until one final plot revelation undoes him and almost everyone else. What a performance.

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1. Spider-Man Noir – Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

He’s voiced by Nicholas Cage.

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Honorable Mentions
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Jack Jack – The Incredibles 2

Because The Incredibles 2 takes place immediately after the first one, we don’t get to witness the realisation of the wild possibilities inherent in a boy with a drawer full of powers exhibiting before he can talk. But Jack Jack still manages to steal the show on classic Disney slapstick alone.

Irok – Ready Player One

A villainous presence who skulks around in the background of the main plot and is frequently funny while doing so, the best thing about giant armoured brick wall Irok is how well the dichotomy between his overly edgy character design and slob real-world lifestyle mirrors one of Ready Player One‘s main themes (appearance vs reality in the internet age).

Rose – Ocean’s 8

Helena Bonham Carter’s bewildered performance as major fashion designer and heist lynchpin Rose Weil is – Irish accent aside – an entertaining reminder of how well her default schtick can play when everyone and everything around her is moving so fast.

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