Squish created what he called the “Favorite Film Characters Meme,” and he was unkind enough to tag me. And while I’m skeptical that anything can be called a “meme” at the outset, I’m game. Slow, but game.
The prompt and the rules, taken from the original post:
“What are your favorite 10 characters in film?”
1) Name 10 film characters that are your favorite and explain why. We aren’t talking about the actor who played them. Hamlet, Sherlock Holmes, or Bond may be your favorite filmic sight on screen but you may hate the Mel Gibsons, Basil Rathbones, or George Lazenbys who’ve played them. Of course, no one’s stopping you from mentioning your favorite players if you like.
1a) I capped myself at 10, but don’t let that number stop you.
2) Tag five more film bloggers when you’re done, e-mail them, let ‘em in on it, link back.
3) Read their posts and enjoy!
Before getting to the characters, I hereby tag the proprietors of the newest five members (other than Squish himself) of The Large Association of Movie Blogs: Kids’ Flix, All Things Kocinski, Reviews etc by Bhargav Saikia, 10 Movies to See Before You Die, and The Movie Guy.
On to business ... .
As somebody who generally connects with movies on the structural, story, and thematic levels, this task is quite the challenge. It’s not that I don’t pay attention to characterization, but I fall in love with a work as a whole rather than a particular aspect of it. Hence, this list overlaps significantly with my favorite movies.
It is also dominated by men and contemporary movies. I would prefer that this not be the case, but I’m not going to apologize: I am a modern man, after all. (Less cheekily: The acting style of older movies puts a distance between me and the characters, retarding empathy and sympathy and thus impairing their chances in this exercise. And, truthfully, there are larger gaps in my old-movie education than in my current-movie education.)
Beyond that disclaimer, I think each of these characters has a core mystery — their actions tell you a lot, but the interior lives remain largely hidden. These characters are detailed and unique, but the allure is less what we know than what we don’t.
Antonia, Antonia’s Line (1995): A mother of one and the force that gathers dozens into a patchwork family, Antonia (Willeke van Ammelrooy) represents an ideal mother/grandmother/partner in Marleen Gorris’ life-affirming movie punctuated by violence and death. Matter-of-fact, sensible, honest, direct, warm, generous, carnal, accepting, and appropriately vengeful and judgmental, she is less a person than a beautifully rendered model. She is not superhuman — she cannot prevent a rape, or soothe the despairing philosopher, or stop accidents or aging — but she is a super human.
Chuck Barris, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2003): Discussed at length here.
Nicole Burnell, The Sweet Hereafter (1997): The story and characters were established in Russell Banks’ book, but Atom Egoyan’s adaptation took tremendous liberties with structure and emphasis, and added the resonant metaphor of the Pied Piper, and the result is a movie that resembled the source material only in its basic plot. (Banks’ book is wonderful, but it’s differently wonderful.) The script is elegant and concise in noting the sexual abuse of Nicole by her father — the casual viewer might miss it, even though it’s the fulcrum of the story — and Sarah Polley gently plays a deep bitterness. In this role, she hinted at the wisdom and sensitivity on full display in the Alzheimer’s drama Away from Her, which she wrote and directed well before her 30th birthday.
Teddy Gammell, Memento (2000): No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I still have to run to keep up with Christopher Nolan’s breakthrough; it envelops me in confusion. But when it’s over, and when I think about it, I’m always fascinated by one question: What the fuck is Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) up to? Falsely cheery, obviously manipulative, almost certainly only looking out for himself, probably dangerous, and definitely not as smart or clever as he thinks he is, Teddy is a gorgeously coy creation played with Pantoliano’s signature disingenuousness.
Werner Herzog: Specifically for his character in Incident at Loch Ness, but generally for his presence in his documentaries. This is the man who pulled a boat over a mountain, who feuded with Klaus Kinski (and then did a bit of a hit job on him with My Best Fiend once the actor was dead), who posed goofily existential questions when visiting Antarctica, who ate his shoe (on film) once Erroll Morris made Gates of Heaven, and who generally makes deeply earnest movies. But he was both self-mocking and credible chasing the Loch Ness monster in Incident (which he co-wrote), and it sheds a new light on this odd, odd man.
Arthur Hoggett, Babe (1995) and Babe: Pig in the City (1998): A thankless and virtually impossible role with so few words and against CGI and real and mechanical animals — not to mention the dominating Esme Hoggett — but James Cromwell pulls it off. His song-and-dance routine in Babe compactly nails so many things — love, concern, determination, madness, age, and pain — and the performance overall somehow manages to be genuinely human, despite the pervasive artifice around him. Kids might love the talking animals, but my eyes are glued to Farmer Hoggett.
Jim Kurring, Magnolia (1999): An essay-length explanation.
Hank Quinlan, Touch of Evil (1958): In this lived-in portrait of a bloated and broken but powerful cop, Orson Welles the actor singlehandedly gives this border noir a tangible weight with his utter lack of vanity. Touch of Evil is most famous for its opening tracking shot and the battle between Welles the director and the studio, but I doubt the movie would have anything close to its current status without Hank Quinlan anchoring it in corrupted humanity. The character’s tragedy is not that he’s crooked, but that he fails to recognize it.
Derek Smalls, This Is Spinal Tap (1984): We know that artistic vision drives the band’s fire and ice, David and Nigel, but what propels lukewarm water, or a preserved moose?
Al Swearengen, Deadwood (2004-6): It was shot on film, okay? Deadwood is unimaginable without the character we call Swedgen (thank you, Mr. Wu), and the character is unimaginable without Ian McShane’s always-authoritative performance. David Milch’s expansive western was defined by its coarse, rhythmic poetry and its minutely detailed community, but everything flowed from the brutal saloon proprietor who seemed to balance his need for power with a genuine interest in his village’s (and therefore his own) survival. His patience with Wu reveals a surprising softness.