Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Villains Part II: The best movie villains of all time

The best movie villains of all time:

1. Frank, played by Henry Fonda (picture above), in "Once Upon a Time in the West":

Fonda is deliciously evil in this role. The amazing thing is that Fonda carries the part, making it believable without giving any real background to the character. His only clear motivation is self-interest.

In one scene, he kills a child just because one of his henchmen has called him by name, and Frank does not want the child to identify him. Frank just shoots the kid point blank, no remorse. In fact, Fonda gives the barest hint that Frank enjoys it.

The beauty of Fonda's performance is that it is NOT over the top. It is a subtle, snake-like evil that can sneak up on you if you are not careful. But when it bites, you know it painfully well.

Fonda's subtlety was undoubtedly influenced by Sergio Leone (the director), who liked to give his characters an aura of mystery. But none of the villains in Leone's other films epitomized villainy like Fonda, who could take an inch of rope and manage to get it around the audience's throat like a noose.

2. Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, in "The Shining":

Nicholson took a normal man and turned him into a villain, right before the audience's eyes. I would rank it as the single best acting performance by one actor ever.

3. Col. Nathan Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson, in "A Few Good Men":

The final courtroom scene with Tom Cruise ranks as the single best movie scene ever for me. The intensity of Cruise going up against Nicholson in that scene is overwhelming.

Nicholson's Jessup has a self-righteous martyrdom, which Nicholson plays with both control (early in the film) and wild abandon (at the end).

4. Dr. Hannibal Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins, in both "Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal":

Hopkins was a great actor long before this role came to him, but he showed how important the acting is to the villainy. In the film "Manhunter", Brian Cox played Hannibal. Anyone remember him? I thought not.

5. Nurse Ratched, played by Louise Fletcher, in "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest":

Fletcher is my favorite villainous actress of all time.

She has the "holier than thou" villainess down to an art form. For anyone who read the book, Fletcher IS Nurse Ratched. I don't think anyone else could have played the role. The evil Ratched thinks she knows what you need better than you do, and Fletcher plays it so convincingly.

(For a real villainous treat, check her out in the tv show "Deep Space Nine".)

6. Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, in "Wall Street":

" good." And so was Douglas in this classic role.

7. Clubber Lang, played by Mr. T, in "Rocky III":

One of the great signs that an actor has played a villain well is that you cheer for their defeat in the end. I never enjoyed watching a villain lose more than Clubber Lang.

8. Alex Forrest, played by Glenn Close, in "Fatal Attraction":

Close gave new definition to the "femme fatale" with this role.

9 (tied). Matty Walker, played by Kathleen Turner, in "Body Heat" AND Catherine Tramell, played by Sharon Stone, in "Basic Instinct":

Even though Stone's Tramell was not THE killer, she was clearly a villainess in the mold of Turner's Walker. These are the kind of women who ooze sex from every pore in order to get what they want. Would you kill for them? Or be killed by them? Or both?

10. Count Orlok, played by Max Schrek, in "Nosferatu":

Most silent movies are horrid by today's standards, and "Nosferatu" has it's horrid moments. However, Schrek's performance as Orlok is so haunting as to make this my personal favorite of all vampire films. Considering that Orlok is only onscreen for 9 minutes, that is saying something.

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