I've been thinking to continue this series with a focus on animated films, but I'd been waiting until I can see "Up" at least, and maybe that one about Mr. Fox.
So I think I'll start with the villains instead. A good decade for bad people. I'm a bit loose with the word "villain". Some of the villains are the main characters in their respective films, and can be quite charismatic.
I'm not a huge fan of ranking artistic performance. But it's a common thing to do, and in some cases there are particular performances which really stand out. So, meh, people can live with it. Also, I'm constantly worrying that I have forgotten some performance which ought to stick out in my mind, which I enjoyed at the time but has fallen to the back of my mind.
Many villains could not make this list. Voldemort hasn't gotten enough screen time but Bellatrix Lestrange almost made it. The Bond series gave us a couple villains, but none that really stood out. Ian McKellan could easily have made the list as Magneto. Christian Bale nearly made the list for American Psycho. Hannibal Lecter, Agent Smith, and Palpatine were characters continued from earlier decades who might have made the list for their work in the Naughties. Bill Nighy and Geoffrey Rush did admirable work in the Pirates series.
Sacha Baren-Cohen really could be on this list for Jean Gerard in Talladega Nights.
Going for 10 to 1...
10. Alan Ford as Bricktop in "Snatch".
Brick Top: You're always gonna have problems lifting a body in one piece. Apparently the best thing to do is cut up a corpse into six pieces and pile it all together.
Sol: Would someone mind telling me, who are you?
Brick Top: And when you got your six pieces, you gotta get rid of them, because it's no good leaving it in the deep freeze for your mum to discover, now is it? Then I hear the best thing to do is feed them to pigs. You got to starve the pigs for a few days, then the sight of a chopped-up body will look like curry to a pisshead. You gotta shave the heads of your victims, and pull the teeth out for the sake of the piggies' digestion. You could do this afterwards, of course, but you don't want to go sievin' through pig shit, now do you? They will go through bone like butter. You need at least sixteen pigs to finish the job in one sitting, so be wary of any man who keeps a pig farm. They will go through a body that weighs 200 pounds in about eight minutes. That means that a single pig can consume two pounds of uncooked flesh every minute. Hence the expression, "as greedy as a pig".
Alan Ford managed to make an aging Brit with bad teeth and outrageous glasses into a man who was to be feared. For some reason American villains are always well-groomed (well, modulo Tony Soprano). Brick Top is just an old-school thug. And he's an eminently watchable villain in one of the few films that I find myself able to watch over and over and over without getting bored.
9. Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill, Vol 1.
This list is dominated by male characters, and most of the characters who were close but didn't make it were also male. Let's face it - the big villains are almost always male. And the villainy of your typical female villain is often something pedestrian like using sex in a manipulative fashion (a la Sharon Stone). A good villain should be after power for the sake of power. And so we have Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii.
Another feature of a good villainous performance is that the actor (or actress) can be seen as more appealing than the good guy (chick). And with all due respect to Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu was fabulous as O-Ren.
8. John Malkovich as Ripley in Ripley's Game
There's a certain group of actors who are the usual suspects as villians: Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, and Jack Nicholson, for example. They show up and you cheer even before they say anything. Robert Shaw had it back in the day. But the only one of these guys who made this list is John Malkovich.
He only made this list because I saw Ripley's Game on cable TV. Actually, Ripley's Game was never released in the US, and I cannot understand why. The film is certainly good enough to have done well on the artsy circuit. Are American distributors so afraid of amoral characters? I don't quite get it.
Malkovich owns this character. His Ripley is insulted by a local man at a small social gathering, but he finds a way to get revenge when an old contact (played by Ray Winstone) needs a hitman. It's a great story, but what really makes it special is how smoothly Malkovich makes the transition from polite discussion to amoral sociopathy.
7. Andy Serkis as Gollum (and Smeagol) in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.
My precious! The only CGI character to make this list. Gollum rocks!
6. Denzel Washington as Alonzo Harris in Training Day.
While we have a couple Oscar winners on this list, Denzel is unique for having won Best Actor (as opposed to Best Supporting Actor). Lt. Alonzo is the ultimate cop gone bad. His idea of law enforcement consists on counting the number of arrests made while overlooking pretty much everything else. He's the over-the-top king of the roost, in charge of who gets busted and what gets overlooked.
5. Ben Kingsley as Don Logan in Sexy Beast.
Don Logan is tasked with going to Spain to bring his old made Gal (Ray Winstone) out of retirement for a robbery in London. Problem is that Gal is comfortable in Spain and has promised his wife that he's retired for good. But Don cannot take "No" for an answer.
That gives us conversations like (courtesy IMDB.com)
Gal: I am going to have to turn this opportunity down.
Don: No, you are going to have to turn this opportunity yes!
Don: Shut up, cunt. You louse. You got some fuckin' neck ain't you. Retired? Fuck off, you're revolting. Look at your suntan, it's leather, it's like leather man, your skin. We could make a fucking suitcase out of you. Like a crocodile, fat crocodile, fat bastard. You look like fucking Idi Amin, you know what I mean? Stay here? You should be ashamed of yourself. Who do you think you are? King of the castle? Cock of the walk?
[He gut-punches Gal]
Don: What you think this is the wheel of fortune? You think you can make your dough and fuck off? Leave the table? Thanks Don, see you Don, off to sunny Spain now Don, fuck off Don. Lying in your pool like a fat blob laughing at me, you think I'm gonna have that? You really think I'm gonna have that, ya ponce. All right, I'll make it easy for you. God knows you're fucking trying. Are you gonna do the job? It's not a difficult question, are you gonna do the job, yes or no?
Don: Fat cunt!
Gal: No, No, No!
Don: Yes, Yes, Yes!
4. Christopher Waltz as Hans Landa in "Inglorious Basterds".
My theory about this film is that it is a sober, serious drama that was invaded by Brad Pitt who turns every scene he is in into a comedy. The opening scene with the French dairy farmer is devastating. Landa is on the hunt of a family of Jewish refugees who are hiding under the floor of the farmer's house. Landa gradually breaks down the farmer's confidence through a combination of politeness, chutzpah, and persistence.
But as the film progresses, his persistent charm gradually peels away to reveal a psychotic misogynistic sadistic personality. (How many other pop psych buzzwords can I toss around?)
3. Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.
Chigurh is a great psycho in a bad hair cut. He's on the hunt for Josh Brolin's character, who has walked away with a couple million dollars scavved from a mutual massacre of drug dealers in the Texas desert. Three things are particularly appealing about Chigurh's modus operandi. First, his weapon of choice is a gas-powered skull gun of the kind used by cattle ranchers to save on the cost of bullets. Second is his presence, his aura which radiates menace (in spite of the mop top). But what is truly chilling is his world view, in which is a kind of random nihilism where life or death can be decided by the toss of a coin.
2. Heath Ledger as The Joker in Batman: the Dark Knight.
I first enjoyed the performance of Heath Ledger in The Knight's Tale, a light, enjoyable piece. Ledger was reasonable in Monster's Ball, but really came into his own in Brokeback Mountain. But as the Joker, Ledger really discovered a character. Historically, the Joker started as a maniacal goofball with a unique way to mix zaniness and homicide. Cesar Romero played him in an excellent campy fashion for the 60s TV show. Then, in the 80s, Jack Nicholson took over the character and heightened his capacity for evil, while maintaining a panache that only he can achieve.
Ledger did something completely different. He internalized the capacity for evil as a reflection of the Joker's negative feelings about all of humanity.
1. Daniel Day-Lewis as Billy the Butcher in Gangs of New York.
Not a great film, but a great performance by Day-Lewis as he steals the film. Billy the Butcher is the leader of the Nativists, who are violently hostile to the immigrant Irish moving into Hell's Kitchen. Billy has one eye (physical deformities always being a plus for a villain), loves a good knife fight, and uses his knowledge of anatomy to make knife fighting an art.
Day-Lewis completely steals this movie from Leonardo DiCaprio's indecisive Irish immigrant.
Truth be told, I could shuffle the top four characters in order and it would be equally valid.