1. Calvin Candie — “Django”
There’s something about Quentin Tarantino and evil men. I can’t tell if it’s the sharp dialogue or just the palpable giddiness that comes hand-in-hand with watching one of his movies. Whatever the reason, Tarantino’s most twisted characters are all indelibly hilarious. And because they’re all so damn funny, their ostensibly inhuman depravities become tangible and, in many ways, real. Calvin Candie, the lunatic plantation owner in Tarantino’s latest masterpiece, is no exception.
Unlike Hans Landa from “Inglourious Basterds,” Candie is not an exceptionally cunning individual. Suspicious? Yes, but not in possession of the discerning detective’s mind that made Landa lethal. But what our southern friend lacks in sheer force of wit, he makes up for in blunt rage — a rage carefully bottled behind Leonardo DiCaprio’s arched brows and laughing eyes. But once all that vitriol comes flooding out, completely convinced of its own righteousness, we get a throttling taste of what evil can become.
2. Raoul Silva — “Skyfall”
Let’s be honest, there’s something slightly dry about the Bond series. The martinis, the humor, the titular character, they’re all so … British. Which is great. Who doesn’t want to keep a stiff upper lip? But even the driest of drinks can occasionally use a dash of something sweet to keep us interested. Enter the most recent Bond villain, Javier Bardem’s Silva.
“Skyfall” feels a bit slow until Silva saunters in. His appearance is striking, almost ridiculous: flamboyant bleached hair, almost touristy clothing; Silva is eerily un-ruthless looking. His face is animated; He talks with kissy lips, graceful hands; He throws grenades with a tiny flick of the wrist. It’s enthralling casual evil that is fascinating to watch.
Ultimately, Silva’s disregard is what draws us to him. He strokes Bond’s thigh (blasphemy!), he hunts the hunters, he burns his mother. Silva is naughty, demented and everything this storied franchise needed.
3. Abraham Lincoln — “Lincoln”
Though I’m well aware of Daniel Day-Lewis’s nonpareil talent, there’s no way I could have anticipated the pure genius of his performance as Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln.” It’s like the real deal came back from the dead and decided to hop in front of a camera. Day-Lewis looks like Lincoln; he sounds like him, walks like him and even — in multiples instances — sits like him with his hands on his knees. It’s a purposeful performance that succeeds in doing much more than simply mimicking the monument of one of America’s greatest historical figures.
Everything Day-Lewis does is innate, inherent and authentic, and I think if the 16th President were to see his performance, he’d approve, as this beyond gifted actor remains scarily true and “honest” to Abe. His vacillation between the caring father to the patient husband to the empathetic political figure to the intimidating commander-in-chief is seamless and Oscar-worthy. He has my vote at least.
4. Freddie Quell — “The Master”
Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell is a wayward, neurotic sailor who tries his best to mimic normalcy in post-World-War-II America. Through the grit of combat he has learned to be devious, manipulative and, to some extent, even maniacal.
He is cruel. He abuses himself. He retreats into personal shadows and confides with demons of a dark order. But he’s aware of his illness. Through some veil of feigned reality, Freddie Quell knows he’s twisted. So he forces himself to experiment with religion, friendship and community in a wild attempt at self-healing.
While it’s hard to watch a man so disgruntled, so far gone into the realm of paranoia try to become ordinary, Phoenix makes it equally fascinating. He does nothing right but in every failing, there’s a need for redemption. And the great paradox of Freddie Quell is how a man so broken and perturbed can ultimately be so spectacular.
5. Bane — “The Dark Knight Rises”
Bane — the seemingly indestructible villain who was, disappointingly, oh-so-easily destroyed. Despite his unfulfilling end in “The Dark Knight Rises,” this formidable foe who promised to be every inch more bad-ass than the Joker, if not as delectably crazy, proved his worth by very nearly destroying the Batman twice.
This character couldn’t have a more apt name. Bane not only acts as one of Batman’s strongest enemies yet, he surpasses his predecessors by truly rendering the film’s titular character helpless for the better part of the movie.
Without a doubt, Tom Hardy (“Inception”) has to be credited for making Bane as physically fearsome as the Joker was mentally. Being a villain of this “Batman” series is an honor almost equal to that of being a Bond villain, and with Hardy’s help, Bane proved that it’s an honor he deserved.