The ten best movie characters of 2009 are resolutely eccentric. Their magnetism, complexity, and absurdity is what makes them so compelling.
- Wikus Van De Merwe and Christopher Johnson ("District 9"). “District 9’s” Wikus and Christopher are 2009’s best movie characters. Straight-laced bureaucrat Wikus is a South African company man who is ridiculous, naive, and loving. Christopher Johnson is a melancholy, empathetic alien scientist trying to fix his mother ship. The way Wikus and Johnson play off one another is bizarre and hilarious. Their relationship anchors the film’s action and morality. “Do you want a sweetie?”
Doug ("Up"). Anyone who’s ever had a dog, especially a retriever, knows how perfect Doug is. A talking dog unlike any other, Doug is neither spoiled and erudite nor doltish and dumb; he’s a mixture of sweet, lovable, silly, brave, and stupid. What better line in movie history is there to summarize dogs than “I just met you and I already love you”?
- Col. Hans Landa ("Inglourious Basterds"). Tarantino’s Nazi isn’t a sadistic bastard who revels in slaughtering Jews. He’s an intelligent, pragmatic, amoral soldier who does his job well. Played by Oscar-winning Austrian Christoph Waltz, Landa sees the War as beyond his control, and has accepted that in order to come out alive, he needs to play the odds. Landa is hilarious, terrifying, and one of 2009’s best movie characters.
- Priest Sang-hyeon and Tae-ju ("Thirst"). “Thirst” is a Korean black comedy about a vampire priest. Father Sang-hyeon and his lover Tae-ju play the two sides of the vampire coin with relish, and are two of the best movie characters of 2009. Priest, given his beliefs, has reservations about wonton killing, bloodsucking, and lust. Tae-ju adores being a vampire. Her sadistic love of sex and death is grotesque and hysterical. Their lover’s tiff, a bout of vampiric violence across the roofs of Seoul, is one of the year’s best scenes.
- The Wild Things ("The Wild Things"). Spike Jonze’s Wild Things are weird, original, heartfelt, and hilarious. Giant bird Douglas doesn’t mind that his arm is ripped off, while pack leader Carol, voiced by James Gandolfini, is a good-natured giant filled with impotent rage. The Wild Things are sweet, calm, violent, neurotic, obnoxious, silly, and loving: amplified personifications of Max’s qualities, and archetypes of the adult he may turn into.
- Summer("(500) Days Of Summer"). “(500) Days of Summer’s” titular character is one of the best of 2009 for her depth. Summer could easily have been an airhead, pretentious indie rock chick, dispassionate sexpot, tease, or emotional manipulator. Instead, she is all of these things, and charming to boot. Summer puts her boyfriend through emotional hell without seeming malevolent or even aware of what’s happening. She’s a romantic nightmare, but in Summer’s eyes, she isn’t doing anything wrong.
Sherlock Holmes ("Sherlock Holmes"). Holmes has been around for a damn long time. The character is so iconic it’s a wonder Robert Downey Jr. was able to reinvent him. Despite Downey Jr.’s tongue-in-cheek performance, his Holmes perfectly embodies Victorian times. Downey’s Sherlock is a product of his rough-and-tumble environment, well suited to the tumultuous, booze-soaked, brawl-prone London of Conan Doyle’s day.
Ponyo ("Ponyo"). Miyazaki’s latest is based on Hans Christen Anderson’s Little Mermaid. Born in the ocean to a magician father and goddess mother, Ponyo is a delightful, morphing girl, who starts off looking kind of like a goldfish and ends up taking human form and running across the ocean waves in a furious storm. Miyazaki has created one of 2009’s best characters by sculpting a mischievous sea creature out to save humanity.
- Cobra Commander ("G.I. Joe"). It’s common knowledge that Stephen Sommers’ “G.I. Joe” is awful. But it’s awful fun, too. Like Sommers’ "Mummy" movies (though without the charm of John Hannah, Rachel Weisz, and criminally underrated Brendan Fraser), “Joe” is campy, moronic, and hella entertaining. Joseph Gordon-Levitt of “3rd Rock From the Sun” plays Cobra Commander with operatic relish, elevating camp to brilliance.
Alan Garner ("The Hangover"). Alan Garner is a plain name for a ridiculous character. “The Hangover’s” bearded weirdo achieves what hundreds of comic sidekicks before him-there’s one in every Sandler, Ferrell, and Stiller movie-have tried, and failed, to do: he’s a recognizably human, genuinely bizarre comedic character. Kudos to Zach Galifianakis for creating one of the best characters of 2009.