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Take Five: Best Non-Fictional Movie Villians of the 00s

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 10, 2007

“You fucking broke my sitar, motherfucker!”

Possibly my favorite thing about 00s film has been the gradual embracing of the documentary as a film form not only of great artistic merit, but one of great narrative and entertainment potential as well, a trend possibly attributable to a combination of Hoop Dreams, Michael Moore and Behind the Music re-runs. Such documentaries attempt to do fiction better than actual fiction, and the best ones somehow manage to pull it off, creating stories with legitimate arcs, occasional character development, even the odd plot twist. The message? Life may or may not be stranger than fiction, but it’s definitely more conventional and formulaic than you might think.

And thus, the 00s have produced a cadre of truly great non-fictional movie villains–characters that probably seem even more dastardly than they actually are, just because you know that they’re actually like that (excluding suspicious editing and slanty camera angles, anyway). Five of the most sinister:

Anton Newcombe, DiG!

Ondi Timoner’s titanic documentary about the little-ballyhooed rivalry between The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, two bands so ultimately inconsequential that the whole thing comes off like an indie-rock, non-fictional Spinal Tap, has more classic characters than you could shake a stick at. Still, the one that towers over them all is BJM leader Anton Newcombe, an abusive, narcissistic, would-be messianic drug addict, who perpetuates all the negative stereotypes of rock-star preening without managing to even write any halfway decent songs. Still, the quotables come fast and furious, and the package of shotgun shells and “COURTNEY TAYLOR: SURRENDER” artwork he sends the Dandies puts him into Bond villian-awesomeness territory.

Emily Stagg, Spellbound

It was hard to choose who to root for, watching Spellbound for the first time–Harry, the hyper, overenthusiastic young’un, Ted, the humble southern boy, or Ashley, the self-made inner city girl, among the possibilities. I just knew I didn’t want the rich, snotty, grating Stagg to take home the prize (yes, potential irony alert, LOL). It wasn’t just that she was cocky, though–listen to her talk about how she doesn’t consider herself above her non-spelling bee friends, and how she even dumbs down her vocabulary to hang out with her less-fortunate friends. I’m sure the normally decent upper-class families of Connecticut didn’t appreciate being associated with such snobbery.

Also Semi-Evil: Overbearing father Rajesh Kadakia, whose kid Neil seems like he would actually be pretty happy and normal if his father wasn’t essentially blackmailing him into excelling.

The Sun, An Inconvenient Truth

For years, man has yearned to destroy the sun. Al Gore will do the next best thing–prepare for the effects its horrific power through social awareness and environmental responsibility. The battle with one of Earth’s most formidable opponents has yet to really be decided, but with Al Gore going all First Blood, Part II on it, who knows, our days might not be quite so numbered after all.

Phil Towle, Some Kind of Monster

A harrowing, cautionary tale against great bands deciding to start being terrible, no one really gets out clean in Some Kind of Monster, it’s all just shades of douchebaggery. That said, the movie’s real moral black hole is almost certainly the band’s bloodsucking and unapologetically sweater-wearing psychiatrist, Phil Towle. There’s really no such thing as a non-villainous rock and roll psychiatrist, but Towle is especially squirrely–watch the scene where the band finally gets around to firing him, and he tries to use his Jedi-like manipulation skills to convince the band that they still need him in their inner circle. It’s the most affirming thing in the whole movie when it doesn’t work, the band essentially concluding “Yeah…actually, we don’t think you’re of any use at all, really.”

Billy Mitchell, The King of King: A Fistful of Quarters

There’s something to be said for a geek icon that doesn’t shy away from his nerdlord status, I suppose, and well, there’s really nothing shy about Billy Mitchell. The #1 Donkey Kong player in the known universe (until Steve Wiebe steals his title, sort of maybe kinda), Mitchell’s machinations to solidify and hold onto his claim to fame are ruthless, cowardly, and at least somewhat despicable. Nonetheless, at the very least he comes off the far sexier role, as he utterly destroys Wiebe’s aw-shucks confidence by just passing him by, impossibly big-breasted wife in tow, not saying a word.

Also Semi-Evil: Mitchell’s acolyte and previous #2 DK player in the known universe, Brian Kuh, who practically has a nervous breakdown on-screen watching himself get hopelessly outperformed by Wiebe, feebly attempting to psychologically sabotage his play but ultimately too pathetic to affect anything of real consequence.

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4 Responses to “Take Five: Best Non-Fictional Movie Villians of the 00s”

  1. David said

    Coin toss between the sun and McDonald’s.

  2. Matt said

    This was a great article. I sent it to several of my friends. My vote would go to Bobby McNamara in Fog of War, though that movie doesn’t really meet your criteria.

  3. bassman08 said

    I think the best line in “Dig!” is the one directly after the “sitar” line:

    “You get hurt? Is that blood on you?”
    “Yeah.”
    “From where?”
    “From people’s FACES!”

  4. Garret said

    Bassman otm here.

    Although, Courtney Taylor is clearly the villain in this film:

    “I write the songs. ALL the songs. I produced the records. ALL the records.”

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