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100 Years, 66 Villains: Number One

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 13, 2008

Hey, I actually finished this one

Over the past few months here at IITS, we’ve reviewed 65 of the dirtiest, cringe-worthiest and most despicable barrel scrapers in the history of the film medium (or, more specifically, from its last 30 years or so). We’ve dealt with teenage bullies and full-grown thugs, abusive siblings and neglectful parents, bad friends and worse enemies, and it’s all come down to this–the lowest of the low, the scum of the fucking earth. Take a deep breath, distance yourself from all easily breakable items, and make sure the eyes of your loved ones have been sufficiently averted, because it’s about to get pretty ugly in here.

But first, a moment to address some of the villains I mistakenly left off the list, as well as some of the guesses and suggestions you all made in the comments box of our #2 entry. Kevin Spacey deserved some props as the sniveling, incompassionate middle-management type John Williamson in Glengarry Glen Ross. I remembered to include John Cassavettes selling out his wife’s womb to the devil in Rosemary’s Baby, but I forgot about Peter Masterson giving the town permission to kill wife Katherine Ross and replace her with a twin robot in The Stepford Wives. I still haven’t seen all of Purple Rain, but the parts I have seen leave no doubt that Morris Day and/or The Time deserve inclusion on this list. Die Hard is so overstuffed with villains of various stripes that I forgot all about the slimey Ellis (Hart Bochner), who tries to sabotage McClane (Bruce Willis) in an extremely misguided attempt at terrorist solidarity. And finally, as portrayed in Waiting to Exhale, the entire male gender probably merits inclusion somewhere near the list’s high-end.

As for those villains you all came up with, Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) of Schindler’s List is undoubtedly as villainous as anyone here, but is disqualified by virtue of being a legitimate killer. Natalie (Carrie Anne-Moss) of Memento isn’t a bad choice (especially for the scene where she quite literally tells Guy Pearce, “I’M GONNA FUCKING USE YOU!!”) but really, she doesn’t do anything particularly destructive in the movie. Lovably vile as Anton Newcombe is in Dig!, I kept the list to non-fictional characters, and the Asian Doctor bitch in Juno is far too slight to be included among these heavy-hitters. Noah Cross (John Huston) of Chinatown and Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest were included on the AFI Villains list, and thus ineligible. I went with Kittie Farmer over Jim Cunningham from Donnie Darko. As creepy as Benjamin (Rob Lowe) is in Wayne’s World, he doesn’t really do that much could be considered legitimately villainous (at least outside of Wayne’s paranoid fantasies), and Crisp from Kindgarten Cop is pretty clearly implied as a murderer. I tried to keep the list to human villainy, so no Gozer from Ghostbusters. Kathy Bates’ husband in Fried Green Tomatoes is no doubt a jackass, but is more clueless than he is abusive. I’m not really sure why I didn’t include Principal Vernon from The Breakfast Club, good call. I haven’t seen Con Air in a long-ass time, but considering I don’t even remember Colm Meany being in that movie, I doubt he was ever bound for our list.

All this said, however, one of you did manage to come up with a correct #1 prediction. And if you’ve seen the movie, and if you think about the character, and about all the characters that have preceded this one on this list, you’ll know that there’s absolutely no one else that this spot could’ve gone to. So, drum roll, please…

I guess I’m not sure that I felt this way before I saw In the Company of Men (though since I didn’t even remember the name of Aaron Eckhart’s character before I re-watched this recently, I’m guessing I did) but there’s just something about the name Chad that sends chills down my spine. Think about it–have you ever been friends with someone named Chad? Have you ever known anyone named Chad that was a half-decent individual? Are any of your most revered politicians, artists or athletes named Chad? (Norman Chad doesn’t count). Can anyone even tell me what the capital of the African country Chad is? Sorry if that little rant just alienated our entire Chad-loving readership, but point is, I can’t picture anyone thinking likeable, sympathetic, upstanding citizen when I think of the name Chad. More likely, you’re thinking despicable teen heartthrob Chad Michael Murray. You’re thinking mediocre butt-rock peddler and perpetual assassination target Chad Kroeger. You’re thinking of hanging chads in the 2000 election, even. And you are, whether you realize it or not, thinking of Aaron Eckhart in In the Company of Men.

Chad is not a nice person. He is, in fact, a very mean person, something made clear from the very beginning of Company, in which he convinces friend and co-worker Howard (Matt Malloy) to join him in courting the same emotionally fragile woman, then to dump her simultaneously in a gruesome act of vengeance and empowerment against All Things Vaginal, both having been recently left by their girlfreinds. They decide to prey upon Christine, a kind, deaf co-worker that immediately takes to both, but quickly begins to prefer the company of the handsome, sweet-talking Chad to the nerdier looking, more mild-mannered Howard. Things get predictably complicated when Howard realizes that he’s no longer faking his affection for Christine, and Chad moves in closer and closer for the kill.

To call Chad a misogynist is almost too easy. He is that, surely–he even makes countless jokes to that effect over the course of the movie (“Never trust anything that can bleed for a week and not die,” “What’s the difference between a golf ball and a G-Spot? I’ll spend 20 minutes looking for a G-Spot!”). But unlike Maxine’s extremely focused evil, Chad can not contain his hatred to only one person, or even to just one gender. Even calling him a misanthrope makes him sound a little cuddly, a little too romantic. What Chad is, simply, is an asshole. There’s nothing particularly deep about it, there’s no grand psychology to be had–Chad is just like any other asshole that you have to deal with in your day to day life.

The difference, however, is that Chad is really quite exceptionally good at being an asshole. He’s charming, he’s cunning, he’s incoscionably manipulative, and worst of all, he plans ahead. He’s capable of plenty of small-scale villainy, as when he pockets some of the change Howard drops in the office bathroom before giving him back the smaller coins. He’s certainly capable of mid-level villainy, as when he forces an intern underling to strip naked in front of him in order to unmetaphorically prove that he has the balls for the job. But it’s the big stuff–the arcing stuff, the villainy that really requires time, effort and patience to pull off–that earns Chad the #1 spot on this list. After all, Maxine, for all her cruelty, was still relative small-time in comparison, emotionally uncommitted and merely desirous for amusement. Chad, on the other hand, is the real-world Lex Luthor.

The scene everyone remembers, and justifiably so, is the movie’s climax, where Christine confronts Chad about Howard’s confession that he and Chad were just dating her on a bet. He tries to deny it, then to weasel around it, and when he realizes he can’t do it, he just lays into her. Much as you’ve seen Chad’s dickness first-hand over the course of the movie, you still can’t believe that he’s going to go where he does in this scene. You think some sort of humanity in him is going to be piqued by the amount of pain he’s doubtless going to cause Christine, that he’ll at least try to let her down easy. But Chad instead admits that he “can’t keep a straight face” during the scene, so not only does he cop to the con, he rubs it in as much as possible, even asking her, like Christopher Guest asking Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride, to describe what the hurt is like. She lets out a small cry–not as emotional as either you or Chad expect, but one that’s all the more disturbing as a result–and Chad leaves. Compared to Chad in this scene, Troy in Reality Bites might as well be Rick at the end of Casablanca.

Just as bad, however, is the subplot I didn’t even realize was there until re-watching the movie recently–how Chad secretly and subtly tries to undermine the authority of Howard, his temporary boss on the company retreat. He screws up reports and loses important documents, using his “friendship” with Howard to get the blame shifted elsewhere, until it eventually starts to fall on Howard himself. You don’t even really realize that Chad is doing this until the movie’s penultimate scene, in which Howard confesses his real love to Chad, who, tired and extremely unsympathetic, explains that his girlfriend never actually left him at all, and that he only did the thing with Christine “because he could” (perhaps uncoincidentally, the same reasoning used by the Stepford husbands). By that point, it has also become apparent that Chad has leapfrogged the floundering Howard on the company ladder, and it makes you wonder if the whole competition was just engineered by Chad to distract Howard while angling for the superior position he feels he always should have had.

But, as with so many other villains on this list, what really makes Chad so villainous, so hateable, is that when you get down to it, you really still kind of like his character better than Howard. Sure, Howard is the nice guy (although he’s not that nice, agreeing to the competition, and even yelling “Look at you! You are fucking handicapped! You think you can choose?” at Christine), he’s the one who has the personal growth over the course of the movie, he’s the one with the legitimate romantic feelings. But he’s also boring, dorky and extremely charmless. Not even in the movies would it be feasible for Christine to choose Howard over the dashing, well-practiced Chad, even if she already knew how evil he was. The reason why Chad sucks is the same as the reason why life sucks–not only do the bad guys usually win, but most of the time, we actually root for them to do so. Let’s see if Harvey Dent can top that.

Congrats to reader Brent for accurately guessing that Chad from In the Company of Men would indeed be our #1 movie villain of all-time. You can redeem your $15 prize winnings at the IITS gift shop, or you can e-mail me your address at fadeout95@gmail.com for a direct cash payment.

(Now here’s the entire list, for those of you who’ve missed any piece thus far, all of which can be viewed in their entirety here):

66. Ian / Ray (Tim Robbins), High Fidelity
65. Jacy (Cybil Shepherd), The Last Picture Show
64. Jesus’s Entourage (Bill Nunn, Rosario Dawson, Arthur J. Nascarella), He Got Game
63. Sarah Mitchell (Bridget Fonda), A Simple Plan
62. Agents Big Johnson and Little Johnson (Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush), Die Hard
61. Taylor Vaughn (Jodi Lynn O’Keefe), She’s All That
60. Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), Varsity Blues
59. Philip Stuckey (Jason Alexander), Pretty Woman
58. Mrs. Chasen (Vivien Pickles), Harold and Maude
57. Officer Coffey and Officer Graham (Jessie Lawrence Ferguson and Kirk Kinder), Boyz n the Hood
56. Oliver Slocumb (Ryan Philippe), Igby Goes Down
55. Rick Spector (Michael Bowen), Magnolia
54. Jeanine Pettibone (June Chadwick), This Is Spinal Tap
53. Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston), The Cooler
52. Muriel Lang (Rosie Perez), It Could Happen to You
51. Zachary “Sack” Lodge (Bradley Cooper), Wedding Crashers
50. Bert Jones (George C. Scott), The Hustler
49. Little Bill’s Wife (Nina Hartley), Boogie Nights
48. Amber (Elisa Donovan), Clueless
47. Warden (Patrick McGoohan), Escape From Alcatraz
46. Various Game Ruiners (Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Rooker, Richard Edson, Kevin Tighe, John Anderson, Don Harvey), Eight Men Out
45. Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor), The Craft
44. Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), The Ice Storm
43. George Willis Jr. (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Scent of a Woman
42. David Bedford (John Laroquette), Blind Date
41. Ronny and Donny Blume (Ronnie & Keith McCowley), Rushmore
40. Jonathan Poe (Michael Nirenberg), Searching for Bobby Fischer
39. Bernie and Joan (Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins), …About Last Night
38. Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep), Kramer Vs. Kramer
37. Principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
36. Bill Houston (David Morse), Dancer in the Dark
35. Sid (Voice of John Morris), Toy Story
34. Mike (Joe Mantegna), House of Games
33. Buck Grotowski (Peter Boyle), Monsters’ Ball
32. Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels), The Purple Rose of Cairo
31. Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant), Donnie Darko
30. Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), Office Space
29. Mitch Hiller (Billy Campbell), Enough
28. Mrs. Lisbon (Kathleen Turner), The Virgin Suicides
27. Rose Chasseur (Glynis Johns), The Ref
26. Cobra Kai Dojo (William Zabka, Martin Kove, others), The Karate Kid
25. Heathers (Shannon Doherty, Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk), Heathers
24. Cal Hockley (Billy Zane, Titanic
23. Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
22. Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald, Happy Gilmore
21. Jo (Gretchen Mol), Rounders
20. Ruth Folwer (Sissy Spacek), In the Bedroom
19. Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavettes), Rosemary’s Baby
18. Earline and the Rest of the Fitzgerald Clan (Margo Martindale, Others), Million Dollar Baby
17. Coach Jack Reilly (Lane Smith), The Mighty Ducks
16. Jack Lopate (Thomas Hayden Church), Sideways
15. Walter Peck (William Atherton), Ghostbusters
14. Stephen Glass (Hayden Christiensen), Shattered Glass
13. Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore), Ordinary People
12. Professor Edward Alcott (Greg Kinnear), Loser
11. O’Bannion, Darla & Clint (Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Nicky Katt), Dazed and Confused
10. Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), Election
9. Troy (Ethan Hawke), Reality Bites
8. Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Mean Girls
7. Steff (James Spader), Pretty in Pink
6. Biff Tannen (Michael F. Wilson), Back to the Future trilogy
5. Mr. Perry (Kurtwood Smith), Dead Poets Society
4. The Egan Sisters (Nicole Gelbard, Mia Weinberg, Julie Hermelin, Karen Hermelin, Lisa Spector, Hazel Mailloux and Mary Lynn Rajskub), Punch-Drunk Love
3. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), Fargo
2. Maxine (Catherine Keener), Being John Malkovich
1. Chad (Aaron Eckhart), In the Company of Men

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100 Years, 66 Villains: #2. Maxine in Being John Malkovich

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 6, 2008

$15 to the first person who can guess #1. No cheating.

One of my favorite lines in Being John Malkovich comes when Maxine (Catherine Keener) tells the smitten Craig (John Cusack) how she’s fallen in love–with Craig’s wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz), when she’s in the body of John Malkovich (Malkovich himself, and if you’ve never seen the movie you better stop reading right now, because it doesn’t get any easier to explain from here). Craig, heartbroken and extremely outraged at this proclomation, offers his rebuttal. “I don’t think so. I’ve fallen in love. THIS is what people who fall in love LOOK LIKE!!!!” What Craig looks like, of course, is desperate, disshevelled, and about a half-step away from complete lunacy–the result of half a film’s worth of romantic torture at Maxine’s hand, and a far cry from her current state of light bemusement. Unimpressed, however, Maxine explains the distinction: “Hm, you picked the unrequited variety. Very bad for the skin.”

So, you’ve got two female leads in Being John Malkovich–Lotte, Craig’s frumpy, nagging animal psychologist wife, and Maxine, Craig’s sexy, spontaneous, and highly incorrigible co-worker. Give 100 directors the casting pool of Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener, I’d think it’s relatively safe to say that at least 95 of them would put Diaz–perhaps Hollywood’s most bankable babe at the time thanks to the runaway success of My Best Friend’s Wedding and There’s Something About Mary, and a proven bitch as well in A Life Less Ordinary and Very Bad Things–in the role of Maxine. But the powers that be (likely either writer Charlie Kauffman or director Spike Jonze) decided instead to cast Keener–indie queen extraordinaire, but mostly known for the neurotic, emotional characters she played in The Real Blonde and Walking and Talking–in the femme fatale role, and Lotte as the neglected housewife. It payed off to the tune of an Oscar nomination, a revitalized career, and the #2 spot on this list.

Fact of the matter is, Keener is not particularly sexy when you first see her in the movie, quickly conjuring shivers of Glenn Close Syndrome and fear that the entire movie will hinge on a rather large suspension of disbelief. But a strange things happens over the course of BJM–Keener grows into Maxine. She plays the character with such unbelievable confidence, and is responded to so perfectly by John Cusack’s Craig, that it didn’t take me long to legitimately believe that this incongruous starlet was every bit the deadly sexpot that the movie wants you to see her as. It’s a credit to Keener, sure, but it’s also a credit to a character so unbelievably overpowering that it seems like any actress of half-decent pedigree could easily be transformed.

The thing I find truly remarkable about Maxine is how, well, honest she is. I’ve called her a femme fatale at least once in this article already, and while technically speaking it might be an accurate description (knowing this woman definitely does increase your chances of death, for any number of reasons), she’s not really the heir to Phyllis Dietrichsons, Brigid O’Shaunasseys or even Bridget Gregory/Wendy Kroys of the world, for one primary reason–she’s not nearly duplicitous enough. All of those FFs had to con their way into the beds, lives and financial affairs of the men they wanted to corrupt and exploit, but Maxine wouldn’t ever bother to put herself out like that, instead either plowing straight through to what she wants or letting it come to her. Craig probably wishes she’d be a little bit more duplicitous, so he could at least momentarily taste the illusion of love or sex, which would no doubt be preferable to the insult, rejection and humiliation she regularly subjects him to.

Indeed, Maxine can say it a whole lot better than I can, so let’s get a highlight reel going, huh?

Craig (Telling Maxine about the JM portal): “This is a very odd thing. It’s supernatural, for lack of a better word. I mean, it raises all sorts of philosophical-type questions, you know… about the nature of self, about the existence of a soul. You know, am I me? Is Malkovich Malkovich? I had a piece of wood in my hand Maxine. I don’t have it any more. Where is it? Did it disappear? How could that be? Is it still in Malkovish’s head? I don’t know! Do you see what a metaphysical can of worms this portal is? I don’t see how I could go on living my life the way I’ve lived it before.”
Maxine: [Suggestively gestures towards open window, gets up, leaves]

Maxine: “Have you ever had two people look at you, with complete devotion, through the same set of eyes? No, I don’t suppose you would. It’s quite a thrill, Craig…”

Craig: “I like you. I don’t know what it is, exactly…”
Maxine: “My tits?”
Craig: “No, no, it’s your energy, your attitude, you know, the way you carry yourself…”
Maxine: “You’re not a fag, are you?”
Craig: “No, I am really attracted to you.”
Maxine: “‘No, I am really attracted to you.’ Christ, you are a fag. Well, we can share recipes if you like, darling…”

Maxine: “You’re not someone I could get interested in, Craig. You play with dolls.”
Craig: “Puppets, Maxine. It’s the idea of being inside someone else, feeling what they feel, seeing what they see…”
Maxine: “Yikes.”

Maxine: “You know, if you ever got me, you wouldn’t have a clue what to do with me. That’s the thing, Romeo.”

And that’s barely the tip of the iceberg. Maxine is pretty much every guy’s absolute nightmare girl–the kind that gives you no encouragement, is impressed by absolutely nothing, and ultimately ends up running off with your recently transsexualized wife, but enthralls you so much that every villainous move makes you more and more eager to please. It’s made all the better by the fact that she genuinely seems to enjoy abusing Craig, but only as long as it doesn’t necessitate too much effort, because she doesn’t really even care enough about Craig to get that much pleasure out of his misery–if she can mock “awwww” to his confessions of love on the way back from getting coffee in the morning, that’ll about do it for the day for Maxine.

The act of taking over another man’s body is cool enough to win him a couple of months’ worth of Maxine’s affections, but once that’s up, she’s gone for good, and Craig’s right back where he started. The fact that Maxine seems to develop a soul at the end, appearing to legitimately care for Lotte, barely registers, since the lasting image of her breakthrough is still a more-pathetic-than-ever Craig running after her in the rain, swearing his eternal love to her, and being told to fuck off. Of course, Craig couldn’t possibly be surprised by this at this point, since his character has already summed up Maxine better than I ever could, in three simple words:

You’re EVIL, Maxine.”

(Here’s the list so far, for those of you just tuning in, all of which can be read about in detail from here):

66. Ian / Ray (Tim Robbins), High Fidelity
65. Jacy (Cybil Shepherd), The Last Picture Show
64. Jesus’s Entourage (Bill Nunn, Rosario Dawson, Arthur J. Nascarella), He Got Game
63. Sarah Mitchell (Bridget Fonda), A Simple Plan
62. Agents Big Johnson and Little Johnson (Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush), Die Hard
61. Taylor Vaughn (Jodi Lynn O’Keefe), She’s All That
60. Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), Varsity Blues
59. Philip Stuckey (Jason Alexander), Pretty Woman
58. Mrs. Chasen (Vivien Pickles), Harold and Maude
57. Officer Coffey and Officer Graham (Jessie Lawrence Ferguson and Kirk Kinder), Boyz n the Hood
56. Oliver Slocumb (Ryan Philippe), Igby Goes Down
55. Rick Spector (Michael Bowen), Magnolia
54. Jeanine Pettibone (June Chadwick), This Is Spinal Tap
53. Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston), The Cooler
52. Muriel Lang (Rosie Perez), It Could Happen to You
51. Zachary “Sack” Lodge (Bradley Cooper), Wedding Crashers
50. Bert Jones (George C. Scott), The Hustler
49. Little Bill’s Wife (Nina Hartley), Boogie Nights
48. Amber (Elisa Donovan), Clueless
47. Warden (Patrick McGoohan), Escape From Alcatraz
46. Various Game Ruiners (Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Rooker, Richard Edson, Kevin Tighe, John Anderson, Don Harvey), Eight Men Out
45. Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor), The Craft
44. Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), The Ice Storm
43. George Willis Jr. (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Scent of a Woman
42. David Bedford (John Laroquette), Blind Date
41. Ronny and Donny Blume (Ronnie & Keith McCowley), Rushmore
40. Jonathan Poe (Michael Nirenberg), Searching for Bobby Fischer
39. Bernie and Joan (Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins), …About Last Night
38. Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep), Kramer Vs. Kramer
37. Principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
36. Bill Houston (David Morse), Dancer in the Dark
35. Sid (Voice of John Morris), Toy Story
34. Mike (Joe Mantegna), House of Games
33. Buck Grotowski (Peter Boyle), Monsters’ Ball
32. Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels), The Purple Rose of Cairo
31. Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant), Donnie Darko
30. Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), Office Space
29. Mitch Hiller (Billy Campbell), Enough
28. Mrs. Lisbon (Kathleen Turner), The Virgin Suicides
27. Rose Chasseur (Glynis Johns), The Ref
26. Cobra Kai Dojo (William Zabka, Martin Kove, others), The Karate Kid
25. Heathers (Shannon Doherty, Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk), Heathers
24. Cal Hockley (Billy Zane, Titanic
23. Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
22. Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald, Happy Gilmore
21. Jo (Gretchen Mol), Rounders
20. Ruth Folwer (Sissy Spacek), In the Bedroom
19. Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavettes), Rosemary’s Baby
18. Earline and the Rest of the Fitzgerald Clan (Margo Martindale, Others), Million Dollar Baby
17. Coach Jack Reilly (Lane Smith), The Mighty Ducks
16. Jack Lopate (Thomas Hayden Church), Sideways
15. Walter Peck (William Atherton), Ghostbusters
14. Stephen Glass (Hayden Christiensen), Shattered Glass
13. Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore), Ordinary People
12. Professor Edward Alcott (Greg Kinnear), Loser
11. O’Bannion, Darla & Clint (Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Nicky Katt), Dazed and Confused
10. Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), Election
9. Troy (Ethan Hawke), Reality Bites
8. Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Mean Girls
7. Steff (James Spader), Pretty in Pink
6. Biff Tannen (Michael F. Wilson), Back to the Future trilogy
5. Mr. Perry (Kurtwood Smith), Dead Poets Society
4. The Egan Sisters (Nicole Gelbard, Mia Weinberg, Julie Hermelin, Karen Hermelin, Lisa Spector, Hazel Mailloux and Mary Lynn Rajskub), Punch-Drunk Love
3. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), Fargo
2. Maxine (Catherine Keener), Being John Malkovich

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100 Years, 66 Villains: #3. Jerry Lundergaard in Fargo

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 29, 2008

Now that 100 Years, 100 Villains has gotten to the very bottom of the barrel, the abbreviated write-ups that have populated these lists so far are simply unsifficient. Stay tuned this week as we count down the top six in proper fashion.

I’d like to say that Jerry Lundergaard in Fargo was the part that William H. Macy was born to play. The morally bankrupt, constantly panicking and yet severely unthreatening Jerry is, after all, a part as suited to Macy’s strengths as an actor as is humanly possible. Yet, take a second to look over Macy’s resume. Little Bill in Boogie Nights. George Parker in Pleasantville. Bernie Lut zin The Cooler. Quiz Kid Donnie Smith in Magnolia. Edmond in Edmond. Point is–has William H. Macy ever once played a character that he wasn’t born to play? In fact, with the possible exception of fellow loser occasional castmate Philip Seymour Hoffman, has there ever been an actor more suited to his filmography than Macy? Maybe it’s not so much that Jerry was the part Macy was born to play, as Macy was the actor the Coen Brothers were born to write Jerry for–probably the most pathetic character ever portrayed in film.

Jerry isn’t a pure villain the way some characters are on this list, and in fact, I wouldn’t even go so far as to call him evil–he’s not a good guy, but he’s not a sociopath either, and he generally (I mean really, really generally) means well. And what’s more, he’s almost compulsively relateable–in most other movies he’d be the good guy, the little guy who got pushed too far by his bullying, unsympathetic father-in-law and decides to get some revenge on him. But Fargo is pretty fucking far from most movies, and Jerry still might be more despicable than any other character on this list, because of his unbelievably thoughtless selfishness, his lack of foresight bordering on sheer idiocy, and his almost sickening weakness of character.

The plot of the movie, on paper, is a fairly standard sort of neo-noir skeleton–businessman in debt pays some thugs to kidnap his wife to extort some money from his rich, incompassionate father-in-law. But there’s nothing about Fargo that falls under such easy classification, and least of all Jerry’s character–the movie is taken far too much from his perspective and has too many other legitimate Bad Guys prowling the perimeter to qualify him as a straight villain, but he’s not heroic enough to even qualify as any sort of anti-hero. He just sets the plans in motion on their disastrous course, and then just stands back, too ineffectual to do anything to correct them, and acts shocked when things go horribly awry.

Take the scene where Jerry’s supposed to deliver father-in-law Wade’s (Harve Presnell) hostage payoff to Carl (Steve Buscemi), the last part of a plan that should have ended in Jerry and Carl splitting the money, Jerry’s wife Jean (Kristin Rudrud) returning home safely, and all going back to normal. Wade, aging alpha male, gets it into his head (and not without justification) that Jerry’s going to fuck it up if he makes the drop, so despite Carl’s “instructions” that Jerry had to be the one to do so, Wade decides to make the drop himself. If Wade does this, the chances of the plans working out pretty much drop to 0, and Jerry has to know this. Yet, aside from some minor protesting, he lets Wade have his way, leading to the death of pretty much everyone in question and resulting in Jerry getting stuck with nothing. Not only does his carelessness and weakness result in tragedy, but he’s too stupid to even put himself in a position to take advantage of it.

And oh yeah, there’s the whole letting-murderous-thugs-kidnap-his-wife thing. It seems like Jerry doesn’t even see at all how this could turn out to be a big deal, how even if his wife somehow came back from the experience physically unscathed, spending a few weeks tied and gagged with a couple psychopaths might not be such a negligible experience. Not to mention the effect it might have on his poor, poor son Scotty (Tony Denman), who as a result of Jerry’s actions, ends the movie with a murdered mother, a murdered grandfather, and a disgraced father on the lam. You can see the surprise in Jerry’s face the first scene he spends with an emotionally distraught Scotty after Jean is kidnapped, as if he really wants to ask him “Wow, you mean you actually care about Mom that much? I never would’ve thought!”

The final shot of Jerry, poorly shaven and in his underwear, trying to escape the cops by crawling out his hotel room window, is the most perfectly disgusting way to summarize his character as possible. He’s like all four Yellow Brick Road travelers in one–cowardly, stupid, heartless, and completely out of his element. His cringe-worthy arrest scene is exactly how his character’s arc should have ended, since even being chopped up in a woodchipper is a cooler fate than Jerry deserves.

66. Ian / Ray (Tim Robbins), High Fidelity
65. Jacy (Cybil Shepherd), The Last Picture Show
64. Jesus’s Entourage (Bill Nunn, Rosario Dawson, Arthur J. Nascarella), He Got Game
63. Sarah Mitchell (Bridget Fonda), A Simple Plan
62. Agents Big Johnson and Little Johnson (Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush), Die Hard
61. Taylor Vaughn (Jodi Lynn O’Keefe), She’s All That
60. Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), Varsity Blues
59. Philip Stuckey (Jason Alexander), Pretty Woman
58. Mrs. Chasen (Vivien Pickles), Harold and Maude
57. Officer Coffey and Officer Graham (Jessie Lawrence Ferguson and Kirk Kinder), Boyz n the Hood
56. Oliver Slocumb (Ryan Philippe), Igby Goes Down
55. Rick Spector (Michael Bowen), Magnolia
54. Jeanine Pettibone (June Chadwick), This Is Spinal Tap
53. Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston), The Cooler
52. Muriel Lang (Rosie Perez), It Could Happen to You
51. Zachary “Sack” Lodge (Bradley Cooper), Wedding Crashers
50. Bert Jones (George C. Scott), The Hustler
49. Little Bill’s Wife (Nina Hartley), Boogie Nights
48. Amber (Elisa Donovan), Clueless
47. Warden (Patrick McGoohan), Escape From Alcatraz
46. Various Game Ruiners (Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Rooker, Richard Edson, Kevin Tighe, John Anderson, Don Harvey), Eight Men Out
45. Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor), The Craft
44. Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), The Ice Storm
43. George Willis Jr. (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Scent of a Woman
42. David Bedford (John Laroquette), Blind Date
41. Ronny and Donny Blume (Ronnie & Keith McCowley), Rushmore
40. Jonathan Poe (Michael Nirenberg), Searching for Bobby Fischer
39. Bernie and Joan (Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins), …About Last Night
38. Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep), Kramer Vs. Kramer
37. Principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
36. Bill Houston (David Morse), Dancer in the Dark
35. Sid (Voice of John Morris), Toy Story
34. Mike (Joe Mantegna), House of Games
33. Buck Grotowski (Peter Boyle), Monsters’ Ball
32. Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels), The Purple Rose of Cairo
31. Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant), Donnie Darko
30. Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), Office Space
29. Mitch Hiller (Billy Campbell), Enough
28. Mrs. Lisbon (Kathleen Turner), The Virgin Suicides
27. Rose Chasseur (Glynis Johns), The Ref
26. Cobra Kai Dojo (William Zabka, Martin Kove, others), The Karate Kid
25. Heathers (Shannon Doherty, Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk), Heathers
24. Cal Hockley (Billy Zane, Titanic
23. Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
22. Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald, Happy Gilmore
21. Jo (Gretchen Mol), Rounders
20. Ruth Folwer (Sissy Spacek), In the Bedroom
19. Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavettes), Rosemary’s Baby
18. Earline and the Rest of the Fitzgerald Clan (Margo Martindale, Others), Million Dollar Baby
17. Coach Jack Reilly (Lane Smith), The Mighty Ducks
16. Jack Lopate (Thomas Hayden Church), Sideways
15. Walter Peck (William Atherton), Ghostbusters
14. Stephen Glass (Hayden Christiensen), Shattered Glass
13. Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore), Ordinary People
12. Professor Edward Alcott (Greg Kinnear), Loser
11. O’Bannion, Darla & Clint (Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Nicky Katt), Dazed and Confused
10. Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), Election
9. Troy (Ethan Hawke), Reality Bites
8. Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Mean Girls
7. Steff (James Spader), Pretty in Pink
6. Biff Tannen (Michael F. Wilson), Back to the Future trilogy
5. Mr. Perry (Kurtwood Smith), Dead Poets Society
4. The Egan Sisters (Nicole Gelbard, Mia Weinberg, Julie Hermelin, Karen Hermelin, Lisa Spector, Hazel Mailloux and Mary Lynn Rajskub), Punch-Drunk Love
3. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), Fargo

Posted in 100 Years 66 Villains | 3 Comments »

100 Years, 66 Villains: #4. The Sisters in Punch-Drunk Love

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 27, 2008

Now that 100 Years, 100 Villains has gotten to the very bottom of the barrel, the abbreviated write-ups that have populated these lists so far are simply unsifficient. Stay tuned this week as we count down the top six in proper fashion.

There are black comedies, like American Beauty. Then there are Black comedies, like Madea’s Family Reunion. Then there are black comedies, like Punch-Drunk Love. The kind of movie where you get nauseated by your own laughter, the kind of movie where there’s no real separation between the parts that are hilarious and the parts that are eye-wideningly disturbing. It’s a rare breed of movie, and as a matter of fact, the only other concrete example I can think of is the movie or next villain comes from, so I’ll refrain from talking about that for the moment. But suffice to say, the hilarity of Punch-Drunk Love–and it is hilarious, one of the funniest movies this decade–comes from a dark, dark place. More specifically, it comes from a bunch of evil big sisters.

The truly ingenious thing about Punch-Drunk Love, I think, is Adam Sandler–not his performance, necessarily, although that is quite good, but the way it uses his pre-existing character type in a way no one really had the balls to do before. With a handful of exceptions, Adam Sandler has generally played the same character his entire career, that of the loveable loser man-child with a distaste for authority and a passion for 80s arena rock. It’s certainly not a heroic character type, but Sandler always surrounded himself with enough selfish, manipulative assholes that there was no doubt that he was the good guy, and thus we celebrated his immature tendencies as exemplary of an admirable joie de vivre and a sort of naive integrity, both of which his enemies roundly lacked.

What Punch-Drunk Love did was basically to show what the Sandler character would actually be like in the real world. Barry Egan is as emotionally stunted and generally well-meaning as Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, and has the same quick, violent temper as those characters as well. But rather than translating as goofy and adorable, Barry is just really, really sad. I guess it might be more accurate to say that Barry is Happy or Billy after a few more years, having lost his confidence after realizing that no one’s digging his  grown-ass middle-schooler schtick anymore, and realizing his life might not just find direction on its own. Fact of the matter is, most dudes in arrested development around 30 don’t luck into pro golf or football careers, or stand to inherit hundreds of millions from benevolent benefactors. Some of them just lead lonely lives in boring jobs from which they try to escape through phone sex and pudding.

But lest we forget, Barry has another very, very good reason to have no self-confidence, which we see all throughout the movie in the abuse he gets from his older sisters–a whopping seven of them, led by high-strung juggernaut Elizabeth (the usually loveable Mary-Lynn Rajskub). To say that these sisters are overbearing feels woefully insufficient to me, since it seems that a lot of the time when you’re talking about an “overbearing” family member, it’s someone who just cares too much to know when they should back off a little. But there is no love whatsoever in Barry’s sisters’ treatment of him–rather, their interest in his affairs seems divided between being meddling in his life as a personal pet project and reflexively using him as an emotional punching bag.

There are scenes that strike more fear into my heart than any horror movie since Dawn of the Dead. Like the scene where Elizabeth first brings Lena (Emily Watson) to meet Barry, and he balks at asking her out, partly because she embarrasses him in front of her by mentioning his crying problem. After she comforts a confused Lena, mostly by insulting Barry, she storms back to reprimand Barry with a look in her eye that just says I am going to make you regret this decision for the rest of your life. Then later in the movie, Barry spontaneously flies to Hawaii to see Lena, but not knowing where she’s staying, he’s forced to call Elizabeth to ask for her help. She holds the information hostage, forcing him to admit that he likes her first–not in an affectionate, teasing, sibling way, but more in an “admit it, I know what’s good for you so much better than you do” way.

But all pales in comparison to the party scene, the only scene in the movie where we get an onslaught of all seven sisters at once. The first shot says it all–Barry opens the door, overhears his sisters getting nostalgic about how they used to call him “gay boy,” and reflexively begins to back out, hoping maybe to escape the horrors to follow. Once he makes the fateful decision to enter, he’s quickly barraged by each of his sisters in their own unique, subtle way–one makes fun of his suit, one teases him about his sexuality (“are you gay now??”), one negates the gift he brought (“We [already] have a cake”), one nags him about a shampoo they bought for him, one mocks an excuse he used to get off the phone earlier in the movie, and Elizabeth of course chastises him for not wanting to meet Lena. And it just gets worse from there.

It’s a perfect scene, one that’s brilliantly designed to feel just like your average family gathering (scattered activity, characters entering and leaving, basic pleasanteries exchanged), but with a violence deeply imbued in the family dynamic, so ingrained that you feel like no one else in the movie probably even notices it. It’s positively chilling, and when Barry finally snaps as a result, kicking and punching in a couple of the house’s glass doors, it comes to the viewer as pure relief that the scene’s aggression has finally been brought into the forefront. But perhaps most disturbingly, Barry’s sisters do not seem at all concerned by this rather extreme outburst, nor do they seem particularly surprised by it, just using it as an opportunity to him some more (“WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR PROBLEM???” “YOU FUCKING RETARD, BARRY!!”) The scariest thing about this scene is the past that it implies–30+ years of holidays, family trips and other parties, likely not all that different from this one.

I guess you could say that Mr. Perry deserves to be higher than the Egan Sisters, since Barry eventually escapes his siblings’ tyranny, while Perry’s familial oppression ultimately proves fatal for son Neil. But much as I love cartoonish over-dramatizing, it’s the stuff that feels all too real that truly gets under my skin. And for that, Nicole Gelbard, Mia Weinberg, Julie Hermelin, Karen Hermelin, Lisa Spector, Hazel Mailloux and Mary Lynn Rajskub, I salute you with the #4 slot on this list.

(Here’s the list so far, for those of you just tuning in, all of which can be read about in detail from here:

66. Ian / Ray (Tim Robbins), High Fidelity
65. Jacy (Cybil Shepherd), The Last Picture Show
64. Jesus’s Entourage (Bill Nunn, Rosario Dawson, Arthur J. Nascarella), He Got Game
63. Sarah Mitchell (Bridget Fonda), A Simple Plan
62. Agents Big Johnson and Little Johnson (Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush), Die Hard
61. Taylor Vaughn (Jodi Lynn O’Keefe), She’s All That
60. Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), Varsity Blues
59. Philip Stuckey (Jason Alexander), Pretty Woman
58. Mrs. Chasen (Vivien Pickles), Harold and Maude
57. Officer Coffey and Officer Graham (Jessie Lawrence Ferguson and Kirk Kinder), Boyz n the Hood
56. Oliver Slocumb (Ryan Philippe), Igby Goes Down
55. Rick Spector (Michael Bowen), Magnolia
54. Jeanine Pettibone (June Chadwick), This Is Spinal Tap
53. Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston), The Cooler
52. Muriel Lang (Rosie Perez), It Could Happen to You
51. Zachary “Sack” Lodge (Bradley Cooper), Wedding Crashers
50. Bert Jones (George C. Scott), The Hustler
49. Little Bill’s Wife (Nina Hartley), Boogie Nights
48. Amber (Elisa Donovan), Clueless
47. Warden (Patrick McGoohan), Escape From Alcatraz
46. Various Game Ruiners (Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Rooker, Richard Edson, Kevin Tighe, John Anderson, Don Harvey), Eight Men Out
45. Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor), The Craft
44. Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), The Ice Storm
43. George Willis Jr. (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Scent of a Woman
42. David Bedford (John Laroquette), Blind Date
41. Ronny and Donny Blume (Ronnie & Keith McCowley), Rushmore
40. Jonathan Poe (Michael Nirenberg), Searching for Bobby Fischer
39. Bernie and Joan (Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins), …About Last Night
38. Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep), Kramer Vs. Kramer
37. Principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
36. Bill Houston (David Morse), Dancer in the Dark
35. Sid (Voice of John Morris), Toy Story
34. Mike (Joe Mantegna), House of Games
33. Buck Grotowski (Peter Boyle), Monsters’ Ball
32. Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels), The Purple Rose of Cairo
31. Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant), Donnie Darko
30. Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), Office Space
29. Mitch Hiller (Billy Campbell), Enough
28. Mrs. Lisbon (Kathleen Turner), The Virgin Suicides
27. Rose Chasseur (Glynis Johns), The Ref
26. Cobra Kai Dojo (William Zabka, Martin Kove, others), The Karate Kid
25. Heathers (Shannon Doherty, Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk), Heathers
24. Cal Hockley (Billy Zane, Titanic
23. Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
22. Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald, Happy Gilmore
21. Jo (Gretchen Mol), Rounders
20. Ruth Folwer (Sissy Spacek), In the Bedroom
19. Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavettes), Rosemary’s Baby
18. Earline and the Rest of the Fitzgerald Clan (Margo Martindale, Others), Million Dollar Baby
17. Coach Jack Reilly (Lane Smith), The Mighty Ducks
16. Jack Lopate (Thomas Hayden Church), Sideways
15. Walter Peck (William Atherton), Ghostbusters
14. Stephen Glass (Hayden Christiensen), Shattered Glass
13. Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore), Ordinary People
12. Professor Edward Alcott (Greg Kinnear), Loser
11. O’Bannion, Darla & Clint (Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Nicky Katt), Dazed and Confused
10. Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), Election
9. Troy (Ethan Hawke), Reality Bites
8. Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Mean Girls
7. Steff (James Spader), Pretty in Pink
6. Biff Tannen (Michael F. Wilson), Back to the Future trilogy
5. Mr. Perry (Kurtwood Smith), Dead Poets Society
4. The Egan Sisters (Nicole Gelbard, Mia Weinberg, Julie Hermelin, Karen Hermelin, Lisa Spector, Hazel Mailloux and Mary Lynn Rajskub), Punch-Drunk Love

Posted in 100 Years 66 Villains | 2 Comments »

100 Years, 66 Villains: #5. Mr. Perry from Dead Poets Society

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 26, 2008

Now that 100 Years, 100 Villains has gotten to the very bottom of the barrel, the abbreviated write-ups that have populated these lists so far are simply unsifficient. Stay tuned this week as we count down the top six in proper fashion.

Think about the general impression that comes to mind when someone mentions Dead Poets Society. A couple of famous scenes probably immediately jump to mind–Mr. Keating instructing his students to rip a passage about grading poetry out of a textbook, Keating teaching his disciples to carpe diem, and of course the movie’s finale, in which Keatings students salute him by standing on their desks and shouting “O Captain, My Captain!,” the Walt Whitman-inspired sobriquet he adopted at the beginning of the movie. In addition to those dramatic, much-parodied scenes, you probably instantly picture the flamboyant, Oscar-nominated performance of Robin Williams as inspirational English instructor Mr. Keating–an archetype he would return to, with diminishing returns, over the rest of his career. Throw in a couple touching coming-of-age subplots, and you’ve got a movie that, despite a spate of Oscar nominations at the time, has become probably come to be synonymous in your mind with overdramatic, sentimental, lowest common denominator pap.

And it’s all true–that is, until the last third of the movie. At that point, it stops being an inspirational, feel-good story about boys learning to think and feel outside the boxes provided for them by the various authority figures in their lives, and starts being a movie about how, try as we might to fight it, those authority figures always have ultimate say in the end, and we better start putting some nice wallpaper on our boxes because they’re not going away anytime soon. It becomes, without a doubt, the most cynical movie ever made about Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau. And the blame for that soul-crushing lesson in moral pragmatism can be lied almost solely at the hands of one man–Mr. Perry, played by the irrepressible Kurtwood Smith.

Let’s go over the events of the movie for a minute, to properly get a sense of the plot’s trajectory. Mr. Keating is the new English teacher at Welton academy, a private boarding school back in the 50s known for its prestigious history, strenuous cirriculum and efficient production of upstanding young men. Keating’s unconventional lesson plan rocks the worlds of his students, as Charlie (Gale Hansen) has his rebellious streak sparked, Knox (Josh Charles) is inspired to chase a girl at a nearby school, Todd (Ethan Hawke) comes out of his nervous shell, and Neil (Robert Sean Leonard) begins to pursue a passion in acting, while all the boys participate in a the titular secret society. A few feathers are ruffled when at first one of Charlie’s pranks goes too far, but the hubbub dies down and the boys are set back amongst their merry, free-thinking ways.

Enter Mr. Perry, Neil’s father. Perry has decided that his son will be most happy and successful pursuing a career in medicine, and has strictly forbade any thoughts his son may have to the contrary. Neil declines to mention to his father when he tries out for the school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a move which backfires when Perry shows up at one of the final rehearsals and demands that Neil pull out from his involvement in the show. Neil fakes the move, but decides to disobey his father and appear in the show anyway, in which he performs brilliantly. Unmoved, Perry announces that Neil’s betrayal has forced him to remove him from Welton and enroll him in military school, where he will then proceed to Harvard and a career in medicine. Neil starts to tell his father about his real passion for acting, but is dissuaded by his dismissiveness, and instaed just murmurs to his meek mother and himself “I was good tonight…I was really good.”

Then Neil takes a walk outside with his dad’s revolver. While I was watching this the first time, I literally did not believe what I was seeing. When Neil grabs the revolver, I don’t know what I thought he would do, but it certainly wasn’t that. When I heard the shot, I still refrained from jumping to conclusions. Even in that later scene when Todd goes running and yelling and crying in the snow, I managed to believe that there must be some other explanation. You’re trying to tell me that in this piece of overdramatic, sentimental, lowest common denominator pap….that the teen protagonist kills himself? No overcoming adversity, no making his father understand what’s really important in life, no touching final embrace with Mr. Keating–nothing but a goddamn SUICIDE?? I’ve seen a couple movies before–this is not how this movie was supposed to end.

And guess what? That’s not even the most depressing part. The most depressing part, the part that really sticks in my craw, the part that ultimately convinced me that the primary moral of Dead Poets’ Society is that humanity = shit is that Mr. and Mrs. Perry get to completely pass the buck on the blame for Neil’s death. Well, let’s see, we have a kid who kills himself directly after his father embarrasses him in front of all his friends, makes plans to send him off to a school where he’s guaranteed to be miserable, and crushes his dreams in no uncertain terms (“Tell me what you feel! What is it? Is it more of this, this ACTING business? Because you can forget about that!”), and who’s to blame? Well, it’s gotta be that nutty teacher who put all those fruity acting/thinking ideas in his head in the first place, right? Sure enough, it’s Keating and not Perry that gets cited for investigation in the matter.

At this point, after watching student after student sell out Keating by signing an untrue confession effectively blaming him for everything, I was just praying that something would come along to redeem the events of the movie–something that would show hope for the future of humanity after all. And thus we come to the movie’s consolation prize, the legendary “O Captain My Captain!” scene, where all the students proclaim their allegiance to the departing Keating despite their new instructor’s threats of discipline. I won’t lie, when I first saw it, it just about did the trick–I don’t think I cried, but I came pretty close, and I forgot about all the horrors that came before. But when you have a second to think about it, is anything really accomplished by this? OK, so the students aren’t completely dead inside, but what do you think happens after Keating walks out of the room? A few weeks’ worth of doing dishes, a series of paddlings, and whatever other punitive measures the school will enforce for this final disobedience will likely quash thoughts of any future rebellions. In the meantime, Neil is still dead, Mr. Keating is still unemployed, and Mr. Perry gets off responsibility and guilt-free (if maybe not quite grief-free) for his part in Neil’s death.

No one could have predicted this upon the movie’s release in 1989, but to really understand how and why this character is so villainous, you sort of have to be familiar with the the future role that Kurtwood Smith would come to be most well-known for–that of Red Forman, father of protagonist Eric Forman, in That 70s Show. Red was definitely cut from the Archie Bunker cloth but with a (possibly unintentional) twist–whereas Archie Bunker was seen as something of a relic, ultimately lovingly tolerated by his kinder, less reactionary family, Red was surrounded by such a cast of unlikeable idiots (simpering wife Kitty, slutty daughter Laurie, space cadet son Eric and his moron stoner friends) that his crotchety way of thinking seemed the show’s most acceptable viewpoint. When he chewed out Eric or accidentally insulted Kitty, you didn’t think “dear lord, what a dick,” you thought “man, how does Red ever put up with all these losers?” quickly followed by “goddamn it, is That fucking 70s Show really the best thing on TV right now?”

Mr. Perry is Red, having learned all the wrong lessons and enforced all his worst suspicions from his experiences on That 70s Show, and now too set in his ways to extend any sort of lifeline to son Neil, who desperately needs one. And the sad thing is that unlike Eric, who just sort of freeloaded and complained a lot for EIGHT SEASONS, Neil is actually a talented, ambitious guy, who just asked for the slightest bit of understanding and compassion from his parents–which, apparently, was simply far too much to ask for. And though the bravery of Dead Poets Society has been called into question, the final scene seeming to try to let the movie off the hook, Mr. and Mrs. Perry are given no redemption, no chance for explanation. As another young man tried to teach us in the late 80s, sometimes parents just don’t understand. And sometimes their children kill themselves as a result.

(Here’s the list so far, for those of you just tuning in, all of which can be read about in detail from here:

66. Ian / Ray (Tim Robbins), High Fidelity
65. Jacy (Cybil Shepherd), The Last Picture Show
64. Jesus’s Entourage (Bill Nunn, Rosario Dawson, Arthur J. Nascarella), He Got Game
63. Sarah Mitchell (Bridget Fonda), A Simple Plan
62. Agents Big Johnson and Little Johnson (Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush), Die Hard
61. Taylor Vaughn (Jodi Lynn O’Keefe), She’s All That
60. Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), Varsity Blues
59. Philip Stuckey (Jason Alexander), Pretty Woman
58. Mrs. Chasen (Vivien Pickles), Harold and Maude
57. Officer Coffey and Officer Graham (Jessie Lawrence Ferguson and Kirk Kinder), Boyz n the Hood
56. Oliver Slocumb (Ryan Philippe), Igby Goes Down
55. Rick Spector (Michael Bowen), Magnolia
54. Jeanine Pettibone (June Chadwick), This Is Spinal Tap
53. Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston), The Cooler
52. Muriel Lang (Rosie Perez), It Could Happen to You
51. Zachary “Sack” Lodge (Bradley Cooper), Wedding Crashers
50. Bert Jones (George C. Scott), The Hustler
49. Little Bill’s Wife (Nina Hartley), Boogie Nights
48. Amber (Elisa Donovan), Clueless
47. Warden (Patrick McGoohan), Escape From Alcatraz
46. Various Game Ruiners (Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Rooker, Richard Edson, Kevin Tighe, John Anderson, Don Harvey), Eight Men Out
45. Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor), The Craft
44. Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), The Ice Storm
43. George Willis Jr. (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Scent of a Woman
42. David Bedford (John Laroquette), Blind Date
41. Ronny and Donny Blume (Ronnie & Keith McCowley), Rushmore
40. Jonathan Poe (Michael Nirenberg), Searching for Bobby Fischer
39. Bernie and Joan (Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins), …About Last Night
38. Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep), Kramer Vs. Kramer
37. Principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
36. Bill Houston (David Morse), Dancer in the Dark
35. Sid (Voice of John Morris), Toy Story
34. Mike (Joe Mantegna), House of Games
33. Buck Grotowski (Peter Boyle), Monsters’ Ball
32. Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels), The Purple Rose of Cairo
31. Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant), Donnie Darko
30. Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), Office Space
29. Mitch Hiller (Billy Campbell), Enough
28. Mrs. Lisbon (Kathleen Turner), The Virgin Suicides
27. Rose Chasseur (Glynis Johns), The Ref
26. Cobra Kai Dojo (William Zabka, Martin Kove, others), The Karate Kid
25. Heathers (Shannon Doherty, Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk), Heathers
24. Cal Hockley (Billy Zane, Titanic
23. Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
22. Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald, Happy Gilmore
21. Jo (Gretchen Mol), Rounders
20. Ruth Folwer (Sissy Spacek), In the Bedroom
19. Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavettes), Rosemary’s Baby
18. Earline and the Rest of the Fitzgerald Clan (Margo Martindale, Others), Million Dollar Baby
17. Coach Jack Reilly (Lane Smith), The Mighty Ducks
16. Jack Lopate (Thomas Hayden Church), Sideways
15. Walter Peck (William Atherton), Ghostbusters
14. Stephen Glass (Hayden Christiensen), Shattered Glass
13. Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore), Ordinary People
12. Professor Edward Alcott (Greg Kinnear), Loser
11. O’Bannion, Darla & Clint (Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Nicky Katt), Dazed and Confused
10. Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), Election
9. Troy (Ethan Hawke), Reality Bites
8. Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Mean Girls
7. Steff (James Spader), Pretty in Pink
6. Biff Tannen (Michael F. Wilson), Back to the Future trilogy
5. Mr. Perry (Kurtwood Smith), Dead Poets’ Society

Posted in 100 Years 66 Villains | 7 Comments »

100 Years, 66 Villians: #6. Biff Tannen

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 22, 2008

Now that 100 Years, 100 Villains has gotten to the very bottom of the barrel, the abbreviated write-ups are simply unsifficient. Stay tuned this week as we count down the top six in proper fashion.

How many film trilogies can you think of that only needed one real villain? Star Wars had the double-whammy of Darth Vader and The Emperor, Alien always had at least one man on the inside that was usually just as despicable, and Lord of the Rings had more villains than I could count, keep track of, or stand to watch consistently for three hours at a time. But aside from the mild antagonism of the stern, unsupportive Principal Strickland (James Tolkan), and some back-up villainy from the Pips of 80s teen villainy, Match, Skinhead & 3-D (IITS-approved villain Billy Zane, Jeffrey Jay Cohen, and Casey “Young Guns” Siemaszko), the evil of the Back to the Future trilogy is the solo reign of one Biff Tannen.

And a historic villainy it is. Biff haunts Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and his family for three whole generations, bullying patriarch George (Crispin Glover) and sexually harrassing mom Lorraine (Lea Thompson) as a teenager in the 50s, taking advantage of now-employee George in the 80s, and stealing and abusing Marty and Doc Brown’s (Christopher Lloyd) in the 2010’s. His villainy is as such that it even dates back to the family’s ancestors, as Biff’s 1880s predecessor Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen terrorized not only then-McFlys Seamus (also Fox, though I thought it was Eric Stolz until very recently) and Maggie (Thompson again), but the entire Hill Valley area, robbing, looting and pillaging at will. And as if all that wasn’t enough, we find out that he’s even more evil in the film’s alternate timeline, when once mad with money and power, he almost single-handedly ruins the whole future, starting a toxic waste company, getting Richard Nixon elected to five staight terms, and even enabling the Vietnam War to run another decade. Not so good, Al.


Sleazy billionaire Biff of 1985-A

Even compared to other 80s teen villains, Biff’s brand of villainy was exceedingly straightforward. He wasn’t conniving or monetarily corrupt like Steff in Pretty in Pink, he wasn’t under the influence of an even more demonic role model like Johnny in The Karate Kid, and he didn’t even have the technical justification of an unfaithful girlfriend like the jerky dude from the rival school in Teen Wolf had for hating on Wolfie. He wasn’t socioeconomically motivated, he wasn’t trying to achieve anything purposeful, and he wasn’t acting on a higher calling. He was just a bully, uncomplicated and unrepentant. There is no explanation or justification for Biff’s actions besides the simple fact that there were people who got in the way of what Biff wanted, and he didn’t look unfavorably upon using violence to fix that. And often, those are the most chilling villains of all.

And yet–there’s something unmistakably human about Biff, isn’t there? The film makes no apologies for him, certainly, and never tries to really portray him in any kind of sympathetic light. But even with all of his misdeeds, it’s still hard not to feel like he’s kind of a sad character. The fact that he’s too stupid to ever consistently outsmart Marty has a lot to do with it–sure, he’s significantly bigger than Marty, but aside from that, it’s not ever really that fair a fight, and whenever the two end up tangoing, it’s always Biff that crashes into the large quantities of horseshit. His predilection for mixed metaphors and malapropisms (“Why don’t you make like a tree…and get the hell out of here“) only enforces this pitiable lack of any sort of cunning.

Also, despite his position of power, he’s kind of a lonely guy, never having much in the way of friends and permanently on the losing end in love. Sure, he’s got Match, Skinhead and 3-D, but he doesn’t seem to like them or care about their well-being very much, and they don’t seem to think of him as anything but a cruel master (and their Wiki page seems to suggest that they only do Biff’s bidding because he’s the sole member of the group with a car, an assertion that says interesting things about the nature of High School serfdom in the 1980s). And of course, he remains permanently unrequited in his love for Lorraine, who roundly spurs his affections. He definitely doesn’t deserve her, of course, a point driven home by his attempted rape of Lorraine in the first movie, but watch the scene in II after she rejects his forceful invitation to the Enchatnment Under the Sea dance, and he yells after her “SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE MY WIFE!!”–c’mon, you gotta feel for the guy at least a little bit, even despite the fact that in II’s alternate timeline, his prediction actually turns out to be accurate.

It’s not surprising that the only real live action role of note that Thomas F. Wilson would have after Back to the Future is as a vaguely Biff-like (although significantly better-meaning) high school gym teacher in Freaks & Geeks. Some roles are iconic to the point of being totally uneclipseable, and despite stiff competition from the O’Bannions and Regina Georges of the world, Biff is deservedly almost without question the most iconic bully in film history.

(Here’s the list so far, for those of you just tuning in, all of which can be read about in detail from here:

66. Ian / Ray (Tim Robbins), High Fidelity
65. Jacy (Cybil Shepherd), The Last Picture Show
64. Jesus’s Entourage (Bill Nunn, Rosario Dawson, Arthur J. Nascarella), He Got Game
63. Sarah Mitchell (Bridget Fonda), A Simple Plan
62. Agents Big Johnson and Little Johnson (Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush), Die Hard
61. Taylor Vaughn (Jodi Lynn O’Keefe), She’s All That
60. Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), Varsity Blues
59. Philip Stuckey (Jason Alexander), Pretty Woman
58. Mrs. Chasen (Vivien Pickles), Harold and Maude
57. Officer Coffey and Officer Graham (Jessie Lawrence Ferguson and Kirk Kinder), Boyz n the Hood
56. Oliver Slocumb (Ryan Philippe), Igby Goes Down
55. Rick Spector (Michael Bowen), Magnolia
54. Jeanine Pettibone (June Chadwick), This Is Spinal Tap
53. Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston), The Cooler
52. Muriel Lang (Rosie Perez), It Could Happen to You
51. Zachary “Sack” Lodge (Bradley Cooper), Wedding Crashers
50. Bert Jones (George C. Scott), The Hustler
49. Little Bill’s Wife (Nina Hartley), Boogie Nights
48. Amber (Elisa Donovan), Clueless
47. Warden (Patrick McGoohan), Escape From Alcatraz
46. Various Game Ruiners (Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Rooker, Richard Edson, Kevin Tighe, John Anderson, Don Harvey), Eight Men Out
45. Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor), The Craft
44. Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), The Ice Storm
43. George Willis Jr. (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Scent of a Woman
42. David Bedford (John Laroquette), Blind Date
41. Ronny and Donny Blume (Ronnie & Keith McCowley), Rushmore
40. Jonathan Poe (Michael Nirenberg), Searching for Bobby Fischer
39. Bernie and Joan (Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins), …About Last Night
38. Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep), Kramer Vs. Kramer
37. Principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
36. Bill Houston (David Morse), Dancer in the Dark
35. Sid (Voice of John Morris), Toy Story
34. Mike (Joe Mantegna), House of Games
33. Buck Grotowski (Peter Boyle), Monsters’ Ball
32. Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels), The Purple Rose of Cairo
31. Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant), Donnie Darko
30. Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), Office Space
29. Mitch Hiller (Billy Campbell), Enough
28. Mrs. Lisbon (Kathleen Turner), The Virgin Suicides
27. Rose Chasseur (Glynis Johns), The Ref
26. Cobra Kai Dojo (William Zabka, Martin Kove, others), The Karate Kid
25. Heathers (Shannon Doherty, Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk), Heathers
24. Cal Hockley (Billy Zane, Titanic
23. Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
22. Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald, Happy Gilmore
21. Jo (Gretchen Mol), Rounders
20. Ruth Folwer (Sissy Spacek), In the Bedroom
19. Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavettes), Rosemary’s Baby
18. Earline and the Rest of the Fitzgerald Clan (Margo Martindale, Others), Million Dollar Baby
17. Coach Jack Reilly (Lane Smith), The Mighty Ducks
16. Jack Lopate (Thomas Hayden Church), Sideways
15. Walter Peck (William Atherton), Ghostbusters
14. Stephen Glass (Hayden Christiensen), Shattered Glass
13. Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore), Ordinary People
12. Professor Edward Alcott (Greg Kinnear), Loser
11. O’Bannion, Darla & Clint (Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Nicky Katt), Dazed and Confused
10. Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), Election
9. Troy (Ethan Hawke), Reality Bites
8. Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Mean Girls
7. Steff (James Spader), Pretty in Pink
6. Biff Tannen (Michael F. Wilson), Back to the Future trilogy

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100 Years, 66 Villains: #12 – #7

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 16, 2008

“I Was Going To Do It Tonight Anyway” Edition

#12.


Professor Edward Alcott, Loser

Played By: Greg Kinnear

M.O.: I’ve spent far too much time contemplating and writing about just how awful a movie Loser is, but I suppose I do have to give it credit for presenting one of the all-time great schmuck characters in movie history. Kinnear’s character has a direct precedent in Fred MacMurray’s character in The Apartment (the movie is, more or less, a remake of Billy Wilder’s classic Best Picture winner), but as unlikeable as MacMurray was in that movie, he never seemed to rejoice in causing Shirley MacLaine misery the way Professor Alcott seems to revel in abusing Mena Suvari this movie. He spends 75% of his scenes with Dora (the college student he’s having an unsanctioned affair with, played by Suvari) insulting and mocking her, and spends the other 25% commanding her to perform various tasks (the part where he reprimands her for not bringing him his tea in the correct manner probably being the most egregious example). He hangs her out to dry when she OD’s for fear of ruining his good (?) name, and apologizes by lying to his parents about her being his assistant after inviting her to spend Thanksgiving. The best moment, though, has to be when Dora’s asking Alcott some questions about Paul (Jason Biggs) to find out whether or not he’s in love with her, and an annoyed Alcott snaps back, “Hon? I’m reading!

Classic Villain Quote: “If I wanted all this teenage angst, I’d watch reruns of My So-Called Life!” (In response to Dora’s laments about getting kicked out of school and possibly being homeless)

#11.



O’Bannion, Darla and Clint, Dazed and Confused

Played By: Ben Affleck, Parker Posey and Nicky Katt

M.O.: Hard for me to separate these three characters in my mind, since each so perfectly represents their respective particular brand of High School bullying to utter perfection. O’Bannion (Affleck) is the dumbass who seems to delight in physically tormenting kids three or four years younger than him since mentally, they’re already way out of his league. Darla (Posey) is the Queen Bitch that rules over her clique with an iron fist, indoctrinating the weak-spirited Freshman girls into a world of caustic bititerness and needless self-absue. And Clint (Katt) is perhaps worst of all, the tough guy who is willing to take any sort of provocation, however unintended, as a call to flex his near-fascist bodily strength and punch-first mentality. Given that 1976 was also the same year that John Travolta and Nancy Allen poured pig’s blood on Sissy Spacek in Carrie because she was, uh, too quiet I guess, I suppose my generation had it relatively easy by comparison.

Partners-in-Villainy: These are only a handful of the remarkable number of baddies to be found in this movie. There’s also Don and Simone (Sasha Jenson and Joey Lauren Adams), there’s watered-down equivalents to O’Bannion and Darla, there’s Coach Conrad (Terry Moss) who wants protagonist Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) to sell his soul for the team, and there’s Pink’s sycophantic friend Benny (Cole Hauser) who persuades him to do so. There’s even that father who cancels he and his wife’s weekend trip when they discover son Kevin (Shawn Andrews) has a party planned. For a movie that makes me happier to watch than just about any other in existence, it’s amazing that it survived with even half the good vibes that it did.

#10.


Tracy Flick, Election

Played By: Reese Witherspoon

M.O.: I don’t care who you were in High School, Tracy Flick had to get under your skin at least a little bit. No high school type is as despised from all corners–the jocks, the stoners, the nerds, whomever–as the Humorless Overachiever, and no HO has ever impressed her will on a movie quite like Tracy. It’s not even the deliberately underhanded stuff that she does–how she tries to railroad her potential competitors out of the race, even sabotaging their campaigns and letting others take the fall for it–that really creeps. It’s the personalized “PICK FLICK” cupcakes. It’s the countless campaign maxims (“You know, Coca-Cola is the world’s number one soft drink, but they spend more money than anybody on advertising. I guess that’s how come they stay number one”). And it’s the genuine belief that somehow a High School election is actually a path to legitimate authority, something really worth winning. Principals don’t cause students to have to sit through mind-numbing assemblies, students cause students to have to sit through mind-numbing assemblies.

Sympathetic Reading: I almost had to disqualify Tracy from this list because as villainous as the movie clearly makes her, they also do a commendable job of showing how Tracy’s parents shaped her to be this way, and how despite her many superficial victories, she’s generally a very lonely and unhappy person. Still, if I was Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), I probably would’ve thrown my drink at her limo at the end of the movie too.

#9.


Troy, Reality Bites

Played By: Ethan Hakwe

M.O.: I promise this is going to be the first and last time I do this on this countdown, but because I can’t spend any more mental energy contemplating just how much I hate this character, because I’ve already said just about all I can possibly say on this movie in general, and because I don’t want Ethan Hawke to start taking it personally just in case we ever have the chance to hang out someday, I’m just going to quote my previous breakdown of Troy’s most larcenous scene here:

The best (or at least, most memorable) scene in Reality Bites is when Troy is waiting up for Laine (Winona Ryder) after her Frampton makeout with Michael (Ben Stiller), and she demands to know why he’s suddenly acting so jealous. He gets up from his seat, walks over to her, puts his hand on her cheek, and says with total brown-eyed sincerity: “I am really in love with you.” And for a second, Laine just melts–her eyes drop, her lips quiver, and her previously indignant and pissed-off attitude instantly vanishes. With that one line, you can tell that Troy is, at the absolute most, two moves away from the boudoir. But then his straight face cracks into a smile, and he bursts the bubble: “Is that what you want to hear? Is it? Well…don’t flatter yourself.” It’s a greater act of cruelty from one human being to another than anything I saw in Schindler’s List (well, arguably anyway), especially because from her one-second reaction, it was clear that in fact that was exactly what Laine wanted to hear. But rather than save both of them a lot of time and effort by sinking the pink right then and there, Troy opts for the more immediately self-satisfying taunt approach instead. Like I said, Troy is not a nice guy.

I mean, do you really need any more?

Not Without Precedent: As the twin cinematic paragons of Generation X, Reality Bites and Singles will forever be associated with one another, and rightly so. Therefore it should be no surprise that the Troy type should receive a sort of trial run with Singles‘ Andy (James LeGros), the ex-boyfriend of Linda (Kyra Sedgewick) with an elitist, world-be-damned attitude and a goofy ponytail. If he had been in the movie for more than a couple of scenes, there’s no doubt he would’ve been featured prominently on this list.

#8.


Regina George, Mean Girls

Played By: Rachel McAdams

M.O.: To put it simply, no movie has ever made me feel more grateful to have a penis than Mean Girls. Say what you will about guy-on-guy bullying–and I got a bit of it in my day, if maybe not as much as I probably should have–it may be painful, it may be humiliating, but at least it’s almost always straightforward. After all, there are only so many ways that getting punched in the face, getting your bookbag stolen or getting called a “faggot” can be interpreted–unless they’re particularly clever, bullies rarely make the effort to disguise their cruel intentions. On the other hand, the world of female teendom, as promised in Mean Girls, is one of unreletnting subtle psychological torture, filled with lies, mind games and betrayal. And leading it all is Regina George.

Regina terrifies me in the way that only a hott, evil High School girl can. It’s not just the three/four-way phone attacks, the domineering of her friends’ social lives, the long brags about the ways in which she ditches her uncool ex-friends. It’s the fact that–and the movie did a brilliant job of articulating this–despite all this, you still really want the Regina Georges of the world to like you. You might protest to hate them, you might even genuinely feel animosity towards them, but with one word of kindness, you’d be putty in their hands. It’s the kind of power that no one should ever have, much less someone in the mentally formative and emotionally fraught years of high school, but power that Regina harnesses and abuses like no other villainess in teen film history.

And that Rachel McAdams always seemed like such a nice girl.

Small-Screen Equivalent: Maybe a bit of a stretch–and definitely a little of a creepy thought–but did you ever wonder what Angelica Pickles would be like once her body, fashion sense and wallet started to develop?

#7.


Steff, Pretty in Pink

Played By: James Spader

M.O.: Oh, Steff. Of all the people on this list–and certainly of all those closest to the top–Steff is both the most monomaniacal and ultimately purposeless in his villainy. He serves but one purpose in the entire movie–to persuade friend Blaine (Andrew McCarthy) not to date Andie (Molly Ringwald), and then once the two do start dating, to persuade Blaine to break up with her. Whether Blaine serves any other purpose in life–if he goes to classes, if he has other friends, if he has any interest in his girlfriend Benny (Kate Vernon) beyond having a partner to make fun of Andie with–is totally unclear. But at every turn in the movie, there he is, telling Blaine what trash Andie is, threatening to friend-dump him if he doesn’t break up with her. And evidently, Blaine is equally co-dependent in this relationship, since he actually listens to STeff’s advice/threats, despite his displaying absolutely zero of the qualities towards Blaine that would be conventionally interpreted as friendship. Such a douche is Steff that he even prompts Duckie (Jon Cryer)–a “lover, not a fighter” if there ever was one–to both initiate and hold his own in a hallway scuffle.

Impressive Resume: William Zabka and James Spader are that perfect example of that classic paradigm: When two people occupy the same pop cultural space (in this case, that of the smug, preppy, blonde teen asshole), one will inevitably go on to a long and successful career elsewhere while the other languishes in relatively obscure PC relicdom. Maybe if Zabka went on to star in indie sensation flicks and win an Emmy or two, we’d be looking back on Spadey’s roles in Endless Love, Less Than Zero, Wall Street and Mannequin instead and cackling at what could have been.

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100 Years, 66 Villains: #18 – #12

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 3, 2008

Quintuple-overtime edition

#18.

Earline and the Rest of the Fitzgerald Clan, Million Dollar Baby

Played By: Margo Martindale, Others

M.O.: I originally had Clubber Lang from Rocky III slotted for this spot, but Clubb’s a bit too bad-ass to be strictly despicable. So I went with another villain from a boxing movie instead–Maggie’s (Hillary Swank) family in Million Dollar Baby, maybe the least supportive family in movie history. When Maggie, freshly flush from her boxing winnings, buys her momma a house, all she can do is complain about the ramifications to her welfare, and express deep shame at having a chick pugilist as her progeny. Fair enough, there are plenty of movie parents that just didn’t understand, but once Maggie goes down for the count in a very real-life sense, you’d think they’d maybe have a little more sympathy to dispense. Not so–rather, not only does Momma make it abundantly clear that she’s only visiting Maggie to get her to sign an agreement giving the family all her shit, not only does she not attempt to disguise the fact that she took the family to Disneyworld before visitng her dying daughter, she calls Maggie a loser for not winning her last fight! Never mind that she lost on an extremely illegal cheap shot that almost certainly should have won her the fight by disqualification–Momma’s seeing her daughter for maybe the last time, and she still can’t even fake a little enthusiasm? That’s just bad business.

Partner-in-Villainy: That crazy-eyed evil boxer, Billie “The Blue Bear”. Made scarier–and she was already scarier than all but maybe one or two male boxing villains in film history–by the fact that she’s played by a real-life boxer, Lucia Rijker, who seems like the part wasn’t all that much of a stretch.

#17.


Coach Jack Reilly, The Mighty Ducks

Played By: Lane Smith

M.O.: Martin Kove might have laid the groundwork in The Karate Kid, but it was Lane Smith’s work in The Mighty Ducks that truly set the standard for evil kids sports coaches for years and years to come. At least in The Karate Kid the competitors were already in high school, but in Pee Wee hockey, the ruthlessness becomes even more bone-chilling. Constantly deriding student-turned-rival Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) for missing his big shot in the championship game way way back and then quitting hockey after his dad died, Coach Reilly really lets his villainy be known by calling for his only little leg-sweep of an illegal play, having his enforcer sideline the prodigious Duck defector Adam (the regrettably forgotten Vincent Larusso) in the final minutes of the big game. “What’d you do??” a horrified teammate shouts at the enforcer. “My job,” he coldly responds. And a future Reilly/Belichick/Popovich is born.

Modern-Day Equivalent: Robert Duvall’s character in Kicking & Screaming, who similarly demeans and condescends to his protegee (or in this case, son)-turned-rival Will Ferrell like he’s the Bear Bryant of elementary school soccer. He might turn out to be a good guy after all though, I can’t remember how the movie ends.

#16.


Jack Lopate, Sideways

Played By: Thomas Hayden Church

M.O.: Might get some weird looks for this one, since not only is Jack not a villain in the conventional sense, but a lot of people probably don’t even think he’s such a bad dude. But THC (heh) turned my stomach repeatedly in this one–really, I can’t think of too many film characters generally attribtuable as “the friend” that are more selfish, insensitive, and just all-around despicable as Jack. Let’s see–he uses a road trip with Miles (Paul Giamatti), supposed to be a bonding experience between the two before Jack gets married, as an opportunity to nail Stephanie (Sandra Oh), which he frequently ditches Miles to pursue. Then after making Miles lie to new squeeze Maya (Virginia Madsen) about the wedding, and after she breaks up with him as a result (and Stephanie very violently breaks up with Jack), he ditches Miles again for a fat waitress. Then after he leaves his wallet and wedding band at the waitress’s house and realizes what a mistake he made cheating on his fiancee, he makes Miles go back, break into the house and steal his stuff back. Then, to top it all off, he crashes Miles’ car, without asking, with Miles inside, in order to explain to his fiancee the broken nose Stephanie gave him. This is supposed to be friendship?

Sure, he gets Miles laid, which eventually helps him get over his ex-wife, and he deserves points for that, yeah. But does anyone actually think his assistance actually came from the goodness of his heart and a desire to see his buddy happy, rather than because he just hoped it would make Miles stop whining for long enough that he can continue his affair with Stephanie? And even after Miles gets with Maya, and he’s happy for the first time in ages, when he doesn’t immediately cop to it to Jack, what’s his conclusion? “You’re a homo!” If this is what friendship–real friendship–is supposed to be all about, then the second I get engaged, I’m cutting all non-sexual and non-familial relationships out of my life forever.

Classic Villain Quote: “Listen, man. You’re my friend, and I know you care about me. And I know you disapprove, and I respect that. But there are some things that I have to do that you don’t understand. You understand literature, movies, wine… but you don’t understand my plight.” (Before leaving to fuck the fat waitress)

#15.


Walter Peck, Ghostbusters

Played By: William Atherton

M.O.: Yuppiedom must’ve been so pervasive in the 80s that anyone who wasn’t actively seeking to be part of the establishment feared that such people had no purpose in life except to destroy any possible threat from the non-squares to the status quo and thus, their Yuppie lifestyle. And so we got William Atherton. Choosing just one movie to represent his wide ouevre of thoughtless, condescending, simpering villainy in the 80s (and to a lesser extent, 90s) is a difficult task, but Ghostbusters will probably do. The guy shuts down the Ghosbusting enterprise seemingly out of resentment for not being one of the cool kids, nearly bringing New York City to the brink of collpase in the process. For his efforts, Atherton earned a lifetime association with the adjective “dickless,” and that seems fair enough.

Impressive Resume: Real Genius? Die Hard 1 & 2? BIO-DOME? This guy’s own mother probably couldn’t look him in the eye by the end of the century.

#14.


Stephen Glass, Shattered Glass

Played By: Hayden Christiensen

M.O.: Anakin Skywalker could never be half this creepy. I don’t even know what it is, really–there are far greater crimes in my book than journalistic fraud, and Glass’s villainy isn’t really at the expense of anyone (besides JOURNALISTIC ETHICS I guess but who cares). It’s just something about his false humility, about the he uses his own poutiness and the sympathy of his female co-workers to hide from any sort of criticism, and the way he’s willing to lie to protect his story no matter how unreasonable the lie and how flimsy the story. And it’s about his glasses–ordinary, everyday glasses to be sure, but ones that somehow add that extra level of skin-crawling smirk to his overall persona, combined with his downright evil-looking smile. It’s amazing that Peter Saarsagard’s character made it out of the movie alive.

Small-Screen Equivalent: David Simon more or less ripped this one wholesale for the Scotty Templeton subplot in S5 of The Wire. The principal difference was that Templeton used his hair, not his ocular wear, to visually symbolize his patheticness.

#13.


Beth Jarrett, Ordinary People

Played By: Mary Tyler Moore

M.O.: Who can turn the world off with a frosty, withering glare? There’ve been a whole bunch of Cold Moms on this list, but Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People puts them all to shame. “Playing against type” doesn’t even begin to cover it–if you’d never heard of Mary Tyler Moore before, this’d still be an Oscar-worthy performance, but if you’re familiar with the show, we’re starting to talk All-Time here. There is absolutely no compassion in this woman–you look for it to inevitably crack a little in her face, in her voice, somewhere, but it’s nowhere to be found. While her marriage begins to crumple and her son reaches the verge of suicide, she stays completely expressionless, unmoved. It’s your mom giving you the silent treatment for the rest of your life, for something that wasn’t even your fault. And it chills.

(My main problem with the movie, though: When Donald Sutherland eventually does break up with her, couldn’t he have slipped something in there like “I’m sorry, Beth…I just don’t think we’re going to make it after all“?)

Sympathetic Reading: Smiling so much on the MTM show for seven years must’ve gotten pretty exhausting. I’d pretty much want to do the exact opposite after that, too.

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100 Years, 66 Villains: #24 – #19

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 27, 2008

Catching up on S3 of Weeds edition…

#24.


Cal Hockley, Titanic

Played By: Billy Zane

M.O.: Titanic was not a very subtle movie, and Billy Zane was not a very subtle villain. You think of some of the other Great Love Affair movies made in recent years–The Notebook, The English Patient, The End of the Affair–and the Other Guy is usually at least slightly sympathetic, if not exactly likeable. Billy Zane is pretty much a prick from the jump in this one, though–he hates art, he hates fun, and he definitely hates any whiff of uppity femininity. As the movie goes on, it’s sort of impressive how he drops any sort of pretensions to non-douchiness, just framing people for murder and using kids as life-preservers left and right. Best part? The dude gets away with everything! Never let it be said that it James Cameron was just a crowd-pleaser.

Partner-in-Villainy: Ruth, Rose’s domineering mother, played by Frances Fisher. As far as cold, business-first mums go, it’s hard to get too much bitchier than marrying your daughter off to some rich chode to save your family’s rep. Especially when you’re as creepily pale as Fisher.

#23.


Karen Crowder, Michael Clayton

Played By: Tilda Swinton

M.O.: “For such a smart person, you really are lost, aren’t you?” Tilda Swinton’s Oscar-winning turn as a rising star in shady agricultural corp UNorth who acts a little too far over her station is one of the all-time great despicable big-business performances. I feel like in most other movies, a character like Karen–who calls for hits on several people deemed a risk to UNorth’s prosperity, seemingly because she thinks it’s just what people ion her position are supposed to do–would be played like a confident, cold-hearted monster. But under writer/director Tony Gilroy and Swinton’s guidance, she’s just a thoughtless, shoot-first thug, and worse because you know there’s no way that she’d be capable of doing her own dirty work. It’s what makes Michale’s climactic triumph scene over Karen (up there with the There Will Be Blood denouement as the best scene of 2007) and that final shot of her, doubled-over, wondering what the fuck just happened, so amazing.

Not Without Precedent: Diana Christensen, Faye Dunaway’s similarly Academy-baiting role in Network, set the standard for conniving, murderous businesswomen. She doesn’t make the list, though, because I have no problem believing she could clean up her own mess if need was.

#22.


Shooter McGavin, Happy Gilmore

Played By: Christopher McDonald

M.O.: Few villain molds are as blissfully one-dimensional as that of the Adam Sandler villain. Bradley Whitford’s character in Billy Madison, Glen Goulia in The Wedding Singer, Peter Gallagher’s character in Mr. Deeds, the dude with the big dick in Anger Management–all selfish, insensitive assholes next to which Sandler can shine as a Christ-like beacon of righteousness and coolness. Of course, none of them can compare to Shooter, the ultimate badass of sweatered aggression. Cheatiing on the tour, sabotaging Happy, referring to himself in the third person…the man is an unstobbale force of snobby despicability. Even the way he walks–as if it was designed to show off just how much of a tight-ass he is–is pitch-perfect.

Impressive Resume: Some people just have one of those faces you want to distrust. If McDonald ever played anything resembling a likeable character, I’ve certainly missed that part of his filmography–the closest thing I can think of is Matthew Lillard’s dad in SLC Punk, and that guy was only sympathetic because he was fairly honest about what a middle-upper class leech he was. Ruining the purity of game shows as the host of Twenty-One in Quiz Show might go down as his greatest act of well-coiffed destruction.

#21.


Jo, Rounders

Played By: Gretchen Mol

M.O.: My father always cites Barbara Hershey’s character in Hoosiers as the ultimate Sports Wife villain–the kind of simpering, unsupportive partner who can’t, won’t, or just doesn’t want to understand the important part that sports plays in her man’s life. Fair enough, but I haven’t seen that movie since I was maybe five, so I gotta go with what I know here, and that’s Gretchen fucking Mol in Rounders. Her motivations, generally speaking, are pure–she loves Mike McD (Matt Damon), sure, and she probably is just looking out for his best interest when she makes him promise to quit rounding. But her complete inflexibility, her complete lack of faith, and her sheer unwillingness to forgive or understand why it’s poker and not law that’s in his blood makes her the Barbara Hershey for my generation of sports movies, and then some. She ain’t worth it, man–especially with a sex-starved, poker-loving Famke Janssen waiting in the wings.

Partner-in-Villainy: Despite being one of the best performances from the guy I’d probably quote as being the best actor of his time, Worm (Edward Norton) isn’t really much better a friend to Mike than Jo is a girlfriend. Up until the point where he shows up at the Sherriff’s card game and tries to force Mike into working their two-man mechanics on a bunch of cops, his many transgressions are forgivable, but at that point, Mike’s absolutely right to cut Worm out of his life. Why he refuses to do this with Jo is the movie’s real mystery.

#20.


Ruth Fowler, In the Bedroom

Played By: Sissy Spacek

M.O.: The slap heard ’round the world. As with Jo, Ruth’s villainy is far from incomprehensible–Nick Stahl, still best remembered by me as the title character in Bully, does a surprisingly compelling job as Ruth’s loveable first-born Frank. When his death comes at the hand of the ex-husband of his girlfriend, who she never approved of in the first place, her grief, and her ensuing chilliness is more than understandable. Hell, so are the mind games she plays with hubby Matt (Tom Wilkinson), even when she sort of ends up manipulating him into playing vigilante after the ex-husband (William Mapother, a personal Villainous That Guy fave) gets light sentencing. But it’s that slap–dispensed at the expense of the girlfriend, one Natalie Strout (Marissa Tomei), after she essentially begs Ruth for forgiveness for her unintentional part in Frank’s death–that cemented her place in this list, and earned deserved Oscar nods for both.

Impressive Resume: In case you haven’t noticed, it’s been a little while since Sissy played the loveable innocents she originally made her bread and butter in movies like Badlands and Coal Miner’s Daughter.
Her role as Jim Garrison’s wife in JFK is the political equivalent of the Barbara Hersehy/Gretchen Mol sports wife archetype.

#19.


Guy Woodhouse, Rosemary’s Baby

Played By: John Cassavettes

M.O.: What would be really interesting, I think, would be an epilogue showing what Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy’s relationship is like after she gives birth to the anti-christ. Is the institution of marriage strong enough for her to forgive Guy for selling her womb out to the Devil, letting Satan rape and impregnate her in exchange for some better theatrical roles? Admittedly I’ve never experienced the frustration of being an unemployed actor in New York–maybe my freshman-year roommate would have greater sympathy for his plight–but I dunno, the two of them seemed to have a pretty nice apartment, and before she cuts her hair and starts looking like a walking skeleton, Mia Farrow is a pretty good catch. Letting your wife unwillingly bring about the end of times doesn’t quite seem like the next appropriate career step to me.

Small-Screen Equivalent: Those idiot fucking Reaper parents who sell their first-born’s soul to Satan in exchange for the father’s sickness being cured–fair enough at first, since they thought the husband was sterile, but why not get an abortion, instead of just going “ho-hum, I guess our son is just gonna have to spend eternity in damnation,” once the mother is actually impregnated? Or, y’know, just use birth control in the first place to be on the safe side.

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100 Years, 66 Villains: #30 – #25

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 16, 2008

All-the-time-in-the-world edition

#30.


Bill Lumbergh, Office Space

Played By: Gary Cole

M.O.: I’m not going to pretend like I have any personal reason to shudder at the very mention of Bill Lumbergh. Fact is, I’ve never really had that horrific office experience–in fact, if there’s one complaint I could have about my current internship at Sirius it would be that there aren’t enough AAFs (Asshole Authority Figures) for me to sort of wink at my co-interns about, bonding through our mutual hatred. And even considering that, I’d always rather have a boss that I knew for a fact was more clueless than I was–better that than the other way around, right? Still, even if I don’t have that personal connection, it’d be extremely remiss of me to not include Lumbergh on this list, just for the iconic status that he’s achieved, becoming the very image of Boss-From-Hell upper-managment incompetence, sucking any sort of energy or creativity out of the workplace with every “Peter, hey….what’s happening?” God willing, I’ll never have to relate to this one on any level other than “man, good thing I don’t know anyone who wears suspenders.”

Classic Villain Quote: “Oh, oh, and I almost forgot. Ahh, I’m also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday, too…”

#29.


Mitch Hiller, Enough

Played By: Billy Campbell

M.O.: “You wanna fight? I’m a man, honey. It’s no contest.” No abusive husband in cinematic history has laid down the law quite like Enough‘s Mitch Hiller, played by multi-medium That Guy Billy Campbell, perhaps best known to recent audiences as the prophetic Jordan Collier in recently cancelled sci-fi series The 4400. There’s a brief honeymoon period as he courts wife-to-be Slim (Jennifer Lopez), but soon she’s catching him cheating on her, and he decides that rather than go through the trouble of sneaking around and lying to her, it’d be easier just to show her the backside of his hand (or front side of his fist) when she complains. Slim goes on the run, and the stakes quickly get raised to life-or-death, as J. Lo realizes she has had the titular amount of Mitch’s shenanigans.

The classic moments come fast and furious as the two duel, but there’s one I’ve never understood–when Slim high-tails west with her old college boyfriend Joe, the wimpy dude who’s obviously still in love with her, and Mitch suddenly tracks her down and comes careening violently into the picture. “DON’T WORRY ABOUT YOUR BOYFRIEND,” he advises J. Lo, “THEY’LL BE FISHING HIS GUTS OUT OF LAKE WASHINGTON!” This would clearly seem to imply that Mitch has killed Joe (and violently disposed of his corpse), and indeed, as Slim struggles for her life, he is nowhere to be found. But in the last scene, Slim hooks up with a perfectly-fine-seeming Joe again, with no explanation given whatsoever. So what did Mitch do to him in that scene, exactly? Kidnap him for a few hours? Give him a couple of bucks and send him McDonalds for an Egg McMuffin while he takes care of business? And does a decidedly unconcerned-seeming J. Lo somehow sense that he’s lying when he says this, or does she just not care all that much? Very strange.

Not Without Precedent: I’ve still yet to see 80s TV Movie classic The Burning Bed–they don’t show it on IFC much, for some reason–but from the I Love the 80s clips, Robert Greenwald’s character probably taught Mitch everything he knows.

#28.


Mrs. Lisbon, The Virgin Suicides

Played By: Kathleen Turner

M.O.: I guess there’s no saying how anyone would react to the suicide of their youngest daughter–especially when there seems to be so little in the way of explanation–and until Lux (Kirsten Dunst) gives it up to Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett) on the football field after prom, Mrs. Lisbon keeps her more insane impulses relatively in check. But once she starts imprisoning all her daughters after Lux’s indiscretions, you know that it’s only a matter of time until the film title applies to all five girls (well, maybe not the virgin part quite so much in Lux’s case, but the important part). The scene where she burns all of Lux’s records as she sobs on the staircase is particularly painful–although why any girl would cry so much for lack of Kiss is somewhat beyond me. The worst part is that James Woods’ father character really seems like he’d be a pretty good guy–just a typical dorky Science dad–without Turner’s stern, ultra-conservative influence overruling his more mild-mannered opinionating.

Impressive Resume: Hard to believe based on her steely performance here, but Turner was nothing less than the reincarnation of Barbara Stanwyck back in the 80s, playing fatale-ish roles with varying levels of seriousness in Body Heat, Prizzi’s Honor and The Man With Two Brains.

#27.


Rose Chausseur, The Ref

Played By: Glynis Johns

M.O.: “What is the matter with you? I thought mothers were sweet, and nice, a-a-and…patient! I know loan sharks who are more forgiving than you!” Gus’s (Dennis Leary) reaction to Lloyd’s (Kevin Spacey) mother is understated, if anything–Rose is pretty much the nightmare mother, and even moreso as concerns Lloyd’s wife Caroline (Judy Davis), the textbook nightmare mother-in-law. Domineering, manipulative, and completely unsympathetic, she constantly henpecks at Lloyd’s masculinity and undermines Caroline’s authority, making an already-memorable Christmas (in case you’ve missed it on TBS the last 15 December 25ths, burglar Gus is holding couple-on-the-rocks Caroline and Lloyd hostage while the couple try to host a family Xmas) a legendary disaster. Lloyd and Caroline get the last laugh, getting to tie her up and gag her while Gus prepares his escape route, but you get the feeling that that’s just going to make things that much more awkward come next Thanksgiving. (And as for having two crum Mums in a row…don’t worry, we got plenty of bad Dads coming up too)

Small-Screen Equivalent: Pure evil matriarch Livia Soprano, who not only would be assured a place on this list were TV roles acceptable, she’d be pushing for top honors.

#26.


Cobra Kai Dojo, The Karate Kid

Played By: Martin Kove, William Zabka, others

M.O.: You know the deal–hell, if you grew up even the slightest bit dorky in the 80s, you probably had nightmares about ’em, chasing you down in their “Around the World”-esque matching skeleton costumes. You definitely remember the quotes–“Get him a body bag!” “STRIKE FIRST! STRIKE HARD! NO MERCY!” and of course, the Order 66 of 80s teen film, “Sweep the leg!” But what you might not remember, and what I didn’t remember until watching the movie again recently, is how darn likeable that Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) is. Even before Mr. Miyagi (Noryiuki “Pat” Morita) turns him into a crane-kicking machine, he’s not just some simpering nerd–he’s an athletic, affable, sympathetic guy who loves his mother and just had the misfortune to accidentally cross some bad dudes early in his California stay. He’s not Anthony Michael Hall, where even if you felt bad for the guy, you sort of understood that bullies risked runing their reputations if they didn’t pick on him at least a little. He’s just a good guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, up against a bunch of real assholes.

But for all the attention that Billy Zabka gets as lead bully Johnny Lawrence–and certainly he deserves it, personifying priviliged insider High School villainy to a T with his blond hair and arrogant demeanor–it’s really Martin Kove as dojo Sensei John Kreese that gives you the heebie jeebies in this one. He just seems so motivationless in his villainy–at least Johnny has turf to protect, and an ex-girlfriend to act jealous and entitled around. What’s in it for Kove to have his students beat up on some high schooler, cheating in their fights to the point of practically crippling him? I mean his Dojo has a rep for winning, sure, but is that win-at-all-cost-of-human-life mentality really the sort of thing that really got a Dojo good publicity out west in the 80s? Too bad it wasn’t Kove who would go on to appear as similar characters in Just One of the Guys and Back to School–he could’ve been an immortal.

Lesser-Known Knock-Off: The gang of bullies in 1992’s Sidekicks, torturing poor little Jonathan Brandis so much that he went and killed himself a decade later.*

#25.


Heathers, Heathers

Played By: Kim Walker, Shannon Doherty, Lisanne Falk

M.O.: Probably would be safe to say that most girls in the 80s would’ve rather contended with the Cobra Kai Dojo than with their female equivalent, the Westerberg High clique known as the Heathers (the shared first name of the three primary antagonists, Mrs. Duke, Chandler and McNamara). There was certainly no beating these Heathers by symbolically taking them down in a tournament–as J.D. (Christian Slater) found, the only way to stop the Heathers from spreading their villainy against Martha Dumptruck and her ilk was to actually kill them. Yet arguably the real innovation of Heathers was showing how despite their villainy, they still attracted people like Veronica (Winona Ryder), otherwise a well-meaning free-thinker, with their promises of hallway respect and college frat parties. (Scene cut from Karate Kid: Daniel, wishing for acceptance from the Cobra Kai crew, is encouraged to slip a roofie into Elisabeth Shue’s character’s coke while mini-golfing and date-rapes her inside the 15th hole windmill).

Lesser-Known Knock-Off: I thought Jawbreaker was gonna be so badass when I first saw the previews back in ’99, far before I first caught Heathers on Comedy Central. “Hm, that Rose McGowan is pretty right on,” I remember thinking. “But I can’t shake the feeling that this has probably been done somewhere before…and probably not quite so terribly…”

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