In regards to 2010’s best of lists and year-end awards, I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the quality of the movies we ended up getting last year as a whole. While I’ll be the first to admit that not all of 2010’s offerings were shining examples of great cinema, and that the past year did fail to produce that sort of transcendent movie like The Dark Knight or Avatar, I’d argue that there was still plenty of greatness to go around, especially considering films such as Inception and The Social Network not only hit theater screens but were widely celebrated and appreciated. Even further, when it came to producing action cinema and bad-ass characters, 2010 was overflowing in this department, making it hard to just keep my annual list to just 25 characters.
Several years in the past I found it a little difficult to come up with 25 viable candidates, even scraping the bottom of the barrel at times, but in 2010, there were so many cinematic badasses produced that I had to turn away several amazing ass-kickers (Noomi Rapace The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and John Hawkes from Winter’s Bone, for example), and even had to come up with a rule (with one exception) that prevented multiple characters from coming from the same movie. Otherwise, this list may have turned into 2010’s Biggest Badasses from The Expendables and The A-Team. Classic action was back in a big way in 2010, and I can only hope that 2011 gives us a few throwbacks in amongst the gigantic blockbusters so that 2011’s Badass list can be just as impressive.
Now, as it is with every year, expect spoilers throughout the list. Hope you guys have as much fun reading it as I did compiling it.
The Badasses of 2010, Part 1
25. Thomas Craven, played by Mel Gibson – Edge of Darkness
“Well you had better decide whether you’re hangin’ on the cross or bangin’ in the nails.”
I’ve seen very few actors have worse years than Mel Gibson managed to have in 2010, but before things totally hit the fan with his personal problems, the actor was trying to make a bit of a comeback with the revenge thriller Edge of Darkness. Taking a page from Liam Neeson’s success in Taken, this movie had Gibson in full-on Martin Riggs-retribution-mode, which has his Thomas Craven taking out bad guys by the score after the murder of his daughter. While the movie has its problems, Thomas Craven isn’t one of them, as Gibson’s patented, grief-stricken fury is on display like we hadn’t seen in some time. Culminating in an awesome showdown featuring a mansion full of bad guys; Gibson’s Craven deals out justice with no mercy, making us remember better times when we could root for the action star without any guilt.
24. Remy, played by Jude Law – Repo Men
“Almost every job I do ends the exact same way. Some whimper. Some cry. Some even laugh. But in the end, they all do the same horizontal mambo, twitching and thrusting their way into the great beyond.”
Repo Men is the sort of amoral science fiction tale that reminds you of the work of Paul Verhoeven from his heyday, and in the middle of the movie is an amoral man to go with it. Jude Law’s Remy is a man that likes his work; retrieving the mechanical organs out of the bodies of people who are past due paying for them. The problem comes when he becomes one of those he has hunted in the past. Receiving an artificial heart makes him a killer with a conscience, but one that has to keep killing to survive. Driven with purpose, his knives finally come out with meaning instead of malice, leading to a hallway full of bad guys and one of the best fights of 2010.
23. James Coughlin, played by Jeremy Renner – The Town
“If we get jammed up, we’re holding court on the street.”
You would think that an actual team of criminals would try to do their best not to have a “wildcard” amongst their ranks, but in a heist movie there seems to be a rule that there’s always that one guy that ends up being completely unpredictable when the pressure is on. Like Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs or Kevin Gage in Heat, Jeremy Renner’s James Coughlin is the same sort of short tempered lunatic enforcer for The Town’s crew of outlaws. It’s actually the threat of violence that puts Coughlin on this list more than anything else, as he’s simply terrifying in nearly every scene, like a rattlesnake coiled to strike. Whether taking on local thugs or the entirety of the Boston Police Force, Coughlin won’t back down from a fight and would rather go out swinging than possibly die in a jail cell.
22. Francis Costello, played by Johnny Hallyday – Vengeance
“I must take revenge.”
If you were really looking for the “older gentlemen’s badass revenge movie” successor to Taken, I’d give Johnnie To’s Vengeance a try and see how you like it. A sly, Leone-esque shoot’em up, Vengeance has style to burn, and at the center of the movie is a terrific performance from Johnny Hallyday as Frank Costello, a French chef (and former assassin) who comes to Hong Kong after his daughter and her family are gunned down in their home. Problem is, Costello is also losing his memory, so we’re left with questions about the nature of revenge and why retribution is called for, even if the pain of the original incident has vanished. World weary and yet charming, like a cross between Charles Bronson and Alain Delon, Costello’s rampage is a red-blooded odyssey through Hong Kong’s underworld that takes you to places you wouldn’t expect, but completely leaves you satisfied with its bullet-riddled finish when you get there.
21. Rinzler, played by Anis Cheurfa – Tron: Legacy
Tron: Legacy’s equivalent of Darth Maul or Go-Go Yubari, Rinzler is the biggest badass in the Tron universe. Adorned with two identity discs and a face covering helmet, he’s not only the coolest looking killer in the entire movie, Rinzler is unstoppable in the game grid, no matter what deadly competition is up for the crowd’s amusement. Not heavy on character development, but when a character makes this big an impression and kicks this much ass, there’s not much more you could ask for.
20. Eli, played by Denzel Washington – Book of Eli
“Both thorn and thistles it should bring forth, for us. For out of the ground we were taken for the dust we are, and to the dust we shall return.”
Like a samurai wandering the desert or Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name roaming from town to town, Denzel Washington’s Eli is a man on a journey through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, righting wrongs with his machete in hand. Book of Eli’s pseudo-religious message is a bit on the heavy-handed side, but Denzel Washington is riveting every moment he’s onscreen, no matter if he’s speaking softly or separating a bandit from a limb or two. Washington’s most badass character since Man on Fire, his steely presence doesn’t require a lot of conversation before handing out justice on the wicked.
19. Rooster Cogburn, played by Jeff Bridges – True Grit
“I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned, or see you hanged at Fort Smith at Judge Parker’s convenience…”
There’s nothing quite like a grizzled western lawman, and they don’t come much more grizzled than Rooster Cogburn. Though his drunkenness may throw off his aim a bit, when the chips are down there’s no one you’d rather have in your corner. Even 4 to 1 odds aren’t enough to deter him, as Ned Pepper’s gang of villains finds out in the True Grit‘s amazing action climax. While some may have complained about Jeff Bridges stepping into John Wayne’s shoes, Bridges’ Rooster embodies the entire man, bringing this character to life with a gruff reality; at once making him hilarious and one not to be trifled with. Westerns may have produced better U.S. Marshals before this new Rooster Cogburn, but they’ve never produced a meaner one.
18. Quintus Dias, played by Michael Fassbender – Centurion
“In the chaos of battle, when the ground beneath your feet is a slurry of blood, puke, piss, and the entrails of friends and enemies alike, it’s easy to turn to the gods for salvation. But it’s soldiers who do the fighting, and soldiers who do they dying, and the gods never get their feet wet.”
Michael Fassbender‘s Quintus Dias isn’t some big epic hero like Maximus or William Wallace. Instead, he’s just a soldier stuck behind enemy lines trying to get home, and if he has to cut down thousands of savages and travel hundreds of miles to get out of there, then so be it. Like a Rambo in Roman armor, Dias uses cunning and the environment to make his way through hostile territory, fighting off all comers even as his compatriots die off one at a time. Braving the elements, being held face down in a bucket of urine, or being chased by an entire tribe of Picts won’t deter him; Dias can’t be broken and will not yield until he makes it back to Roman country or all that stand before him are cut down.
17. Scott Pilgrim, played by Michael Cera – Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
“You’ll pay for your crimes against humanity!”
A lot of us have had to fight to keep a relationship going before, but most of the time you don’t have to literally fight for one like Scott Pilgrim does. Seven evil exes and their henchmen aren’t enough to stop this bass playing, kung fu fighting, flaming-samurai-sword wielding geek from being with the woman of his dreams. Through every test he stands tall, and wades through his adversaries with skill, lots of wit and ridiculous amounts of luck. Michael Cera isn’t usually the type of actor that normally has a character on this list, but with Scott Pilgrim he more than earns his spot for being in some of the best fights and action scenes filmed last year, including an epic showdown with an entire team of stuntmen. Who needs muscles when you’re packing so much awesome?!
Alright, so I’ll be back soon with my next installment of this list featuring spies, super soldiers, kimchi cowboys, and one incredible Mexican Federale.
Tags: Centurion, Denzel Washington, edge of darkness, Jeff Bridges, Jeremy Renner, jude law, Mel Gibson, Michael Cera, Michael Fassbender, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, The book Of Eli, The Town, Tron Legacy, True Grit, Vengeance