Doodad Kind of Town

Ten Favorite Characters: A Meme
April 7, 2009, 10:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Yet another movie meme is spreading through the blogosphere like proverbial wildfire,and I’ve been tagged by Rick and Greg. The new challenge: Name 10 film characters that are your favorite and explain why. (You can find all the details at the site that started it all, Film Squish.)

As those who have previously tackled the 10 Characters meme will attest, it’s hard to draft a definitive list. Any lover of cinema can come up with one list today, but think of entirely new and different list by Friday. And yet another completely different list by this time next week.

But for April 7, 2009, these are the characters who come to mind as my most cherished:

1 and 2: Jerry and Lucy Warriner (Cary Grant and Irene Dunne) in The Awful Truth.

My favorite couple in the entire screwball comedy era. The oh-so-sophisticated Warriners may cheat now and then, but they really can’t live without each other. And they’re one of the fall-down-funniest married couples in screen history.

3. Gladys Glover (Judy Holliday) in It Should Happen to You.

She wants to be famous, so she uses the last of her money to put her name on a Columbus Circle billboard. Seldom has a character’s naked ambition seemed so sweet. It takes a very smart actress to play dumb this effectively. Holliday’s “Born Yesterday” character, Billie Dawn, is better remembered, but I like Gladys just as well, if not better.

4.Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) in Funny Face

I’m not sure where Maggie Prescott begins and Kay Thompson ends, but this is one powerhouse of a performance/character. A killer combination of high style, devastating wit, skyscraper gams and a brassy belter’s singing voice. As the fashion editor who commands her minions to “think Pink,” she easily runs off with the whole movie. And when she dances with Fred Astaire….you’re not watching Astaire.

5. Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) in Fargo

The plucky, pregnant police chief of Brainerd, MN (“home of Paul Bunyan, Babe the Blue Ox”). She pursues the bad guys almost cheerfully -no angst, no fuss. And her final speech (“… and for what? A little bit of money. Don’t you know there’s more to life than a little bit of money?”) is the closest thing to a voice of moral clarity in the film.

6. Joan (Judy Davis) in Children of the Revolution.

She’s a fervent Australian communist whose fan letters to Joseph Stalin earn her a trip to Moscow – and a night of passion with the Russian dictator. Stalin doesn’t survive that night, and Joan winds up pregnant with his child, a fact she conceals from her meek, devoted fiancee (Geoffrey Rush). No one plays difficult women with such unapologetic relish as does Davis, and Joan is one of her finest, most darkly comic creations. Best moment: Joan, in late middle age, rants at Gorbachev and glasnost: “Would you like fries with your McSocialism ?!”

7. Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) in Broadcast News.

A stunning combination of insufferable arrogance, acid wit, biting intelligence, and embarrassingly obvious need for approval and attention. He makes you laugh and cringe at the same time. By all rights you shouldn’t be able to stand him and yet you feel terribly sorry for him when Holly Hunter passes him over for the slick and handsome William Hurt. A tour de force for Brooks who has a singular ability to turn egocentric jerks into sympathetic characters.

8 and 9. Mitch Cohen and Mickey Crabbe (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara) in A Mighty Wind

As much as I enjoy Christopher Guest’s improvised ensemble comedies, I’d be the first to admit that the characters in them are usually just cartoons. Not so with Mitch and Mickey, the long-estranged folk-singing duo from “A Mighty Wind.” There’s a genuine depth and a delicacy to these characters; you can sense their long, difficult history together in the details of their interactions. O’Hara’s Mickey has a resigned, seen-it-all-and-moved-on weariness. Levy’s Mitch is at once poignant and hilarious,with a strange dignity behind his apparently drug-addled confusion. These are the kinds of nuanced,non-caricatured peformances only truly great improvisational comic actors can aspire to.

10. Helene Hanff (Anne Bancroft) in 84 Charing Cross Road

Helene Hanff was a real person, and her epistolary friendship with a London bookseller was the basis for “84 Charing Cross Road.” Bancroft plays her as a veritable force of nature, feisty and enthusiastic. And her love of literature is positively infectious. (She reads John Henry Cardinal Newman’s “Idea of a University” out loud to a fussy infant for whom she’s babysitting, and makes it seem like a perfectly sensible, wonderful thing to do.) But the greatest wonder of all is that Hanff is an over-40, never married woman who lives a full, vibrant and happy life -no pathetic evenings with a TV dinner and a romance novel, no unhealthy relationships with a cat. That’s exceedingly rare to find onscreen, if not in life. As a fortysomething single myself, I appreciate this kind of character all that much more.

Of course, the final step in any meme is to tag five more people. Since I’m lazy, I’ll just make this easy: if you’re reading this and you want to play along – consider yourself tagged!


10 Comments so far
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Fabulous list, Pat, especially Mitch and Mickey. You’re right on about their nuanced performances: they are also hilarious as well.

Comment by Rick Olson

No one plays difficult women with such unapologetic relish as does DavisJudy Davis is one of my favorite actresses ever and I wish more people knew and appreciated her. Her scenes in Husbands and Wives are chest-tightening. Aside from that I’ve also liked her in everything she has ever done. I watched the made for tv movie about Judy Garland just because she was the star. She really should be cast more often and should already have received a couple of Academy Awards. And Maggie Prescott really is my favorite thing in Funny Face. I have a “Think Pink” banner I designed last year and I still haven’t used it. Holding it until a fashion post of some kind comes up. I’m sure one will one day. Great list Pat.

Comment by Greg

Gorgeous list, Patty. Oh my Lord…Aaron…”The devil will get all the great women.””I buried the lead.”Too awesome for words, honey. You deserve a medal.

Comment by Miranda Wilding

Rick – Thanks, I love “A Might Wind.” A friend and I were laughing so hard that people in theatre actually turned around and stared at us. Of course, those people weren’t laughing at all…Greg – I share your Judy Davis love, and I seriously considered putting her “Husbands and Wives” character on this list. She was a great Judy Garland, too. I can’t think of any other actress who plays anger and other difficult aspects of her characters with such a complete lack of vanity.Miranda – Great to see that you’re a fellow “Broadcast News” lover! That monologue that ends with “And he’ll get all the great women” is, to me, one of the greatest of all time.”Wouldn’t this be a great world if our insecurities mades us more attractive? If needy was a turn-on?” Gotta love Aaron!

Comment by Pat

And a wonderful list from you, too. A friend critiicized my list for not picking what he would consider ‘all time great’ characters, but part of the point is making it personal. And this post feels like one from the heart.

Comment by Ryan Kelly

Ryan – Thanks. I think personal lists are the most interesting. If someone’s looking for the generally acknowledged all-time “great characters”, I’m sure the AFI will eventually put that list together. (That is, if they haven’t already.)

Comment by Pat

I really love this list. Gladys Glover, oh yes! A character ahead of her time. Count me as a Judy Davis fan, too. Isn’t everyone?

Comment by Marilyn

Marilyn -“It Should Happen to You” is one of my favorite movies, ever – certainly my favorite Judy Holliday performance.And yes, Judy Davis, rules!! I’ve been a fan ever since her first film “My Brilliant Career.”

Comment by Pat

Wow, I really should have chosen some Christopher Guest characters! I’ve completely forgotten about A Mighty Wind (and For Your Consideration) – what is he up to these days, anyway?

Comment by Daniel Getahun

Daniel -I don’t know what Guest is doing these days, but I hope he’s got another one of these ensemble comedies on the way. Having said that, “For Your Consideration” is far and away my least favorite of these films. All of them are little cartoony and condescending, but I found “For Your Consideration” to be excessviely mean-spirited, and the characters almost universally grotesque caricatures. I don’t think I laughed more than once or twice.

Comment by Pat

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