what with America’s obsession with rebels and gangsters and the like, i suppose it’s not uncommon to find us rooting for the bad guys in films; at this point, my concern is “are we really rooting for the best quality bad guys?” i mean, Tony Montana remains very popular, but it’s not as if the whole thing ended well for him. but more to the point, we’ve talking about Tony and Scarface and everything like 13000 times; we can afford to mix it up a little bit, right? or, say, at least pay attention to 13 of them who haven’t gotten the love that Nicky Santoro has? so let’s do that.
French beats men senselessly, Blue works his pistol for robbery, Humungus masks it up, Stansfield’s chillin’, Little’s plotting something, and McCauley’s plotting someone’s death.
13. Mr. French (the Departed; played by Ray Winstone)
granted, he doesn’t chew up the scenery like Jack Nicholson or anything (not that Frank Costello isn’t a pretty crazy, bloody bad guy in his own right in this film), but what he DOES do is cruise around killing the hell out of people, beating the hell out of people, killing the hell out of HIMSELF to save time, and, most of all, making a name like “Mr. French” work in terms of “not making us think of surrender and military defeat.” he’s one in ten million, or so i hear.
best line: “she got reliable.”
12. Bernard “Mr. Blue” Ryder (the Taking Of Pelham One Two Three; played by Robert Shaw)
okay, okay, i admit it: this is an obscure choice. i doubt most people have seen the film (which is a very cool heist film from 1974 involving a subway hijacking and a younger Jerry Stiller) or even know who the hell Robert Shaw is (Quint in Jaws). but here, he’s a cold, calculating gangster, though i admit that, spoiling things slightly, things could have gone better for him.
best line: “pity.” (eh, maybe you need the context)
11. Lord Humungus (the Road Warrior; played by Kjell Nilsson)
so, the two questions you’re asking immediately are “how the fuck did this nearly-naked hockey-mask-wearing mutant get on the list?” and “why not Master Blaster?” well, the latter wasn’t really evil enough for this list – i mean, hell, Master ends up exchanging his outfit for a suit and ruining off with the good guys – and as to the former, well, he crucifies innocents in his quest for gasoline and he has a ridiculous legion of creepy bikers. but mainly, the man gets called “the Ayatollah of Rock-And-Rollah!” and there’s few things in the world more respectable than THAT.
best line: “be still, my dog of war! i understand your pain. we’ve all lost someone we love. but we do it my way! we do it my way. fear is our ally. the gasoline will be ours. then you shall have your revenge. ”
10. Norman Stansfield (LÃ©on; played by Gary Oldman)
now, i will grant the following: Stansfield isn’t the most balanced guy on this list. still, it’s not like being fucking crazy was ever a penalty for Santoro or Montana or anyone else, and Stansfield still gets to cruise around the streets of NYC in dirty cop form (which is always popular) selling drugs and shooting children and generally promoting Beethoven and behaving in such a recklessly crazy fashion that you have to either love it or try to shoot him in a bathroom with a paper bag filled with pistols. if nothing else, i’m sure things were going much better before he got wrapped up with that whole LÃ©on thing.
best line: “death is… whimsical… today.”
09. Rodney Little (Clockers; played by Delroy Lindo)
sometimes i get the impression that i’m the one human being who watched this movie, because if i’m ever to talk about fine performances in it or Spike Lee’s quality direction or anything else, apparently, no one even has a negative opinion because NO ONE SAW CLOCKERS, EVER. it’s very frustrating. in this case, we’re promoting the harsh regime of Rodney Little, who directs criminal activities, threatens subordinates with pistols, and unleashes nefarious hitmen, only to cap off his role in this film by attacking the hell out of Mekhi Phifer’s car and wrecking the shit out of it. it’s awesome.
best line: “if god created anything better than crack cocaine, he kept that shit for hisself.”
08. Neil McCauley (Heat; played by Robert De Niro)
there’s a degree of wavering here, it would seem, because McCauley seems to melt a little in this film in order to spend some quality sexing-up time with Amy Brenneman, but in the end we see he’s willing to ditch her in order to escape, so it’s cool for him to be here on this list. otherwise, he runs around perpetrating intricately planned heists netting millions of dollars, gunning it out with the LAPD on a RIDICULOUS scale, and dealing out harsh (but deserved) justice to backstabbing members of the criminal underworld, be they money launderer or guns for hire.
best line: “’cause there is a dead man on the other end of this fuckin’ line.”
Frank thinks of harmonicas, Cutting thinks of top hats, Jarrett also thinks of top hats, Vondas thinks of floppy hats, Lampone enjoys himself one last time and Conway is up to no good.
07. Frank (Once Upon A Time In The West; played by Henry Fonda)
now, i may be veering in the direction of Westerns here, but i think it’s acceptable given the fact that we have the beloved Henry Fonda running around in the Southwest gunning down and torturing men and children (and probably women) like there’s no tomorrow. he’s sort of like William Munny from Unforgiven, but without the parts where he feels bad about all the killing and tries to go straight, or something like that. in any case, all i am saying is this: RUTHLESS.
best line: “people scare better when they’re dying.”
06. Bill “the Butcher” Cutting (Gangs of New York; played by Daniel Day-Lewis)
despite the fact that this film was, you know, a little uneven (i’m looking at YOU, Cameron Diaz, and to a lesser extent, Leonardo DiCaprio), we still ended up with the knife-loving Bill the Butcher, who secures his place on this list by giving DiCaprio a crazed lecture while wrapped in the American flag and tapping on his glass eye with a knife. and he kills people. and sponsors massive fights wherein approximately 13000 top hats are thrown into the air! i would have considered making his film about nothing but Cutting if i was Scorsese, but, you know, i’m not.
best line: “you know how i stayed alive this long? fear. fearsome acts. a man steals from me, i cut off his hand. if he offends me, i cut out his tongue. if he stands up against me, i cut off his head, stick it on a pike and lift it up for all to see. a spectacle of fearsome acts. that’s what maintains the order of things. fear. ”
05. Arthur “Cody” Jarrett (White Heat; played by James Cagney)
we can’t really have an overlooked bad guys list without something from Cagney; especially when you consider that this modern generation and their spawn are likely to let those nasty black-and-white films “what ain’t got no color” fade out of their consciousness soon enough. so let’s stick with Cody Jarrett: he robs and kills and shoots it out with everyone in creation. and he gets exploded, which easily one-ups merely getting shot 13000 times like Tony Montana. amateur!
best line: “top of the world, ma!”
04. Spiros “Vondas” Vondopoulos (“the Wire”; played by Paul Ben-Victor)
with the Wire at least getting a LITTLE attention, we’ve got our pick of gangsters and such that we could choose to emulate, as long as we don’t mind a degree of conflict. many probably wouldn’t be wild about running with Omar for obvious reasons, and guys like Barksdale and Bell and Prop Joe are too much “kingpin” to be a fair pick. there’s a lot of quality character in guys like Wee-Bay and Bodie as well, but there’s also conflict, so let’s cut right to the iciest henchman in the series: Vondas. he slits throats, he deals in drugs and whores and smuggled goods and murders, and he makes that ridiculous floppy hat work.
best line: “he knows my name, but my name is not my name.” (okay, so the man doesn’t have lots of time for chatting.)
03. Rocco Lampone (the Godfather & the Godfather II; played by Tom Rosqui)
the Godfather series – or at least the good entries in it – are dominated by the large characters of the Corleones, and the bit characters that tend to get the attention are the flashier guys like Al Neri. Rosqui didn’t even get credit in the original film for one of the key button man roles of the film. still, when the chips are down and someone needs to take out Hyman Roth and Neri’s hedging his bets … well, the more excellent of the two bad guys is going to be the one that steps up and gets it done, right?
best line: “difficult… but not impossible.”
02. James “Jimmy the Gent” Conway (Goodfellas; played by Robert De Niro)
i don’t mean to turn this into some kind of “i demand you show love to De Niro” station, but this is a weird one to be neglected largely because for all the references to Mafia figures in popular culture, be they the fictional characters of Joe Pesci or the Gottis and Gambinos of the world, no one seems to talk about Jimmy the Gent. and he was LITERALLY described as “the kind of guy that rooted for bad guys in the movies!” and the whole film is basically a recitation of why he’s an awesome gangster with bodies galore under his belt and money to burn. i mean, seriously, the best montage ever – set to the coda from “Layla” – is basically a testament to him being cold as fuck. where is the love?
best line: okay, this is sort of cheating and everything, but there’s a part in Pileggi’s Wise Guy where he’s talking about the real-life inspiration for Conway (Jimmy Burke), and how Burke found out his best friend (Remo) set up one of his hijackings to get busted, killed him with help from Pesci’s real-life inspiration (Tommy DeSimone) and a piano wire, buried him under a bocce ball court at one of their hangouts, and would greet him every time they played: “hi, Remo, how ya doing?”
“this man here, Alejandro Sosa, a very interesting character. a wealthy land-owner, educated in England, very good family. but this man is the business brain and drug overlord of an empire that stretches across the Andes. he’s not your ordinary drug dealer.”
01. Alejandro Sosa (Scarface; played by Paul Shenar)
everyone loves Tony Montana, this we all know; even Tony knows it, and he makes sure that restaurant patrons know it as well. but at the end of the film, he’s floating dead in a pool of blood and some water, having taken a lot of friends and family with him. whereas Sosa? still in Bolivia, still living the good life (albeit with some international heat), still making that money hand over fist and still able to swarm southern Florida with enough crazed gunmen to kill even those enemies you have to shoot hundreds of times. or, to put it another way, in the words of Malice: “i ain’t coming at you quote unquote “famous rapper”/who turned positive, try to tell you how to live/but this information i must pass to the homies/if hustling is a must, be Sosa, not Tony.” i rest my case.
best line: “i only tell you once. don’t fuck me … don’t you ever try to fuck me.”
maybe next time we’ll celebrate the beloved bad guys with more human sides. i have a feeling that would call for a lot of Al Pacino. but we’ll see what happens!