6. A Clockwork Orange (1971, Stanley Kubrick)
How can we possibly root or care for a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra violence, and understandably Beethoven? In the adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ groundbreaking novel by the one and only Stanley Kubrick, Alex DeLarge, played brilliantly by Malcolm McDowell, is a performance for the ages.
Even before the arrest, therapeutic treatment, and return to society apparently healed, we witness Alex and his droogs beating upon the weak, raping woman, and killing their way across a dystopian England – how can we support this character? Is it the technical and creative filmmaking choices? The grand style and music of the film? Or is it because McDowell’s still a teenager living under his parents in a corrupt, oppressive society and he acts out against it in his own way? Despite those ways being morally and psychology wrong, he does so with gusto and enthusiasm.
Considered a masterpiece by many and polarizing by the rest, everyone can agree upon the character of Alex DeLarge’s horrific acts, but we can also agree upon his love of life in doing so paradoxically.
7. Training Day (2001, Antoine Fuqua)
Denzel Washington is an actor that one gravitates toward regardless of their morality or choices. Therefore, when it comes to his most menacing and immoral portrayal of corrupt detective, Alonzo Harris, it’s hard not to watch with amazement and curiosity.
As the film descends toward a high-wire day of on-the-job training, more stealing, exhorting, and even killing with protege Ethan Hawke’s Jake Hoyt in a terrific performance and audience surrogate, we witness how much Harris is actually a villain. Whether ripping off college kids or drug dealers or even retired cops, nothing stands in his way. He simply is a man on fire and will stop at nothing for his own advantage. Then why do we still like him?
Denzel is a masterful actor and makes us not necessarily feel for him, but wants us to care for him and tell him to quit while he’s ahead. We don’t want Harris getting pinched or killed, no matter the circumstance. Despite a crazy third act of narrative choices, we still enjoy watching Harris, even if we don’t want to be in his company.
8. The Silence of the Lambs (1991, Jonathan Demme)
A leading actor that happens to be a serial killer who eats people with only 17 minutes of screen time, yet one of the most talked about characters in film history, is certainly a testament to the craft of filmmaking and acting. Of course, it’s Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter whose intelligence, wit, and sadism leaves audiences in chills just mentioning the name.
Working off a building performance as everyone from doctors to the FBI keep mentioning Lecter, Hopkins plays him opposite of what one could expect, allowing us to become completely enthralled with him, like Jodie Foster’s Clarence Sterling. Every second Hopkins is on screen, we want to know more about him and simply just marvel at his presence; he gets into our minds like Lecter does with Clarice.
Even after Lecter consumes the guards and eventually escapes, we’re always rooting for him. Do we even realize we’re rooting for a psychopath who kills and eats people? Maybe it’s Hopkins, the style, dialogue, and circumstances – regardless, he’s a bad guy we love.
9. Joker (2019, Todd Phillips)
Finally using the iconic Batman villain for an origin story after countless uses as the villain, especially the memorable Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, Joaquin Phoenix makes us feel a whole new side for Arthur Fleck.
Coming off comedies for nearly two decades, Phillips tackles how this mentally ill loner becomes the Joker. We see Arthur get abused by the system, framed by his fellow clowns and comedians, and treated like trash from society, all which causes an implosion and explosion of the character. Coming out at a time of social upheaval, people identified with what Arthur was going through and with no Batman, at least costumed, around, we simply were rooting and more importantly, feeling for him the entire way.
Without distancing from the Gotham landscape and Easter eggs of today’s generation, Phoenix makes the Joker an all too real human being who simply had enough. Yes, he took things to the extreme, but we sided with his terrible livelihood and only wanted to care for him and help him along the way; we could obviously only witness his beginning of destruction.
10. Collateral (2004, Michael Mann)
Returning to the Los Angeles criminal underworld in a high-definition style of filmmaking, Mann paints a nocturnal odyssey of a hitman using a cab driver to escort him to his next hits. However, when the hitman just happens to be one of the biggest names in the world – Tom Cruise, playing against character – it’s hard not to root for the guy.
With an emphatic Jamie Foxx as the taxi driver who aspires to bigger things, Cruise gets into dangerous situations amongst gangsters and crooks. Therefore, we want him to get out scratch-free, but when he starts knocking off the wrong side of the law and sharing his views with Foxx’s Max, we start to see the vindictive evilness and lack of empathy he has for his fellow man, killing people off like a list.
Mann is no stranger to this world, but he ups the stakes from “LA Takedown” and “Heat” because the bad guy is simply harder to relate to as the film proceeds. Somehow, with Cruise’s silver fox style hair and persuasion, we root for him all the way, while keeping our hopes for Foxx and others alive as well. No easy task to accomplish.