Here’s the other half of my heroes and villains thought-spew.
The young couple that runs off to be together in “Moonrise Kingdom.” These guys get to be heroes in my book because they stop at nothing to pursue their love, which may not be forbidden, but is at least very unconventional and earnest. I think it’s that extraordinary stone-faced earnestness which makes the characters so appealing. They’re often funny, but they’re never played for laughs. What they’re doing is at every moment the most serious thing in the world for them, even when everyone around them completely fails to understand it. Suzy’s obsession with fictional young adult paperbacks is also very appealing, coming right up to the edge of the Wes Anderson twee cliff without quite falling off. And another nice thing about the movie is, they succeed in their mission, more or less. They consider themselves to be married, whether or not anyone else does.
Another character that blows you away with her genuineness. I think it’s a cool gesture that Quvenzhané Wallis was nominated for a best actress Oscar, though I have some doubts that anything a 6-year-old does on film is exactly acting. Hushpuppy saves the world from very large baby piglets and brings her dying father a piece of magic deep-fried alligator, all of which seems freighted with awesome symbolism when you’re watching “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” She also just seems so completely real at every moment that it’s almost unsettling to see her on a screen; it’s not something you’re used to seeing at the movies. The thing her portrayal most reminds me of is kids in Francois Truffaut films, but with the added lens of the film’s magic realism, which makes it seem even truer to a child’s perspective.
Martin Freeman continues his run of straight men and audience stand-ins, from Arthur Dent to Dr. Watson to Bilbo Baggins. Martin Freeman reacts! Anyway, Bilbo is so iconic I figured he had to be in here, as almost the founder of the unlikely hero trope. And seriously, Freeman is absolutely the best imaginable casting for this. “The Hobbit” movie is strongest when it’s firmly focused on Bilbo; it’s when it drifts off into prologues and Thorin’s heroism that it’s weakest. Bilbo is (obviously) the heart of the story, and the fundamental brilliance of Tolkien is that hobbits may be made-up creatures with fuzzy feet, but they’re also much more like you and me than heroes in almost any other fantasy story. Bilbo’s not Siegfried, he’s a guy who likes to eat and read maps. And that makes him automatically more interesting to me than, I don’t know, Conan the Barbarian or something.
There has been a lot of ink spilled on how Katniss is a new kind of heroine, most of which I agree with. She’s an unusually powerful and independent hero, who is — at least at this point in the story — mostly uninterested in romance with her available man-candy, seeing it as secondary to survival and the protection of her family. She’s competent and powerful at the same time as being vulnerable. She’s a pragmatic hero; she does what needs to be done without worrying too much about grand ideologies. At the same time, you totally believe that she could become the symbol of a movement in the way she does. She has the charisma and the presence. And Jennifer Lawrence is perfect in the role. She’s a serious, skilled actor who is good enough that she makes you believe that she has actually gone through the things the character has.
This one is easy. And of course Abraham Lincoln was actually the hero of two movies this year, though I’m concentrating on the Spielberg-y one rather than the one with vampires. Lincoln is another deeply pragmatic hero, who gets things done in the face of incalculable odds. And the stakes he’s playing for are higher than in almost any fictional story that you can think of. He saves the country and its soul. And I noticed that several of my other choices on this list are kids. Lincoln obviously is not. He’s wise and deeply moral without the benefit of the youth, innocence, and naiveté that make it easier. He’s moral despite — or because of — all that he’s lived through and all the pain he’s seen. It also is a nice symmetry that my top hero and my top villain (Old Georgie) both wear a stovepipe hat.