Olivia Williams plays the wife of Pierce Brosnan’s former British Prime Minister in the twisty political thriller by Roman Polanski. I love Williams in just about any role, but she’s a revelation as the brilliant and furious other half to a disgraced politician. Ruth is controlled and severe for much of the movie, but she gradually gives glimpses of the passion and humor within her. Ruth has run a marriage, a household and a nation with poise and efficiency, and it’s fascinating to watch her as it all falls away. But political defamation and philandering husband aside, Ruth Lang has no truck with silly bullshit, ya heard? No truck!
9. Nina Sayers, Black Swan
Natalie Portman gives a shocking performance in Darren Aronofsky’s film as Nina, wound tight as a tourniquet and wholly consumed by her desire to become the prima ballerina in her company. As Nina allows herself to unearth the darkness inside in order to prepare for playing the role of the Black Swan, she grows paranoid and unhinged. Nina’s journey from grapefruit-eating control freak to dark, pill-popping seductress is tensely compelling, and the moment that she fully transforms into the Black Swan makes for one of the most stupendous scenes in recent cinema. Bravo!
8. Shane Walsh, The Walking Dead
Y’all know I’m not Team Shane. I really wanted to put Glenn or Daryl or Dale on this list, but I eventually forced myself to acknowledge that of the entire ensemble, there’s only one character who caused Devin, Henri and me to engage in constant heated debate throughout the season—and that’s Shane. That’s good television. Thanks to the writing and especially Jon Bernthal’s performance, the pancake-flat Shane of the comics has developed into a complex, infuriating and sympathetic Real Life Person, something I once thought impossible.
7. Flavia de Luce, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
Flavia was actually introduced to us in Alan Bradley’s 2009 The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, but the brilliant 11-year-old chemist and part-time detective kicks even more ass in his 2010 sequel. Flavia lives with her eccentric family in a decaying estate in the 1950s village of Bishop’s Lacey. She’s fearless, passionate about poison and merciless when it comes to plotting vengeance on her snotty older sisters. Flavia frequently assists the local constabulary in murder cases—whether they want her help or not. Flavia’s a little terror on the village streets, riding her noble steed—a bicycle named Gladys—and she’s the most beguiling protagonist I’ve met in a very long time.
6. Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation
Nick Offerman’s deadpan portrayal of the Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department director is made of magic. Magic and mustaches! Ron despises government interference, lives for breakfast, has two ex-wives named Tammy and moonlights as swoon-worthy jazz musician Duke Silver on the sly. He can build you a canoe or teach you to shoot a sawed-off shotgun; just don’t ask him to sit in on a budget meeting. He occasionally reveals beneath his acerbic exterior a big old softie, and also, he is my boyfriend.
5. Arthur, Inception
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Arthur is the point man for a team of dream heisters in Christopher Nolan’s stunning film, and he wears a suit like nobody’s business. Charming and unflappable, he spends the entire movie acting cool and looking gorgeous. That doesn’t really seem like it should merit his inclusion on a Top 10 list of characters, but you’re underestimating just *how* cool and gorgeous the man is. Arthur dream fights his way through a revolving zero gravity hotel floor and he does it without mussing his hair or breaking a sweat. In conclusion, he’s my boyfriend, too.
4. Hit Girl, Kick-Ass
Yeah, the comics came out a couple of years ago, but Chloe Moretz nailed the character so hard in Matthew Vaughn’s flick, I had to include her. Oh, if only the movie had been called Hit Girl and Big Daddy. The moment that Hit Girl struts onscreen, spewing profanity and gutting dudes, I was enamored. She’s a lethal force of awesomeness, an unstoppable martial artist and weapons proficient. She makes Kick-Ass look like a chump, not that that’s a challenge. And she rocks the shit out of that purple wig, to boot.
3. Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock
The legendary detective has been portrayed so many times, it’s astonishing that Benedict Cumberbatch’s version in this year’s BBC series could make such an impact, but the man’s just so damned good. With his cheekbones for days, Cumberbatch breathes new life into the odd, brilliant detective with a droll performance that comes across as somehow both impetuous and languid. His chemistry with Martin Freeman’s Dr. Watson is quirky and delightful, and the three 90-minute episodes only served to make me crazy for more Sherlock the show and Sherlock the man.
2. Mattie Ross, True Grit
Hailee Steinfeld ran away with the show in the Coen Brothers movie starring heavyweights like Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin. 14-year-old Mattie is indomitable in her quest for vengeance against the man who shot her pa. With her rail-straight posture and formal way of speaking, Mattie steamrolls over much older, larger men, bending them to her strong ethical will and prim common sense. She never loses her courage or her purpose throughout her adventure, and she gains a fiercely loyal ally in the heretofore unprincipled Rooster Cogburn. It’s pretty clear that the title refers to Mattie as well as Rooster, because no one’s got more grit than this girl.
1. Lisbeth Salander, The Millennium Trilogy
This is totally cheating, because Stieg Larsson’s novels were published a few years ago and the Swedish films came out in 2009. But the films were all released in the States in 2010 and I read the trilogy in 2010, and I can’t help it if I think of 2010 as the Year of Lisbeth. Lisbeth Salander is the fierce, waspish, brilliant protagonist in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Played to perfection by Noomi Rapace in the Swedish films, Lisbeth is an antisocial and extremely private ward of the state, as well as an ingenious computer hacker and researcher. She has a photographic memory and most likely Asperger syndrome. She’s bisexual, a talented boxer, and has a tragic past draped in mystery. She is SO MANY THINGS. Lisbeth trusts no one, relies on no one, exacts incredibly creative and painful revenge on her many enemies and maintains an unequivocal sense of right and wrong. Larsson created one of the greatest and, I suspect, most indelible characters of our generation in Lisbeth. I’m curious to see what David Fincher and Rooney Mara will bring to the character next year, but the Swedish films will most likely remain the strongest adaptation of the three brilliant novels. READ THEM if you haven’t, or I’ll go Lisbeth on your ass.
So what do you think, readers? Who doesn’t deserve to be on this list? Who did I leave out? Speak up in the comments!
You can read more from Meredith at www.dannyisnthere.com .