Year In Review: The Great Cinematic Heroes of 2011

There were some supposed protagonists I loathed this year — everyone in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, that asshole narcissist Hal Jordan, the annoying Jack Sparrow — but there were plenty who showed honorable and, yes, badass traits. 2011 brought a few real American heroes (and from parts elsewhere), both in personality and actions. One doesn’t need superpowers or a gun to be a hero, but, as shown by a few choices I made, those simple good traits.

And, even if one’s not the greatest of people, you can still be a great hero, as shown by the a*hole category that kicks off the list…

The Asshole Heroes

Colter Stevens, Source Code, and Britt Reid, The Green Hornet

These two were real pricks. Colter Stevens and The Green Hornet were as incompetent, boneheaded, and unlikable as they come… and there’s something kind of awesome about that. The Green Hornet, a film I would choose over Thor any day of the week, is a misogynistic superhero — how often do we get those? Not often enough, and the same goes with a soldier who, after countless times, can’t get much done, except for stealing a guy’s body and his girl. One played by Michelle Monaghan, as it were.

The Crimson Bolt and Boltie, SUPER

The Crimson Bolt is part psychopath — and Boltie is nearly sociopathic — but one can still root for these drug dealing and line butting killers. By most standards, Boltie and The Crimson Bolt are bad people. They do horrible things. The Crimson Bolt comes from a empathetic and damaged place, but the guy’s nuts. Boltie, on the other hand, comes from a nihilistic, yet oddly adorable place. Both anti-heroes get stuff done — just not in the cleanest or most morally sound way.

Sgt. Gerry Boyle, The Guard

A confrontational, outspoken, foul-mouthed, prostitute-loving cop is about as fun and likable as a hero can get. Sgt. Gerry Boyle appears inept and lazy to the many incompetent individuals he pisses off in this comedic western, but he’s a true cop — just not in the traditional sense. The character’s always ahead of everyone else, especially his moronic American partner. The character tries to blend in with the pack of idiots he’s surrounded by, but he’s nothing of the sort. Boyle presents an idiocy to fool everyone else, and it always works. And, best of all, Goofy is his favorite character at Disneyland, and there’s nothing more manly than admitting that.

The Hippie Hero

Ned, Our Idiot Brother

The most relaxed and charming hero of the year. Why is the lovable hippie heroic? The fact that he is so uncynical in a time that’s nothing but cynical. Ned is the type of character that makes you want to be a better person. He’s a bit of a dope, but in an endearing and sweet way. There’s not a malicious bone in Ned’s body, and that’s the type of character we rarely, if ever see anymore. After seeing Our Idiot Brother, one only wishes they could love life as much as the bearded and Croc-wearing Paul Rudd.

The Classic Heroes

Captain Haddock and Snowy, The Adventures of Tintin

These two were the real heroes of The Adventures of Tintin, or at least the only heroes one can actually give a damn about. While the ginger journalist is kind of an empty vacuum of charisma, Captain Haddock and Snowy burst with personality and heart. Haddock’s redemption had some emotional weight, and who doesn’t love an alcoholic hero? As for Snowy, he gets to participate in one of the best dog-oriented action scenes ever.

Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Somebody buy this kid a beer. It’s astonishing that Harry Potter isn’t in shell-shocked war veteran mode by now. His parents were killed, he’s never not in danger, plenty of his friends have been killed or tortured because of him, his remaining blood relatives are bigger monsters than Voldemort, and he doesn’t get a steady girlfriend until the final film. This kid’s the chosen one, so why does it take him so long to get a girl? In a world of magic and Hermione shacking up with Ron, that’s the biggest leap in logic. Despite that shortcoming in the ladies department, Potter stuck through it until the very disappointing end.

Ethan Hunt, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

There’s an effortless coolness to Ethan Hunt. While John Woo botched that part of the character in his abominable sequel, Brad Bird got the appeal of this hero. There’s never any winking with Tom Cruise, and when the series is at its best, there’s no self-referential winks of “See how cool this is?!?” Cruise and Bird are aware that Ethan Hunt running from a dust storm, hanging off that monstrous building in Dubai, and every other human magic trick he does is plain awesome, and they let the coolness speak for itself. To top it off, Hunt is probably the most human blockbuster action hero in recent memory. The character gets the shit kicked out of him, but somehow keeps going and going.

Captain America, Captain America: The First Avenger

In an age of whiny and dark superheroes, getting to watch someone like Steve Rogers was refreshing. Earnest and kind-hearted,  Captain America is a man’s man superhero. Sure, by the end he may be the oldest virgin to ever walk the earth, but this super soldier has every admirable character trait possible. Never cocky or brooding, this “aw shucks” kid is a prime American poster boy.

Driver, Drive

Ryan Gosling’s lone traveler is like a machine — constantly ticking, (mostly) stays cool under pressure, and gets the job done. For someone who doesn’t carry a gun, he’s more than effective. The Driver is a modern day samurai who must save the innocent princess he loves. Why do they fall in love? They like awkward silences and staring at each other a lot — that’s a big kind of connection. With each death blow Driver delivers — which is whenever he isn’t gazing off like Rain Man — the more intense and revealed the internal character gets.

The Unexpected Heroes

Hanna, Hanna

Hanna is as frail and innocent-looking as most young girls, which is what makes her dangerous. The smartest move on director Joe Wright’s part was to make this cool action hero something tragic on the inside. There’s an artificial awesomeness to Hanna. When you dig deep, she’s just a child robbed of anything resembling a normal upbringing. Hanna’s one of the most interesting (and deadliest) female action leads in quite some time. Also, who doesn’t envy the idea of having a badass Eric Bana as your dad?

Magneto, X-Men: First Class

Bryan Singer seemed to despise Magneto in his films. The cast and crew always name drop the whole “Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr.” comparison, but that only works if you consider Malcom X to be a total psycho. Matthew Vaughn and Michael Fassbender actually managed to inject sympathy into this hurting mutant. Filled with pain, sadness and anger, there was a humility to this tortured soul. Before turning into a neo-Nazi, Erik was a suave and regretful James Bond with nothing to lose.

Lisbeth Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

By far the strongest part of David Fincher’s re-adaptation is Rooney Mara as the vulnerable Lisbeth Salander. The childlike, male-fantasy detective — anyone who says the idea of a young, hot goth girl sleeping with a bland, old journalist isn’t a male fantasy is nuts — isn’t your typical female hero. She uses her smarts and information to get ahead, not her sexual power or inflicting brutality.

Curtis, Take Shelter

A messenger from God who no one believes, Curtis is basically a modern day Noah being rejected by a more cynical community — a hero labeled a loony. A storm is coming, something Curtis isn’t 100% sure about, but he knows he has to prepare. Michael Shannon’s performance is so powerful that, even if he was simply crazy, you’d still feel sympathy and heartache for this man trying to protect his family. Curtis is trying to save the ones he loves, no matter how nuts he comes off.

Rango, Rango

This is Johnny Depp’s most charismatic and iconic performance in years. The lame Jack Sparrow ain’t got nothing on Rango, an aspiring actor-turned-fake badass-turned-real badass. For the first half of the movie, Rango’s real disgusting, both physically and personally. Has there ever been the lead of a kid’s film as ugly and off-putting as Rango? Every time I see him shed skin, I cringe more and more. On the upside, Rango is an actual western hero with a sense of humor and knack for fun.

Caesar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

This Ape is a genius, beats up an overly annoying neighbor, successfully conjures a jailbreak, wins a street fight on the Golden Gate bridge, and is the future leader of our soon to be screwed world — those are some real accomplishments. Andy Serkis makes Caesar so understandable that, by the end, all we want to see is this little chimp eat every man, woman, and child that gets in his way. Caesar > Humans.

Honorable Mentions: Moses (Attack the Block), a once despicable kid, now a sword-wielding alien fighter; Thor (Thor), the charming, cocky cock who gets a hammer, blows stuff up real nice, and snags Natalie Portman; Hesher (Hesher), a guy who lives by no rules, tortures kids, sleeps with a kids’ crush, and saves a family after all those fine deeds.

All you really need to know about Jack is his favorite movies are: The Last Detail, Rumble Fish, Sunset Boulevard, The Truman Show, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Verdict, Closer, Shadow of a Doubt, The Long Goodbye, Spider-Man 2, Jaws, Adaptation, Get Carter, The Last Days of Disco, Carnal Knowledge, Almost Famous, Ed Wood, Ace in the Hole, Barton Fink, and L.A. Confidential.

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