Touch of Evil

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Likability may be the currency of movie stardom, but most actors agree that the juiciest, most memorable roles often belong to the villains. The 13 performers featured in this year’s portfolio have distinguished themselves in 2011 by playing nice, noble, tragic and heroically patient characters — as well as many who defy easy description — but as a rule they have not impersonated monsters, killers, thugs or other figures of malevolence. So the magazine offered them the chance to try on the black hat.

Some of these villains are inspired by specific icons of unpleasantness. Others tap more generally into the primal fears that remain a potent source of pleasure and discomfort at the movies. Cruelty. Seduction. Rage. The ability of these actors to disturb us with a gesture, a change of expression or a simple stare only serves to make us like them more.

A.O. Scott