Maybe you're better versed in Austrian TV movies than I, but prior to the release of 2009's Inglorious Basterds, I had never heard the name "Christoph Waltz." I mean, sure, perhaps whispered knowingly across the mists of time from somewhere yet untold — but in the practical, everyday sense, I remained woefully ignorant of the the giddiness incarnate that is watching this man perform. Indeed, while Tarantino's revisionist WWII history brought us a number of important insights — among them, "Michael Fassbender speaks German," "that's what Neal from Freaks and Geeks looks like now," and "David Bowie totally works as a soundtrack for historical fiction" — one's overall impression upon leaving the theatre inevitably boiled down to, "Who is that Landa guy and why is he not in everything, ever."
Apparently, Hollywood heard our collective gawp and responded appropriately: Waltz earned an Oscar for his troubles and was immediately catapulted into a respectable handful of high-caliber roles, where he's continued to smirk and toy his way across our screens since. Now that the Basterds are celebrating their official 5th anniversary this Wednesday, however, it seems high time to revisit that initial performance and give it the plaudits it so sincerely deserves — and with it, to give Waltz his due as a prime exemplar of sincerely excellent evildoing.
Because really, I don't think I'm alone in wanting my villains as gleeful as they are terrifying — or, perhaps, all the more terrifying for being so gleeful. See: The Joker, in all his many incarnations; Castor Troy (AKA, Nicholas Cage) in Face/Off; Fegan Floop from Spy Kids (don't act like you don't know exactly what I'm talking about; Alan Cumming is a god among men, his every moment on screen a treasure). Villians Wikia calls this trope "dissonant serenity," an evildoer who exhibits a "disturbingly calm or cheerful personality" through acts that would make even the saltiest of Hell's Angels blush; I call it "simply the best" — especially when you can pull it off without the larger-than-life backdrop of comic book lore.
As Colonel Hans Landa, Waltz delivered this elusive quality in spades, campy and exuberant and never an iota less threatening for it. It's an affect that's perfect for Tarantino's work, of course — veering, as his films so swiftly do, from comedy to bloodshed, verbal barbs swapped for literal ones at a few frames' notice. It's no surprise, really, that Waltz's second Tarantino role, in Django Unchained, garnered him his second Oscar. But I'd submit that it's not just the director at hand; listening to Waltz's sage reply when asked about his character's "benevolent evil," you start to think that this man was all but destined to spirit us through the nuances of villainy:
I mean, there's a reason he was cast in Horrible Bosses 2, a film franchise entirely predicated on hyperbolically awful antagonists. Indeed, perhaps cursed into a niche by his breakout performance (see also: Michael Cera) — or, rather, given the perfect opportunity to shine out of the gate and thus appropriately typecast from there on out (see also: Jack Black) — Waltz has gone on to bring that subtle, sinister wink to each of his subsequent roles. Here, below, are just a few shining examples:
Water for Elephants (2011)
Django Unchained (2012)
And, if only because I just about lost my mind upon catching this trailer in theaters, here's a look at Waltz's upcoming project, Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem, in which he plays an existentially troubled computer genius lost in a gaudy dystopia — perhaps a departure from his antagonistic path, but one probably fitting given this film's departure from reality:
So, cheers to you, Mr. Waltz; keep on keepin' on — delightfully, dastardly so.