My two favourite films from last year were Moon and District 9. Both sci-fi, both made incredibly well and both had a fantastic, original story to tell. But more than anything, it was the central character that made each film remarkable.
Sam Bell in Moon (played incredibly by Sam Rockwell) and Wikus Van De Merwe in District 9 (played superbly by Sharlto Copley) are fantastic to watch. Each man faces a tragic, truly saddening, if far-fetched, story. Both of them are caught up in really dire events that neither of them is to blame for.
These aren't perfect men. Sam has moments of selfishness, combined with a clear deep-rooted anger problem as well as a tendency to be immature. Meanwhile Wikus is even more selfish, self-centred, a coward and as xenophobic and crooked as the rest of his co-workers. All aside, neither man deserves the tragic events that happen around and to them.
We might not be able to fully empathise with each man, but we can certainly sympathise with them. These are very human characters facing extraordinary events and we the viewers are helpless. We can only watch each man 'cope.' This more than anything, makes these films compulsive, repetitive viewing in my eyes.
Faultless, good-looking heroes are great for action films. Amoral/immoral men with sadistic streaks are great for TV* but sometimes the best stories are told with a helpless man at the centre, trying his best to cope with the tragedy of his own existence.
*See The Wire, The Shield, Dexter