‘Tis the season to show gratitude. While I have a long list of serious things I’m thankful for—this year of all years—today I’m going to keep it a bit lighter and detail out some of the movie characters I’m especially appreciative of. Remember that as a film critic I have to sit through A LOT of crappy movies (I know, I know… I hear the world’s smallest violin you’re playing right now), so when I come across a character that stays with me for months, years or decades (!), it’s truly a thing of beauty.

Here are 9 I’m particularly grateful for:

Princess Leia – Being introduced to Leia (Carrie Fisher) in A New Hope when I was a kid, and then seeing her full arc play out in The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, had a real impact on my life. From a young age I knew that a “princess” didn’t need men to save her, could match wits with the best of them and could be a strategic and powerful leader.

Bill and Ted – If you read my review of Bill & Ted Face the Music earlier this year, you know that the original film made a lasting impression on me. Not just in the way I talked back in high school (OK maybe I still talk that way … a little), but also on my overall outlook. Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are loyal friends and eternal optimists. They refuse to see the bad in anyone. The world could use a lot more Bill and Teds right now!

Gandalf – I have a thing for wizards, and Gandalf is the ultimate. As a devotee of the Lord of the Rings novels, I was especially nervous about who would portray Gandalf and if he would match what I had pictured in my mind for so many years. Thankfully Ian McKellen surpassed all of my high expectations, and continues to … as recently as May when he took part in Josh Gad’s INCREDIBLE “Reunited Apart” Zoom with the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy cast. When I’m feeling especially overwhelmed, I always hear Gandalf’s voice reminding Frodo (and me): “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

“Jessica” – This is a newer character from last year’s Best Picture winner Parasite, which is about a family of desperate scammers who weasel their way into a wealthy family’s life. “Jessica” (Park So-dam) is the name the sister goes by when she poses as an art therapist for the wealthy couple’s young son. I was intrigued by her self-assurance and the nerve it took for her to pull off her part of the scheme—despite completely winging it. I want to siphon her confidence through the screen!

Shuri – Who doesn’t want to be Shuri (Letitia Wright) when they grow up? And yes I know she’s technically T’Challa’s little sis and therefore much younger than me. But there’s a reason she was the breakout star of Black Panther—her rare combination of quick wit, her confidence bordering on (but never becoming) arrogance, and her insane tech skillz put even Tony Stark to shame.

Imperator Furiosa – If we ever get to the point of living in a bleak, post-apocalyptic wasteland, clearly the only person who could save us would be Furiosa (Charlize Theron) from Mad Max: Fury Road, so I must pay my respects. How fitting that in this dismal year a prequel about her was finally given the green light in Hollywood. I think the execs know we are headed toward a bleak, post-apocalyptic wasteland—d’oh!

Red – My last paragraph is proof of why I am thankful to have Red (Morgan Freeman) from The Shawshank Redemption in my life. My defense mechanism is being cynical and pessimistic when I’m really worried about something, and Red reminds me that there is always, always, always hope.

Mr. Miyagi – Serving in a similar role as Red, Mr. Miyagi (the late Pat Morita) from the original Karate Kid trilogy helps keep me calm and focused and balanced. Wax on, wax off!

What movie characters are you most thankful for?

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