One against all.
It's one of the classic themes of storytelling, going back to the Greeks and the legend of Perseus, the hero who single-handedly (or nearly enough) battled the Medusa, rescued a kingdom from the Kraken and challenged the gods themselves.
Or at least that's the version we saw in this year's remake of "Clash of the Titans," in which Perseus conquered everything except shoddy 3-D graphics.
That's a theme that appears again and again, with an individual or small group think of Shakespeare's classic "band of brothers" speech in "Henry V" being forced to confront something far bigger. That something might be nature (think of Captain Ahab pursuing the white whale) or a band of criminals (think of Marshal Will Kane in "High Noon") or a circle of black-clad ninjas (think of Bruce Lee in pretty much any fight scene he ever did).
The idea of one person facing insurmountable odds, whether it be against nature, against public opinion or against hordes of killer aliens, dominated the best of this year's pop culture, based on Top 10 lists compiled by The Tribune's entertainment critics.
• The best movie of 2010, Danny Boyle's "127 Hours," recounted the ultimate man-vs.-nature showdown, that of climber Aron Ralston (portrayed by James Franco) contemplating life and death after his arm was pinned by a boulder in a Utah slot canyon.
• Kanye West faced down an angry mob people who hated him for his arrogant behavior and turned his "I'm-a let you finish" interruption of Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards into a national punchline and transformed that anger into his landmark album, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy."
• A small band of post-apocalyptic survivors faced another angry mob well, maybe not angry, but just hungry, since they were zombies in the year's richest, most surprising new TV series, AMC's "The Walking Dead."
• And in the year's best video game, "Mass Effect 2," an astronaut named Shepard is thrown between two warring alien races.
Reading deeper into the critics' Top 10 lists, you can find more examples of individuals facing giant obstacles: Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg in "The Social Network") being challenged by former friends and his own social awkwardness; country singer Jamey Johnson ("The Guitar Song") encountering the ghosts of Nashville's past; lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies in "The Good Wife") doing battle in court and in the political arena; the rapper Eminem ("Recovery") battling his addictions and his emotions; an Ozarks teen (Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone") risking her life to cut through family secrets and find her missing father; a modern Sherlock Holmes ("Sherlock") matching wits with criminals at every turn; a Western hero named John Marston engaging in shootouts on the video-game frontier ("Red Dead Redemption"); or Joan Rivers scratching and clawing to fend off the sharks of show business ("Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work").
Even the year's best movie romance put the one-against-all situation in the title: "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World."
Such stories endure, of course, because we in the audience a mob, without the pitchforks and torches think of ourselves as individuals. We identify with the climber, not the boulder. The survivors, not the zombies. The astronaut, not the aliens. We are even more inclined to relate more with the self-proclaimed "douchebag" hip-hop star than with the people, like us, who are booing him.
And in a year when too much bad news involved undifferentiated groups of people the unemployed, the government, the big banks, the immigrants, the tea partiers we were eager to find maverick heroes anywhere. Even if everybody else was finding them in the same places.