Sunday, 19 January 2020

Best Actor 2019: Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Leonardo DiCaprio received his sixth acting Oscar nomination for portraying Rick Dalton in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood follows the misadventures of fading TV star Rick Dalton and his trustworthy sidekick/driver/stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), and his next door neighbor, the growing real life star Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), in Hollywood in 1969.

Leonardo DiCaprio returns to work with Quentin Tarantino, formerly taking on the over the top supporting villainous role in Django Unchained, this time taking on the lead role of Rick Dalton, a former TV western star now reduced to villain guest spots, and a potential career in bad Italian ripoffs. DiCaprio also makes a return, a most welcome return, to what is a comic star turn from him. One of DiCaprio's greatest cinematic talents is his star charisma, something he doesn't always call upon purposefully, but is always very welcome when he does. This is thankfully something he does make use of here in his portrayal of fading star Rick, though Rick is hardly DiCaprio playing himself, given that DiCaprio has never been anything but a star, and ole' Rick was never a star of DiCaprio's ilk either. DiCaprio then makes a great decision to play both into his star presence while fashioning a unique character in Rick Dalton through alterations to that presence. One important facet of his being his accent, which needs a special mention. This is as it is something that is just a brilliant starting point for his performance that he uses so effectively. This in portraying Rick Dalton basically as a Midwesterner, who came to Hollywood. This in that as we see Rick Dalton in official functions, speaking to director to management so on, he speaks with clearer voice closer to DiCaprio's own. A bit of of an accent but a light one. With Cliff Booth, or when he just can't help it, it drops into a much thicker accent of the place wherever he came from, and this just a fantastic touch right from the outset for DiCaprio.

DiCaprio's performance here is realizing the different sides of Rick Dalton. This as we see his attempting to be an unassuming charmer in the opening scene by meeting a potential new agent (Al Pacino), while really just hearing that his career is pretty dead. DiCaprio's terrific in this scene in his gentle thank you and affable demeanor, while hiding such very real concerned glances as the agent speaks of the poor prospects of his career before recommending that he star in Italian movies. This is against the very emotional Rick DiCaprio reveals moments later as he speaks about the meeting to his best friend Cliff, declaring that he is indeed a has been. Of course as much as this is a terrific bit of character realization by DiCaprio, more than anything this is just an extremely entertaining performance by him. This as his portrayal of the emotional Rick in this moment is absolutely hilarious in portraying such complete devastation, as he declares with such raw emotion that "no one likes Spaghetti westerns". DiCaprio is a hoot in a way by making use of the sort of petulant anger, that one might've argued as a weakness with some earlier dramatic turns of his, is made completely winning by using it for the comedic nature of Rick's struggle. This made all the more enjoyable as we see Rick's attitude turn around in a moment at seeing Sharon Tate and husband Roman Polanski drive by. DiCaprio's equally petulant excitement is wonderful in showing just how childish Rick is about the thing as he makes the change funny, but also natural in showing Rick's easy change in mindset.

As I mentioned in my review of Pitt, this is a proper star pairing where the two finding a great chemistry together. This in creating a sense of just assumed friendship between the two in their interactions, along with just terrific dynamic between Pitt as the straight man and DiCaprio as the showy one. Well DiCaprio does not waste his purposefully more overt performance, fitting particularly for the character that is Rick Dalton. This in portraying the over eagerness of the guy that DiCaprio makes almost bi-polar in his  existence as the struggling star. This in creating such palatable desperation, however doing it in a way that isn't harrowing but rather very funny given Rick's prospects and state of being. Pitt provides that stability, and DiCaprio runs away with the almost insanity of the emotional Rick. This that continues as we see Rick go to his next TV guest spot for a pilot where he is set to play the heavy. Although these scenes theoretically could be the slow ones of the film, as they don't advance what seems to be the pseudo plot of the film, for me they are among the film's best, largely because of DiCaprio's portrayal of them. DiCaprio manages to realize with such eloquence the comic gold of Rick facing his none too great future when talking, before shooting, with a young child actor Trudi (Julia Butters). DiCaprio strikes up an amazing chemistry with her in just two scenes as he reacts towards her conversation with all the gravity as he though he would if he were speaking to some virtuoso acting teacher, while also underlining with this certain sweet charm more so towards just a little girl.

DiCaprio is fantastic in the scene though as Rick discusses the book he is reading about a fading rodeo cowboy, whose body is starting to fail him. DiCaprio is incredibly funny as he delivers this plot of the cowboy as this emotional breakdown he is suffering in the moment as Rick speaks of himself. It is marvelous work as he completely does bring to life Rick's plight, he just also makes it extremely humorous all the same. That in itself is but a warm up though, after Rick flubs a few of his lines of hist first scene leading to one of the best scenes in Leonardo DiCaprio's career. This as he portrays Rick's breakdown in his trailer, that was supposedly all ad-libbed by DiCaprio, and it is a masterful bit of comedy from DiCaprio. He's just perfect in the amount of intensity he brings in his anger as he kicks around the trailer in such a fuss, with yells of sheer hilarity at his failures going fully "native" with his accent. The greatest of this being DiCaprio impeccable realization of a stuttering mess he becomes as Rick wallows in his self-pity, that achieves that emotion but is also just so enjoyable to watch him do it as the pathetic lump that is Rick Dalton in the moment. He's not done though as he screams in anguish at his constant drinking, before the impeccable bit of physical comedy as he casually drinks from a flask, before blowing up in a rage all over again. DiCaprio though topping it all with his firm incisive delivery as he gives himself a death stare, and Rick tells himself to not screw up again or lest he kill himself. It's a tour de force comic scene, right up there with his Lemmon related Quaaludes, and one wonders if screwball comedy is perhaps DiCaprio's true calling.

In addition to all this though we also get a lot of fun from DiCaprio in his portrayal of Rick Dalton's various performances. These sometimes are bit brief, but all enjoyable in their brevity. This with the Clint Eastwood squint with an unimpressed delivery as the lead of Bounty Law (where I want to know how things turned out with Michael Madsen the corrupt sheriff), the eager World War 2 eye patched hero with a raving mania as he kills "those Nazi Bastards" when serving some fried sauerkraut, his menacing glare a ruthless man wanted by the F.B.I as one Michael Murtaugh or just some enjoyable wacky dancing for one Hullabaloo. Man.. if DiCaprio wasn't stuck being one of the last legitimate movie stars, he would've made one fine TV guest spotter, alas the road not taken. The crown jewel of these scenes though is as we see his extended work as the villain on the pilot of Lancer. DiCaprio is a delight twice over. This first in portraying the villainous part with such delectable glee. This bringing as much slime and ooze in every single line that he lingers on as if each were one juicy piece of meat he was trying to savor for all they are worth. His eye glances being that of only the purest contemptible fiend, well that is unless he forgets a line and we have DiCaprio do an instant desperate breakdown that is absolutely hilarious. His extreme frustration is just wonderfully puerile once again. This though is fixed, thanks to the aforementioned trailer scene, and DiCaprio comes in an even greater glory. This in his sweaty, "sexy evil Hamlet", physical manner of a depraved prince just loving every bit of evil he can extol on those around him. Rick is loving it, DiCaprio seems to be loving it, and I'm loving it. The capper though being DiCaprio's strict sincerity in his portrayal of a finally positive emotional breakdown. This one that carries that same entertaining vulnerability, though now in heart filled cheer at hearing he's committed the best acting ever, well at least according to a little girl. This is a great performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, as he has the right type of fun with the role, that does wholly realize Rick Dalton as a person, while also just being a wildly entertaining portrayal of a broken vanity. While I do have reservations still with the film overall, the scenes that really hone in on Rick are comic gems, and DiCaprio is the most essential facet of this in a turn that is such a proper combination of his star presence and great comedic ability.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Best Actor 2019: Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes

Jonathan Pryce received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis in The Two Popes.

The Two Popes follows the interactions between the soon to be retired Pope Benedict and the soon to be Pope, Pope Francis. The films has merits, though suffers most from not honing within its most effective material of the two Popes together, and spending too much time on drawn out flashbacks and highlighting events most viewers would be keenly aware of even with a cursory knowledge of the recent events involving the papacy.

Jonathan Pryce earns his very first Oscar nomination, from being extremely well cast as Pope Francis. This as he extremely closely resembles the real man, so in a way Pryce has a great advantage here from the outset in that one already accepts him in the role with little input from his actual performance. This beneficial connection of appearance though itself will be nothing if he does not deliver beyond that, in the end, a superficial element. Although still speaking of superficial I do have to note the impressive Spanish speaking moments of Pryce, in Francis's native language, this is to the point that I thought he might've been dubbed, he wasn't apparently, as he does deliver it so naturally in his work. Although these sort of things shouldn't be too stressed in my mind when speaking of the merits of a performance, at least not as a deciding factor of quality, it is an impressive element from Pryce's work nonetheless. It certainly helps in Pryce becoming even more acquainted into the role and he does disappear into the idea of merely playing the Pope. This also naturally acquiring his slightly South American influenced English speaking accent within the role. Pryce's performance though goes beyond this as his physical demeanor too effectively evokes the real man, beyond just already looking at him, with the very reserved physicality, but with a sense of a naturally welcoming quality within that. Pryce indeed just seems to become Francis, which yes is less of a stretch for him than most, but it sets his performance up from a good starting point nonetheless.

The next hurdle though is within the script by Oscar whisperer Anthony McCarten, who knows how to write a script to earn an actor an Oscar win, he's done it three times now, but struggles a bit more in providing a real depth towards his subject matter. It is important to note that this is his best script, helped greatly by the scenario that somewhat reduces his "then this happens" approach to telling a life story, even if there is a bit of that, in turn it seems just as fitting that this will probably be the first McCarten biopic script that "merely" results in Oscar nominations for its performers rather than Oscar win. Nonetheless there is a bit of "then this" happens material that far more heavily, in fact almost entirely, handles the portions of the film squarely focusing on Francis and less so on Benedict, where Hopkins only really appears in the better parts of the film. Pryce has to instead lead several sequences that don't really add a great deal to the film, but rather just let you know some basic things, that one would assume we know, such as Francis learned of John Paul II's death, he almost was elected Pope, and was elected Pope. We also just have the brief moments of Francis in his ministry, where we just see the likable man of the people. These scenes bear the odor of McCarten most strongly in their excessive simplicity. Pryce though performs them to the best of his ability though in providing the natural charm of the man of the people, and the grace that defines his place of power. The latter element's impact being the strongest in its relation to Hopkins's differing portrayal of the burden of that power.

It is in that dynamic between Francis and Benedict where the film works best, and it is through Hopkins's and Pryce's performances that they elevate beyond their material. This is as McCarten overdoes setting the positions of the two men of the conservative Benedict and the progressive Francis in every facet of their lives, however this is not nearly as detrimental as it might seem or could've been due to the work of Hopkins and Pryce. The initial conversation between the two, as Francis comes seeking permission to retire while Benedict has no wish to provide that, offers a glimpse in that. Now Hopkins has the inherently more complicated role, which he makes more than the most of, but Pryce importantly avoids potential pitfalls on his side. This is as the story is firmly in Francis's corner, which isn't a criticism, but could've simplified Francis as merely the good nearly perfect man. This is not in Pryce's performance in this scene as the two debate their differing views on the purpose of the church and their views on various controversial positions. Pryce is terrific in this scene. Now on the most immediate surface he is effective in providing the position of the man advocating for the ideas of changes to improve the connection of the church to the world, and growing through the times as a benefit. Pryce provides the conviction in each word, but doesn't simplify this, granting a real intensity within his eyes that subverts his often more gentle line deliveries. This in realizing Francis's way of advocating his position, while also showing the way he negotiates the conversation between that deep seeded passion, and needed to attempt to soften its delivery given his audience is his technical superior. 

In that scene though the disagreement, which are painted directly, but given a real life by both Pryce and Hopkins. This as Pryce makes something far more vivid in moments by his articulation that goes beyond a straight passion, even as that too is abundant. His way of saying lines with a slight self-bemused laugh, as though easing Benedict's hearing of it, though finds the right personality within the ideals, revealing the man rather than being representative of simply the idea of a progressive. The same is found in their scenes of meetings each other more so as men than religious figures, though here too they are set as extremes of the introverted Benedict and the extroverted Francis. Again the key within this is that both actors manage to humanize this idea being the slightly contrived set up. This is that Pryce does indeed deliver on the idea of the extrovert in his eyes that show a man genuinely interested in when Benedict speaks of his own passions, and kinder affection in his delivery of Francis's own. This that Pryce delivers as an inviting and disarming quality, of a man hoping to share in this rather than limiting the interest more within. It goes beyond that as the chemistry between Pryce and Hopkins does go beyond this set up of the extremes. This in the way they play off each other they do create a real natural quality within their interactions, both in terms of those differences but the connection in their mutual faith. This as the two manage to work off one another with wonderful sort of moments of detachment from their differences but also moments of understanding which are weaved in so naturally by both performers.

The film though develops as instead of Benedict accepting Francis's resignation, he instead introduces his own choice to resign from his position. Pryce's reaction in this scene is fundamental to the strength of his work. This in he creates such a vivid sense of his disbelief at the idea, and creates a real sense of the frustration and passion even towards having the man stay, even though the man is someone he so strongly disagrees with. Pryce in that moment though grants the eloquence of the words though underlined with a convicted emotional belief behind the idea of the need of the Pope to maintain his position. This is in the strength of his performance as Pryce's work goes beyond even the sometimes perfunctory lines by revealing the deeper personality and humanity of the man speaking the words. He finds a complexity of really so often words are the way they are said, even if they are quire simple. The longest detour of the film unfortunately comes within this conversation as the film flashbacks to the younger Francis's struggle to deal with the political upheaval in Argentina. What I so dislike about the scene, is, one, the flashback brings the film to a halt, but more so its approach gets in the way of the most positive qualities of the film which are Pryce and Hopkins's performances. This as the flashbacks are simple to a fault and cursory. The strongest element of them is Pryce's narration that underlines a more powerful emotion of regret regarding the compromises of the past. It is the shame that we can't see him, as Pryce's work likely would've added more vibrancy to the scenario than we are given technically actually seeing it through the typical Wikipedia article depth offered by McCarten's script. The sort of highlights of that sequence are the brief glimpses of Pryce, the brief things we hear, where Pryce does find a greater depth of feeling than the images can provide. It's a shame the filmmakers did not just leave it to Pryce and Hopkins to create the scene entirely, as their input is more captivating than any of the images found within the visual retelling. This is as everything we need to know is in Pryce's work, so it is unfortunate that director Fernando Meirelles didn't quite have the confidence in his work to let him be. Still even with that missed opportunity, what we still see from Pryce shows why it is a missed opportunity in his moving portrayal of the guilt, before it is absolved by his priest in the moment by Benedict. Again where the film excels and succeeds in allowing the two performers to bring the best out of the material by making the two so tangible as men. Even when they are simplified potentially as figureheads, or ideas, we see them beyond that through the endeavors of Hopkins and Pryce. Take a pivotal moment where Benedict gives his own confession, Pryce is essential within the scene as the partner towards Hopkins's in the realization of the moment. This in his expression of priestly concerned the segues ways towards a more distinct at the sin of his soon to be predecessor. This though still with a portrayal of the attempt of consoling and wisdom, as Benedict goes on to speak of his crisis of faith. In that concern, Pryce emphasizes such a powerful empathy and understanding, and again builds upon the relationship between the two with such a poignant sincerity. Pryce delivers a terrific performance here as he goes beyond a cursory likeness, he also goes beyond the occasionally hackneyed choices of the screenwriter. He consistently offers something worthwhile in his portrait of Pope Francis. I suppose the highest compliment I can give is typically re-watching a McCarten penned film, becomes a far more aggravating the experience in each subsequent viewing. This film though I've actually gained a bit more appreciation for, due to the central performances that so elevate their material, though I still can't help but wish they had a script completely worth of their work.

Best Actor 2019

And the Nominees Are:

Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker

Adam Driver in Marriage Story

Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes

Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory

Friday, 17 January 2020

Best Supporting Actor 2019: Results

5. Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - Pitt delivers an entertaining turn here as he manages to deliver on sort of the promise of the proper leading man he was always intended to be, with his relaxed yet always engaging performance.

Best Scene: Tripping and killing.
4. Anthony Hopkins in The Two Popes - Hopkins goes beyond perhaps the call of his material, in creating an intimate, complex and moving portrayal of a man compromised by his beliefs and his failure to live up to them.

Best Scene: Confession.
3. Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood - Hanks gives a wonderful performance here as he manages to not only convincingly evoke the presence of Mr. Rogers, but more importantly makes his essential philosophy tangible.

Best Scene: Speaking of his family.
2. Al Pacino in The Irishman - Pacino returns to cinematic greatness in his brilliant portrayal of Jimmy Hoffa, that creates the sense of the man's presence, as a politician, a schemer, a father and a friend, while also creating the heartbreaking descent through the realization of that unshakable pride that gets the best of him.

Best Scene: Final conversation with Frank at the gala. 
1. Joe Pesci in The Irishman - Good predictions Luke, Mitchell Murray, moviefilm and Psifonian. Despite my love for the other top performances here, and really this is a fantastic lineup overall, I'll admit I didn't have a second thought on declaring the winner. Pesci returns to film, and doesn't lose a second in giving yet another masterful turn for Martin Scorsese, every time he's been Oscar nominated. This time completely subverting his usual depiction of gangsters, to give such an unforgettable and vivid portrait of a most powerful man, who wields it with but a whisper or, at times, even less.

Best Scene: "He's going, either way"

Best Supporting Actor 2019: Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Tom Hanks received his sixth Oscar nomination for portraying Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a sweet little fable about a cynical journalist Lloyd (Matthew Rhys) whose life and world view is changed through an assignment to profile children TV show host Mister Rogers.

The beloved Tom Hanks returns to Oscar recognition, after being snubbed for nearly two decades, for portraying beloved children entertainer Fred Rogers. Although the film features Fred Rogers, it is not the story of his life, and Hanks, despite being a defining feature of the film, is correctly placed supporting as putting the emphasis on the idea of "supporting". Well before that though the casting itself here seems potentially ideal as one beloved entertainer playing another, though Hanks's strengths of an actor have never been in the actor of imitation. Hanks's performance though isn't one imitation. He doesn't try to transform himself into Rogers by losing his own presence, instead Hanks makes a fundamental decision, and the right decision, to craft an amalgamation between himself and Rogers. This as he lightly alters his voice towards the especially calming voice of Rogers, his folksy demeanor, and easy going physical manner. Both are light though while maintain that Hanks presence that is defined by seeming to be so approachable and amiable. This idea though let's pause on for moment though as Hanks actually gives sort of two performances here. This in that we have two Mr. Rogers's within the film. This as we meet both the man, and almost supernatural version of the man, more representative of the more limited view one was specifically able to see on TV. Now, Rogers was a man he appeared to be, but there is a difference still between the two particularly terms of how this is used in the film. This as the latter's use goes beyond show recreations, and towards almost an otherworldly observer of sorts over the tribulations of Lloyd.

This is as Hanks himself introduces the film we are watching as an episode of Mr. Rogers, with different segments coming in and teaching lessons based upon Lloyd's life. Hanks makes for a wonderful host himself as his own rendition of Rogers. This bringing just such a natural warmth as everything he says is completely bereft of even the slightest hint of condescension. This as he speaks language attuned to be understood by even the youngest children, however in this Hanks does not speak dismissively in this manner. Hanks instead emphasizes only these earnestness in every remark as he presents the story. A story he presents with an optimistic but not just glowing manner. There is an important teaching quality that Hanks delivers, not that of a lecture, but rather finds a softness in this as man presenting a life lesson that one will truly benefit from hearing it. Hanks though is able to capture this wonderful charm in the real simplistic manner of the whole presentation. This with Rogers not being this big bombastic showman, but rather a truly quiet little program. Hanks though finds the right attitude and spirit within this. This being the idea of the man truly inviting you to be his neighbor in the scenes by carrying this relaxed attitude, with just that slight smile of his to make sure that you feel comfortable right with him. Hanks brings these scenes to life as a recreation of Rogers, not by doing a one to one impression, but more importantly finding the unique charm of the man's ways, which weren't the most complex but also were defined by a full and welcoming heart.

Outside of the framing device though we do get to meet Rogers within the film, and he's not too different from that man who presented us with the story. Hanks though is excellent in not so much showing some other person, but rather more of Rogers as a person. This as in his first "real" scene, we see him reaching out to Lloyd as he arrives on Rogers's set for the profile. Hanks brings the same enthusiasm that he showed Rogers greeting his "neighbors" on the show as he does to speaking to Lloyd. Hanks's portrayal is overwhelming in a way, but overwhelming in the right way. This as much as it is as this excessive appreciation of just meeting someone, compared to the norm, Hanks's bright smile and outgoing presence though affirms that this is the only the honest truth. He's not acting like meeting Lloyd is the best thing in the world, for him meeting Lloyd really is the best thing in the world in that moment. Hanks makes the every concerning word only the reality of the who the man is who really does care for this man he just met, and wants to make sure that he is alright. We see the same zest in every human interactions we see Rogers have. This as Hanks shows a man who without exception loves people, and creates in his eyes this sincere fascination within everything about them. This as he speaks to Lloyd about his problems, Hanks keeps this consistent eye contact and interest, as a man who absolutely cares and wants to show his support towards him as one person to another.

Hanks's work though goes beyond from being just as personable in, well, person as he is on TV.  This is really one of the most pivotal aspects of his performance. One key one being when Lloyd sees Rogers performing as one of his puppets Daniel Tiger. The voice is about as simple of a puppet voice as one can think of, replicated as such by Hanks, but the greatness of the moment is Hanks showing Rogers as he performs the scene. This is where Daniel is talking about his anger and having to work through it, and in this scene Hanks's face becomes burdened by its own distresses he goes into a song. This isn't in the moment though of Hanks revealing the truth that the rest of the scenes of Rogers is fake, but rather a truth that makes the man more tangible. This as we see the release of the negative through the positive expression of a song. This is also seen in his scene where Lloyd asks Rogers about the rougher periods of his life and his relationship with his sons. Hanks is outstanding in this moment in that as he speaks of these parts there is a in his eyes a sense of some anxieties over the period and pain. His voice though speaks of an equally relevant comfort though as Rogers explains that it is something he's come to work with and accept. Hanks in both of these scenes shows importantly that Rogers isn't some otherworldly force, but a self-actualized man. Self-actualized not by being perfect, but rather knowing that he will have hard feelings and how to deal with them. In these moments Hanks shows the pain not of some repression, but rather of this sense of understanding and knowing how to respond to it. He portrays the effort that Rogers puts on it, that doesn't diminish his personality, but rather shows that it is not some impossible thing to achieve. On that though we then do have the man who essentially knows how to funnel bad emotions, not by hiding them but dealing them in a positive way. There is the particularly wonderful moment of a sort of fourth wall break, where Hanks's Rogers asks Lloyd to think about those who have loved him into being. Hanks is looking right at the audience moment, is realized with a real poignancy as he carries that same appreciation for all, as though each is so important all at once. Tom Hanks's performance here is a fittingly beautiful piece of work here, as he not only creates his own convincing realization of the man's style, but more importantly creates such a vivid sense of his essential philosophy towards life.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Best Supporting Actor 2019: Joe Pesci in The Irishman

Joe Pesci received his third Oscar nomination for portraying Russell Bufalino in The Irishman.

Joe Pesci perhaps has one of the most unique careers out of any actor, marked by his Oscar nominations. This in failing to truly breakout after his initial Oscar nomination in 1980 for Raging Bull, before fully breaking out in the 90's after his Oscar win for Goodfellas, where he broke out perhaps even beyond expectations in that he was arguably nearly became a leading man for a period in the 90's, when he was in his fifties. Pesci though walked away from all of that, only appearing in a sum total of four films post-2000's, including this one, a voice role and a short cameo. This being less so a selective actor and more so a reluctant actor, as in that entrance of semi-retirement came also his attempted return to being what appears to be his true dream, that of being a crooner. Something he attempted and failed to do in the 60's, returned to in the late 90's, and would you believe he has a new record out now...I ponder if the promise of that was the method in which he was convinced to come out of retirement for this film...but I won't speculate too much. Now Pesci has returned, probably only briefly, to film here, and along with his previous Oscar recognized roles, shares the screen with Robert De Niro in the lead role, with Martin Scorsese directing the pair once again. The film marks their fourth collaboration overall, Casino being the not Pesci related Oscar nomination missing link, and with that film that film the third foray of Scorsese with Pesci and De Niro in a film that examines the gangster underworld. Now the funny thing in all of this, and one should be careful about using funny in relation to Joe Pesci, is that as much as Pesci seems the reluctant actor when you look at the amount of times he turned down the part, and his minimal output overall, you'd think he didn't care, however if one watched only the film, you'd only see a brilliant actor returning to the medium he so shined in once again.

This role is a notable change of pace for Pesci from his other gangster collaborations with Scorsese, where in Goodfellas and Casino, he played two different forms of a psychotic hot head who lives like a rabid dog and eventually is put down like one, if their lucky. There is a colossal shift here though, as even though Pesci is perhaps one of the all time greats when it comes to delivering expressive intensity into a role, you'll barely even witness him raise his voice in this role. Now if one thinks that this will somehow hinder Pesci's performance, well you might just be insulting him a little bit, something we also should never do with Pesci, and witness what he does here as Russell Bufalino also known as The Quiet Don. Pesci's performance is extremely subdued as we meet him in his first chronological scene, as he meets future hitman, then trucker, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), at a gas station. He helps the man, and Pesci leaves a memorable impression even in this scene. This as he brings a overabundance jovial warmth within the man as he helps the man. His exuding this genuine care, though when asked his name, there is this brilliant flick of shadow in his eyes. There alone we are granted the sense that this man isn't just a kind gentleman, even as he is just that in that single small maneuver by suggesting a different sort. Thankfully this is just a slight introduction before Frank runs into Russell again, now as he is introduced into the criminal underworld of New York and Pennsylvania, of which Russell is an essential figure within.

This is amazing work by Pesci, as he not only is able to deliver this work without the need of his usual style of performance, but he is absolutely mesmerizing to watch here. This as we even are given another introduction of sorts to Russell who invites Frank into the underworld and takes a liking to him. Pesci is able to realize this incredible charisma in the part, a charisma not defined by piling on any idea, but rather this is just the presence of the man. This is as he does it effortlessly, and in that quite the achievement, because Pesci just is this man. The vividness of Pesci's work is stunning in that not a single word, or moment in his work doesn't seem to exhibit this complexity of this man. This man who could only exist as he does being so many more things things than one would expect. In that on one hand he seems like the father figure, even to Frank in a way, as this supportive mentor. This that Pesci creates with that warmth, but this incisiveness in his words as showing a man who is never simply saying one thing. The fascinating thing about what Pesci pulls off here it is that it isn't though as this facade, rather he is able to capture rather the extreme intelligence and aptitude of the man, as every part of him is real in a sense. This is just rather that Pesci portrays Russell as a man who is almost conducting himself on a different thought level than anyone else, working multiple steps ahead and beyond all others. This is that Pesci is able to find while still being such a reserved yet always striking figure.

Pesci's realization of this is essential, and stunning as he fashions a believable sense of a man who defines a power of a different kind, though more powerful than any man with a gun. If one wants a masterclass on how to use one's eyes in film, watch Pesci here, as this is nothing short of extraordinary. This as Pesci says more in a single change of a glance than some actors do in an entire performance. For example, take the first time Frank nearly comes afoul of the mob by potentially accidentally bombing a mob owned laundromat. First Frank turns to see the usually so affable Russell, with this immediate expression that creates a sense of the gravity of the situation from just that there isn't a single sense of accommodation in Pesci. When Frank here's he'll be alright by doing the right thing for the powers that be, Pesci's glance just as easily softens so effectively into this mentor expressing instantly towards Frank "see how I've saved you". Pesci doesn't say a thing in the exchange, but says as much as De Niro and Harvey Keitel who he shares the scene with. This as Pesci realizes the eloquence of essentially in many ways a vicious killer, that Pesci puts bluntly in his only narration scene, but knows exactly how to operate as one in this underworld while never seeming as one. I can't help but adore every scene of Pesci, because he doesn't waste a second of a moment. There really is never a time that Russell says "kill this guy" or even that often uses a euphemism for Frank. It is just this change in expression from Pesci. My favorite perhaps being after an insult from a younger up and coming gangster, Pesci has this simple moment of hardening of his eyes towards De Niro, and in only that we that Russell has condemned the younger man.

Again though what is so remarkable is that Pesci isn't portraying different facades, rather it is all one man, who rather does just exist with this ability to measure all moments and play each side of an equation artfully. This as we see Russell outside specifically the mob situation, though he is never completely detached from it, and Pesci again is outstanding in the ease yet vibrancy of his performance. This is even the smallest moments like the interactions with his, as entrenched, mob wife, Pesci brings the sense of affection but the most minor push back of an old married couple. This like his quietly assuring way of "I made a vow" when remarking his decision to stop smoking and his earnest request that she smoke outside of the car. This also in his moments of just interacting with Frank's family and trying to be friends with Frank's reluctant daughter Peggy. Pesci presents this loving sort of grandfatherly manner as he attempts to try to endear himself towards her. This is wholly genuine as Pesci shows Russell really is truthful towards her in this moment. What I love though is he shows as much in his reactions to her near revulsion towards him, with this sense minor of frustration but an even greater sense of understanding. This as even as he insists she thanked him enough for a gift, while her father insists a greater thank you is in order, is a man who wants to show his affection, but speaks with the awareness of the type of man he is. In this as Pesci speaks the words with a truly unfortunate "oh well" rather than any bitterness towards the girl. Pesci's work though again goes beyond expectation though as he still doesn't make this two Russells, but rather one man who is able to artfully exist in both his personal life and the darkness involved in his professional one. Some of Pesci's greatest scenes come within the end of this, as his and Frank's once mutual friend Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) has fallen out of favor yet is trying to regain his power as union president of the teamsters in any way he can, a concern for the mob. The one major scene between Pacino and Pesci, is one of the best in the film, and another astonishing scene for Pesci. This as we witness the method of Russell, that we see throughout the film, though this is one of the best moments of that of the negotiator. This as Pesci delivers with such strict sincerity the concerns, that he underlines with this conviction both towards Jimmy to take each word seriously, but that he also does hope Jimmy will make the right choice. His manner projects still the support almost of an understanding priest, not trying to tell Jimmy what to do, but rather hoping he will see the light. When Jimmy still rejects all of Russell rather reasoned urging to stand down, in his turn from him , Pesci's face again says so much in the resigned disappointment in Jimmy, and the glint his eyes, that is as deadly as the violent ravings of a vicious enforcer.

When of course Russell is not working, or negotiating though he is the one who makes sure death is assured, and in that we have maybe Pesci's greatest scene in the film, though of course Pesci only really has great scenes in the film. This in the pivotal breakfast where Russell tells Frank that he has to be the one to kill Jimmy, Frank's best friend. Pesci is flawless how he conducts the scene because in truth he is a snake charmer, in convincing a man to truly work against his self to kill perhaps his best friend. The thing is though with Pesci there is no curtain, no trick, no hypnotism, just gentle reason and tenable position. This as again his eyes alone say so much in the moment, as they manage to segue from this real sympathy for Frank's struggle, however just as much the real threat of the mob as they toughen ever so slightly in speaking of Frank's own safety, before breaking towards again this comforting appreciation, and genuine rationalization of explaining that they gave Jimmy so many chances. This as Pesci pulls off the trick without a trick, in being so convincing, and really technically manipulative, without seeming as such, as when Pesci says it, everything just seems to ring true. This as Pesci's whole performance is this profound creation of this type of power. The power of the silent man of judgment and calm. This as his quietude and even silence, Pesci makes such a unforgettable impact, and always holds one's attention distinctly. This as Pesci not only successfully subverts the typical expectation of a Pesci gangster performance, he goes far further in giving one of the greatest performances of its kind. This portrait of a truer sort of power, a greater one, of the man wields it with but a gentle word. I would be remiss though if I did not mention Pesci's final scenes that would be worthy of an Oscar nomination alone. This in his portrayal of an aged Russell. This as he realizes so naturally the nearly broken mannerisms of the man, marked by elderly tremors as the man now struggles to even eat bread. Pesci in an instance gives insight into the wear of the man's advanced age, and finds such a poignancy in portraying such eager appreciation of the small pleasure of just sucking on some bread dipped in wine, no longer able to eat it due to his teeth. He is heartbreaking even though as he brings up his sorrow over Jimmy, that Pesci portrays the most intense anger in his whole performance, by now creating the sense of frustration of having been forced into such a difficult choice. Although there is still a rationalization, Pesci delivers on the very real sadness within the rage of regret. This before his final moment of being quietly heartbreaking in being wholly convincing in portraying the doddering old man now, as he speaks to Frank of "going to church" with a hopefulness not of for freedom in his current life, though maybe something in the next. Although Pesci will probably try again for his singing career, I'll just appreciate what we received once again from him, this being yet another consummate turn in realizing all the greatness within his role, and  even going beyond it. This showing that while Pesci will forever be a reluctant actor, to me, he is undeniably a great one.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Best Supporting Actor 2019: Al Pacino in The Irishman

Al Pacino received his ninth Oscar nomination for portraying Jimmy Hoffa in The Irishman.

The Irishman follows the life of "house-painter" (hitman) Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) within his career with the Italian mafia and his friendship with Jimmy Hoffa.

This film marks the fourth collaboration between two of the actors who defined the 70's in Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. This after not being able to share a scene in The Godfather Part II, given they played father and son in two different time periods, then sharing 3, two of them very brief, scenes as a cop and a crook at opposite ends in Heat, and another film that exists that is sadly more representative of both of their later careers than the aforementioned films. The Irishman returns them to a greater pedigree as a film by also marking Al Pacino's first collaboration with one of the major 70's mavericks in Martin Scorsese. Of course Pacino's career has always maintained a degree of quality through his television work that has been consistently of quality, even when his film career sagged a bit. Pacino though is an actor though even in these lesser films,  with lesser characters, did seem as though he was trying to have fun, even if his performances occasionally became a bit repetitive, and weren't exactly working with the best of material. Here appears to be a change of pace for Pacino in the role of Jimmy Hoffa, the famed, and infamous, teamster union president. I do say as this appears to be as in some way this role isn't entirely away from later period Pacino, if to simplify this message there is definitely yelling to be found here, and a louder Pacino role. The thing is though James Riddle Hoffa was not the quiet retiring type and this isn't just Pacino coasting on hot air, this is something special once again.

Pacino certainly delivers here in the most pronounced scenes of Hoffa's energy, in some of his first scenes where we see Hoffa the union leader essentially priming his constitutes like a proper politician. Although here Pacino makes a better, more exact use of the Pacino roar to drum up the crowd with a specified use of it. This with the charisma in the speeches of a true rabble rouser as Pacino finds the right combination between inspiration and intensity. This speaking upon the idea of support and leadership, while also drumming up the crowd towards a frenzy. Pacino here though not even in his speeches just yelling, but rather finding more nuance in his performance. This in portraying Hoffa almost conducting the crowd like a proper general in making this firm exact points within the speeches with a greater grace, before bringing the crowd in towards his rapid raving support for his views. Pacino exudes the needed manner for Hoffa, that is larger than life to be sure, but he delivers an honesty within this idea. This even in the nuance within the role of the politician, which can be purposefully broad, by creating the figure that could easily be as beloved or reviled depending on one's point of view. He initially though makes a few important choices in the role, two choices that his predecessor Jack Nicholson did not avoid, one choosing only to fashion certain elements of his mannerisms in his performance, and more importantly not being a one note parody of a teamster.

Pacino's main appropriation from Hoffa is his unique cadence of speaking, not so much an accent, but rather a manner, which Pacino naturally realizes in the role. This giving a nice distinction his own work that he makes the most of as we see the quieter, though sort of, still public scenes of Hoffa. This in his first scene where he talks to Frank through intermediator Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) over the phone. Pacino delivering in that almost sing song voice of a showman of sorts as he speaks to the idea of the movement and the history that he is creating. Pacino manages to portray this internalized ego though that works as a wonderful charisma. This is as in this moment Pacino delivers each line of a man who firmly believes in everything he is saying, but also has become quite assured the ways in which to convince others of the same idea. Pacino has this inspirational spirit even when hiring basically a hitman, with this promotion he accentuates in every word to make it as though it is the very best idea possible to be working under him. The other essential public moments are in his brief senate hearings though Pacino again uses these to riff a bit as well. This as we do see that same assurance though now played as a deferring attitude as they pry at his possible illegal actions. This as Pacino speaks word with the careful calculation and even presentation of the same man even when in front of the whole world for suspected criminal behavior.

This is a fun and entertaining performance by Pacino, but he is never coasting on this sort of bravado he's making work for the character. This as even in the moment of a mentally ill never-would-be assassin attempting to kill him leads to a bit of showboating. Pacino absolutely makes this work by showing the way Jimmy clicks into this manner essentially in the moment, loving to play for the crowd with his spirited demeanor as he mentors all on the need to rush a gunman but run from a knife man. Pacino is clearly having fun, but it works in showing the way Hoffa is having fun by making the most of the situation, as the man is never too modest to do a bit of self-promotion. That isn't all there is to Pacino here, even if on that alone would've made this the best Pacino's been on film for quite some time. This is as Pacino realizes quickly another time for Jimmy in his scenes with Frank just as friends, or with his family particularly his relationship with Frank's daughter the otherwise closed off Peggy. This as Pacino realizes Jimmy as an extremely likable guy in a general sense. This downplaying the politician and the leader, just to show perhaps the man who initially found power just by endearing himself to others. This in bringing an ease in his personality of man who at this more intimate level just exudes a genuine care for those around him. His interactions with De Niro aren't actually these actors sparring sessions. It is rather creating the sense of friendship between an extrovert and introvert. This in Pacino bringing this outward camaraderie, who is ready to support his friend, and always keep him in his good graces. This with Pacino bringing an earnestness in these quieter moments of just real friendship. This being even greater in his moments with Peggy where Pacino creates such an palatable warmth of a loving man in every moment. This crafting a sense of absolute sincerity towards her as this father she would wish she could've had. Although these moments in the grand scheme are brief, they are essential and Pacino makes the most out of them by speaking and giving every look with a pure sense of affection.

The private and the public man, that Pacino lives up to with a larger than life impact, while granting an amiable intimacy establishes the height of the man, which means there can only be a downfall. Pacino is great in this in that he shows that everything that allowed him to achieve greatness is as likely to create the final tragedy. This as we see in his two particularly important scenes with gangster and union boss Tony Pro (Stephen Graham). This as the two are the proverbial unstoppable force and unmovable object. This in these scenes Pacino portrays that same man so assured in himself though now working with a man who is just as assured, yet will go to even greater extremes to get what he wants. Pacino is fantastic in portraying such a strict stubbornness in every interaction. This as he looks at him with a quiet disdain, and brings such venom in every word. This even in moments of technical cordiality Pacino finds this pent up disdain, that he so naturally releases as this instinctual reaction to the man he views so lowly. I especially love their second confrontation as he makes the breakdown of negotiations so naturally inevitable, by speaking every word as just this decay towards his truth of hate towards the man which he releases with such brilliant intensity. Pacino realizes Hoffa in this deteriorating method, not because of a change in self, but a change in his power without an awareness of the situation he is in. Pacino becomes heartbreaking in such an interesting way as he finds this particular naivety as he speaks with still such confidence of his own position, and his own power even as it becomes all the more obvious he doesn't have it. Pacino is moving by showing the man still with this certainty towards his own strength that he cannot realize he is slowly digging his own grave. Take one of his best scenes with the other man I'll be getting to soon, in one of the last attempts to save Hoffa by asking him to basically calm down. Pacino is outstanding in the graciousness he brings towards the other man, even with these quick aside of frustration as disregard for the powers that be. This creating this striking conviction in the man, a conviction that is sadly nothing but a blindness to what it is. The same is seen in one of his final scenes with De Niro, where Frank tries to convince Jimmy that it is his last chance. Pacino's doggedness is amazing as it still is of the man who is just sure he has it all in control, and makes it all the more poignant in emphasizing the only point of concern towards Frank himself. This in his eyes showing care for Frank's well being while still being oblivious or at least too stubborn to see his own.  One of the saddest scenes being Pacino's brief final ones as he presents Hoffa still proceeding like business as usual, though with a bit more desperation, though without a single sense of the fate that awaits him. This is a return to form to Pacino, as he once again delivers a truly great performance. This as Pacino creates such a powerful and unique tragedy within his portrayal of Hoffa, as showing the man who in his estimation has always been right therefore cannot be wrong, not even at the bitter end.