5. Eric Tsang in Comrades: Almost a Love Story - Tsang delivers a moving portrayal of a gangster with more heart than you'd expected.
Best Scene: Many wives.
4. Ed Harris in The Rock - Harris, despite being in a dumb film, gives a complex portrayal of a soldier whose convictions slowly bring about his tragic downfall.
Best Scene: Breakdown of command.
3. Harry Belafonte in Kansas City - Belafonte gives a film stealing performance by subverting his typically affable presence, in his portrayal of almost demonic philosopher/gangster.
Best Scene: Racist joke.
2. Charlton Heston in Hamlet - Heston proves his measure with Shakespeare in making the words sing, but also offering such potent emotion within it.
Best Scene: Monologue
1. Peter Stormare in Fargo - Good predictions Razor and Bryan. Stormare offers the perfect other half along with Steve Buscemi, as two less than professional criminals, in his performance that works both as a hilarious deadpan comedic partner, and a chilling portrayal of a truly amoral killer.
Eric Tsang did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Pao Au-Yeung in Comrades: Almost a Love Story.
Comrades: Almost a Love Story is a sweet, if a touch overlong, film about two mainlanders in Hong Kong, who can't quite seem to come together.
Eric Tsang plays one of the potential obstacles between the love story that seems always on some sort of on the brink between Qiao Li (Maggie Cheung) and XiaoJun (Leon Lai). This as Tsang portrays a mob boss costumer of Qiao's, at a message parlor. Eric Tsang would later play notably a mob boss in Infernal Affairs, however Pao Au-Yeung here is a far cry from that more dramatic criminal he would later play. This as we really come in at first to the man, mostly head down, just receiving his massage and attempting to flirt with Qiao. Tsang delivers a bit of the expected "brunt" to the role when he demands force be used to handle some issue relayed by his men, but even this is just a perfunctory statement. We we get more passion is as he speaks to Qiao of his new tattoo adorning his back, along with his more expected tattoos, that of Mickey Mouse, her favorite character. It is then we see that Pao isn't your standard mob boss as we see the two begin an actual romance. Though this first seems likely to be short lived as Pao essentially tries to allow her to leave by speaking of all the wives he has in other countries, Tsang handling this moment as one of false bravado. This not as a boast, but as a man attempting to not only soften his own wound, but to most earnestly make Qiao feel better about herself. This in his face though a real sorrow of the loss, that Tsang strictly conveys the genuine sense of love in the moment. This showing the real heartbreak in the man in the moment, before Qiao decides to marry him. Although the scenes following this are brief, however Tsang uses them well. This in providing a real warmth in the interactions and a purity of the man's manner, as though this is Pao as his truest self. This in portraying just a to the point sweet man, who loves his wife, and wants to just live a good life with her. Tsang naturally delivers a potent affection this as he makes it natural from that of the former gangster, to just a caring husband in every sense. This making it so when he makes his untimely exit it is something that is felt, and not just an obstacle to get gotten over for the sake of the leads finally getting together. This in Tsang successfully creating a sympathetic portrait of both the typical "other guy" of the narrative and of a gangster. It's a relatively short performance but Tsang delivers still a memorable impression within that screentime.
Peter Stormare did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Gaear Grimsrud in Fargo.
Now I previously reviewed Steve Buscemi's great work, as the largely incompetent Carl, the one half of two criminals hired by used car salesman Jerry Lundergaard (William H. Macy), to kidnap his own wife to extort money from his father-in-law, but I was remiss in forgetting Carl's, mostly, silent partner...in crime. Stormare's performance is an anti-thesis that I will get to, but it is also brilliant that I will preface, although since he was my runner-up even before this review, so that might be obvious. This is actually one of those interesting performances in that I've enjoyed Fargo multiple times, yet I forget that Stormare is only a few scenes, as he seems such an essential element of the film. This is as his impact is essential, and we must look to Stormare's work for leaving such an impression. This is as his work is almost a silent performance, though the few words he does make leave an incredible impact, Stormare, unlike the rest of the cast has a limited amount of that wonderful Coen dialogue to work with. In fact Stormare more of just has a few lines in total, and a great deal of silence, though this is all he needs to create two different achievements within the film. The first is this is a hilarious performance, oddly enough despite being the most terrifying character, as we find Carl and Gaear, in some ways have more in common with Laurel & Hardy than a Leopold & Loeb. This as we have Buscemi's Carl as the man who never stops talking against Gaear who rarely says a word, unless he deems it essential. The few words being each in themselves idiosyncratic, yet so fascinating of deliveries every time. This in "Where's pancakes house" with his face of sincere questioning then disbelief as Carl doesn't agree to get some proper pancakes at the pancakes house. Stormare's face is something special here, as in a scene like that it is to such great comedy in his nearly dead eyes towards Buscemi, before Carl relents to agree to pancakes after all. He is the fantastic deadpan straight man of sorts Buscemi, like in their later conversation where Carl attempts to get a few words to which Stormare delivers his "Nope" and "I just did" as a fountain of conversation with such beautiful bluntness. This though maintaining this indifference towards slight annoyance at his chattering partner.
There is something just fascinating yet perfect about how Stormare approaches every scene in creating Gaear as a whole different kind of sort. And initially this seems to be fun and games, in ignoring his partner, berating Jerry briefly for the stupidity of his plan, but then they do kidnap Jerry's wife, and we get part of where Gaear may not be so much fun, though still hilarious. This as when Jerry's wife bites him first to escape him, we get another classic bit of oddness from Stormare in his "I need unguent" that is marvelous by how detached from the situation he is in the scene. This distance, that same detachment, brings upon a more eerie quality however when he finds that much need unguent along with Jerry's wife attempting to hide in a shower. This as he notices her, but with those hollow eyes now finding a more menacing quality within them in that distance Stormare brings. The same distance he brings as he follows Jerry's wife as she falls upon the floor knocking herself out, and Stormare pocks her not as a sadist, but as someone might interact with an object or insect. This strange nature of Gaear coming out more directly, as the two men, with their kidnapped in tow, are stopped on a remote road. Stormare's manner becomes most unnerving as we begin to feel a bit of what he can do. This coming up initial as Carl attempts to bribe the highway patrol officer, leading to Gaear instead to kill the officer without hesitation when that doesn't work. Stormare's way of speaking towards Carl's claim "You'll take care of it" is with a chilling blase quality to it. This as we see only spark of anger, when directly annoyed by Jerry's wife's screeching only as it seems to interfere with him directly in some way. Stormare is terrifying and strangely mesmerizing as the sequence continues, as while Carl is attempting to cover up the murder, two onlookers driving by leaving Gaear to finish the job. This as Stormare portrays Gaear in almost this zen state and quiet determination, where this business seemingly is nothing out of the strict ordinary for him. I especially love, though that might not be the right word, as he catches up with the onlookers who crashed their car. Stormare's is unnerving as his manner is relaxed, his state calm, but calmer than calm. This as we see him particularly look at one of the witnesses stuck within her car. Stormare doesn't smile or wince, he rather seems almost observant of not a man looking at a person, but rather how a man look like something that which he shares no connection. Now I could've sworn there was a great deal more of Stormare after this scene, I mean I could swear it right now, even though he only has 2 brief, 1 relatively brief, and one major scene, all with few words after this pivotal scene. The reason I could still swear it is the impact he leaves nonetheless, and even in these scenes, where we see this horrifying force of evil in Stormare's performance, that nonetheless is captivating. Whether that is as he looks on at, Jerry's wife failing to escape, or Carl's struggle to get a signal on the TV at their cabin hideout. In each moment the power of Stormare's work is evident, and all the greater the more we see him. Although I do have to take one moment to refer to his more comic work in the first half in his one major, albeit short, comic moment later on. This as we see Gaear waiting by watching a Soap Opera, and Stormare's genuine surprised look as Gaear hears the revelation, is pure comic gold. Now though, back to the more fundamental purpose of his work later in the film. Where we have two immediate scenes of Stormare's terror in a way, because of how at ease he is, whether it is mentioning the murder of Jerry's wife, as though he's explaining why he took out the trash, or his killing of Carl as though he's going out to shovel snow. This as we find him that antithesis to the chief investigator of Jerry's scheme, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand). Where she is a morally good character, to the point her greatest frustration in the film is shown towards Gaear for doing all his ill-deeds for money even on "such a beautiful day". Where Marge is defined by positivity and a love for life, we have instead Stormare as Gaear as a strictly amoral individual detached from life. This even compared to Jerry and Carl who are too human in how pathetic they are to be pure in their despicable nature. Stormare doesn't make Gaear just a bad man, but rather a fundamentally amoral force within the film. This right down to his "conversation" with Marge, where she questions his actions, and with Stormare there is no regret on his face, or even anger, rather he shows a man whose violent actions where in a way meaningless to him. This is a downright brilliant performance from Peter Stormare, as he is endlessly captivating through so many wordless moments, while being a proper comedic partner to Buscemi, while also wholly finding the needed menace and evil to create the purest villain in the piece.
Ed Harris did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Brigadier General Francis X. "Frank" Hummel in The Rock.
The Rock follows an improbably named chemist, Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage), and an imprisoned SAS soldier, Mason (Sean Connery), who must infiltrate Alcatraz to stop a group of rogue marines. Marines who have taken control of the island with hostages along with missiles carrying a deadly poison.
Michael Bay movies are stupid. This is known. This is the good Michael Bay movie, on the virtues that it is a successful action picture, though his unfunny juvenile humor often rears its head indicating his later features though thankfully more minimally here. It might also help is one thing that Michael Bay seems to take pretty damn seriously is the US military. This creating then at least the allowance for anything of even a remote substance, though I will still say in a limited fashion, in the character of General Hummel played by Ed Harris. Harris's performance here, honestly is in a different movie than Cage and Connery, but that's alright, since he barely shares any scenes with them, and we can essentially take in what he is doing separately from their antics which are of a more ridiculous, though definitely entertaining, action spectacle. Harris basically is there to take upon all serious intentions and gravity of the film on his shoulders. This is something he seems more than ready to perform from the opening scene of the film. This is right from the outset of the film as we see Hummel making his technically villainous decision, at the grave of his wife. Harris does not play the scene like a dumb action movie, what the Rock is, but rather reflect the grief within a conviction in his voice. This as Hummel offers almost an apology to his wife in explaining his soon to be actions. Harris offering the devotion of a drama in the moment by reflecting the sadness in the General as some sense of motivation for what it is that he is about to do.
What he is about to do is a lead a group of his solders, and a few extra wild cards (for the sake of a last act villain switch), to steal chemical weapons then take Alcatraz. Harris, as shown elsewhere, excels as the company man military role to begin with. His innately intense delivery, and rigid demeanor help to reflect a man who has lived life by a code of discipline. This even being shown as we see the man in his villainous enterprise, as Harris doesn't portray Hummel as a lunatic, but rather a General prepping for a mission he deeply cares about. This as we see him running it as he would any mission, with Harris delivering each line with a careful measure, and even subtly in his eyes, showing a real sense of loss, when one of his men dies, though hiding it within the veneer of maintaining order as a leader. This is even in a brief, but important moment, when taking Alcatraz, where Hummel asks children to leave the island before he takes it. Harris doesn't make the moment a sociopath putting on an act, but an honestly caring guy asking the children to be out of harms way. This supports as we finally hear the General's demands, which is money, however money specifically for the sake of the families of soldiers killed in Black ops mission, disavowed by the government. Harris delivers on the idea in the initial threat in offering a controlled passion, showing the man absolute belief in his objective, while again still presenting himself as the controlled General feeling he is performing just yet another mission.
Harris makes for a good villain in that he manages to deliver on the idea of the menace within the controlled certainty of the character. Where his performance though goes beyond that is creating a definite tragedy within the role, that he manages to weave from that opening scene and throughout the film. This is that he doesn't just make him some military mad man, but a genuinely caring person. This is within the film as written, however Harris is essentially in not only giving it sense, but even a power to it. Take the scene where his men kill all the government's infiltration team, sans Mason and Goodspeed. The argument that prefaces the massacre, Harris makes more out of the scene, this as he begins with the strict intensity of the General asking for surrender, however as it continues his delivery offers a greater frustration. This not being a frustration at disobedience, but rather seeing the situation is about to go out of his control with innocent lives being taken. His yells of "cease fire" is with harried expression from Harris as man whose resolve has been shaken, and his moment of looking upon the dead soldiers, Harris grants an honest poignancy to as he subtly reflects the real regret in the General within the moment. The one scene where the two sides do collide is where Mason, briefly, turns himself into the marines, and he and Hummel have a brief battle of words. Even in this scene, that is primed as the testing the villain moment, Harris manages carry on the specific arc of the General. This as even reaction to Mason's words, it is with a greater internalized frustration that externalizes as violence.Those that Harris does not act as a beat down for sadism, but rather a gut reaction of a man who can't fully rationalize his choices in the moment. Harris is consistently compelling in granting a severity to the worsening situation, as the General is pushed by his men to launch his poisoned missiles. This as he continues to capture it as the idea of the man slowly getting in over his head on his idea, than a lunatic. This as when they launch one missile, where Harris portrays with a resignation. This not being a resignation to kill, but rather a resignation that his plan is a failure. This naturally comes to a head when his additional wild cards, question his actions and attempt to relieve him of his command. Harris is fantastic in this scene. This as he begins it first with the same conviction explaining his plan was a bluff, therefore it is over. This with the same determination in his voice in his threat as he does explain that he never had intention to kill innocents. I love the moment in which Harris attempts though to tell one of rogue men to stand down, first with his General's confidence, however as the man doesn't listen the second time Harris's voice cracks. This emphasizing the man not only losing his confidence, but also realizing he's lost his control of the situation. Harris finally fully realizing the real desperation of the General as loses that strict assurance of himself essentially. This in his very final moment, that Harris does not waste, in speaking with a genuine regret as he asks "What have I done". This is terrific work from Harris, as he finds a real tragedy within his villain. This even in an absurd action picture, Harris maintains a gravitas within his role, and even offers a semblance humanity into the plot, that is pretty ridiculous when you break it down.
Harry Belafonte did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning NYFCC, for portraying Seldom Seen in Kansas City.
Kansas City is a Robert Altman attempt that just doesn't come together (in part due to Jennifer Jason Leigh's Achilles heel being on display, that being hammy attempts at portraying the Golden Age Hollywood style), not that it's terrible or anything, about a woman kidnapping a politician wife attempting to save her criminal husband who has been kidnapped by a gangster.
Well that gangster is played by veteran performer Harry Belafonte, better known when it comes to entertainment for carrying more than a few charming tunes, plays entirely against that type, though oddly enough in type compared to his role in Uptown Saturday Night, where he also played a criminal. This however is one with a far darker intention. The part of the film that works is when Belafonte is onscreen as Seldom Seen, partially due to the sheer power of his work. This in using his scraping voice to great effect as we early on see the man's wrath just bubbling as ponders on the theft in one of his cabs, by a man pretending to be black. Belafonte has such an ease in menace here that is downright startling coming from him. This is evident from his first monologue, as he has captured the foolish thief. This is as Seldom states his distaste for the man's choices though with this certain disturbing manner, as though he almost reciting a poetry as he speaks of it, though ends with pondering what he'll to do the man directly. In just the final few words Belafonte shifts his delivery, and his eyes suddenly, and so effortlessly create a chilling quality as we see the real threat within Seldom. Where the rest of the film kind of meanders around, you just awhile just await the return to Seldom's jazz club, to get what else we have in store from Belafonte, who despite not having nearly enough screentime, steals the film entirely. Belafonte sinks his teeth into every time we come back to Seldom, and get a bit more of Seldom's philosophy. Belafonte is brilliant in that while the scenes are all these philosophizing, that he not only makes sing, he manages to make them less artificial than they're written largely through the virtue of his work. His second speech on losers, directed as basically telling the thief he will die one way or another, again Belafonte manages to combine this certain breezy style as though he might be ready to say something, yet again deteriorates it as his eyes just grant this sinister glint of man essentially playing with his prey. Belafonte carries himself as this almost demonic philosopher that is just incredible work from him. The greatest of these perhaps being his racist joke he tells as a man is being violently beaten. The manner in which Belafonte brings to the tale is disturbing by just how energetic and gleeful he is. Belafonte creating this sense of a man with what is a most nihilistic worldview, that he makes vivid, while also just doing so in being downright captivating in each word he speaks. Even in speaking on the nature of death, it is with an optimistic smile he says as he ponders when it's time, but again with an even greater devious joy when remarking that he gets to decide when the thief dies. My favorite moment of his might be a mostly reactionary one where the thief tries to bargain for his life, through some minor threats. This in Belafonte as he builds in small reactions of disinterest, then slowly bemusement as the man offers to be his slave. Belafonte switch from a bit of joy at the idea of owning the man, then change so slightly into a hellish grin as he notes that he's really just most interested in the man's "guts" being his, and in that moment we see the unnerving determination that gangster has made for his victim. Sadly, to support the pun, Seldom Seen is seldom seen in the film, and the sum total of his screentime is limited. Belafonte makes the most of it creating such a fascinating villain in so well realizing the man's sort of callous philosophy towards life. If only the whole film was about Seldom, as Belafonte's work is worthy of mention with the best of Altman, the rest of the film...not so much.
Charlton Heston did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying The Player King in Hamlet.
Kenneth Branagh's epic, complete, Hamlet is a fascinating examination of just how much within Shakespeare's play, given the complexity of elements that are usually passed over in most adaptations. Branagh within his epic approach in every regard includes including all-star cameos per the most minor role. A choice to give essentially each character some impact, although the choice overall is imperfect given some of the more lackluster performances attempting Shakespeare, it also provides major dividends, none greater than Charlton Heston as the Player King. Heston throughout his career was known for a more specific roles, almost as the prototype towards the more modern action hero in many ways. Heston though technically came up through Shakespeare, which seems alien towards so many of his cinematic roles. This training, which was rarely called upon throughout his cinematic career, was finally given the chance to truly shine, though in an unlikely role. The Player King typically is not a part of note in Hamlet, he is there just to basically help reenact Claudius's, via a play, murder of his brother to get a visible reaction of guilt out of the treacherous king. This usually played by no one of note, but you know what "Do we have to put up with this? Can't we get a better actor. I know it's a small part, but I think we can do better than this?" Well no more requests to be said. Although the part is more substantial within the play therefore this version, as the entrance of the players to the kingdom, gets more than just excitement from Hamlet, giving him a chance to essential fanboy over the performance of tragedies he loves so much. It is here we get a proper introduction of the Player King, as he is called upon for a monologue on the tragedy of Priam and Hecuba, an even greater monologue than the one about that one perfect day on Gordon street. As much as a joke about another Heston cameo, this is downright brilliant work from Heston. This as he calls upon all his might as a performer to deliver the story of the dying king. Heston's considerable presence honestly has never been greater, as he commands the screen with an ease, even at his older age, the sheer force of his physical manner has never been more potent. Heston is mesmerizing in a way that quite honestly you may not have expected him to be. This as his sheer ferocity of his work here is incredible, only amplified by that so wonderfully worn yet still refined voice of his. This as he speaks the words so dynamically and so effectively, he grips you into each and every one of them. The extent of this though is remarkable as Heston shows a true effortlessness with Bard, but goes even further than just being well delivered speech. This in his work delivers within it this emotional vulnerability, that grants the speech an even greater impact, as he seethes with an initial rage in his face initially in creating the fury around the story, that slowly segues to tragedy. This in his eyes, that do indeed bare tears, captures so poignantly the loss within his monologue. This as he shows a man fully within the world of his words, and in turn brings us right into that same emotion. The degree of that range of emotion here, almost makes one ponder why Heston seemed to be holding out on us in his other roles. This as his work here is simply stunning. Heston's work actually also is fulfilling a plot point, within the play typically removed, of Hamlet seeing the ability of the actor to elicit such a great emotion, which he could use against Claudius. Heston earns that idea, and then performs it, as we see him in the more expected scene of performing the play that acts out Claudius's betrayal. Though in this scene is less as directly intense in its power, it is still a fantastic scene for Heston, as he delivers such a quiet warmth within the dialogue of the soon to be dead king with his wife. This creating seemingly a sentimental soul as he instead finds the power in the words through more tender emotions. This in offering the sense of an understanding of one's demise in his quiet sense of resignation along with that sense of a loving man. Heston's work here is simply incredible, in that he offers both the blunt force of personality you'd be more likely except from him, though never better, but with a vulnerability and emotional range, you'd never expect in his lesser roles. Heston earns the right of the non-truncated play, through showing the value of what is cut in this magnificent work. It is a true showcase of making the utmost of a minor role, and becoming a true highlight of the film.