Saturday, 21 September 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2001: Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko

Jake Gyllenhaal did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the titular character of Donnie Darko.

Donnie Darko although works as it does in its trippy time bending pseudo coming of age story, however it does seem like it is on a razors edge in terms of almost falling apart, though it never does. This barely scraping by though perhaps predicated writer/director Richard Kelly's apparent lack of success afterward.

It must be said  that Jake Gyllenhaal, despite having clearly a very successful career, has had a bit of strange one in terms of cultivating sort of an expected persona as an actor. This with different fits of attempted sort of "star" terms of different types, but always the return towards some darkly inclined character work. The most notable recent example of this being his greatest performance in Nightcrawler, and fittingly this also was found near the beginning here as part of his breakout. This film though not overly successful initially, has found its following leading to this becoming one of his noted roles, of course it helps playing a character with an alliterative name. A deserving state though as the performance falls into line well with Gyllenhaal's unique abilities as a performer. Gyllenhaal in many ways being an essential ingredient in realizing the film's success by balancing it all through his portrayal of Donnie that sort of bends itself through the various sort of tones that the film plays with in creating the strange journey of the young boy through time, life and death. This as he must be a whole lot of things to be Donnie who is a whole many things, really even just within the idea of what exactly is going on in the film.

Now on the most surface examination you have the story of just a troubled teenager potentially, who nearly dies from a jet engine crashing into his house, however that is only part of his troubles. He's a young man who seems off balance to most and Gyllenhaal is excellent in realizing this point in a few ways. This on the most surface area in creating that sort of confusion of self when he speaks to adults. This with a shying physical manner as he retires from situations that press his mental state, and that lack of confidence within situations. Gyllenhaal is effective in creating the sense of the "odd boy" that so many see Donnie as, though as this believable portrayal of just a boy with a mental illness. Take his scenes with his psychiatrist (Katherine Ross), Gyllenhaal as they speak of his "visions" Gyllenhaal creates the real sense of the anxiety within them as he speaks to her with the fear of a real teenager struggling with his mental state. This though in itself isn't something that Gyllenhaal makes as one note, and is terrific in finding ways to create the variation even in this state. I especially love one moment where his father broaches the subject in support of his son, and Gyllenhaal expresses this perfect hesitation though with appreciation in the moment for the love of father.

Technically speaking this off-beat state though makes Donnie a bit different in other settings other than with his concerned parents and other adults who are technically sympathetic to the young man. This in school where Donnie does have some friends, and slowly a girlfriend in new girl Gretchen (Jena Malone). He is also seen as the weird kid and Gyllenhaal finds an effective balance in his work in creating really each of these perspectives. This in the classroom he physically places himself retiring, however in his delivery he brings the intensity fitting his pressing existence that comes within discussions with his teachers over metaphysics, and literary themes. Gyllenhaal captures the right off-beat energy particularly in his scenes with Malone. This as he manages to be charming in a most particular way that is true to the character. This as even as he still has a bit of that shyness there is such an earnestness within his moments of just broaching any conversation with her. This with a real sweetness just beneath it that is so well realized within Gyllenhaal's performance. He manages to touch upon it to make the eccentricity honest to Donnie, while making it endearing within the very specific realm of this relationship. This where Donnie is absolutely honest as himself at every point in Gyllenhaal's performance.

Of course then there is the other state of Donnie with his "imaginary" friend the Rabbit Frank, who speaks to him of the demise of the world in reality and time bending sequences. These themselves being entirely different state of existence seemingly and where Gyllenhaal still excels once again. This in a way grounding them initially in creating the sense of fear in some interactions with Frank when he speaks of the upcoming demise of Donnie's world. Gyllenhaal balances with this fascination at times, amplified by state of hypnosis, of this state of thought that is indeed beyond the normal state of reality. Gyllenhaal delivers a needed weight to this moments by really granting this strict intensity within these moments as Donnie, quite understandably, is fixated within his visions. This state of being in turn also attaches itself to Donnie's actions of destruction of different forms, including publicly berating self-help guru/soon to be outed sex criminal Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze). This moment though is a great one of this spirited yet oh so specific incisiveness within Gyllenhaal performance that creates the sense of sort of a force even beyond Donnie himself in his denouncement of Cunningham's philosophy. Of course the strength within all of this though is Gyllenhaal careful balance of each side of Donnie, that never feels inconsistent, but rather makes sense and amplifies the givens situation. This in turn makes the strange journey cohesive through his performance that creates the essential element through the humanity in his turn as Donnie. This as he makes a convincing portrayal of mental illness, a captivating portrayal of a man's journey into metaphysical madness, but also just a moving portrayal of a young man finding a bit of joy and enlightenment in his journey on Earth we think we know.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2001: Jim Carrey in The Majestic

Jim Carrey did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Peter Appleton in The Majestic.

The Majestic is Frank Darabont's attempt to recapture the films of Frank Capra, which is an admirable ambition, if perhaps a bit foolhardy, not unlike the optimistic endeavors of a Capra protagonist, through the story of a Hollywood screenwriter who is mistaken, through a case of amnesia, for a young man lost in the war in a small town.

There's a challenge in attempting to recapture the world of Frank Capra, which was a very specific tone to begin with. The man that was known as Jim Carrey in the 90's probably wouldn't be one's first choice to the play the lead for an attempt to recapture "Capracorn", being best known for his irreverent comedic performances. This took place in his brief period where he seemed to attempt to balance his comic projects with some more dramatic material. While these typically involved comedy in one way or another, whether it be more subtle in the case of The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or more overt in the case of playing a real comedian in Man on the Moon. This is an exception from the period in this is a purely dramatic turn from Carrey without even the most minor crutch when it comes to bringing a bit of humor into the proceedings for almost the entirety of the film. This simply just is Carrey as a straight leading man, and in that there is something one suddenly notices from the opening frames. That despite Carrey's usual elastic face, when tempered to a strict reality, he actually has perhaps more than just a passing resemblance to one of Capra's most noted leading men, Mr. Jimmy Stewart. Of course a man Carrey imitated in his standup acts, but this performance isn't to imitate Stewart, but rather evoke what that man delivered in his Capra performances.

That's no small challenge, and to successful deliver on this would be no small feat, as Stewart in his height with Capra delivered one of the greatest performances ever given. Now I'll admit right away that Carrey isn't able to produce a work equal to Stewart in Capra's greatest film It's a Wonderful Life, however his work does seem to understand some essential elements that were necessary to the greatness of Stewart's work in his Capra collaborations. This is from the outset of the film where we first see the screenwriter Peter listen as studio executives hack away at an idea of his. Carrey just listens on in thought elsewhere, and even in this action establishes that this will not be a typical Carrey turn. There is no attention seeking, no broad manner, but rather just an attempt to be a normal man. This I guess isn't too much in itself, I mean to tone it down, but his work goes beyond that as he establishes Peter as basically an unassuming screenwriter who is just trying to live out the Hollywood dream, to which he currently is at a lower rung of. Carrey's work though emphasizes this earnestness in this presentation of the man, and succeeds in just being so honestly straight forward. This again sounds a little strange as praise, but it is working towards creating a leading man turn of a bygone era.

Peter's world though is thrown into upheaval when he is accused of being a communist and faces a possible federal subpoena to "name names". Before that happens though he gets into a car accident, losing his memory, but being found by a loving small town. Carrey's performance that becomes even more Stewartesque as the man that so many begin to hold their hopes to, when a local man Harry Trimble (Martin Landau) incorrectly believes that Peter is in fact his son Luke, who was lost in the war. Peter's amnesia allowing him to at the very least not reject the claim, though also tentatively accepting it in a certain sense. This leaves Carrey an interesting challenge in very much relying on a charm, he had not really become known for, while also even reducing that to portray the man attempting to figure things out. Carrey's work is remarkable in the sense of creating a convincing state of confusion but also discovery in the moments of being told who he "is". This isn't too bad given that almost everyone loves Luke, even the lovely daughter of the town doctor, Adele (Laurie Holden). This in itself leading to a proper aw shucks romance, for Carrey to evoke the modest romantic manner that made Stewart's so special. This Carrey can do low key affection rather wonderfully, and he strikes up a nice chemistry with Holden, in that quiet yet potent fashion.

Carrey's performance works as he manages to deliver on the promise of being as earnest as the film is in terms of creating a portrait of basically optimism of the human spirit and of a small town whose existence is made simply by the existence of the return of this "Luke". There is no winking, or playing to a modern sensibility. Carrey carries himself with that spirit as well, and offers the essential non-judgement to the material's strictly genuine tone. Carrey more and more begins to appear as a Stewart sort and this transformation for him as a performer is impressive in itself. Carrey becomes this likable man who becomes part of the town, by romancing Adele, making friends with the local, and recreating the local theater back to its former glory with his "father". In all of this Carrey manages to evoke that old spirit fairly impressively, even as the narrative I'll say isn't as cohesive or compelling as the best of Capra, try as it might to be as such. Nonetheless Carrey's work remains consistent in trying to bring this somewhat flawed version of a Capra story to screen. This including when Peter, after having recovered his memories, must tend to the dying Harry knowing he's not his father. Carrey though is outstanding in offer some final comfort to the old man by "pretending" however Carrey is heartbreaking by only giving each reaction and word this strict honesty to support Peter's real love within a lie.

I will say where the film sort of falls apart, though not to the extent that I think it becomes a bad film even if it definitely comes short of its inspiration, is its ending. This is as Peter is hauled before congress while also dealing with not being Luke, but having to meet the sort of expectations left behind by the brave figure. Carrey's performance to his own credit remains consistent even as the film cannot quite juggle its various elements to the grand Capra finale that it is looking for. Again an admirable attempt even so that I won't be cynical about as some of the criticism towards this film was. Part of that is Carrey's whose performance gives that truth to the material by staying with it. This in portraying the phase of the Capra hero as he gives up, where I'd say is probably the biggest mistake in the whole film. This is as it is a little timid of the darkness, something Capra was not actually timid of nor was Stewart's performance, one can simply watch the scene where George Bailey lashes out at his family in It's A Wonderful Life, for evidence of that. The film rather treats this dilemma as Peter just going, "why not just make it easy", rather than being offered a real temptation, which sadly leaves Carrey's performance without sort of the real low needed to real bring out the power of the high. The film does have the attempted height in the form of the HUAC testimony where Peter pleads his case by evoking the proper spirit of America through remembering Luke essentially. This doesn't hit as hard as Smith's final words in Mr Smith Goes to Washington, or the ending of It's Wonderful Life. Carrey to his credit delivers on the requisite passion in the moment even the writing doesn't quite support him enough here. I'll also grant credit in the bit of humor here, Carrey doesn't fall upon any old tricks but rather evokes Gary Cooper in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, in his bit of mocking the bullying committee members. It's a well performed scene, but I have to admit it just doesn't reach the heights of the scenes it would wish to be compared to, although that does not mean it is a failure. Carrey's performance here though deserves admiration as he successfully evokes a classic leading man, the greatest one in fact in Jimmy Stewart, even though he doesn't reach the greatness of those turns. That's a high standard for anyone to match, especially when working with lesser material to be honest, and while Carrey doesn't quite reach it, he comes close enough to deserve comparison, which is a remarkable achievement in itself.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2001: Liu Ye in Lan Yu

Liu Ye did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the titular character in Lan Yu.

Lan Yu is an interesting though I wouldn't say wholly successful film following the homosexual relationship between a closeted older man Han Dong (Hu Jun) and a young student, the titular Lan Yu.

Liu Ye plays the younger man and is technically the secondary role within the film. This is as the perspective of the film is mostly told within Han's view of his relationship with Lan Yu, but how each stage of interaction with him leaves this impact. Liu Ye's performance then is many ways essential as he has very limited screentime, even though I would say it is still a leading role, to realize Lan Yu's character. This being a particular challenge since as written the role could've easily become one note in one way or another. This being that Lan Yu almost seems a specter at times in his appearances and it likely would've been a mistake to make the role too ethereal in nature. Thankfully Liu Ye makes no such mistakes approaching the role with a strict honesty. This forgoing any false mannerisms or posturing to make Lan Yu into the "young lover" to stand out, but instead strives to do so by just offering a very human portrait of this young man. This is evident from one of his earliest moments where we see the men's initial tryst. This is a key scene for the film, and expressed through Liu's performance that creates the sense of discovering in the moment. He doesn't make is just this physical act, but rather this powerful moment within his eyes of conveying this being an essential moment in his life.

Liu Ye's performance is then one about consistency but a consistency of a note that is rather remarkable. This being granting the importance of the relationship within the character of Lan Yu, who does not see it as a meaningless fling, affair or otherwise. This is rather a life changing experience. That is evident in their first tryst but also from then on. Liu grants the needed dynamic with Hu Jun's more guarded performance by portraying Lan Yu as someone who doesn't hide his emotions and wears them most evidently. Liu's work then is powerful through how blunt it is, however this must be said is notable in the restraint he shows within this once again. There is one of his greatest moments of his work is simply in reaction to hearing Han's more muted or at lest compromised emotions regarding their relationship. Liu captures the despair so effectively by portraying as this searing distress. This as his work emphasizes above all that for Lan Yu this relationship is for him the love of his life and an ever life changing experience. Liu Ye, even when he has certain periods of being absent from the narrative, always leaves the lasting impression on the film.

This all the while Han cannot forget about him neither does the viewer due to what Liu Ye accomplishes when we do see Lan Yu. His portrayal manages to create a particularly needed authenticity within the realization of Lan Yu's struggle. This is even with these technical "jumps" in places based on when Han meets him again. Liu Ye is terrific in portraying this certain maturation within Lan Yu. Liu's work again excels though by making this impressive impact in such a calm yet potent way. When Lan Yu essentially stakes his emotional claim around the idea of the relationship, Liu's delivery is reserved yet piercing. This as within every word there is this concise emotional intensity, that doesn't come out in anger, but rather a vulnerability. A vulnerability that reveals Lan Yu really is only seeking this happiness with the one he loves without exception. Liu excels in portraying Lan Yu's lack of compromise through his portrayal as just this raw emotion of someone trying to find his happiness. Liu's work manages to earn the place of Lan Yu as this nearly haunting presence in the film, not by making Lan Yu this dreamlike idea of perfection, but rather this honest portrayal of a purity of an soul that will not bargain with his truth. Lie Ye gives a fantastic turn here as even though he's not the main focus, he in a way makes himself as such with such ease. This in creating his own separate, and technically far more poignant portrait, not of a man refusing to be himself, but rather a man who can only be who he is.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2001: Anton Yelchin in Hearts in Atlantis

Anton Yelchin did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Robert "Bobby" Garfield in Hearts in Atlantis.

Hearts in Atlantis is one of those films that feels as though there just a little too little to it. In that it very much feels like a short story, although not a bad way, but perhaps to brief of one. It is indeed derivative of Frank Darabont's Stephen King adaptations, but even then not in a bad way, particularly not in terms of having great cinematography, even if it definitely falls short of those films. This film, a coming of age story about a boy striking up a friendship with a mysterious boarder, does feel incomplete,  also needlessly depressing in its bookends that take place in the present, however it definitely has value within its flawed whole.

Sadly continuing on with another actor whose career was tragically short, we have Anton Yelchin who like Ledger was showing his most promise at the end of that of his far too brief time in acting. Let's forget all that though and look at the true beginning of his career, here taking upon the role of the young boy living with his single mother (Hope Davis), and eventually the boarder Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins). Yelchin's performance here begins simply enough really as just a boy enjoying his youth with his friends Sully and Carol. Yelchin importantly brings just a naturalism within just being a boy. There's just an inherent attitude of just a normal kid living his life. This is something easier said then done, and Yelchin doesn't have any signs of obvious sort of child actor or needless precociousness. He makes Bobby however just a naturally likable kid, by being so natural. Yelchin just shows the right sort of joys of the innocent as he hangs around with his friends, though is not one note. Finding the sort of right slight undercurrent of sadness, and quiet frustration in just the most subtle ways in his interactions with his mom. He doesn't show a boy who hates his mom, but does rather effectively alludes to the more difficult history with his father no longer around.

The crux of the film however comes with the introduction of Ted who befriends Bobby. Where the film most succeeds in the relationship between the two realized through the chemistry between Yelchin and Hopkins, who are an unlikely pair, however work wonderfully together. Ted offers initially Bobby a job of sorts to read him the newspaper and look out for "low men", but this grows into a paternal relationship between the boy and the old man. Yelchin with Hopkins finds such a real warmth in their interactions. An essential part of this is Yelchin's portrayal of Bobby's genuine interest in Ted's various bit of information and stories he shared. Yelchin brings just the right youthful curiosity within these moments. There is past that though just the sense of comfort in their interactions with one another, as Ted finds ways to help Bobby, while Bobby continues to help Ted. This while in own ways while becoming more invested in him, and his states of seeming to be away mentally. Yelchin is terrific here by making this relationship, which has some undercurrents of the supernatural, wholly honest in terms of the emotion. He never plays it up, but rather slowly earns Bobby's growing respect and love for Ted in these interactions between each other.

Yelchin's work succeeds on the authenticity throughout which grants a needed reality on the story that is often on the edge of excessive sentimentality and even a bit of corniness in hitting both the coming of age and Stephen King trademarks. Yelchin though earns the majority of these by never falling into becoming a cliche within his own work. For example, we have the scene of his first kiss through his friend Carol. This is a basic enough moment, but what makes it something more is Yelchin's work. We get his moment of hesitation, the fear for a moment in his eyes, but also the bit of over eagerness with the scene. Yelchin brings just this honesty to the scene successfully making it rather moving in its simplicity. The same goes for a scene where Bobby randomly learns a bit more about his father on a trip with Ted. Yelchin's quiet, but powerful excitement at every bit of description offered to him. Again such a moment works through the depth within Yelchin's portrayal that grants a realism needed for the role. The same goes for the expected, for Stephen King, scene of a bully going to an extreme when one of them hurts Carol by hitting her with a bat. What elevates the moment is the acting, with Yelchin excelling in creating such a devastating portrayal of real anguish, along with palatable concern. He's terrific by making it messy just as it would be for any child in such a traumatic scene. This scene actually though is almost the climax as the film rushes towards its conclusion with Bobby's mom turning Ted into the "Bad Man". Nonetheless Yelchin is fantastic in his scene with Davis, portraying just this sad disappointment in his mom, and just sadness towards the loss of Ted. Yelchin brings such a powerful force by making it such a natural one. This being just a normal kid showing his despair towards losing a friend and discontent towards a flawed mother. Yelchin's work does that throughout this film in offering only this earned portrayal of the mostly straight forward coming of age story for Bobby. Although it doesn't make the film complete, it offers something while worth while through his earnest and authentic turn.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2001: Heath Ledger in A Knight's Tale

Heath Ledger did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying William Thatcher in A Knight's Tale.

A Knight's Tale is a lightweight, though rather enjoyable film, about a commoner who attempts to make his way in the nobles only sport of jousting.

The gone far too soon Heath Ledger sadly was really only slightly past the end of the beginning of showing his considerable talent evident in his Oscar nominated turn and his eventual Oscar winning turn that came after his unfortunate passing. Those two performances showed an incredible range and ability to transform himself for a role. His performance as "sir" William here isn't quite as much of a challenge, but it does give Ledger the chance for something else. That something else being just a proper leading man turn. Ledger's performance actually reminded me a bit of his fellow Australian Chris Hemsworth as Thor, though once Hemsworth found his place in that role. Ledger though finds the right tone for this type of role from the outset. This in capturing this overarching charisma that falls upon two things really. The first being an ease in his presence and manner in the film found in the humor he delivers in the role. Ledger knows the tone, which just is a fun romp more than anything, and in that way brings this humor. It is with this complete ease where Ledger never clowns or postures. He just exists with it, bringing it so naturally as just part of William's outgoing and easygoing personality. A personality that not only wins over all his friends, but also wins we the viewers right over to the character as such an endearing lead.

The other thing though that is needed is still balancing the tone. Although the film is lightweight it isn't a farce, even with its purposefully anachronistic use of music, therefore one can't go too far on only humor. Ledger importantly also does deliver the needed earnestness within the role as well. He brings this really with the same ease, which grants the needed weight but doesn't weigh down the film. Take his initial speech where he persuades his comrades to help him on his seemingly impossible journey to become a knight as commoner. Ledger makes the speech convincing by only granting each word a real heart. The same goes for the central romance, which I think honestly could've been a bit beefed up on a writing end towards the character of William's love the lady Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon), but nonetheless it does still work. A big reason for this is Ledger's portrayal of William infatuation with Jocelyn. This again delivering such sincerity in every moment of interaction, right from the first time he lays eyes on her. Ledger helps it along being a basic romance, by never making fun of the idea in his work, instead he supports it with just the utmost conviction in these moments.

The film to be fair never gets too serious beyond Rufus Sewell's boring performance as the black knight villain, who should've taken lessons from Christopher Guest and Chris Sarandon on how to deliver a villain turn in a film like this, and William's relationship with his peasant father. The latter though is just another example of Ledger to shine in a low key way. This in the pivotal reunion scene, where William has found success and delivers the news to his now blinded father. Ledger again is wholly within the moment as just this most divine and honest spirit to the moment. This just accentuating in every moment the real appreciation of a son for his father and the bittersweet nature of the reunion. Beyond that though this is just performance to make William someone you absolutely wish to root for. Ledger does this in a seemingly effortless fashion. He does show when William gets hurt, it hurts, in turn making his victories all the more powerful because he shows us such a modest yet such an endearing hero to follow. When the audience for jousting matches cheer for William, it is easy to do so right along, because Ledger has made someone worth cheering for. Although I wouldn't quite put this performance up there with say Cary Elwes in the previously alluded to The Princess Bride, it does earn favorable comparisons to that work nonetheless. That in itself is a considerable success in my mind, and this performance a testament to Ledger's ability as a proper movie star.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2001

And the Nominees Were Not:

Heath Ledger in A Knight's Tale

Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko

Jim Carrey in The Majestic

Anton Yelchin in Hearts in Atlantis

Liu Ye in Lan Yu

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1963: Results

5. Tatsuya Nakadai in A Woman's Life - I guess I'll note that I decided against reviewing both he and Steiger, as I found neither were notable examples of their talents, though for different reasons. For Nakadai it is just far too limited of a role, reduced even more so by the film's strange structure. He only gets the chance really to be charming, which he of course delivers on, but as Nakadai roles go it wastes him more than a bit.

Best Scene: Years later.
4. Rod Steiger in Hands Over the City - I'd actually say Steiger had a good role here but he's sabotaged by really a bad dub job. Obviously it's not going to be his real voice anyways, but it's worse than that because it doesn't really ever seem to be coming out of him, even with that in mind. It sadly detracts from his work even as dubbing go. This is a shame as his role is pretty meaty, but Steiger just can't shine. I'll give him credit that he does still convey a certain ego and powerful manner of a manipulative businessman. Sadly the dubbing issues keep a certain detachment there. Steiger is obviously acting his heart out at every point, but given the amount of dialogue in particular, it's a shame we can't hear him.

Best Scene: Opening
3. Geoffrey Keen in Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow - Keen makes for a properly despicable villain who brings the right sort of glee and venom to his role.

Best Scene: "Don't be a fool, they'd hang anyway."
2. Anil Chatterjee in Mahanagar - Chetterjee gives an effective turn in offering humor, somberness and a bit of poignancy in his depiction of a husband slowly rediscovering his place in his family and his wife. 

Best Scene: Reconciliation.
1. Alan Bates in The Caretaker - Bates fairly easily conquers this lineup for me, this even if he might reach the heights of his co-stars, gives a terrific performance between them offering the one typically "sane" man, as society would see him, who plays around with the "insane" man by acting a bit insane himself.

Best Scene: Final Scene. 
Updated Overall

Next Year: 2001 Lead