Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Alternate Best Actor 2015: Ben Foster in The Program

Ben Foster did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Lance Armstrong in The Program.

The Program details the story of Lance Armstrong and his drug doping in order to become the number one cyclist in the world.

The Program is a film that struggles to work in a rather strange fashion leaving the always underrated Ben Foster in a rather odd position. Now a bad film being centered around a performance is a rather common occurrence, but that's not what The Program is. The Program falters in part due to extremely rushed pace as it tires to cram in every detail of Armstrong's life including his first Tour de France,  the general culture of doping in the sport, Floyd Landis(Jesse Plemons)'s own similair story, and David Walsh(Chris O'Dowd)'s trials trying to uncover all of this. This actually presents even more of challenge than just questionable material as Foster is barely given any time to cover any given facet of Armstrong's life as the film moves from one aspect to the next in rapid succession. To make things even harder the film almost has a belligerent tone towards Armstrong, not that he's not a man who deserves some scorn, but the film does feel somewhat reactionary. The film has a certain tone almost as though it's saying "You know this is what Armstrong really was like?", as though to be the opposite of the original most likely inspirational film planned for the man. So where does that leave Ben Foster? Well yet again without a true break out, but that's never made Ben Foster phone it in before.

Now just to examine the film's kind of absurd pace in a matter of the first eighteen minutes of the film we get Lance before his first Tour De France race, losing to dopers, taking the dope himself, winning a portion of the race, getting diagnosed with cancer, going through his cancer treatment, trying to rebuild himself, then going to the mastermind behind the doping to become a true champ. This is all within also frequently cutting away to David Walsh covering the tour as well. It's more than a little ridiculous and it would be easy to see how an actor would not be able to find their grounding for his character in time. Ben Foster pulls it off though. Before the first race Foster brings the enthusiasm of a real athlete as his claim of just wanting to ride his bike seems to be the truth. With the loss though Foster reveals the palatable desire in Lance to simply compete, and is able to show even his choice in doping as surprisingly sympathetic through his depiction of just a desire to be able stand against the other dopers. The original choice, despite it being rushed over, Foster manages to bring some vulnerability within the decision that in no way comes from just a crazed ego. At this point Foster importantly barely portrays any ego in Lance, rather just a man who wants to succeed.

This begins to change when he begins to win and Foster's excellent in crafting the development of his personality through the excessive confidence he portrays after winning part of the race. This though is quickly changed when Armstrong coughs up blood and finds out he has cancer. Foster is indeed heartbreaking in the scene as he shows the reality of the situation crush that earlier confidence in a matter of seconds. In the cancer scenes Foster continues to excel in portraying the damage of the treatment physically as well as mentally. Foster realizes the weakness in the man as he painfully tries to remind himself that he was the champ. There are some great moments for Foster on the road to recovery and he never lets the pace of the film trip him up. In these scenes Foster manages to find the needed pathos for Lanc as he portrays just how vulnerable he has become due to his cancer. Even in one of the scenes where he must interact with the dopers' mad scientist played by Guillaume Canet doing everything his power to ruin the scene with his own performance, Foster is able to save it to a certain degree through so vividly realizing how spent Lance is emotionally suggesting the way this state of defeat sends him to only go down further in the path of doping.

Before he relaunches his bike career, now with a specific strategy, and an agent, Lance also wants something else. That being his own organization to help in the fight against cancer. Although the scene is set up as though it wants to be slightly superficial with the way his intention is broken down by the agent, Foster does not play it as such. There's only a very real passion in his voice when he mentions the idea, and in no way attempts to alter Lance's intention with his performance. Lance quickly makes his way back in the tour de France and with his team of dopers easily squash the competition. As the victories mount up Foster grows Lance's ego brilliantly because he does not make this a distinctly negative thing at first. When Lance is in competition or trying to hide his drug usage Foster brings out this larger than life charm, making Lance a guy who just seems happy to be alive. However the problems of the ego develop just as quickly as in more private moments, or when someone questions his legitimacy. Foster is so perfectly smarmy. He carries the right pompousness that gives the sense of entitlement as though he's above being questioned even.

Foster does not let the negative elements overwhelm his performance, though the film seems to desire the opposite at times. When Lance gives a speech in front of his organization Foster succeeds in being downright inspiring by bringing back only that real passion once again as Lance is fighting against cancer. He stands as the great sportsmen he should be, and in these moments Foster again only allows this to be true. An outstanding moment for Foster again comes right afterwards as Lance ponders on his struggle with cancer again. Foster reveals well just again that vulnerability in the man whose been through a terrible ordeal, and even though the dialogue almost suggests he's faking it Foster does not play it that way. There's another scene where Lance visits children with cancer and takes time to visit one patient in particular. Again its hard to shake the feeling that the film almost wants to undercut this in some way. Foster seems to refuse this once again by depicting only a genuine empathy in Lance as he looks upon the sick boy, as Lance's own memories of his treatment seem to be flooding through his mind by Foster's reaction. Foster does not allow this humanity in Lance to be forgotten and makes it a pivotal part of who Lance is as a person.

Foster allows that to be kept in mind as he only goes down the path of furthering his ego, as he has to deal with continued allegations while he continues to dope up. Foster is the right spokesman in any scene where he answers questions, as again his method to conceal the truth is as though the question should never have been asked in the first place. There's a terrific undercurrent of aggressiveness that Foster brings in these moments as though Lance will ride right over the accusers just as he does the competition. One of my favorite scenes of Foster's performance is when he practicing in the mirror repeating the phrase that "I've never tested positive for performance enhancing drugs". The vanity of the man just oozes out through Foster's performance as he manages to make this reassurance so pathetic, as he shows a man building his own image in the moment, an image of someone who simply is above it all. Foster only builds the the fake image as the film proceeds as the accusations keep coming and he only keeps denying. I think when one heard of Foster being cast in the role they probably thought this would where Foster would shine the most. Well Foster does indeed and is amazing in just creating the raw out of control self-importance. The man only gets bigger and Foster delivers this all the way through bringing that trademark intensity right when it is needed. Foster only keeps growing this showing that Armstrong does not start to think he's as great as his fans think he is, but rather greater. Foster plays this as a man only going faster and faster as he begins to believe he can accomplish anything, anything at all, though along with this he only seems to become more and more hollow. The film rushes Lance's confession, as there is basically one scene then suddenly he's confessing. The dialogue in the scene that sets this up even makes it sound like Lance's ego makes Lance do it, that way he's personally cleaning up cycling. Again Foster brings far more nuance to the role and makes sense to why Lance's confesses. It is an astonishing scene for Foster as he presents a man who at this point just wants to stop as he seems to have nothing left of himself anymore. Foster is even heartbreaking, after having been the villain, by playing it as a moment of self-reflection as though Lance knows all his work has simply made him false icon. Foster even with the film ridiculous pace never misses a step effectively showing were Lance is at any given point, and never making his personal arc feel disjointed. He never loses sight of the character finding the right moral complexity in the man rather than being a one note despicable cheater. The Program is not a great film about Lance Armstrong, but Ben Foster gives a great performance as him.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Alternate Best Actor 2015: Michael B. Jordan in Creed

Michael B. Jordan did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Adonis "Donny" Johnson in Creed.

Michael B. Jordan in an interesting fashion has to in a way do what his character is doing in the film, which is to some how live past the ghost of another. Where Adonis must some how find a way to deal with the legacy of his father the legendary heavy weight champion Apollo Creed, Jordan must someone how deal with the ghost of Carl Weathers, to what Weathers might say in response "I'm not dead!". The character of Apollo Creed and the performance given by Carl Weathers I think is one of the best elements of the Rocky franchise as a whole to the point that it even allowed for this sequel. Apollo actually developed the most logically across all the sequels, thanks in part to Weathers's consistently solid work throughout the series, after all he's the only guy who seems to think it's strange that there's a robot in Rocky IV. It's only fitting that in the end it is Apollo who has allowed there to be one more sequel in the mix. Now I'll admit coming into the film I was bit like the naysayers featured in the film, "you'll never be as good as Apollo", I was saying "You'll never be as good as Weathers" therefore having really an unfair expectation that he'll have to be exactly what came before, but just like Adonis himself, Michael B. Jordan isn't here to simply copy the work that he done by his predecessor, he's here to be something new that stands on its own accord.

Adonis's struggle as a character is a rather peculiar one technically speaking in that even though he had a hard early childhood, his later adoption by Apollo's wife left him rather well off. However that does not leave a certain chip on his shoulder as he's still has his past, though he is not likely to quickly find sympathy due to his present standing. Jordan has a challenge for us to even care about Adonis's story of trying to make it as a professional boxer, considering it is not exactly his only option as it sort of was for Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) in the original 1976 film. This film is smart enough to point that out, but in the end both Rocky and Adonis wish to prove something. Where Rocky's struggle was based on proving he was not just a washed up bum never worth anything, Adonis's struggle on the other hand is prove himself not to be seen blemish on his father's record. With this Jordan carries this certain intensity with his own presence that is incredibly well handled by him, especially when compared to another boxing performance from 2015, that being Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw as Billy Hope. Now in this case neither man is suppose to be a Jake Lamotta sort, that being a vicious thug at heart, yet both have moments where their temper gets the best of them.

With Gyllenhaal he basically indicated Billy Hope as basically a calm guy except when the script decided that he needed to be angry, and it's made worse that his anger issues are resolved completely off screen in that film. Jordan makes this much more of constant, but not in that he technically has serious anger problems. What Jordan does have is that intensity, a certain fire in Adonis, that's always there to some capacity, as though it is not only ingrained from his past, but also only exacerbated by being reminded of his father's legacy. In the moments where his father is brought up to mock him Jordan shows the way the intensity moves in a negative fashion. There's even a slight aggression he brings when it seems like there is mention of the man. Jordan is excellent by showing this as Adonis raising his defenses in the moment. He naturally wavers though if the issue is not pushed, however when it is, Jordan is terrific in portraying it almost as an instinctual reaction from Adonis when reminded of heritage. Jordan importantly keeps this as the very specifically attached to when and only when Apollo in mentioned. Jordan reveals so well this considerable vulnerability intertwined with the idea of his father, and so well paints the relationship with his father throughout his life, despite the fact that he never even met his father.

Jordan remarkably is able to carry the father/son connection into the ring, which is pivotal for his character here. The reason for his drive to fight is never in question, and Jordan makes an absolute sense to it. He is able to make this part of his performance even in the fight scenes. In these moments he channels the intensity once again though in this time a way that works with him instead of against him. In the fight, the will to find that connection with his father is even present, as the passion of the fights is that of man living up to being the man he feels he must be to be his father's son. Now what's great about Jordan's work is that he does not allow this idea to override his performance. This is an essential part of Adonis in Jordan's performance, but he never allows it to control Adonis completely. When his father and the fights are not in the topic of direct discussion Adonis is a pretty normal guy. On this note Jordan is charming in his role, but I should note not in the same way that Weathers was in that original film. Weathers was a guy who could control a room with his charm, Donny does not have the experience and it is fitting that Jordan is not so larger than life. The charm though is there, and really Jordan allows for the idea that perhaps given time and experience he could be the showman his father was.

Jordan is particularly likable here and there are some memorable moments in his performance that might even seem minor, yet work because he makes them so genuine. I particularly love his enthusiasm about hearing his chance to take on the world champ. His charm perhaps best shown in his scenes with Adonis's love interest, a singer Bianca (Tessa Thompson). Now of course Rocky had his relationship with Adrian at the center of the film as well, though the one in Creed plays out a bit differently as Bianca has already come to terms with condition, in this case degenerative hearing disorder. Jordan and Thompson are splendid together as they even manage to work through the standard romantic couple starter where they meet through an unpleasant circumstance. They do not dwell on the idea importantly, but even get through that in a natural fashion that ends up working just fine for the springboard for their relationship. This does not get as much focus I would say as the romance in the original Rocky, nevertheless it gives Jordan a chance to be quite endearing striking up with Thompson a very believable connection between the two. I actually really like that they do not necessarily even make this the match made in heaven, what the two do is a convincing depiction of two people coming together.

As in the original Rocky there is a keen focus on the relationship between the boxer and his trainer. Well Donny gets the chance to train with Rocky himself. As I mentioned in Stallone's review, he and Jordan are great together. They play off each other so well with Stallone as Rocky being his usual low key self, while Jordan is properly much more energetic on his side of things. The two have a great comedic chemistry just in small little moments through Jordan's outgoing manner that clashes perfectly against Rocky taking things one at a time as usual. The two do not leave it as just a funny odd couple though as they do indeed move past that. Jordan and Stallone both are able to build the warmth between the two quite naturally, as it is wonderfully informal as sorts. The two become like family through there interactions as Rocky trains Donny to professionally box. The tested moment, when Rocky receives more terrible news, is a heartbreaking scene due to both performances. Jordan is great by placing the warmth of Adonis right upfront showing just how much their uncle/nephew relationship has meant to him. When he is rebuffed in the moment by Rocky, Jordan is so moving in his subtle portrayal of Donny falling apart internally from being abandoned yet again. When Donny and Rocky come back together it not only is completely earned the two only strengthen the relationship further. One of the highlights of the film is the two of them slowly getting up the Philadelphia Art Museum steps. At this point Jordan and Stallone have made Donny and Rocky family through only the course of the film and create such a poignancy in having the two reach the top together. Jordan like Donny certainly gets important support from the old champ, while having to contend with another champ. Jordan lives up to Weather's memorable work through his own performance, not by copying what Weathers did, but finding his own path, making Adonis a character who does indeed stand out on his own accord.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Alternate Best Actor 2015

And the Nominees Were Not:

Tom Hardy in Legend

Jason Segel in The End of the Tour

Johnny Depp in Black Mass


Michael B. Jordan in Creed

Ben Mendelsohn in Mississippi Grind

Predict those five or these five:

Michael Fassbender in Macbeth

Jason Bateman in The Gift

Jacob Tremblay in Room

Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes

Ben Foster in The Program 

Or both.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Results

10. Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation - Elba gives a charismatic performance as a godlike military commander, even if his character gets progressively less interesting as the film proceeds.

Best Scene: The Commandant prepares the men to attack. 
9. Stanley Tucci in Spotlight - Tucci, much like the majority of the cast of spotlight, gives a realistic portrayal of a man in the film's story, and only stands when it aids this story.

Best Scene: "You don't know the half of it"
8. Adam Driver in Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Driver creates a most unusual yet still very effective and complex villain

Best Scene: Kylo and Han.
7. Emory Cohen in Brooklyn - Cohen gives an extremely charming performance that is essential the film's success, as he flawlessly avoids the various potential pitfalls of his technically simplistic character.

Best Scene: Tony and Ellis the night after the dinner with Tony's family. 
6. Michael Sheen in Far From the Madding Crowd - Sheen gives a very moving performance in his portrayal of a man whose emotions reveal themselves, for better or worse, after being shown a hint of love.

Best Scene: Boldwood joins Bathsheba in song. 
5. Benicio Del Toro in Sicario - Del Toro is appropriately chilling in his depiction of a cold killer, yet is particularly compelling in revealing the man behind the actions.

Best Scene: A family dinner.
4. Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina - Isaac is wildly entertaining yet also appropriately enigmatic as his odd tech genius who he plays as though he's a real BRO at heart.

Best Scene: "Have you tried dancing with her?"
3. Walton Goggins in The Hateful Eight - Goggins gives quite the impressive performance, as he's hilarious, incisive, and somehow makes a friendship between a racist Sheriff and a black bounty hunter believable.

Best Scene: Reading the Lincoln Letter. 
2. Richard Jenkins in Bone Tomahawk - Jenkins is completely unrecognizable in his funny yet heartbreaking portrayal of a real old timer of the old west.

Best Scene: The flea circus. 
1. Nicholas Hoult in Mad Max: Fury Road - Good prediction Psifonian. This year is simply amazing, and having to choose between them is absurdly difficult. I could go so many different ways for my winner, since I love all these performances. I could go with any performance in my top 12 and they'd be deserving. My top two came down to the two performances that I've found myself quoting the most incidentally. I could easily switch at any time. Hoult is outstanding in his compelling and entertaining portrayal of zealotry, then is quite heartbreaking in his depiction of a loss of this blindness.  

Best Scene: A promised trip to Valhalla. 
Overall Rank:
  1. Tom Hardy in The Revenant
  2. Nicholas Hoult in Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. Sylvester Stallone in Creed
  4. Richard Jenkins in Bone Tomahawk
  5. Walton Goggins in The Hateful Eight
  6. Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies
  7. Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight
  8. Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina
  9. Benicio Del Toro in Sicario
  10. Michael Sheen in Far From The Madding Crowd
  11. Emory Cohen in Brooklyn
  12. Kurt Russell in The Hateful Eight 
  13. Bruce Dern in The Hateful Eight 
  14. Michael Angarano in The Stanford Prison Experiment
  15. Matthew Fox in Bone Tomahawk
  16. Adam Driver in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  17. Harrison Ford in Star Wars: The Force Awakens 
  18. Sam Elliot in Grandma
  19. Stanley Tucci in Spotlight
  20. Josh Brolin in Sicario
  21. Matthias Schoenaerts in Far From The Madding Crowd
  22. Liev Schreiber in Spotlight
  23. Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation
  24. Michael Keaton in Spotlight
  25. Tim Roth in The Hateful Eight
  26. Jeff Daniels in Steve Jobs
  27. Michael Shannon in 99 Homes
  28. Tom Noonan in Anomalisa 
  29. Joel Edgerton in The Gift
  30. Jason Statham in Spy
  31. Will Poulter in The Revenant 
  32. Brian d'Arcy James in Spotlight
  33. Louis C.K. in Trumbo
  34. Domhnall Gleeson in The Revenant
  35. Michael Madsen in The Hateful Eight 
  36. James Parks in The Hateful Eight 
  37. Brendan Gleeson in In The Heart of the Sea
  38. Billy Crudup in The Stanford Prison Experiment
  39. Peter Sarsgaard in Black Mass
  40. Sean Harris in Macbeth
  41. Demian Bichir in The Hateful Eight 
  42. W. Earl Brown in Black Mass
  43. David Morse in Concussion
  44. Tye Sheridan in The Stanford Prison Experiment
  45. Hugh Keays-Byrne in Mad Max: Fury Road
  46. Chiwetel Ejiofor in The Martian 
  47. Rory Cochrane in Black Mass
  48. Dave Bautista in Spectre
  49. Jeremy Renner in Avengers: Age of Ultron
  50. Seth Rogen in Steve Jobs 
  51. Michael Douglas in Ant-Man
  52. David Harbour in Black Mass
  53. Forrest Goodluck in The Revenant
  54. Oscar Isaac in Star Wars: The Force Awakens  
  55. Billy Crudup in Spotlight
  56. Domhnall Gleeson in Brooklyn
  57. Sean Bean in The Martian
  58. Paul Dano in Youth
  59. Mark Strong in Kingsman: The Secret Service 
  60. Jeff Daniels in The Martian
  61. Nathan Jones in Mad Max: Fury Road
  62. Richard Jenkins in Spotlight
  63. Tom Hardy in London Road 
  64. Jim Beaver in Crimson Peak
  65. Jim Broadbent in Brooklyn
  66. John Goodman in Trumbo
  67. Josh Helman in Mad Max: Fury Road 
  68. Lewis Black in Inside Out 
  69. Brendan Gleeson in Suffragette
  70. Michael Stuhlbarg in Trumbo
  71. Bill Camp in Love & Mercy
  72. Arthur Redcloud in The Revenant
  73. Mikhail Gorevoy in Bridge of Spies
  74. Mark Rylance in The Gunman
  75. Corey Stoll in Black Mass
  76. Domhnall Gleeson in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  77. Neal Huff in Spotlight 
  78. Kit Harington in Testament of Youth
  79. Paddy Considine in Macbeth
  80. Ben Whishaw in Spectre
  81. Jude Law in Spy
  82. Simon Pegg in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
  83. Kurt Russell in Furious 7
  84. Harvey Keitel in Youth
  85. Cory Michael Smith in Carol
  86. Sylvester Groth in The Man From Uncle
  87. Chris O'Dowd in The Program
  88. Albert Brooks in Concussion
  89. James Spader in Avengers: Age of Ultron
  90. John Slattery in Spotlight
  91. Ben Whishaw in The Lobster
  92. Michael Cyril Creighton in Spotlight 
  93. Milo Parker in Mr. Holmes
  94. Kyle Chandler in Carol
  95. David Arquette in Bone Tomahawk
  96. Colin Morgan in Testament of Youth 
  97. Colin Quinn in Trainwreck
  98. Benedict Wong in The Martian 
  99. Christoph Waltz in Spectre
  100. Kurt Egyiawan in Beasts of No Nation 
  101. Jeffrey Donovan in Sicario 
  102. Josh Brolin Everest
  103. Christian Berkel in Trumbo
  104. Tom Holland in In The Heart of the Sea 
  105. Forest Whitaker in Southpaw
  106. Angus Sampson in Mad Max: Fury Road
  107. Ralph Fiennes in Spectre
  108. Kobina Amissa-Sam in Beasts of No Nation
  109. Ryan Gosling in the Big Short
  110. Stacy Keach in Truth
  111. Bradley Cooper in Joy 
  112. Jesse Plemons in Black Mass
  113. John Hawkes in Everest
  114. Taron Egerton in Testament of Youth
  115. Sebastian Koch in Bridge of Spies
  116. Brad Pitt in The Big Short 
  117. James Badge Dale in The Walk 
  118. Ben Mendelsohn in Slow West
  119. Corey Stoll in Ant-Man
  120. Stephen Root in Trumbo
  121. John C. Reilly in The Lobster
  122. Robert Downey Jr. in Avengers: Age of Ultron
  123. Alec Baldwin in Concussion
  124. Jamey Sheridan in Spotlight
  125. Christian Bale in The Big Short
  126. Taron Egerton in Legend 
  127. Jason Statham in Furious 7
  128. Sid Haig in Bone Tomahawk 
  129. Jeremy Strong in The Big Short 
  130. Scott Shepherd in Bridge of Spies
  131. Steve Carell in The Big Short
  132. Derek Jacobi in Cinderella
  133. Jake Gyllenhaal in Everest
  134. Kevin Bacon in Black Mass
  135. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in Trumbo
  136. Hugh Grant in The Man From Uncle 
  137. Ving Rhames in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
  138. Jeremy Renner in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
  139. Bill Hader in Inside Out 
  140. Bobby Cannavale in Spy 
  141. Dwayne Johnson in Furious 7
  142. Jesse Plemons in The Program
  143. Javier Bardem in The Gunman
  144. Ed Harris in Run All Night
  145. Chris Evans in Avengers: Age of Ultron
  146. Sean Bridgers in Room 
  147. Michael Stuhlbarg in Steve Jobs 
  148. Norman Lloyd in Trainwreck 
  149. Robert Redford in Truth
  150. Nonso Anozie in Cinderella
  151. Bobby Cannavale in Ant-Man
  152. Mark Ruffalo in Avengers: Age of Ultron
  153. Graham McTavish in Creed 
  154. Ben Whishaw in In the Heart of the Sea
  155. Rory McCann in Slow West
  156. David Thewlis in Legend
  157. David Thewlis in Macbeth
  158. Ben Whishaw in The Danish Girl
  159. Channing Tatum in The Hateful Eight
  160. Jon Bernthal in Sicario
  161. John Magaro in The Big Short
  162. Finn Wittrock in The Big Short
  163. Chris Hemsworth in Avengers: Age of Ultron 
  164. Hiroyuki Sanada in Mr. Holmes
  165. Ezra Miller in The Stanford Prison Experiment
  166. Matthias Schoenaerts in The Danish Girl
  167. William H. Macy in Room 
  168. Edgar Ramirez in Joy
  169. Dennis Quaid in Truth
  170. Michael Caine in Kingsman: The Secret Service 
  171. Charlie Hunnam in Crimson Peak
  172. Benedict Cumberbatch in Black Mass 
  173. Donald Glover in The Martian 
  174. Sean Bean in Jupiter Ascending
  175. Sean Harris in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
  176. Ty Simpkins Jurassic World 
  177. Paul Giamatti in Love & Mercy
  178. Michael Pena in Ant-Man
  179. Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Avengers: Age of Ultron
  180. Ben Kingsley in The Walk
  181. Adam Scott in Black Mass
  182. Ben Whishaw in Suffragette
  183. Alexander Skarsgard in The Diary of a Teenage Girl
  184. Andy Serkis in Star Wars: The Force Awakens 
  185. Common in Run All Night
  186. Robert De Niro in Joy
  187. Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight 
  188. Samuel L. Jackson in Kingsman: The Secret Service 
  189. Michael Pena in The Martian 
  190. John Cena in Trainwreck
  191. Tony Bellew in Creed
  192. John Magaro in Carol
  193. Nick Robinson in Jurassic World
  194. Lebron James in Trainwreck 
  195. Curtis Jackson in Southpaw
  196. Anthony Bourdain in The Big Short
  197. Hugh Jackman in Chappie
  198. Vincent D'Onofrio in Jurassic World
  199. Richard Thaler in The Big Short 
  200. Miguel Gomez in Southpaw
  201. Austin Stowell in Bridge of Spies
  202. David Dastmalchian in Ant-Man 
  203. David James Elliot in Trumbo
  204. Dean O'Gorman in Trumbo 
  205. Adam DeVine in The Intern
  206. Nat Wolff in The Intern
  207. Anders Holm in The Intern
  208. Andrew Rannells in The Intern
  209. B.D. Wong in Jurassic World
  210. Douglas Booth in Jupiter Ascending
  211. Nat Wolff in Grandma
  212. Tom Sturridge in Far From the Madding Crowd 
  213. Jose Pablo Cantillo in Chappie
  214. Ninja in Chappie
  215. Topher Grace in Truth
  216. Guillaume Canet in The Program
  217. Quentin Tarantino in The Hateful Eight
  218. Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending
Next Year: 2015 Lead (Please name and rank the top three you'd like to see reviewed)

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Adam Driver in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Adam Driver did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Kylo Renn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The Force Awakens is a very entertaining beginning for a new Star Wars trilogy, even if it perhaps hits a few too many of the plot points of the original film through its story of some unlikely heroes, this time Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley), helped by an old mentor this time Han Solo (Harrison Ford), facing down a villain clothed in black, and a giant weapon that specializes in destroying planets.

Kylo Renn acts as the new Darth Vader for the film as he shares a very similair introduction. That being as the leader of a brutal attack who proceeds to take someone prisoner who perhaps holds a key to stop the Empire, I mean the First Order. Both of them have a deep voice though in Vader's case other than the heavy breathing that was just the great voice of James Earl Jones, in this case he very specifically has a distorted voice. Both are rather ominous sounding, and though the amplification in this case does a lot, Driver actually manages a bit of variation within that. Their physical manner also differs greatly. Vader walked in a very distinct way you'd expect almost from a robot. Kylo Renn is made frankly less mechanical as there a sense of youth in his movements, as well are much more that of a man than a machine. Nevertheless in this early scene, and the immediate scene afterwards where he tortures the man, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), to gain the information he seems to be vicious fiend you'd expect him to be, and as Vader had been. It should be noted that Vader actually was just a fairly simplistic villain in the first film, not even the head one as he took orders directly from Grand Moff Tarkin, the development of his character came in the later films, that's not the case for Kylo Renn.

Kylo not exactly being Vader is made obvious from his reaction when things do not go his way, as well as when we actually see Kylo speak directly to the damaged helmet of Vader. When not hearing good news he does not quickly silence or kill the poor messenger as Vader would have done. Driver makes it rather it is a far more intensely emotional reaction almost like a child who has not gotten his way. Driver manages, even over the distortion, to deliver a wavering of his voice as he states his pledge to finish what Vader started. Kylo is not Vader, even though he is related to him, as it turns out he is the son of Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han, Ben Solo. Kylo is not even physically damaged as Vader was, as revealed when he takes off his helmet which revels just a normal young man. The revelation of Driver's face is actually quite an interesting, and one thing in the film that is rather daring. He's not a monster under there at all, and suddenly it seems odd that he's the villain everyone fears. Driver's performance is quite effective in that he's not actively menacing as was the case of Vader due to Jones's voice and David Prowe's stature. He still is a good villain though in that Driver makes there something quite dangerous in the petulance of his Kylo. Driver brings this emotional confusion within the character that makes him rather threatening since you have no idea what he might do with his immense power.

Driver actually does something very interesting with the use of his voice as he does, even without the helmet on, a certain voice that seems to attempt to be emotionless. Kylo though concerned that he cannot completely give himself to the dark side of the force seems to reveal Ben, as his voice wavers to a far human sound. Driver manages to make something quite striking in just how much of an emotional mess that Kylo is as he speaks without his mask. The idea of fear and anger leading to the dark side was rather poorly shown in the prequels through a certain performance, but Driver finally gives this sense through his depiction of Kylo here. The pain of emotion is shown as he speaks about the light still pulling at him, and being a merciless murderer seems to be the only way in which to find any comfort or confidence. The pivotal scene for Driver's performance is when Han finally goes to confront his son and attempt to convince him to give up the dark side. Ford, who might be giving his best performance as Solo actually, and Driver are excellent together as in a single scene they manage to establish a history between the two. There is an unquestionable distance between the two yet in their interactions there still seems to be an underlying connection. Driver is even moving as he reveals a vulnerability in the moment, as a son is revealing his anxieties to find some sort of comfort from his father. It's brilliantly played moment by him as he subverts the tenderness and twists it into a cold comfort as Kylo regains his confidence by killing the original source of this comfort. However this does not appear to solve all of Kylo's problem as he engages in a light saber duel at the end of the film. Driver is very good in the performance of the scene by even representing the mental strife in his wild, and violent attacks. He's not a Darth though he may be on the path to becoming one. This film leaves Kylo's story unfinished as you'd expect but the film and Driver actually have created the most fascinating character out of the villain whose not a simple monster in a mask. After this memorable first act I have to say in terms of the sequels I am most looking forward to seeing the further path of Driver's performance and the story of Kylo Renn.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in Sicario

Josh Brolin did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Matt Graver in Sicario.

Sicario is a film where my initial reaction was that of some disappointment due to a certain expectation I suppose. A expectation not in terms of quality, but rather scope. The film takes pretty narrow approach in its story about the dark world of the drug war. Now my view of the film has not changed exactly in terms but as time passed the film stuck with as I found the film worked more in emotional fashion rather than a logical way, if that makes any sense.

The story follows a FBI agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) who gets involved with drug world after uncovering a group of victims of a Mexican cartel, and agrees to work with the CIA to take down the cartel. This group is headed by Matt Graver played by Brolin. Although much of the praise has gone to the man, who I'll be getting to in a moment, Brolin's performance should not be overlooked. On the outset Graver acts as the encouragement for Kate to come with him on a mission to destroy the head of the cartel. Brolin's very good in this first scene representing the right authoritative and seemingly concerned presence that seems to wish to help Kate find some justice for the victims of the cartel. The next time we meet him is when Kate has agree to come along on the mission, and one of the defining traits of Graver is revealed, though it was alluded to beforehand in terms of his choice of dress, which is his extremely casual behavior whenever he's not in a dangerous situation. Brolin importantly embraces this completely with his performance, as he brings such a consistently relaxed quality to Graver whenever he's going about the business before the mission. In this Brolin actually reveals a bit of Graver's history as he's clearly been at the job some time, and Brolin reveals his comfort with the job in every moment of his performance. Of course Graver is not the only one coming along for the mission.

Benicio Del Toro did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for BAFTA, for portraying Alejandro Gillick in Sicario.

Alejandro appears in quite the ominous way as he stands alone at a distance below a plane that Kate is boarding. This plane is going to take them to Mexico which is not what she expected when she joined. Alejandro appears on the plane as well and despite that almost demonic early entrance Del Toro really does not play Alejandro as one might expect. Del Toro as they just ride the plane at first shows just a very tired man, through in his eyes and expression it does seem as though he's been through a great deal in his time. Del Toro also contrasts Brolin's performance by not suggesting as much of a comfort with the life. In fact there is a certain unease that Del Toro conveys subtly through his mere presence. It is not a fear or anything even close to that that Del Toro portrays, but there is not even a sliver of joy suggested in him. Del Toro, despite being almost a boogeyman of sorts, establishes something very early on that ends up being pivotal to his character though it is never bluntly stated. I'll get to that a little later on though, as first we see Alejandro through Kate's eyes where he is a bit of an enigma. Del Toro's work never feels vague though, as when its time to transport an important member of the cartel Del Toro presents Alejandro with an extreme conviction as a man in his element, though again not necessarily in the way one might expect him to be.

Graver and Alejandro are partners of sorts in taking down the cartel, and Del Toro and Brolin play off each other extremely well. Brolin again keeps an interesting levity with his portrayal of Graver, as he depicts him as a man who most of the time seems to not really care about much of anything. Brolin in this capacity even is able to derive just a bit of humor to the film, which is needed, through just how comfortable he makes Graver with everything. This is never without purpose though as he makes Graver a bit of the good cop to Alejandro's very bad cop. Though in this case even though Brolin suggests that Graver's attitude might be a bit of an act, Del Toro very clearly establishes that Alejandro's side of things is not. A great scene for both of them is when they go about interrogating a cartel member and both show the way the things work. Brolin keeps perfectly calm as he basically just allows Alejandro to have at it. Del Toro is great in the interrogation scene by bringing such intensity in Alejandro as he goes about physically abusing the man to derive the information. Del Toro is very effective as realizes such a striking hatred in Alejandro as a goes about his task. There's no hesitation, no sympathy, Del Toro shows us an unquestionable passion even as it is obvious Alejandro will get what he wants from the man.

Del Toro and Brolin also importantly reveal more to their characters in their distinct relationships they set up with Blunt's Kate. Brolin is actual kind of enjoyable in just how dismissive he makes some of Graver's interactions with her, well especially when Kate's with her FBI partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya). Brolin in his manner and delivery basically shows a man putting on airs basically as he often speaks to her in a tone as though she's just an amateur in a room of professionals, and puts the only actual effort into his conversations with her when it seems like she's either going to risk the success of the operation. Del Toro on the other hand brings a surprising warmth of sorts, though understandably muted as he interacts with Kate, and when he advises her on how to get through the world. Del Toro does not make this a facade either as he portrays a genuine concern at times for her, and is particularly good in just the scenes where he listens to her as she lists of her growing anxiety due to entering the world. Del Toro's reactions do not have a hint of sarcasm or apathy. Del Toro instead plays these moments as a distant though still caring father of sorts as Alejandro does his best to advise and even comfort her in her current descent into a Hell he knows all too well.

Now both Brolin and Del Toro never makes either of their characters simplistic or one note. Brolin as the easygoing often sardonic CIA operative isn't so simple. There are moments where something is on the line and he is forced to explain his position where Brolin reveals the true nature of Graver. When Graver explains why he uses Alejandro and takes some extreme measures Brolin finally brings a gravity to his words. In that moment Brolin reveals the real passion in the man, and even alludes to the idea that his behavior the rest of the time is perhaps a bit of a coping mechanism to be able to deal with such a world every day. Del Toro on the other hand has never created a facade of any sort at any point, Del Toro always plays Alejandro in a completely truthful fashion. His concern for Kate was never false. There is a moment where he asks to make sure she's okay, Del Toro shows this to be the truth, but later when he shoots her, though just to temporarily incapacitate her, he does not subvert that actually. Every action that he takes throughout the film feels natural to the character due to Del Toro. In that moment he shows Alejandro absolutely heartless as he's on his mission, which he will not allow anyone to get in the way of. Alejandro goes off on basically a killing spree to reach the head of the cartel. The man he proceeds to sit down with to dinner, which also includes the man's wife and two sons. Del Toro is chilling in the scene as he so calmly explains his intentions then equally calmly murders the man's family in front of him. Again Del Toro doesn't portray joy when he has the man watch for a moment. It is instead cold hatred intertwined with a man who still seems to be going about a mission, and that painful moment was a requirement of that mission. Now again back to Del Toro's pivotal choice in his performance which is that in reality Alejandro's a good man, or at least was one. His lack of empathy for his victims is not that of psychopath or sociopath, but a honest man driven to a personal vendetta for his murdered family. Del Toro does not even give this pleasure though as he finds a certain element of self-loathing, as he's good man who must become the monster to kill the monster. In that dinner scene I find most powerful element to be is a sadness that Del Toro brings as he goes about the murders. Not for the victims mind you, but for the loss of his own morality that has brought him to this point. Del Toro is even heartbreaking because he does not make a soulless killer, but instead presents a man losing his soul to keep a promise to himself. Brolin gives such a strong performance alleviating what could have been a fairly standard expository role. Del Toro gives tremendous performance creating perhaps a far more complicated portrait of revenge than the film even intended.
(For Brolin)
(For Del Toro)

Friday, 5 February 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell and Walton Goggins in The Hateful Eight

Samuel L. Jackson did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Major Marquis Warren in The Hateful Eight.
The Hateful Eight is an excellent western by Quentin Tarantino about a group strangers, which includes a bounty hunter and his high priced prisoner, stuck in a lonely mountain cabin during a blizzard.

Samuel L. Jackson is the first of the titular eight that we meet as he sits on a lonely road in the snow on top of three frozen bodies. Jackson is a course a mainstay of the films of Quentin Tarantino appearing in all except one and a half of his films, though a few of these appearances are mere cameos. This is a substantial role though as Major Warren is a bounty hunter who we already know has slain three men, who were at least bad enough to be worth some amount of money. In just the most general sense of the part, Jackson is already perfectly cast as the badass bounty hunter, since few do that as well as Jackson does. This should not be hand waved as a given though, as he did formerly in his original collaboration with Tarantino, Pulp Fiction, Jackson commands a definite presence, and the fact that his character is dangerous certainly is a given. We are only given a brief moment though with Marquis as he has to inquire about a way to get through the snow towards shelter, after losing his own horse, and with that we meet the next two members of the titular eight including a fellow bounty hunter.

Kurt Russell did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying John Ruth "The Hangman" in The Hateful Eight.

Major Warren is forced to deal with the man who paid for a wagon coming along that snowy road and that is John Ruth. He is chained along with his captive one Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who he intends to bring to the nearest town by the name of Red Rock, to collect the ten thousand dollar bounty on her head. Now we go from one cinematic badass to another, as Russell also fits the bill quite nicely. If there's someone who could go toe to toe with Jackson in this it definitely is Kurt Russell. He also know how to command a scene in a way in which the nature of his character is quite evident without even needing to do anything particularly notable. Russell evidently to add to this decides to do a bit of John Wayne impression. Now this is actually a fairly common occurrence with Russell, he also did this in Big Trouble in Little China and in parts of Death Proof, though here he downplays it a bit in that his voice feels really just that of Wayne's rather than an obvious imitation. It could not be more fitting for the Hangman John Ruth, or especially the film as Russell seems like a true man of the old west here, speaking of men of the old west.

Walton Goggins did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Sheriff Chris Mannix in The Hateful Eight.

Walton Goggins, the reliable character actor who tends to add something to his film even when his roles are thin, is the fourth member of the eight to make his appearance. Like Major Warren, Chris also chances upon Ruth's wagon after being caught in the blizzard after losing his horse. Mannix though is on the opposite ends of things opposed to Major Warren, being an ardent confederate, whereas Warren was a cavalry officer in the Union army. Now Mannix, the youngest son of a Reb outlaw, claims to be the Sheriff of the town of Red Rock, which Ruth instantly calls out as false, yet the claim still gets him a place in the wagon. Now the cursory view of Mannix is that one might describe him as a bit of hillbilly. It is fitting that Goggins plays a character who looks up to Bruce Dern's character in this film, because Goggins brings a similair energy to his role that Dern does in his comedic performance. There is with such unabashed enthusiasm that Goggins brings as Mannix so excitedly introduces himself, and its great because of the way he embraces the "he-haw" nature of the character in just the right fashion. As Goggins is downright hilarious in just playing up this, well, southern hospitality of sorts as Mannix does his best to apparently seem like just the right good old boy that he should be.

Now a spoiler warning should be noted just in case. The Hateful Eight could have been called the deceitful Eight as much of the film is the lies of appearances, and the lies people tell. We get the first impression of Mannix, John Ruth, and Major Warren, but in a way we are warned from the start about this by Ruth as he is constantly questioning everyone, even Major Warren who seems like an obvious ally. Now the first impression seems a comfortable enough one to make and all three actors certainly help to try to make us accept them. Jackson and Russell are both the imposing forces they should be. Russell carrying the right casual intensity as John Ruth goes about his own business of protecting his interests, while Jackson carries it in a more direct fashion, though understated, yet never in question. Jackson knows how to hold a scene like few others. On the other hand Goggins is consistently enjoyable in his delivery of Mannix's perhaps overeager sentiments. One would be wrong to believe that this is the truth with any of them, and that is not to say that this is even them lying, yet. None of them are a simple archetype which is brilliantly revealed by each of these performances.

Now starting with Russell, who should seem simple enough as a cool hero channeling John Wayne, what more could there be to him? Well as we soon see Ruth is very quick to discipline his captive Daisy, as he does not hesitate to physically assault her whenever she makes an insult at his expense or even at Major Warren's. Russell actually plays these scenes in a purposefully unappealing way, as it is not a direct rage he portrays when Ruth hits Daisy, but rather he shows that Ruth does enjoy it a bit. Now this is not quite as damning as it could be considering the extreme nature of Daisy's racism as well as the fact that she's a murderer, however Ruth's status as a great hero is instantly challenged as Russell shows a definite personal pleasure in the suffering he makes Daisy endure. The certain strip down of Ruth continues though as Ruth tries to make himself safe, which involves trusting absolutely no one, which is smart considering they end up in a cabin of strangers, though he does not do this in the most intelligent way. Although Russell keeps a definite confidence most of the time, there are moments where he demands something related to his paranoia, there is a desperation in the man that alludes to a weakness in him.

Now with Jackson it's rather interesting that he's as many of his characters usually are, which is that he's cool and confident even when he's talking about killing people. Jackson indeed pulls off the cool killer to the point that we in fact like him, rather than hate for technically a callousness towards life, however even this idea is played with by Jackson's performance. When it is stated that Major Warren's war record included so many killings that he seemed more interested in killing than any cause, Jackson portrays absolutely no denial in Warren in related to this. In fact when asked about the people he's killed, Jackson carries a certain pride when speaking about it, and is not even hesitate in it. Again Jackson does have that cool that let's him get away with it, but he goes even further to almost cause a bit of discomfort for us when wholly accepting Warren. A pivotal moment revolves around Jackson confronting one of the strangers a Confederate General Smithers (Dern), a general who had killed surrendering black soldiers. To goad Smithers into doing something rash Warren relates a story of not only killing the General's son, but also raping the man. The scene is no simple revenge moment, not only because of Dern giving so much humanity in his reaction, but also the vicious, though earned, hatred that Jackson brings to it. Jackson portrays it that Warren absolutely relished in the act, though it very well might have been partially made up to get the General to strike first.

Now how about Chris Mannix, what else does he have to show for himself. Well this is interesting as Mannix, despite seeming like he might not exactly be genius, actually is the one who reveals much of the truth relating to Major Warren's deeds. Goggins is terrific as he reveals the needed incisiveness in Mannix's words as he speaks about Warren's killing of men. What Goggins does is also challenging in a very effective way, in that Mannix is a racist yet a straw man he is not, thanks in part due to Goggins's performance. What's so special about what Goggins manages to do is in a way suggests, even though it certainly never stated, that the racism of Mannix is mostly something ingrained. It is never something that Goggins gives an earnestness to, not that Mannix does not believe his words, but when such words come from his mouth it is made often like a recitation by Mannix, as though he is repeating what he's heard his whole life. Goggins only reinforces this idea through giving a strong passion still in Mannix when he talks about the lives lost at Warren's hands, as well as when he tries to give an idea of just trying to find a certain respect in defeat. Goggins is excellent as he is able to actually almost force you to see where Mannix is coming from, since there is only a genuine empathy in his words when he speaks of the dead including the Union soldiers that were killed, accidentally, as well from a fire started by Warren.

I love how all three actors go so far past the first impressions of the character revealing far more complicated men then you might expect from the outset. Now even though there might be many lies told in the story the one man we seem to know is telling the truth is John Ruth. Even this is used to show more of the man when it is revealed that Major Warren has been lying the whole time about having received a personal letter by Abraham Lincoln. The earlier scene where this was brought up Russell brought out a considerable warmth in his examination of the letter, presenting Ruth as overjoyed by this truth. This makes it all the more disconcerting when it is said to be false, and Russell is actually rather heartbreaking by once again revealing a vulnerable side to Ruth, as this break of trust is made devastating by Russell as though Ruth has lost some solace since one of the men he thought he could trust had been lying to him the whole time. It should also be noted that Jackson is equally good in the moment because he so bluntly states the truth behind Warren's lie, to the point you completely understand why he would have lied. Unfortunately everything only turns against Ruth more as he is poisoned through some tainted coffee. This scene is brilliantly performed by Russell as he brings such a combination of rage and pain in Ruth's final screams. My favorite moment of the scene though is when his captive finally has a gun drawn on him. Russell again is surprisingly moving through his hangdog expression as though Ruth in the moment realizes not only that he's finished but also perhaps thinking about where his abuses of Daisy have left him.

This leaves us with Warren obviously, and in turn gets Jackson a perfect Hercule Poirot moment as he dresses down one of the stranger's stories. Jackson unquestionably owns the moment as he should, and its just so captivating to watch him uncover the mystery as well as delivering some quick justice. Warren though is not alone against Daisy and her co-conspirators as he finds an unlikely ally in Mannix. Now this does seem impossible, it shouldn't work, but it does. Now the key behind Goggins's portrayal of Mannix is that he never lies, he's a man who always is seeking the truth, and will break down a lie if he hears it. Now even though the "hee-haw" side is there, it's not facade, rather Goggins finds Mannix as a measured man who will be more dour if he's speaking words he believes in but is just well a rather jolly chap by nature. Goggins is fabulous in the way he calls upon the certain charm of Mannix. Not only is it funny, but it also shows Mannix doing his best to try to disarm people in some way. One of my favorite moments of his performance, which saying something (something I must say for many performances in this category this year), is in his argument with Ruth and Warren which gets so heated that Warren pulls his gun on Mannix. Goggins is comedic gold as he switches gears, and apologizes so sweetly for talking politics. Goggins importantly establishes that there is never a hate in his heart. He speaks racist words in a way that does not reveal the true man, and it is only when life is concerned that he brings out real vigor to his words. Goggins, even in a moment where he's about to shoot someone, brings the greater emphasis on the man he's avenging. Goggins is a delight when shooting breaks out, because again he suggests a man out of his element really, as he just seems to be winging it. The fact that the consistent quality Goggins focuses upon is decency, despite not sugar coating his uses of racial epithets, he makes the alliance between Warren and Mannix believable. The best part is both actors go past this, as they manage to even develop a bit of a friendship. Both Jackson and Goggins have such marvelous chemistry that this is completely convincing. Not even much is said yet it is never questioned as the two suggest in their glances really an understanding and mutual respect between the two. The two manage to make their final scene together so poignant as the two men of opposing armies, sit together alone with no interference of the outside world, and just quietly enjoy what might be one their last moments, side by side. I don't want to diminish Russell's work as he unfortunately must exit early as well as plays the one man with nothing to hide, yet finds something remarkable in revealing perhaps too much of who the "badass" bounty hunter really is. Jackson and Goggins not only create such memorable characters they also have a challenge, a seemingly unfeasible one, yet they pull it off to bring about such a powerful conclusion.