Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Alternate Best Actor 1985: James Mason in The Shooting Party

James Mason did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Sir Randolph Nettleby in The Shooting Party.

The Shooting Party tells an interesting story, though it lacks a certain cinematic flair, about a pheasant hunt among English aristocrats just before the break out of World War I.

The Shooting Party marks one of the final films of one of James Mason, and one of his three films that were released posthumously. It is slightly muddled what exactly was his final film, filmed or released, but this seems to be his final leading performance in a theatrically released film. Then again the leading designation is also a bit muddled given the film's wavering focus, Mason's character Sir Randolph seems to stand out the most, although that might have more to do with Mason than the writing or the direction of the film. This allows time to just about everyone in and around Sir Randolph's grounds but Randolph seems at the center of it all. This role is as well suited for Mason as every suit he ever wore in a film. The role of the aristocrat is naturally perfect for Mason who handles refinement with such an flawless fashion, while still creating a definite command through it. This serves well Sir Randolph who is well respected throughout the film though his actions are fairly limited, this view is earned through Mason's performance which exudes the precise sort of stature needed for an old landowner.

Mason's performance often is reactionary yet the notable thing about this is he is never overshadowed despite the nature of his role. Mason makes Sir Randolph feel as the core of the film, even when it is covering some other conflict or interpersonal relationship away from him. Mason is brilliant in his reactions as his face is never silent even when he is not speaking. Randolph differs from many of his family members and fellow aristocrats by seeming to hold true a different set of values than the rest of them. This actually is barely verbalized during the film but rather all in Mason's work. Mason is terrific in portraying the exasperation and even confusion in Randolph as he ponders the way his wife is caught up in the society, as well as the concern at the merciless competitive nature of his younger guests. Mason always carries a certain grace that suggests man whose own beliefs are of a simpler, perhaps purer motive that also separates him somewhat from the rest. Mason's presence in any given scene adds a much needed additional nuance to the film whether it is that mute commentary, or even a more positive element such as the warmth suggested when observing the children on the estate.

There are moments when Sir Randolph is allowed to speak, and these are the best moments of the film. There is one particularly effective scene where an anti-hunting activist, played by John Gielgud, comes around to protest the shooting party. Mason and Gielgud are both rather perfect in the scene, as they instantly strike up a chemistry in the moment. They have a different single belief yet Mason and Gielgud convey well that the two are kindred spirits in terms of their personal natures. The two make the scene even rather amusing by showing how properly the two of them disagree on the point of hunting all the while the two come to an understanding of sorts as Sir Randolph notices how nicely made the activist's pamphlets are made. The two of them manage to be hilarious by actually keeping conversation so natural despite how quickly the two go from a proper debate to a mutual admiration of good printing. As I wrote before Sir Randolph perhaps was not even meant to stand out as much as he does, but Mason's performance ensures this. Mason work goes beyond merely making Randolph a compelling character, but also carries through the subtext around the story. Mason builds well almost a sense of dread in so carefully setting up those moments of a detachment in Randolph to the rest of the shooting party. The film climax involves one of the shooters' beaters, the poor men who get the birds to fly to be shot, is accidentally shot and severely injured. The one man who seems to recognize the severity of the situation is Randolph. Mason is outstanding in this as he almost has Randolph fully reveal his humane values all in this moment, which he so effectively alluded to throughout the film, in his earnest show of empathy for the injured man. Mason is so powerful as he tries to save the man, and completely heartbreaking as he sees the man dying in front of him. It's such a beautifully rendered moment that is only more poignant knowing it would be some of the last words he ever said on screen. It ends the film in such an affecting manner as not only the loss of the man is felt, the loss of a time as well, but also the loss of the talent of one of the greatest actors who ever lived.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Alternate Best Actor 1985: Griffin Dunne in After Hours

Griffin Dunne did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Paul Hackett in After Hours.

After Hours is a very entertaining black comedy by Martin Scorsese, even though I'm not quite sure if it climaxes quite right, about a man trying to escape SoHo while suffering a series of misfortunes.

Griffin Dunne makes for an unusual Scorsese lead since he's just an average schmoe, well word processor, who decides to take a trip to SoHo after setting a date with an attractive woman named Marcy (Rosanna Arquette). Now unlike most Scorsese protagonists there's not much inherently wrong with Paul before he sets off into the night. Dunne is able to create an innate likability. He doesn't do this through an excessive amount of charm, that would be ill fitting to who Paul, but rather just an openness in his expressions that honestly reveals that Paul's not hiding a thing from we the viewers. Of course things start to go south pretty quickly when his twenty dollar bill, basically his only cash, flies out his taxi cab window. Things don't exactly get much better when he finally arrives to his destination. He first find Marcy strange roommate Kiki (Linda Fiorentino), but when he meets up with Marcy as well things don't exactly get any better. As it quickly appears that Marcy seems a bit off herself in her behavior especially when she goes on to describe her other relationships which are more than a little atypical in terms of the details.

Dunne is very good in these scenes as he portrays such a courtesy early on in dealing with their rather unique personalities to say the least. Dunne keeps Paul trying to make the best of the situation, but is terrific by so quietly showing his confused reactions as one thing happens after another. Dunne builds this in a way in terms of his relationship with Marcy. Dunne so eloquently realizes the odd state it puts Paul in as he tries to deal with her mix of signals since she says things that are rather off putting while she still seems interested in him. Dunne finds the right combination of hapless and earnest as he tries to maneuver through the minefield, and is on mark throughout these scenes. Eventually Paul stops the date after all of that in addition to finding some indications that Marcy might suffer from severe scarring from burns, now in terms of the film this is Paul at his least likable. Dunne succeeds in making this seem an earned reaction as he builds to the point nicely as a nervous reaction that he shows comes from not only that possibility but also everything else he has experienced up until that point.

Of course his failed date with Marcy is far from the end in terms of Paul's misfortunes. Now what proceeds forward weighs heavily on Dunne in order to make the film work at all. The film ends up being a series of very unfortunate events for Paul as there is one spot of bad luck after another. This goes to the point that he not only becomes stranded but also slowly becomes a hunted man due to the local denizens getting it into their heads that Paul must be thief. Now Dunne's work is magnificent. His early scenes were essential in that he sets up Paul as a likable enough guy for us to follow, but it only becomes easier to empathize with guy as the night proceeds because of how genuine Dunne's performance is throughout. Dunne's work here is pitched perfectly and in a way that without a performance like this the film might have fallen completely apart. Almost all the other performers seem on some other wavelength as they seem at the very least slightly mad, however Dunne is steadfast in portraying Paul as just this normal guy stuck in this insanity. Dunne work bridges this pivotal gap of sorts though in that he does not simply represent reality, but takes it one step beyond.

That step beyond being that Dunne's performance is absolutely hilarious in its own right. He makes this always wholly sensible though as the comedy from his performance always comes through the honest reactions to the madness that Paul deals with. Dunne does not waste a single second of his work though as he also facilitates every other performance in the film through his own. In fact the majority of the performances in the film might not have worked if it were not for Dunne who bounces off them so flawlessly no matter the situation. Now this can be in the directly comedic moments such as fast talking his way from a police officer who caught him jumping the barrier, being rather frightened by a demonic Catherine O'Hara as an ice cream truck driver, trading banter with a bouncer, or trying his best to not offend yet not encourage a love struck waitress. Dunne switches it up so naturally though even to a more somber note when he goes back to visit Marcy, or deals with her boyfriend, or even to a more charming aside when he dances with an older woman at a bar. No matter the scene Dunne cuts right to the core of it and brings the best out that any scene has to offer.

Although a strong basis for Paul's point to the story is to be the sane man to the craziness, and to Dunne's credit he's one of the best sane men you'll ever see. Dunne's performance though is not even a constant as many straight man performances go. Dunne again goes further in portraying along with Scorsese's direction the growing paranoia and distress of the situation. Dunne though is never overshadowed by what Scorsese does but matches it every step of the way himself. Dunne is amazing in his portrayal of the gradual decay in Paul over the night. Dunne from one scene to the next so effectively presents how tired Paul is getting from the night. You can feel it in Dunne's appearance and physical manner to the point that you just want the guy to see a good night's sleep. Dunne goes further though again by absorbing every event in the story.  Dunne builds so well the wear from terror and stress in Paul as one thing goes wrong after another that earns one amazing breakdown scene where Paul breaks down the night's events. This is a masterclass straight man performance by Griffin Dunne as his grounded, yet still incredibly entertaining presence, weaves the insanity together into a captivating whole, which could have failed without him.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Alternate Best Actor 1985: Eric Stoltz in Mask

Eric Stoltz did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe (absurdly for supporting actor), for portraying Roy "Rocky" Dennis in Mask.

Mask is an affecting film about teenager with a facial deformity trying to live a normal life alongside his biker mother Rusty (Cher).

Eric Stoltz has a bit of unfortunate notoriety attached with one of the most notable films of 1985, Back to the Future, where he was the original actor cast as Marty McFly, though not the original choice, to the point he shot several scenes, and can even still be scene very briefly in the film. Apparently not being quite right for the role, in that he was not Marty McFly as Michael J. Fox was, he was replaced by Fox which was fitting given that Fox was the original choice to begin with. Any chance at stardom seemed set to allude Stoltz by fate since he had another leading role in 1985 here in Mask, but the film's whole point setup Stoltz to be unrecognizable. Stoltz plays Rocky who is based on a real person who suffered from a condition that caused calcium to build up on his skull which caused his head to enlarge abnormally. Stoltz has a set challenge from beginning as he is always encased in this thick makeup throughout the film. This challenge is particularly important for the film itself given that Stoltz's work needs to overcome the makeup in a way, that makes him more than the makeup while still making it seem like a natural part of the character.

Stoltz accomplishes that with his performance as the makeup just seems part of him, and we only really see him as this kid with this condition. Stoltz never seems restricted by it as his eyes allow more than enough expression even as the rest of his face is set in place. Now the remarkable element of Rocky in the film is that this is not about someone living a different life through this condition, instead it is about him trying to live as normally as he can. This is set up well in an early scene where after a checkup the doctors tell Rocky he only has a few months to live, but both his mother and Rocky dismiss this given that they've heard this so many times before. That is not to say they are ignoring the idea, but rather not allowing it to control Rocky. Stoltz makes the decision to play Rocky as naturally as a he possibly can. He speaks with just the voice of an average teenager, he physically acts without mannerism. Stoltz makes the right decision as he shows firmly from the start that Rocky is just the same as anyone else except for some unneeded calcium on his skull. This is not to say that Rocky is completely unaffected by his condition, but this is not handled as one might expect.

The emphasis is on optimism for Rocky rather than any sort of pessimism. Stoltz's portrayal of this is remarkable as he is able to realize it in such a genuine fashion. Stoltz brings this energy of personality in Rocky that creates this certain charisma in him as someone who is willing to be anyone's friend. What I love about how Stoltz does this is that he does not portray this as effortless, but at the same time makes it completely honest. Stoltz subtly alludes to the recognition in these moments that Rocky knows its time to put on a bit of charm. He does not handle these moments with an ounce of cynicism though, instead portraying an understanding that this is what he must do to help others get over their reaction to his appearance. Stoltz makes Rocky actively likable in that he shows Rocky as someone who is always trying to win over someone best he can no matter what, given that if he did not do this he would be completely ostracized. Stoltz makes Rocky's success with the other teenagers convincing since he remains such a consistently endearing young man.

Although optimism defines Rocky much of the time Stoltz never allows Rocky to become one note, nor does he even allow the optimism itself to be simplistic. Stoltz is brilliant in the moments where he interacts with people who are seeing him for the first time because he does bring just a subtle hint of the discomfort in Rocky at seeing others initial revulsion to him. Stoltz portrays what Rocky himself must get over with his optimism by so effectively showing these vulnerabilities in Rocky. He portrays that most of the time he can override it through his upbeat personality, but it never is completely gone. Stoltz is especially strong in realizing the way these insecurities occasionally rise when something specifically occurs that reminds maybe a bit too much about his condition. Stoltz is terrific since he even keeps this moments fairly low key yet quite powerful. He shows so well the way it cuts deeply in him in this specific unease that seems ingrained unfortunately through his experience of life. Stoltz makes it so when there is the time for a more dramatic breakdown it not only is heartbreaking but completely earned in the moment.

Now two of the most important aspects to the film comes in Rocky's two most pivotal female relationships. A romantic one being with a blind girl Diana(Laura Dern). This is made to be just a very nice and altogether sweet relationship. It works though as they share the right chemistry, and Stoltz does well to show the way Rocky overcomes a natural shyness in regards to his appearance throughout their scenes together. The strongest aspect of the film though is in Rocky's other relationship, which is with his mother Rusty. The relationship is based in love as Cher and Stoltz both realize the needed genuine warmth between the two, as Rusty fights for Rocky to be treated normally with fierce dedication. The relationship though is more complex than that in large part due to Rusty's drug addiction and problematic lifestyle. Both Cher and Stoltz are fantastic in finding the depth in the relationship between the two as their moments of fighting are made raw and realistic. Stoltz does not sugar coat Rocky's disappointment in his mother's behavior, and by doing so he allows the tender moments to be all the more moving. One can see the history between the two in every moment they share together making the final scenes of the film rather devastating. Eric Stoltz gives an outstanding performance that is never defined by the makeup, as he successfully acts through it to give a complex portrait that makes Rocky so much more than just a boy with a tragic condition.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Alternate Best Actor 1985: Aleksei Kravchenko in Come and See

Aleksei Kravchenko did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Flyora in Come and See.

Come and See is an effective and unflinching depiction of a boy experiencing first hand the horrors of World War II in a Nazi occupied portion of the Soviet Union.

Aleksei Kravchenko plays the young boy in Belarus who we first see in the opening of the film looking in a field for an abandoned rifle with his friend. Flyora as a character is defined simply enough as just a normal boy in this situation and there is not an extreme depth to him, nor does there need to be. Throughout the film he does not have an exorbitant amount of lines, and much of the burden of bringing across the personal story of Floyra is left to the young Kravchenko. In the early scenes as Flyora finds the rifle, and goes about joining the Soviet partisan forces. Kravchenko does well in the role by just finding the realistic attitude in the boy as he finds the right expression of joy while first finding the rifle, then unease as he must leave his mother and sisters to join the soldiers. Kravchenko finds the complexity of the moment by showing the certain happiness of a presumed maturation by becoming a soldier, while still representing the fear of taking this step in the unknown. Upon his arrival in joining the camp of soldiers Flyora finds that there is nothing special to be found as he is immediately assigned a menial task.

The frustration of the position is well marked by Kravchenko though this switches to something else when a girl Glasha comes upon him and kisses him. Kravchenko is excellent by portraying the sheer confusion of the young boy at the action as he just can quite know what to do with what happens, and importantly shows that it is not that Kravchenko did not like it, he just does not understand it. In their other scenes together Kravchenko reflects as he interacts with her in a certain shyness that so effectively depicts the state she has left him in. However such confusion are not allowed to last the horrors begin as Nazi planes bomb the encampment leaving Floyra temporarily deaf. He and Glasha attempt to run back to Floyra home. Kravchenko's work portrays this deafness is well as he portrays a narrow view almost caused by his inability to know anything beyond his eye sight. This leads to a disturbing scene where Floyra misses his town, including his family, in a pile of dead bodies having been massacred behind a house while Glasha sees what has happened. Kravchenko makes this all the more heartbreaking by showing still a youthful enthusiasm in Floyra as he runs to find his family, he believes is hiding, as though its like he's playing a game with his family.

Eventually Glasha is able to convince him what has actually happened after they once again find the partisans and the surviving locals of the area. Kravchenko holds back somewhat in this moment though in his portrayal of grief, though it feels honest nonetheless. Kravchenko keeps a detachment that seems to reflect that he did not personally see the deaths, though he already will never be the eager young boy looking in the sand again. Floyra briefly finds a respite of sorts though as he works with a small partisan group that does not end particularly well as his comrades die, and his efforts all fail. Kravchenko portrays an earnest optimism in these scenes with Floyra still on a mission and there a hope that one can notice in his eyes. This hope is not long for the world though as the film moves into his last act where Floyra comes upon a group of Nazis who have occupied a village, and put him into a house. The atrocities only mount in this scene, as Floyra only escapes death himself when the Nazis allow those to leave who do not have children.

Floyra is stuck there as he must witness the terror of the scene as the Nazis casually go about murdering those in the house, raping a woman who left it, and even pretending like they are going to shoot Floyra in the head for a photograph. The scope of Kravchenko's performance technically becomes limited as he barely says a word, but the power of his performance is not diminished in the slightest. Kravchenko's reactions stand as an almost unbearable human attachment to the unrelenting butchering by the Nazis. Kravchenko is absolutely haunting as the sheer extent of every murder is seen through his eyes. Kravchenko only through these moments seems to age fifty years and by the end of the massacre Kravchenko appears more like an old man than a child. There's not a hint of hope, joy or any optimism it seems in his face, just every sight he saw pent up in him which has worn away Floyra's soul. This is only broken when Floyra finally shoots his rifle at a painting of Hitler. Kravchenko is outstanding as all the pain, anger, and finally the unbearable grief pour out in this silent yet palatable scream of this living victim. Aleksei Kravchenko's work here is truly remarkable as he is never lost in the film, but only amplifies its visceral imagery through his portrait of not just the loss of innocence but also the loss of life even without death.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Alternate Best Actor 1985

And the Nominees Were Not:

Aleksei Kravchenko in Come and See

Eric Stoltz in Mask

James Mason in The Shooting Party

Tatsuya Nakadai in Ran

Griffin Dunne in After Hours

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1971: Results

5. Elliot Gould in The Touch - A downright atrocious performance that fails on every level, and is quite bizarre to witness in a Ingmar Bergman film.

Best Scene: When he's off-screen. 
4. David Gulpilil in Walkabout - Gulpilil does not have a great deal to work with, but gives an honest portrayal of his character.

Best Scene: The failed mating ritual. 
3. Edward Fox in The Go-Between - Fox manages to be more than background largely in a single scene where he brilliantly realizes exactly what his character is going through.

Best Scene: Leo asks Hugh about Ted.
2. Ian McShane in Villain - McShane, despite dealing with a terrible co-star, gives an engaging and complex portrait of a gangster's closest associate. 

Best Scene: Vic goes to Wolfe after his mother dies.
1. Alain Delon in Red Sun  - Delon creates a memorable and appropriately smooth villain who acts as worthy foe for the all-star pairing at the center of the film, which is quite an achievement.

Best Scene: Catching Kuroda and Link off guard.
Updated Overall Rank

Next Year: 1985 Lead

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1971: Edward Fox in The Go-Between

Edward Fox did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning a BAFTA, for portraying Hugh Trimingham in The Go-Between.

The Go-Between tells a story about star-crossed lovers separated by social classes whose relationship is facilitated for some time by a young boy visiting the estate the two live on for the summer. The material itself runs thin with the film's length, though director Joseph Losey's execution of it is often intriguing.

Now the standard version of such a story would be shown from the lovers in this case the richman's daughter Marian Maudsley (Julie Christie), and the tenant farmer Ted Burgess (Alan Bates). The emphasis here is based on the go-between, the boy Leo (Dominic Guard) who delivers messages between the two in which they set up their rendezvous. The firmly maintains the perspective of the child, and we only see the events unfold through his view of them. This technically limits every other character in a way since we only see them in the way they interact with the boy, which is obviously not exactly as they are. This includes Edward Fox, despite his scarred physical appearance, which is only explained briefly by someone else as a wound he received in the Boer War. That's all there is left to it, and as with every one else the perspective of Hugh is kept very tight. However Fox still does well within this frame in the majority of scenes as just an unassuming yet charming gentleman who is more than kind and courteous to his betrothed Marian, despite that she continues her efforts to meet Ted as frequently as she can.

Fox has two strikes against from the start then due to the film's perspective, but also being the other man which is traditionally a thankless role. Fox though thrives more effectively than any other member of the cast within this confinement. Most scenes with Fox are just Hugh being a pleasant enough fellow, which he does well. There is one scene though where he gets a chance for more when Leo alludes to the relationship between Marian and Ted directly to Hugh. Fox is downright brilliant in this scene as again what he says to the boy keeps everything properly respectable in his description of Ted as a lady killer. What's outstanding about Fox's work is that he says everything else silently in the scene. In his face as he hears the name mentioned Fox reveals the pain and discomfort of a man realizing he is not truly loved by his soon to be wife, but also portraying a definite acceptance of the situation all the same. It's a fantastic scene for Fox as he wholly establishes Hugh's own view of the affair without a word being said. After that remarkable moment Hugh returns to the background for the rest of the film, but Fox with that moment makes Hugh more than just a part of the background. This is a good performance as Fox makes the most out of a thin part.