Saturday, 29 December 2012

Alternate Best Actor 1988: John Malkovich in Dangerous Liaisons

John Malkovich did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons.

Dangerous Liaisons is a well made film about two aristocrats who revel in horrible games of passion and deceit.

John Malkovich's casting here certainly was a point of contention when the film originally came out with his rather unorthodox appearance. The Valmont is a perpetual and successful womanizer, and it seems many would think Valmont would probably look a little less devious to begin with like perhaps Colin Firth in Valmont for example. The same could be said about his charms as well as Malkovich is not especially suave in the role of Valmont either, and one might think he would need to be to be believed in the amount of conquests he partakes in.

The question is though does Malkovich really need to be traditionally handsome and Clark Gable type charming for the role, and the simple answer is no. What Malkovich expresses most with Valmont here is the method in which Valmont goes upon his sexual expeditions. Malkovich instead of really trying to hide the sliminess that really does make up his character he instead portrays Valmont as a man who very much revels in exactly what he is. There is no shame in his performance and Malkovich very much accentuates the mechanics of his seductions more than anything else with his portrayal of Valmont. 

There are many liaisons we see Valmont having but we only see two seductions portrayed in the film a routine one, and more daring one of Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer) who is known for her virtue. In both Malkovich does not show Valmont as attempting really any charm in fact there is always far more of a strategy at play that utilizes both the gender roles of the time as well as the emotions of the woman in both cases. Malkovich is properly calculated as he shows the strategy of Valmont at all times to the audience well at the same time creating the proper ruse that he uses against the women.

Malkovich's makes Valmont's success with both women very convincing actually in the harsh brutality of his seductions. In the first he creates Valmont's method as making himself a bizarre teacher in a most brutal but believable fashion in his success with her through the uncompromising method that Malkovich portrays it all. In the other more difficult one though Malkovich again makes the strategy of Valmont something very clear as Valmont this time makes himself a haunted lost soul who would kill himself if Tourvel does not take his love.

As strange as his seduction method with Tourvel might sound Malkovich brings it to life through his depiction of Valmont who he portrays as throwing himself fully into his demented game. Malkovich makes the "depression" both fake and real enough that it would move Tourvel as it does. It is a difficult trick to pull but one that Malkovich is able to accomplish without any seeming effort. In doing this Malkovich carefully infuses just the slightest bit of moments that suggests that maybe Valmont is not entirely lying about his pledged love for Tourvel. It is in very subtle moments that are very well handled by Malkovich.

One of the most important aspects of Valmont is his relationship with Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close). Through most the film both actors portray theirs as a mutual love of their shared despicable nature and the havoc they cause with their games. This does not really change until the end of the film where Merteuil plays her own game against Valmont as she convinces him to brutally reject Tourvel since she sees that he truly loves her. Malkovich and Close are very effective in the scenes as the truly vile nature of both characters are perfectly created by the actors and we see the full extent of their damage that only hurts other but themselves as well.

Malkovich's final scene as Valmont is terrific as he shows him distraught after finally finding some sort of conscious in himself after all. In his final scene Valmont is fatally wounded by a man (Keanu Reeves) he has harmed and reflects on his behavior. The power of the scene is somewhat muted because Reeves might as well say "Uhh sorry dude I did not mean to stab you so hard" and it would have fit his performance. Forgetting about Reeves though Malkovich is quietly moving though as he shows this time finally an honest Valmont for once as he shows the full extent of his depression and self hatred he has created in himself due to his behavior.

This is a strong performance by John Malkovich in both his unique creation of Valmont as well as his execution of his character. He does well in bringing to life every facet of his manipulative character, and never fails to make his conquests believable. He takes a very different approach than many probably would have with the part as he never avoids the sliminess in character, and never really even tries to hide yet he still makes the story work entirely. It quite an achievement that he is able to do this through this method he makes Valmont a compelling as well as properly repulsive character. 


mrripley said...

I just never got over his or Irons snub but Close was phenomenal even more so.

joe burns said...

I don't get the dislikes or the qualms about being miscast either- I thought he was terrific and hands down should have been nominated!!

What did you think of pfeiffer and Uma? I thought Pfieffer was mediocre and Uma veery good.

mrripley is right: Close was stunning!!

Lezlie said...


I recently saw Lincoln and Les Misérables. What did you all think of Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman?

Anonymous said...

Lezlie, I thought Daniel Day-Lewis was EXTRAORDINARY and is definitely my choice for Best Actor. I thought Tommy Lee Jones was fantastic as well, and deserving of a nomination. Sally Field was okay. I haven't seen Les Mis yet.

Louis Morgan said...

mrripley: I guess Irons and Malkovich were just too good at being despicable for the academy's taste.

Burns: I thought they both served their roles well.

Lezlie: I have seen Lincoln. Day-Lewis would be deserving of a third win. Jones is not my favorite supporting performance of the year or even in the cast, but his work here is much better than his Oscar winning performance.

I have not seen Les Miserables yet. I have seen Django Unchained though. Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson are both brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Who was your favourite supporting perormance in Lincoln if it wasn't Jones, Louis?

Louis Morgan said...

James Spader

Michael Patison said...

I agree that both Spader and Jones were great. I'd have to see it again to decide which one I like better, though I completely agree that they are the two best supporting performances in this film. I was underwhelmed by Fields, though I still though she was good.

Anonymous said...

What did you think of Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained? I haven't seen him yet, but I think he has the best chance of being nominated for the moment


Anonymous said...

I thought James Spader was fun, but seemed out of place somehow. I would've picked David Strathairn over him.

Louis Morgan said...

Mark: Well I will say at the moment, since he very well could be nominated, that I thought he was the third best of the cast.

Anonymous: Actually I preferred Strathairn over Jones as well, even though Strathairn did not really get proper sendoff to his character the way Jones did.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Good sweet lord Les Mis sucked. Every performance is hampered by terrible direction and some of the worst cinematography I've ever seen. Any time an actor tries to rise above the direction, he or she is torpedoed by Hopper almost literally shoving the camera down their throat.

Django was pretty good, though not as good as Basterds. Foxx surprised me, and Waltz was pefect, and DiCaprio was deliciously hammy.

Louis Morgan said...

What do you think of the musical to begin with? Since I love the musical I don't expect to dislike the film even with the wonky camera angles I've noticed in the clips simply due to the source material.

As for Django Foxx did not surprise me. I thought he was fine for the first 90 percent of the film, because Waltz was always there being brilliant after that though the weakness of his performance came through.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I don't have much knowledge of the musical (I'm not big on them), but that doesn't excuse poor filmmaking. The directional choices mute any sort of emotion on the screen.

Anonymous said...

By the way, when you do alternate 1986 Supporting, could you consider River Phoenix in Stand By Me? It's one of my favourite movies, and I've always thought Phoenix gave an oscar worthy performance, hes just generally overlooked.
Thanks :)


Michael Patison said...

I lived Les Mis and thought Hooper's direction and the cinematography were brilliant. The musical is sort of hard to follow by itself but Hooper masterfully crafts the story in a fantastically cohesive narrative held together by fewer than 10 words of actual dialog. The cinematography was astounding. Danny Cohen's interesting cinematography in The King's Speech was not as acclaimed as it should have been, and his work in Les Mis is great too. The weird angles aren't great, but his incredibly long shots and intense close-ups make this story of monumental proportions into a human story about my favorite line in the film: "To love a person is to see the face of God." The performances are amazing. My performance rankings are:
Lead Male:
Obviously Jackman in a brilliant performance anchoring this gigantic film

Supporting Male:
1. Eddie Redmayne
2. Sacha Baron Cohen
4. Russell Crowe
4. Aaron Tveit

Supporting Female:
1. Anne Hathaway
2. Samantha Barks
3. Helena Bonham Carter
4. Amanda Seyfried

I also liked the child performances by the young Cosette and Gavroche.

I'd nominate Jackman, Redmayne, Hathaway, and Barks based on everything I've seen thus far.

Michael Patison said...

Also I'd never seen the musical before but I've loved the music for ages. The new song, Suddenly, is quite good, too. I'm also a big fan of musicals to begin with so that's a contributing factor.

Lezlie said...

Thanks for your opinions! :)
I loved Daniel Day-Lewis here and I'm rooting for him winning his third Oscar :) I would also pick Strathairn over Tommy Lee Jones, however I thought he was fine too, but not that great. Sally Field was a bit of a letdown, considering the hype around her performance. I found Les Misérables to be overly long and slow. The first half, the one before the revolution, was enjoyable for me, but the second was just way too boring (except for the song "One Day More", that one I loved, and maybe Éponine's song). The cinematography was really bugging me sometimes. All in all I thought that Jackman gave a good performance, he was easy to follow through, I wish the "boring part" featured him more. I also liked Anne Hathaway, although she has very limited screentime, but I won't be mad if she wins over Sally Field. Today I'm watching Flight, again thanks for your answers :)

dinasztie said...

I thought Les Mis was terrible. I agree with Robert. Hathaway was fine, but I'm rooting for Sally to win.

I really loved Lincoln. It keeps growing on me, it's a wonderful, calm and surprisingly unsentimental for Spielberg. DDL was great though I'm not sure if I'll support his win. We'll see. All the performances sort of grew on me, especially Sally's. Her monologue in the dark about her migraines and how she prayed for death after her son died was dead on. Although it's a paper thin role, she gets so much out of it. Anne is winning, though. I liked TLJ, he did fine, but I just don't see him winning that Oscar. His role was too small though he was indeed my favorite supporting male character.

The cinematography was gorgeous, I hope Kaminski will get his third. The Art Direction, the costumes, the score are all deserving of the Oscar. I'd be glad if the movie won BP.

As for Malkovich, he's flawless here, even though nobody can beat Great Glenn's performance in this movie. :) A perfect 5 for me, though. :)

Louis Morgan said...

I thought Lincoln was a good film, but I thought the film was weakened a bit by its ending. It should have ended as soon as the amendment was passed, the rest felt tacked on since the rest of the film had only been about the amendment.

Field was fine, but I did not find her performance anything special either. I say Daniel Day-Lewis is far more deserving of a third win than she is.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

@Michael: So you're telling me that the "weird angles" as you put it don't undermine the film in any way? Or that the close-ups don't take energy away from the film? Okay, how's this then; Isn't it possible that a big emotional number like Empty Chairs at Empty Tables would have ben more emotionally effective if they actually showed the empty chairs instead of one, long close-up of Redmayne's face?

As far as I'm concerned, this is the worst directorial effort of the year, and if Hooper or Cohen get nominations, I might cry.

Louis Morgan said...

Well the intensity of your dislike and the intensity of Michael's like is actually making more interested in seeing the film. It sounds like it might be the most divisive of the "Oscar" films this year.

Michael Patison said...

@Louis: I could definitely see how it would be possible to dislike. There are some very unusual filmmaking elements at play. They just all happened to work for me consistently.

@koook: I called them weird because they were unusual, but they worked for me. You mentioned Empty Chairs at Empty Tables being bad direction and all because there was just a long close-up on Redmayne. I admit it caught me off guard at first, but I ended up loving it. It forces him to evoke this tremendous emotion without any help. He creates so much more true emotion than faux-sentimentality that would've been created with him singing and a camera panning over empty chairs at empty tables with perhaps a flashback of his friends talking and socializing. The same can be said of Hugh Jackman's God on High. I'd always imagined it being in a church, but he sings it in and around a doorway. This was more effecting than him on his knees in front of a cross would have been because it shows the universality of God and love between people that doesn't just come in a place of worship. It perfectly portrays my favorite line in the film: "To love a person is to see the face of God."

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Whatever floats your boat, just don't expect it to take any slots on my ballot.

Anonymous said...

Louis, I agree that Lincoln had a weak ending, but it didn't take away my enjoyment of the overall film.

Louis Morgan said...

Well I should say I still liked the film a lot in fact it is my favorite of the likely best picture nominees I have seen besides the long shot Skyfall.

Michael Patison said...

I really liked Lincoln a lot, too. I'd give it a 4.5. I actually felt the beginning with all of the character setup was the worst part.

Lezlie said...

I'M also rooting for Lincoln, however, I still have a lot of films to see (the likes of Argo, Silver Linings, Django, Zero Dark etc.). My favourite films of the year so far are Lincoln, Skyfall and Moonrise Kingdom :) With Beasts of the Southern Wild a close 4th. Happy New Year to everyone! :)