Saturday, 5 July 2014

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1979: Ian Holm in Alien

Ian Holm did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ash in Alien.

Alien is a masterful horror film about a crew of spaceship who answer a distress call that leads to contact with a deadly life form.

One of the great elements of Alien is found in its ensemble. Although I have focused on Holm for the review everyone is worthy of mention. The crew of the spaceship called the Nostromo are not just dead meat, despite their high mortality rate, nor are they the standard character usually found in Science fiction. This reflected in almost everyone's performance who play their parts in a particularly down to earth fashion, as they reflect the fact that this crew is not a group of space adventurers rather they are simply a group of people doing a routine job for money. Along with that there is considerable amount of camaraderie the actors create with each other suggesting that the group have been working together for awhile. Their performances just intertwine incredibly well, and it only ever feels like a genuine group of people you meet not just some standard sci-fi or horror archetypes as they easily could have been.

John Hurt, who actually was nominated for a Bafta, gives a very strong performance as one of Kane a crew member who is particularly tired, and finds everything is just rather routine. He very nicely though shows the right excitement in Kane when searching through the odd ship they discover from the distress call. Hurt deserves particular praise for the film's most famous scene of the chestburster. The scene may not have been as effective if it were not for Hurt's portrayal who gives one of the most searing portrayals of pain on screen, and makes you believe that this horrible thing is happening to Kane. Tom Skerritt is also quite good in portraying the ship captain's Dallas. Skerritt brings the right likability and relaxed quality to be the captain of such a ship, but he also brings the right sort of command to the part. He is a comforting factor in the film, seeming perhaps the hero, making all the more effective with his early departure.

Harry Dean Stanton is a particularly interesting choice to be in a sci-fi film, and he offers some nice comic relief early on. He's quite enjoyable in being just about a janitor for the ship. Stanton brings a different kind of exasperation one where he seems to genuinely not care about anything other than the fact that he's getting less money than the rest of the crew. Along with Stanton on the janitorial crew is Yaphet Kotto as Parker who also is upset about the lack of money, although Kotto makes it in a somewhat more amiable half joking sorta fashion. He and Stanton are great together and I love the way the two have kinda a connection between each other but a certain distance throughout the rest due to their more "lowly" jobs on the ship. Kotto gets to do a little more than Stanton, since he lasts longer, and very effectively and believably shifts Parker into passionate man who wants to stop the monster and save the crew.

The ladies are no slouches either. Sirgourney Weaver is exceptional from the beginning as Ripley, although she would later achieve even higher heights with the character in the two sequels to this film, this is still a very assured performance that leads the later of the half incredibly well. Weaver might not give the best performance in this film, as is the case in Aliens and Alien 3, but her strong screen presence adds so much to the film. Veronica Cartwright has what could have been a technically thankless role as the weakest member of the crew Lambert. Cartwright is amazing in the role though because she creates such a real and intense fear. Cartwright does not show that Lambert is just afraid, no she makes Lambert someone almost petrified by her situation. Cartwright makes her absolutely gripped with fear, and it has to be said that Veronica Cartwright is perhaps the greatest cinematic screamer of all time.

What about old Ian Holm though, the man this review is technically all about? Holm is kinda the odd man out, and this is a great ensemble in the best sense since all the other performances amplify Holm's. As I said before you really believe the crew as they all have the right relaxed quality toward one another, well everyone except Holm. Holm has a certain cold streak to his performance, and never seems to share any real connection with other crew members. The crew also all are rather tired of their jobs again this makes Holm stand out. Holm has Ash always very up to task never giving the sense that the character is tired in the least. Holm portrays Ash with constant engagement rather different from the general half-hearted attitude given by the other crew members towards their tasks. Holm and the rest of the cast together create the perfect dynamic by showing that Ash is definitely not like the rest.

Holm is very interesting in the early scene of the film as there is an oddness he brings to his performance, that is all the more pronounced when compared to the particularly naturalistic performances given by the rest of the cast. Holm's performance is particularly astute as he throws in some strange mannerisms that Ash has some of the time. The mannerisms are not strange in the usual way, and Holm is brilliant in his odd choices here. Holm adds in some overly human things to do like for example when he blows out his breath when he is suppose to be bored. It is technically something a human does, but the way Holm does it seems like it is a man acting as you know a proper human should act. You can kinda see the performance, not Holm's, but Ash's. Holm never goes too far with this to give away the game completely, but he alludes to the fact that there is something not quite right about Ash in such a clever subtle fashion.

The deal with Ash is kept a secret by the film and Holm when Kane finds himself incapacitated with an Alien facehugger. On one hand Holm portrays Ash very passionate about letting Kane back on the ship for treatment, and even fervently performs Ash's argument with Ripley since he overrode quarantine protocols which claims was for the sake of Ash. Holm carefully conflicts these claims with his portrayal of Ash's attitude toward Kane while the creature does whatever it is doing to him. Holm plays it rather interestingly as he shows Ash to be very intrigued, and quite gentle in these scenes. The thing Holm never portrays this as Ash having sympathy toward Kane, but rather his tender movements seem toward the creature. Holm again is excellent because he plays his hand in just the right fashion to not give away the truth about Ash, but still completely setting up the intent of the character.

One of my favorite scenes for Holm is the dinner after Kane has seemingly recovered. Again everyone else amplifies Holm's work as they are all just talking casually seeming ready to enjoy Earth again soon enough and happy to see their friend healthy again. Holm though is brilliant as he shows that Ash is absolutely knows something is going to happen, and happen very soon. Holm makes Ash completely knowing as he simply just watches Kane the entire time with a bit of reserved excitement ready to see what is going to happen next. When the alien does rear its ugly head its not fear or disgust that Holm expresses like the rest of the crew, but instead he shows a cruel fascination at the turn of events. Holm is so good though because again he still does not quite seem to give up the game, and it is believable that the others would take so long to suspect him because Holm does keep Ash's oddities so subtle.

Eventually Ash is caught by Ripley mainly because he seems to be bleeding but the problem is his blood is white not red. Holm is amazing though as he instantly switches to becoming incredibly imposing in an instant as Ash decides that Ripley knows to much. Despite Holm's stature, he still brings a strong menace as there is just such a sudden fierce determination to bring death that Holm portrays in Ash, while Ash seems to have far more strength than a normal human being. Well that's because Ash is in fact an android which becomes even more apparent as he is attacked by the other remaining crew members and begins to malfunction. This could lead to some rather bad overacting, but Holm actually completely sells the scene as Ash begins to convulse wildly before his head is knocked off. Holm honestly comes across as machine losing its proper functionality and its just a wonderfully acted scene by Holm.

Holm, despite only being a head, actually gets one more scene as the crew revives him temporarily to find out what he knows about the Xenomorph. Holm, again only acting with his head, is marvelous in the scene. Holm, while still being the android by showing the malfunctions, delivers Ash's final speech perfectly. He brings such dread to Ash's message while making it more fiendish by showing that Ash is so satisfied that they will soon die. Holm is absolutely bone chilling with his final smile he gives after he tells the crew that even though they are doomed they do have his sympathy. This is a fantastic performance by Ian Holm because he never gives away the secret of his performance, but when it is revealed it makes absolute sense due to the hints from his performance. A lesser actor may have given up the game instantly, or just made it a cheap twist, but Holm executes the character of Ash so perfectly creating a truly memorable villain that works so wonderfully with the rest of the cast.


Kevin said...

What would be your ratings for the respective cast members?

And speaking of Sci-fi, what are your thoughts on the 1978 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers and your ratings and thoughts for the cast?

Matt Mustin said...

Great performance in a great film.

mrripley said...

Simply the greatest monster sci fi movie,parodied,imitated never ever betteri like your praise for the individual perforamncesthey make it real and they don't get enough credit for that i hate to think wo they may cast if a ramke happens..

Anonymous said...

Who would you say you more a fan of in general Louis, out of Hurt, Holm and Stanton?

JackiBoyz said...

Alien is Ripley Scott's best film, by far.

2014 looks like a strange year, since there appears to numerous strange and dark films this year, like Foxcatcher, Birdman and Into The Woods.

Does anyone have any thoughts on what could be the Oscar Winners or contenders, I think Fury looks pretty average, Into The Woods looks like a bomb waiting to happen.

Joaquin Phoenix could finally win his Oscar since he seems to be one of the only best actor contenders who has been nominated before, imagine RatedRStars reaction lol.

luke higham said...

JackiBoyz: The only contenders for Best Actor, that I have any confidence in, at the moment are Steve Carell, Timothy Spall, Joaquin Phoenix & Michael Keaton.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: Your thoughts on the World Cup Quarter Final Matches.

Kevin said...


Meryl Streep will probably get another nomination, even if Into the Woods bombs. As for Best Actor, I really hope McConaughey gets a nod for Interstellar.

RatedRStar said...

@Luke: Belgium were just disappointing at this world cup, they are like QPR, a bunch of talented players who cant play together, Germany defended very well against a rather uncaring French side, Netherlands were actually deserving of their win, they kept on going and were perfect at their penalties, Colombia were outmatched in every way by Brazil, shame about Neymar he didnt deserve that terrible knee in the back by Zuniga.

I predict Germany and The Netherlands to be the final 2, Brazil will finish 4th I reckon.

@JackiBoyz: Meryl Strepsister better not get a nomination I have had enough of her overrated nominations lately, as for Phoenix, if the performance is good/great, ill be happy with it.

Michael McCarthy said...

Meryl Streep is the least of my worries regarding Into the Woods. Into the Woods is a fascinating musical that's rich in subtext and is about how the real world isn't like a fairy tale, it's ugly and dirty. From what I've read, the film is being completely Disneyfied and everything about the story that relates to its central message is being removed.

Louis Morgan said...



Weaver - 4.5
Hurt - 4.5
Skerritt - 4
Stanton - 4
Cartwright - 5
Kotto - 4.5


As I film I thought it was extremely effective in creating such a sense of paranoia, and a dread that almost becomes overwhelming. It's particularly chilling the way it portrays how no emotion at all can be truly horrifying.

Sutherland - 4.5(Technically all the performances are limited and it is interesting to see what the actors do in the confines of their mostly reactionary character. Sutherland carries the film incredibly well though by just honestly portraying what a normal man would be going through in such a dire situation)

Adams - 3(I felt she was fine but mostly overshadowed by everyone else. She's never bad, but her performance never quite makes the impact of Sutherland's and Cartwright)

Goldblum - 3.5(Gets the short end since he gets the least screen time, but he again is very good in portraying the growing anxiety and fear in his character as the situation becomes more troublesome)

Nimoy - 3(Who better to play a lack of emotion than Mr. Spock himself. He's not in it much but Nimoy brings the right creepiness to his part)

McCarthy - 3(Tempted to go higher as this might be one of the best cameos of all time, although Robert Duvall's cameo is quite memorable as well. McCarthy though is extremely effective in his portrayal of a man driven to madness in his attempt to warn others)

Cartwright - 4.5(Cartwright is terrific by honestly being one small little bright spot amidst such a bleak story. Again though her screaming prowess is again perfectly used especially in her final unforgettable reaction to the film's unforgettable ending)


Hurt I guess, but I'm a fan of all three.

JackiBoyz said...

Louis, what would be your top ten films of 1996?

Anonymous said...

Great review and great blog! I would like to know your ratings and thoughts of the female performances in Nashville (1975).

Louis Morgan said...


1. Fargo
2. Hamlet
3. Secrets & Lies
4. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
5. Bottle Rocket
6. Sling Blade
7. Trainspotting
8. Ransom
9. Jerry Maguire
10. Swingers



Black - 3(I thought she was fine, but never managed to leave that much of an impression overall though)

Blakley - 4.5(Very effective in portraying both the needed star style charisma for her popular singer, but as well keeping that underlying unease and anxiety suggesting to her problems which lie beneath)

Chaplin - 4.5(She's a delight in every scene she is in as she keeps the thin reporter facade in every scene, while being so enjoyably daffy in portraying that obviously she's not really a reporter for anything)

Harris - 3(She does not make that much of an impact most of the time but she properly delivers in her pivotal moment)

Tomlin - 3.5(I like her performance just fine for the part, but I don't like it as much as most. I think she was frankly a tad miscast as the some what somber housewife. She is good though, even if I don't think she ever quite feels perfect for the part)

luke higham said...

Louis: Your rating & thoughts on Hugh Jackman in The Prestige.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know your ratings and thoughts on a few performances:
-Jane Fonda in Klute and They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
-Susannah York in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
-Karen Black in Five Easy Pieces
-Jennifer Jones in Since You Went Away
-Celeste Holm in Gentleman's Agreement
-Jean Simmons in Hamlet
-Teresa Wright in her three nominated performances
-Mary Steenburgen in Melvin and Howard
-Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple
-Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite
-Betsy Blair in Marty
-Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind
Sorry if they are too many.

Michael Patison said...

Who happens to have seen Firefly?

Michael McCarthy said...

I have. I thought it was a very solid sci-fi adventure show. The storyline wasn't incredibly compelling in and of itself, but I thought it was consistently entertaining and that the characters were very unique and likable.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I've never seen it. Should I binge it with Serenity?

luke higham said...

Louis: When's the next review.

Michael Patison said...

I'd say so, Robert. It's all more about the characters and how their personalities clash and how they interact. I'm rewatching it for the first time and it's proving to be quite rewarding, especially having seen Buffy and Angel and knowing more about Whedon's style.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: Your thoughts on Brazil-Germany.

RatedRStar said...

Germany = BEST IN THE WORLD (along with Bayern Munich of course)

Brazil = A team of losers who without Neymar are nothing, I hope riots happen in that country, it would be funny to watch.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: Do you support any English club.

Louis Morgan said...

Fonda - Klute 3.5(On re-watch her performance as a whole just becomes excessively too self-aware, I do think she has good moments but her performance is just a little too much of a performance for a film that tries to be rather down to earth in style)

Fonda - They Shoot Horses, Don't They? - 4.5(Easily her best performance that I have seen. She's effective in portraying her character extreme and always very cynicism as basically stemming from her a constant uncompromising depression behind it all)

York - 4.5(York makes her performance forced in the right way. She makes it obvious that her whole refinement is obviously a bit of a put on from the beginning, and she effectively wears it away to reveal her character's true desperation and mental decay. Plus her final scene is dynamite)

Black - 4.5(Plays off Nicholson particularly well. She is able to honestly portray her character's uncouthness and lack of intelligence without every turning her into simply a joke. She always shows that there is definitely a desperate person there)

Jennifer Jones - 3(She's sweet enough, but really her work is particularly standard feeling. She's fine but nothing special)

Holm - 2.5(I'll agree with most that's she the best part of the film. The problem is that although a little more energetic than everyone else I still feel her how portrayal a bit bland still, and I never felt her final emotional scene was particularly well earned)

Simmons - 4(Olivier limits her per-insanity scenes a great deal as we don't get much of the normal Ophelia. Simmons though is good at being crazy, but she is given the same build up as other adaptations usually give the character)

Wright - Mrs. Miniver - 4(Miniver is all too proper picture and that goes for most of the performances. Wright, who I find one of the most natural charming actresses from the period, though brightens up every scene she is well meeting the dramatic needs of the part in an honest fashion)

Wright - Pride of the Yankees - 3(She really does not have a character to speak of, but her considerable charm still manages to win me over)

Steenburgen - 3(She never really made her character's eccentricities feel wholly natural to me. She's is fine for the most part, but I don't find her particularly memorable here)

Margaret Avery - 3(She fine in being drunk in her drunk scenes and warm in her warm scenes, but I never saw her performance why both Goldberg's and Glover's character would be so infatuated with her)

Winfrey - 3(A solid enough performance I guess although I would say a might be overpraised for the most part. I don't have a problem with what she does with the role, but I don't think it's anything too special.)

Sorvino - 2.5 (She suppose to be over the top, so the flamboyancy of her performance is fine, the problem is I just did not really find her very funny)

Blair - 4.5(Although I have heard many say she was miscast in the role of a "dog" I think those people are missing the point of the character a bit. It is not that's she suppose to be ugly, but rather very meek therefore unattractive to Marty's friends. Blair is very good in portraying the meekness well while suggesting a genuine warmth underneath. She also has some exceptional chemistry with Borgnine)

Dorothy Malone - 3(Her over the top performance fits her over the top film actually. I find her entertaining enough, but I never find it that memorable of turn though)