Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1956: James Mason in Bigger Than Life

James Mason did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ed Avery in Bigger Than Life.

Bigger Than Life is a mostly effective film, although Nicholas Ray's direction can be somewhat heavy handed at times, and Christopher Olsen's inadequate performance as Ed's son does hurt the film.

James Mason plays the role of Ed Avery that seems like a simple enough character. He plays Ed Avery who is merely a teacher, although one who has a work a second job as a taxi dispatcher merely to make ends meat, who lives a simple enough life with his young son (Olsen), and wife Lou (Barbara Rush). Mason importantly makes Ed immensely likable in these scenes. He bring his usual charm to the role although shifts it slightly to be more fitting to a guy like Ed who is mostly unassuming. Mason naturally portrays the best most moments as Ed merely just a good man who on the surface is comfortable enough with his life. This is exceedingly important for Mason to do, considering where his character goes later in the film, but Mason does an exceedingly great job of making Ed someone worth caring about. He makes him just a man quietly passionate about his life and makes him quite believable as a man who would in no way complain even about some of his rather severe problems that begin to surface. 

Other than Ed's financial problems which clearly cause him to overwork himself he also seems to have a far worse physical issue. Mason is incredibly effective early on as he gives the sense of always at least a slight discomfort. Not enough at first for him to be obviously noticed by others, but clearly something that is always nagging at him. Mason though does give moments where the pain becomes far more severe in moments and depicts this in searing detail. Mason is terrific by showing that intensity of the pain and clearly the severity of his situation. Eventually Ed is unable to hide his ailment from his family and friends when he has blackouts that lead him to hospitalization. Mason does some very strong work in these scenes that easily could lead to some excessive over acting. Mason though plays the scenes very much on point just going about portraying the physical anguish in Ed in an natural fashion. He makes the suffering come to life rather well through his performance without ever trying to oversell Ed's problems. It's great understated work by Mason.

Ed eventually receives his diagnosis which is that he has a rare condition involving inflamed arteries that usually leads to death within a year. The diagnosis is a very moving scene for Mason as he just quietly reflects Ed's fear in receiving an apparent death sentence. The diagnosis though does not seem as grim though when Ed is recommended a miracle drug Cortisone which apparently will save him though he'll have to take it apparently for the rest of his life. Almost Immediately after the drug starts taking effect there seems to be a new life in Ed. Mason does well to bring about a certain exuberance in the early scenes of the apparently now recovered Ed. Mason portrays Ed behavior in the succeeding scenes with an intense exuberance fitting for a man who has just been given a new lease on life. Mason shows it to almost be so much that is overbearing but still he makes it feel genuine to Ed'a mental state. Mason though begins to allow something to be slightly off about Ed after taking the Cortisone. Mason though handles it especially well though by still leaving it to be either just Ed maybe just understandably overjoyed and enthusiastic to enjoy life again or perhaps it something else.

The enthusiasm Mason portrays though creates the motivation for Ed as he begins Cortisone as though he wishes to take more of the drug to continue this particular high he has in the moment. The intensity of the "happiness" though Mason shows as an unsustainable thing which does not exactly continue once he ups his own dosage of Cortisone going even so far as to forge prescriptions in order to meet his desire. Mason slowly conveys that the high almost seems to transfer slowly to something else as other changes begin in Ed. Mason actually calls upon his often seen screen persona that being the intellectual superior. This rears its head at first at a teacher/parent conference where Ed is no longer his unassuming self but rather an egotistical philosopher who broadly states that children are stupid and that the whole education system is fundamentally flawed. Of course Mason is excellent at being so commanding and incisive merely with words making Ed appropriately vicious in this moment. Mason brings out that ego so effectively showing an apparently changed man. Although Mason calls upon the qualities of what made his performance in The Seventh Veil so well, he's not coasting on them.

Mason absolutely delivers as the cold intellectual as expected, but that's not what Ed really is exactly. This is shown from the start in Mason's performance as there is such a fervor in his speech. The intensity is not of a man who is slightly having a joke himself at his talk of intellectual superiority or in anyway enjoying the torment of others with his words. Mason instead portrays without an ounce of humor and the spirited way in which he delivers his words to be especially off-putting. Ed continues in this way as after that he even goes to his wife espousing that he is so above it all that he should even leave his wife because she his intellectual inferior. Mason is marvelous as he portrays this as a sickness in Ed's mind as he speaks of a man not within his own world anymore. There is the occasional moments of clarity still which Mason brings about naturally where Ed gains his sense for a moment, but only a moment. The reason being that Ed has not changed because he now considers himself invisible or actually feels this way but his Cortisone abuse is having a terrible side effect. That side effect being that it is causing Ed to fall into a psychotic state.

Mason is amazing as he continues to realize the way the madness grows in Ed. Mason slowly creates less and less of a pause in the behavior as Ed's ideas only become more deranged as time passes. Mason is completely chilling in the way he portrays the purity of Ed's sentiment as he begins to even speak about the murder of his son, because his son is starting to look as though he is no longer fit to live. The fact that Mason still keeps his manner mostly refined, although he quite effectively does create the sense of a greater physical tension as another side effect of his medication, makes him all the more disturbing. Mason portrays him as still keeping himself almost too well together well enough physically but he is a complete mess mentally. Mason is brilliant and quite frightening in portraying the uncompromisable state of Ed as he is completely consumed by his demented state. Mason visceral impact is striking as Ed decides on murder as well as suicide and Mason realizes how far gone Ed is. What is particularly remarkable is that Mason interjects this somberness still conveying that above all Ed's mind is a mess of emotions. Ed is stopped just in time and the film leaves on a 50's note where in terms of the script it seems that Ed's all better and just needs his Cortisone monitored in the future. Mason though does leave it a bit more complex than that with his work though. Mason allows it to be more bittersweet as he does suggest the old loving Ed at the moment though there is still something off about him, and sadly it might just be a temporary moment of clarity. Mason leaves there an interpretation to be allowed on whether the good man there once was in Ed really will remain. Mason's performance here is extraordinary. Mason carefully creates the detailed and powerful portrait of a cursed man.

33 comments:

GM said...

Rating and thoughts on the rest of the cast?

Michael McCarthy said...

He's gotta win this, I think this and Lolita are his two best performances.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

*Braces self for John Wayne victory anyway*

Anonymous said...

Louis when are you going to do 1990?

RatedRStar said...

This is James Masons last chance, as well as John Waynes last chance, and Kirk Douglas last chance =). I actually think Douglas would be 2nd for me in a film that few seemed to see.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: Who do you think will win 59 supporting then, since I believe North By Northwest is his last chance, No way in hell with Lolita though. I'd find it utterly ridiculous for an actor to have 17 noms and 0 wins, I pray hope this is the year to end his losing streak.

RatedRStar said...

@Luke: I am pretty certain that Stephen Boyd or Joseph Schildkraut will win, much more complex roles and emotionally fulfilling.

luke higham said...

Well, Stephen Boyd's my favourite for that year but Mason still has a bit of a chance in my opinion. Like you, I'm just desperate for him to win at least the once.

RatedRStar said...

I would say on Mason in NBNW, that he is great and extremely fun, but Stephen Boyds complex homosexual villain (yes he is definitely) and Josephs rather sad quite painful performnace I think are the favorites =D

RatedRStar said...

I think Boyd and Joseph will finish 1st and second, Mason would be 3rd, George C Scott and Laurence Olivier would be 4th and 5th for me.

Anonymous said...

@RatedRStar: Who would be your 6th - 10th for Supporting 1959?

RatedRStar said...

6th - Ben Gazzara
7th - Richard Attenborough
8th - Hugh Griffiths
9th - Arthur O Connell
10th - Peter Finch

Michael McCarthy said...

This actually isn't John Wayne's last chance, he still has a great chance for The Shootist.

RatedRStar said...

@Michael McCarthy: (slaps head) =D ah yes of course lol =D

Anonymous said...

@RatedRStar: what are your ratings and thoughts on Nicole Kidman in To Die For? Because I've just seen it and I think she might be a 5 for me. Everyone else who also has seen the movie can answer if he wants.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar & anyone else: Can you name me, any female performances that Louis hasn't got to for the remaining alternate years or hasn't seen at all from previously covered years that you think, may get a 5 from him.

e.g. Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake or Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue is The Warmest Colour.

RatedRStar said...

@Anonymous:

Kidman (4.5) I think she is great at being this rather somewhat innocent weathergirl with things to hide, and turns into a vicious well, bitch, she is also believable in how she would be able to manipulate others into doing the murder.

@Luke: Um oh god there are lots lol, since you are a master of finding previous posts and questions, finding all of the actress ones would be a challenge, I reckon the 2 leads from Blue and Staunton for Vera Drake would be 3 good examples, I would also add films that were nominated for Best Actress but didnt recieve male nominations, especially from the 40s/50s/60s.

RatedRStar said...

To Die For is probably Gus Van Sants best film, looking at Van Sants backlog that isnt saying much, I liked 4 of his films well enough, and hated pretty much all of the others I have seen.

Anonymous said...

Luke:
Just a quick list from the top of my head from the nominees..
Imelda Staunton - Vera Drake
Felicity Huffman - Transamerica
Marion Cotillard - La Vie En Rose (?)
Sissy Spacek - Carrie
Emily Watson - Breaking the Waves

luke higham said...

RatedRStar:
Louis's Female 5s at the moment
Claudette Colbert - It Happened One Night
Irene Dunne - The Awful Truth
Vivien Leigh - Gone With The Wind
Greta Garbo - Ninotchka
Joan Fontaine - Rebecca
Judith Anderson - Rebecca
Jane Darwell - The Grapes Of Wrath
Rosalind Russell - His Girl Friday
Teresa Wright - Shadow Of A Doubt
Katina Paxinou - For Whom The Bell Tolls
Barbara Stanwyck - Double Indemnity
Tallulah Bankhead - Lifeboat
Celia Johnson - Brief Encounter
Ingrid Bergman - Notorious
Kathleen Byron - Black Narcissus
Claire Trevor - Key Largo
Olivia De Havilland - The Snake Pit
Olivia De Havilland - The Heiress
Mercedes McCambridge - All The King's Men
Machiko Kyo - Rashomon
Gloria Swanson - Sunset Boulevard
Shelley Winters - A Place In The Sun
Vivien Leigh - A Sreetcar Named Desire
Kim Hunter - A Streetcar Named Desire
Thelma Ritter - Pickup On South Street
Eva Marie Saint - On The Waterfront
Simone Signoret - Diabolique
Lillian Gish - The Night Of The Hunter
Isuzu Yamada - Throne Of Blood
Joanne Woodward - The Three Faces Of Eve
Simone Signoret - Room At The Top
Jean Simmons - Elmer Gantry
Janet Leigh - Psycho
Sophia Loren - Two Women
Deborah Kerr - The Innocents
Pamela Franklin - The Innocents
Patty Duke - The Miracle Worker
Anne Bancroft - The Miracle Worker
Angela Lansbury - The Manchurian Candidate
Geraldine Page - Sweet Bird Of Youth
Lee Remick - Days Of Wine And Roses
Patricia Neal - Hud
Ingrid Thulin - The Silence
Lila Kedrova - Zorba The Greek
Elizabeth Hartman - A Patch Of Blue
Samantha Eggar - The Collector
Bibi Andersson - Persona
Liv Ullmann - Persona
Faye Dunaway - Bonnie and Clyde
Anne Bancroft - The Graduate
Glenda Jackson - Marat/Sade
Katharine Hepburn - The Lion In Winter
Lynn Carlin - Faces
Ruth Gordon - Rosemary's Baby
Maggie Smith - The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie
Pamela Franklin - The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie
Geraldine Page - The Beguiled
Jessica Walter - Play Misty For Me
Cloris Leachman - The Last Picture Show

luke higham said...

Liza Minnelli - Cabaret
Sissy Spacek - Badlands
Faye Dunaway - Chinatown
Gena Rowlands - A Woman Under The Influence
Faye Dunaway - Network
Shelley Winters - An Average Little Man
Maggie Smith - California Suite
Angela Lansbury - Death On The Nile
Veronica Cartwright - Alien
Sissy Spacek - Coal Miner's Daughter
Mary Tyler Moore - Ordinary People
Linda Hunt - The Year Of Living Dangerously
Melinda Dillon - A Christmas Story
Nastassja Kinski - Paris, Texas
Madeline Kahn - Clue
Lesley Ann Warren - Clue
Whoopi Goldberg - The Color Purple
Isabella Rossellini - Blue Velvet
Sigourney Weaver - Aliens
Dianne Wiest - Hannah and Her Sisters
Glenn Close - Dangerous Liaisons
Jessica Tandy - Driving Miss Daisy
Lorraine Bracco - Goodfellas
Kathy Bates - Misery
Jodie Foster - The Silence Of The Lambs
Susan Sarandon - Thelma & Louise
Judy Davis - Naked Lunch
Sigourney Weaver - Alien 3
Holly Hunter - The Piano
Susan Sarandon - Dead Man Walking
Kathy Bates - Dolores Claiborne
Judy Parfitt - Dolores Claiborne
Frances McDormand - Fargo
Brenda Blethyn - Secrets & Lies
Pam Grier - Jackie Brown
Julianne Moore - Boogie Nights
Meloras Walters - Magnolia
Naomi Watts - Mulholland Drive
Gwyneth Paltrow - The Royal Tenenbaums
Sissy Spacek - In The Bedroom
Miranda Richardson - Spider
Charlize Theron - Monster
Nicole Kidman - Dogville
Uma Thurman - Kill Bill Vol 2
Kate Winslet - Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
Emily Watson - The Proposition
Naomi Watts - The Painted Veil
Mia Kirshner - The Black Dahlia
Cate Blanchett - I'm Not There
Mo'Nique - Precious
Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone
Jacki Weaver - Animal Kingdom
Marion Cotillard - The Immigrant
Sandra Bullock - Gravity
Essie Davis - The Babadook
Marion Cotillard - Two Days, One Night

RatedRStar said...

How on earth do you find all these lol haha =D.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: I've kept a record of Louis's 5s and 4.5s on separate Google Documents. There's currently 115 Female 5s and 548 overall.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: Again, I also found my sources via Google Search.
site:actoroscar.blogspot.com Keyword e.g. Babadook Davis

luke higham said...

Again, My Bad
Melora Walters instead of Meloras Walters

GM said...

@Luke
Geraldine Page - The Trip To Bountiful
Isabelle Adjani - Possession
Ingrid Bergman - Autumn Sonata
Anna Magnani - The Rose Tattoo
Sally Field - Norma Rae

Louis Morgan said...

Gm:

Rush - 4(I actually do like much of her performance. Many of her reactionary moments are quite great particularly her climatic scenes with Mason as she increases the tension with her natural portrayal of fear and disbelief. I do believe there are some moments where she just seems a little off, especially compared to mason, like when she yells at Mason after the hospital scene, or her anger just before the last scene of the film. She's never truly bad though unlike....)

Olsen - 1(Was Brandon de Wilde available? I know I give him a hard time for Shane, but if you see Good-bye, My Lady he was talented child actor and Shane may have been more of George Steven's fault. Christopher Olsen on the other hand gives typical bad child actor performance from the period. That means he just kinda yells all his lines and has the same odd expression throughout. It's bad in a film like The Man who Knew Too Much, but it's disastrous here. The reason being is he needs to deliver in some very dramatic scenes, and he just does not even come close)

Matthau - 3.5(He does not have much of a part, he's just the supportive best friend. Nevertheless Matthau plays within these limitations quite well added a very much needed bit of warmth and levity to the film. Matthau adds just a nice bit of natural humor to the film which is important since in the third act he's basically the only comforting factor in the film)

luke higham said...

Louis; Your Rating & Thoughts on Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton.

luke higham said...

Other Possibilities
Agata Kulesza - Ida
Julianne Moore - Maps To The Stars
Sarah Snook - Predestination
Lea Seydoux - Blue is The Warmest Colour
Brie Larson - Short Term 12
Marion Cotillard - Rust And Bone
Olivia Colman - Tyrannosaur
Kirsten Dunst - Melancholia
Tilda Swinton - We Need To Talk About Kevin
Charlotte Gainsbourg - Antichrist
Kristin Scott Thomas - I've Loved You So Long
Tang Wei - Lust Caution
Ashley Judd - Bug
Julie Christie - Away From Her
Laura Dern - Inland Empire
Nicole Kidman - Birth
Oksana Akinshina - Lilya 4-Ever
Isabelle Huppert - The Piano Teacher
Ellen Burstyn - Requiem Of A Dream
Bjork - Dancer In The Dark
Fernanda Montenegro - Central Station
Franka Potente - Run Lola Run
Nicole Kidman - To Die For
Juliette Binoche - Three Colours Blue
Julie Delpy - Three Colours White
Irene Jacob - Three Colours Red
Meiko Harada - Ran
Sissy Spacek - Crimes Of The Heart
Barbara Sukowa - Lola
Faye Dunaway - Mommie Dearest
Jill Clayburgh - An Unmarried Woman
Billie Whitelaw - The Omen
Liv Ullmann - Face to Face, Scenes From A Marriage, Cries and Whispers, The New Land, The Emigrants and Shame
Harriet Andersson & Ingrid Thulin - Cries And Whispers
Julie Christie - Don't Look Now
Vanessa Redgrave - The Devils
Nina Pens Rode - Gertrud
Ingrid Thulin - Winter Light
Jeanne Moreau - Mademoiselle
Lucyna Winnicka - Mother Joan of The Angels
Giulietta Masina - Nights Of Cabiria
Anita Bjork - Miss Julie
Barbara Stanwyck - The Lady Eve
Renee Jean Falconetti - The Passion Of Joan Of Arc
Janet Gaynor - Sunrise

GM said...

Also, Teresa Wright and Bette Davis for The Little Foxes are likely 5s, and I hope so.

luke higham said...

Shelley Duvall & Sissy Spacek - 3 Women
Meryl Streep - The French Lieutenants Woman and A Cry in The Dark
Kim Hye-Ja - Mother
Yoon Jeong-hee - Poetry
Glenda Jackson - Women In Love and A Touch Of Glass
Isabelle Adjani - The Story of Adele H
Jodie Foster - The Accused
Michelle Pfeiffer - The Fabulous Baker Boys
Audrey Tautou - Amelie
Diane Lane - Unfaithful
Rachel Weisz - The Deep Blue Sea
Giovanna Mezzogiorno - Vincere
Vanessa Redgrave - Isadora
Dahlbeck, Thulin and Andersson - Brink Of Life
Katharine Hepburn - Long Day's Journey Into Night
Susannah York - Images
Isabella Adjani and Virna Lisi - La Reine Margot
Kathy Burke - Nil By Mouth
Berenice Bejo - The Past
Anjelina Jolie - A Mighty Heart
Linda Fiorentino - The Last Seduction
Nicole Kidman - The Others
Ann Dowd - Compliance

luke higham said...

Louis: Also, Your Rating & Thoughts on Kim Stanley in Seance On A Wet Afternoon.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Swinton - 4.5(The best part of the film as she does give some style to the corporate hatchet woman. She effectively does convey some pathetic qualities, and weaknesses behind the suit though while still being appropriately chilling in portraying her cold calculation)

Stanley - 4.5(I can't help but feel she is overshadowed by Richard Attenborough's performance, although he does have the more sympathetic arc. Stanely starts crazy and gets progressively crazier. Stanley though is quite good in portraying the hysteria of the woman and portraying the passionate obsession of her character that only becomes more dangerous the closer she becomes to her "glory")