Sunday, 31 January 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Richard Jenkins in Bone Tomahawk

Richard Jenkins did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying back up deputy Chicory in Bone Tomahawk.

Bone Tomahawk is an effective western horror about four men who go out to rescue captives from a group of cave dwelling cannibals.

Now I must admit the first time I watched Bone Tomahawk, despite being basically told to watch out for Jenkins's performance, for quite awhile I was waiting for Jenkins to show up. Of course his character of Chicory appears early on, but Jenkins wholly disappears into his role. Jenkins is a fine character actor, and often matches the needs of the various roles he's tasked with no matter how small they may be. This one though, he goes above and beyond in his creation of Chicory, as he seems to call upon his inner his Walter Brennan or perhaps Arthur Hunnicutt in his portrayal of an old timer in the old west. Jenkins takes upon a haggard voice and all of his physical movement are slightly slow suggesting a certain effort that it takes just for him to move at the speed he does. Jenkins realizes many rough years that Chicory has had to endure in just the way he speaks and moves. The most remarkable part of all this is how natural Jenkins makes it all seem, since he just seems to be some other character actor that is older, or at least has not aged as well, as Jenkins. There's no visual effort or even the idea of seeing a performance. Jenkins simply is Chicory here, and even before he does any thing the mere set up Jenkins is already rather outstanding.

Jenkins though does not stop there as he not only becomes the Walter Brennan for the film, but he also must fulfill the potential needs of a Walter Brennan role for this western. Well that being he's just a bit of an old coot, but in the best sort of way. Jenkins is extremely endearing in the role as he portrays such enthusiasm in Chicory as he attempts to go about supporting the local Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell). Jenkins brings such a genuine pride in Chicory whenever he states his position as the town's backup deputy, who frequently tries to offer his opinion the Sheriff, which he always refers to as "the official opinion of the back up deputy". The eagerness that Jenkins brings to the role makes Chicory so likable, since he never seems overbearing either. Whenever Chicory steps up, including attempting to help the Sheriff stop a potentially dangerous drifter, Jenkins reveals an old guy trying his absolute best to help. It's hard not to love the old man in Jenkins's hands since everything about the man just feels completely honest, and there's not a forced element to his depiction, this quite an accomplishment in itself considering how different Jenkins is in this role to begin with. It's splendid work from the start, and it only gets stronger as the film proceeds.

When the Sheriff, the husband of one of the captives Arthur O'Dwyer (Patrick Wilson), a self-proclaimed Indian killer John Brooder (Matthew Fox) set off an a rescue, Chicory demands to come along as well. Just before he goes though there is just a wonderful small moment for Jenkins as he visits his wife's grave, and Jenkins so tenderly reveals the great loss to Chicory in just a few moments before he departs. On the journey itself Jenkins is terrific in realizing so well the eternal optimism of Chicory as they are basically descending into hell. Jenkins importantly keeps a light humorous touch, even in some rather dark sequences, by keeping Chicory's inherent kindness a constant. He's great in the way he finds a certain chemistry with each of the men. He brings just the utmost respect in his interactions with The Sheriff, suggesting Chicory's steadfast devotion to his duty. With O'Dwyer though Jenkins brings the right consistent kindness as he always reflects Chicory clear concern for O'Dwyer's personal plight. The best though may come in his relationship with the philosophically opposed pessimist Brooder (whose name upon reflection may be a bit on the nose).

Anyways Fox and Jenkins are great together though in portraying the opposite ends of the spectrum. As Brooder mocks everyone on the mission, Jenkins is good in finding this believable resilience as Chicory never lashes out against Brooder. This is all except when Brooder supersedes the Sheriff's authority, and Jenkins is great by bringing some much passion in Chicory very specific disagreement with Brooder because he's disrespecting the law. It's splendid because it's not really anger that Jenkins expresses but rather almost a concern as he wants to makes sure he is fulfilling his duty as backup deputy. Jenkins never loses that bright outlook of Chicory's , and  makes it even convincing that Chicory is even able to win over Brooder by the end. Jenkins makes this whole defining quality about Chicory work so well by being a consistent bit of sunshine in a film that only becomes darker as it goes along. Jenkins plays around with it just enough, and manages to derive some well earned humorous moments simply from Chicory's personal style, yet never makes the character a joke. In fact Jenkins manages to be quite powerful by offering such an empathetic presence with Chicory, as manages to find such poignancy with every loss in the film.

Jenkins's best scenes, which is saying something, come after part of the group is also captured by the cannibals, and basically put in cages, waiting their turns to be slaughtered. If there was a moment for Chicory to lose his hope this would be it, but he still does not fall into despair. Jenkins importantly does bring nuance to this still showing an underlying anxiety and sadness from the situation, but earns the optimism all the more by depicting the effort as he still looks for the silver lining. There leads to one especially amazing scene for Jenkins as Chicory talks about seeing a flea circus once, and stating his belief that the show was real despite being told otherwise. The conviction of this belief that Jenkins is so heartwarming, particularly when O'Dwyer's wife supports Chicory's belief, as Jenkins so genuinely presents Chicory's complete joy in finding some sort of encouragement for his mindset. My favorite moment of his performance, and I love em all, is when Chicory swears he'll avenge one his friend. Chicory obviously does not appears to be the most formidable man, but even in a scene of violence Jenkins manages to add a sweetness to it by portraying once against such undeniable earnestness as he fulfills his friend's final request of sorts. This is a brilliant performance by Jenkins in every regard. He not only crafts a wholly unique character, he manages to be both a marvelous comic relief and the soul of the film. It's downright beautiful work by Richard Jenkins and essential to the film as he becomes interminable ray of light within the darkness of the film's bleak world.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation

Idris Elba did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and winning SAG, for portraying the Commandant in Beasts of No Nation.

Beasts of No Nation has about a masterful hour, the second half being a bit problematic, as it brutally depicts the loss innocence through a young boy Agu (Abraham Attah), whose family is massacred, and he is made into a child soldier.

Idris Elba plays the leader of a loose group of soldiers who come across Agu. Elba, from what I have seen, had failed to really find his footing in terms of his cinematic output, delivering often forgettable work, though to be fair in rather thin parts. The commandant finally seems like a substantial role, and Elba seems to relish in the chance in his portrayal of the part. In the earliest scenes of the film Elba plays the part in a fairly grand fashion. Elba plays him less of a military commander and more that of a spiritual leader of sorts who marks his pardon upon Agu, acting it as though he is his savior. Elba is very good in these scenes bringing the needed charisma to the role that the Commandant can control his men without question at this point. He brings the right quality to his performance as he makes the Commandant seem something more than he is to Agu at first, as he makes himself to be the true leader of these men, that goes beyond even an idea of his rank. Elba creates a sense of benevolence in the Commandant as he treats Agu, and the other soldiers, with this essential warmth, as though he only wants what is best for them, despite the fact that he's actually just using young boys for his own ends.

A pivotal moment for Elba's performance comes when he forces Agu to murder a completely innocent man for him. Elba is terrific in the moment as he makes the persuasion believable for Agu, as he suggests to Agu that he is someway avenging his own family by doing this. Elba is chilling though in the moment though because he projects a disarming affection towards Agu, as he makes him do the ultimate act of hate. Elba continues to be very effective in being the father to all of his men in quieter moments, such as where he tells the men of the women in the next village he intends to conquer, as though he's telling them of a treasure they will obtain if they continue to follow them. My favorite moment his performance is a larger one as he primes his troops just before they enter into the fray of battle. Elba makes this moment as though the Commandant is firmly a man in his element, as he truly seems to becomes the men's spiritual guide as he leads them in a dance, as a for them to enter the battle. Elba properly rules the scene as he seems to become more than a man before his troops, as leads the men into the battle as though it is some sort of divine march, and he has become God.

Of course the commandant is not God, or a god, he's just a man, and not even much of a man. Elba does indicate this well even in the early scenes in the moments after the first attack, where the commandant finds some possessions to call his own. Elba makes him frankly a bit childish in the moment as though he's enjoying the power of his position a bit too much, he does not call it his own as a grand decree, but more of saying "Hey cool, that's mine". The cracks in the commandant's facade only grow deeper as the story proceeds, when the commandant indicates that he too must follow orders. Elba reveals just a bitter pathetic man who hates being reminded of his own position. This leads to an underdeveloped element in the film where it is heavily implied that that the commandant sexually molests Agu. The moment just seems to be there to be another horrible thing Agu is forced to do, but the way its done it feels like it's there to be a checklist without really having much purpose other than having the commandant being even worse than he already was. The commandant's fall only continues when he meets with his superior, and is treated with very little respect. Again Elba does well enough in showing just the angry thug beneath it all, as he lashes out for being treated as something unimportant.

The film continues along the path of the commandant's own self-destruction, and any sway he might have had over his men only evaporates as time goes on. This is as the commandant does anything to stay in power, including having his second in command killed, and then proceeding to basically have his men keep fighting even though they're no longer part of any army. The film does not really allow Elba to gradually depict this descent in the commandant as the film moves aimlessly for awhile, though not in a way reflective of the aimless way the commandant is using his men. Elba does not have much screen time after the commandant goes renegade as we just eventually find his final scene where the men finally rebel against him. To his credit Elba is good in the scene as he portrays with such exasperation the commandant's final attempt to keep control, but really has not charisma left as he still tries to command them to do his bidding. This even is handled rather swiftly as the commandant barely gets a final glimpse before the film cuts away, and we never see him again. One could take this to show how far he's fallen, as the man who was the center of all these men's lives is just tossed away with only a few words. The problem is it just does not build to this in a particularly engaging way, and once again Elba seems often underused. This is still a very good performance, a great one in the earliest scenes, but as the commandant loses power so does Elba's performance. Now one could argue that as intentional, but the portrait of a man losing that power isn't made especially compelling by the film or Elba. I don't want to sound too negative though, since like the film, Elba's work is tremendous in the beginning, but like the film loses that strength as it continues.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Matthias Schoenaerts and Michael Sheen in Far From The Madding Crowd

Matthias Schoenaerts did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Gabriel Oak in Far From the Madding Crowd.

Far From the Madding Crowd is yet another effective enough adaption of the story about Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), a woman who has inherited a very large farm, and has three very different men vying for affections.

I have previously covered the three men with the 1967 version of the story where they were played by Alan Bates, Peter Finch and Terence Stamp. Bates played Gabriel Oak as just an honest bloke with a low key charm whose a bit down on his luck. Matthias Schoenaerts, a Belgian actor, which you would not know, well other than his name obviously, as he seems a bit a master of accents as one would never second guessed that he was really a New York thug in The Drop nor is there any reason to question his status here as an English shepherd. Schoenaerts fits right into the role to be sure, giving just the needed physical stature for the role. Though it would be easy enough to copy Bates's take on the character, it was a good performance after all, Schoenaerts takes a different approach. Where Bates was that likable average Joe, Schoenaerts takes a more stoic approach to the character. Schoenaerts plays him in a much colder fashion than Bates, though I don't mean that he plays the character as cold. Schoenaerts internalizes his performance even more than Bates did, and seems to purposefully strip away any direct charm from his Gabriel Oak. Though again that does not mean that this is not a charming performance.

On the contrary Schoenaerts actually has a very appealing presence, but it is never directed in a way as though he's trying to win any one over. There is a likability that Schoenaerts finds just in the way he so genuinely creates the modesty of the man. This is an interesting way to play the part, and it actually helps to further explain Bathsheba's original rejection of him at the beginning of the story when he's still a man with property and wealth. Schoenaerts is very good in this scene by showing his proposition as wholly earnest, though without an excess of passion, as Gabriel is just not the type of man who would try to actively win her over. Schoenaerts suggests even though Gabriel does have a charm of his own, the instinctual nature of the man keeps Bathsheba from accepting him at this point. Gabriel though loses his wealth through an unfortunate incident, which keeps him no longer acceptable even since Bathsheba becomes rich by chance, and with no where else to go really Gabriel starts working for her. With Bathsheba's new found status this does lead her into a situation where she meets her second potential suitor William Boldwood. 

Michael Sheen did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying William Boldwood in Far From the Madding Crowd.

The role of Boldwood in the 67 version was played by Peter Finch. Finch's performance was purposefully restrictive as he portrayed the man ruled by his upbringing to hold back his emotions. Michael Sheen, who is perhaps known a bit more for his depictions of more open and about British chaps, takes a bit of a different approach for Boldwood. The character stands as a disciplined sort, but Sheen plays this less as an active conditioning. Sheen's approach is less of man being trained to be this way, but rather a man only simply is this way due to a lack of experience of being showed any real love throughout his life. Where Finch shows his interactions to remain proper, Sheen instead reveals more of timidness as he tries to speak plainly with Bathsheba early on, which could be seen as rude at a cursory view, but at closer inspection Sheen presents a man unsure of how to act exactly. Sheen's approach is a rather intelligent one since he manages to makes Boldwood no longer seem as much of a thankless role, by finding a way out of the restrictions Finch set with his characterization. Sheen still makes Boldwood fit as the same man in terms of his stature and general background, but finds a way not to be nearly as constrained by these elements of the character.

Sheen's alternate starting point allows him to set a different path for the character than what Finch took in that earlier adaptation. Boldwood only becomes a potential suitor when Bathsheba purposefully sends a mocking valentine to him. Sheen realizes the cruelty of the act particularly well as Boldwood makes his own proposal to Bathsheba. Sheen is really quite moving by suggesting such a nervousness in the moment from a lack of experience with such matters, while exuding a very real tenderness in his request at the same time. Sheen is terrific in just how much emotional vulnerability he shows in any of the scenes where Boldwood is interacting with Bathsheba, as there's even a sweetness in the way Sheen suggests his love for Bathsheba is gradually building a certain confidence which allow him to express more emotions. One particularly great scene for Sheen is when Bathsheba sings a song for her workers, with Boldwood in audience as well, and Boldwood joins in. Sheen is very affecting in the scene as he reveals Boldwood coming out of the confines of his original emotional state through his feelings for Bathesheba. The feelings that Sheen finds are only ever wholly genuine, unlike her last suitor one Sergeant Frank Troy played in the original by Terence Stamp, but here unfortunately by Tom Sturridge.

Well there's a reason that I'm not reviewing all three suitors, as I had done for the three in the 67 version, since where Stamp gave the best performance in that film, Sturridge gives the worst performance in this film. So back to the good performances, though they are still attached to Troy somewhat. Technically it should be noted that Schoenaerts's indirect charm would have been a perfect set up for someone with a considerable direct charm, which Stamp had in the role. Now Schoenaerts's approach actually makes him really standout, even after his character is overshadowed in terms of the story as it focuses on Bathsheba's other two suitors. Gabriel never leaves the film but he is often reduced to a few reactionary moments here and there, with them often being silent. Schoenaerts keeps Gabriel from being forgotten though by standing well as the moral conscious of the film. He makes an impact with every single one of his reactions, as he always portrays well Gabriel's certain distaste with many of Bathsheba's actions, while still keeping a certain undercurrent of Gabriel's own true feelings for her beneath it all. Importantly Schoenaerts finds the right unsaid chemistry with Mulligan from the beginning, which he naturally transitions from being a possible suitor, to a true friend who's willing to tell her the harsh truths.

Now Sheen's moments are more specific as Boldwood has scenes still devoted to him. With every scene though Sheen reveals Boldwood coming out of his meek state all the more, even after Bathsheba has rejected him for Sergeant Troy. There is yet another very striking scene for Sheen when he discusses this with Gabriel. Sheen is rather heartbreaking by having Boldwood open up all the more as he presents just how devastated Boldwood is over the rejection, and suggests that allowing himself to become emotional through his interest in her has only caused him to suffer. When Boldwood is given a second chance with Bathsheba, Sheen continues to be very effective as his performance finds a considerable joy within the chance, but still an ever growing unease. As even in his new proposal Sheen lines it with a palatable fear at the possibility of being once again ignored by her. In the end Boldwood's story is a tragic one which Peter Finch portrayed as resulting from almost a time bomb as his emotions finally are let out all at once. Although that worked well, Sheen's approach is all the more powerful though as he manages to build to this point, by only ever depicting a growing emotional distress in Boldwood that leaves him to take his final irrational act of violence. This is even with this version's approach to the ending which is a bit rushed, and gives less focus to Boldwood than the 67 version did. Now the ending's swift pace continues as Bathsheba finally chooses Gabriel. This might have failed completely but Schoenaerts and Mulligan ,for that matter, manage to make up for the film's shortcomings because of that underlying chemistry they shared right from their first scene together. They make the ending convincing because it less of a revelation, and more of an acceptance. Both Schoenaerts and Sheen actually manage to best Bates and Finch, who both gave fine performances, as they manage to find their own unique approaches to the material which enliven their characters.
(For Schoenaerts)
(For Sheen)

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber and Stanley Tucci in Spotlight

Michael Keaton, did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Walter "Robby" Robinson, nor did Liev Schreiber for portraying Marty Baron, nor did Stanley Tucci for portraying Mitchell Garabedian in Spotlight.

It needs to be said that Spotlight is a film with a great acting ensemble, well except of course one of the actors who was Oscar nominated for it. The smaller roles are essential in receiving insight into its Boston setting and honestly feeling the effects caused by the Catholic Church sex scandals that the journalist of the Boston Globe are trying to uncover. Now within those trying to uncover the scandal there is a nice variations of personalities. The head of the team tasked with uncovering it, the titular spotlight, is headed by Robby Robinson played by Michael Keaton. Keaton's performance is actually very low key right down to his sorta Boston accent that one could argue is consistent, but one could also argue is realistic rendering of someone with a light Boston accent. Either way it's not a big deal. Despite being head of the team Keaton does give this large overly commanding performance, but is very believable as a more likable type of boss. Keaton makes it clear when he's demanding something from one the writers, but he does this in a very authentic way, suggesting just how comfortable the Spotlight team is with one another.

Now what's great about the film though is the ease in which the film depicts the various personalities involved with the story while still spreading the focus all around. Despite being the head of Spotlight the man who actually provokes the investigation is the new Editor-in-chief for the Globe Marty Baron, played by Liev Schreiber. Liev Schreiber often seems to be the right actor in the wrong film so it is good to see him in something a little better for once. Schreiber technically gives a very mannered performance, but unlike he who shall not be named, does it well. One would just assume that this is the way Schreiber really is in, in his calm low pitched voice, his slightly shy demeanor, his slow way of speaking and just his particular way of interacting with others. Schreiber's performance is very interesting in the way he plays it. Marty is probably a guy who was shy in the past, but has gotten over that for the most part. The certain trademarks that go along with that behavior is still evident but he is not being controlled by that in any way. In addition to that. Marty is going to a whole new place, as well as being seen as an outsider, this will make him seem all the more out of the loop which Schreiber portrays in such a natural fashion.

What's intriguing about Schreiber's performance is that despite having that certain awkwardness that would go with a shyness, he is not a meek figure in the film, as again he is basically the only one who sees what everyone else failed to. Schreiber's really effective in the way he actually has this dominating presence in a very unique fashion. Though he never even comes close to raising his voice Schreiber actually carries this incisiveness in his delivery, as he goes about it in his own way, and there is always the sense that it would be impossible to deter Baron from his stance. It's remarkable as Schreiber is able to do this effortlessly, as he makes Baron a truly persuasive man, whose in charge without question, yet never has to force his hand. Schreiber presents the whole personality of Marty Baron just so flawlessly, and it's quite something that he's able to still give an engaging performance by giving one that would appear as low energy. Schreiber though makes it so that Marty certainly does not come off as though the actor portraying him is tired, but rather this is merely a man who we are seeing in his normal behavior.

Baron's own interest is set off though by an article about the lawyer taking on the case of the victims against the church, Mitch Garabedian played by Stanley Tucci. Now in a way Garabedian is a pseudo deep throat for the story, though he remains secretive rather than secret for a very specific reason. Garabedian wants the story out in the open, but he cannot divulge very much information on the case lest he be disbarred. Tucci plays a character who  is described as a character, but he resists the urge to overact, something Tucci is capable of. Tucci certainly brings a flamboyancy to the role that feels exactly right for his character, who most definitely has many time needed to yell in order to get his day in court. Tucci does not allow this overwhelm his performance though as there is this certain precision of the way he talks, as though he's always getting to the point, given his amount of clients this would be the only way he could be. He carries himself with the right haggard qualities suggesting the burden of his job so well. Tucci's very good in his first scene though especially in the way he uses his eyes as he watches the reporter (some guy) as though he's trying to decipher him a bit, seeing whether or not talking to this man will be beneficial or not for his clients.

Tucci is incredibly good at portraying the way Garabedian is not just in it for the potential money from the settlements of the victims. Tucci does this so quietly yet so eloquently as he reveals an earnest passion in Garabedian as he speaks about the crimes. He also importantly always portrays a strong undercurrent of empathy in Garabedian as he interacts with the few clients we see him with. Tucci carries the right charity in these interactions showing always Garabedian as well aware of what they've suffered, and is trying to do his best only to help them in any way he can. When he mentions to the reporter the fate of many of the victims, Tucci does well to deliver this just as blunt concern for the victims. Though it must be said that much of the cast does a fine job of providing the human  element in their reactions during the scenes of the victim's testimonies, except for two of the performances that I'm covering here. Schreiber does not since Marty never directly works on the case, only providing oversight to the team to make sure they get the story right, and Michael Keaton,  even though he's the head of the investigative team, though he technically does bear witness to as many of the testimonies as the others.

Keaton plays these scenes very close to the chest, but again finds the right nuance within this. It is not as though Robby is detached from any of the stories, but rather Keaton illustrates well the analytical method of the man. Keaton always shows that he is listening very carefully, but takes it all in through his own way which is to stay very reserved. There is never a question though that Robby does not also care about the victims' plight, but rather he's a man who stays professional above all else. Keaton rather skillfully reveals Robby's personal outrage in the scenes where he goes about questioning people involved with the crimes in some way, and demanding an actual answer. Keaton reveals the right intensity in these moments as Robby's distaste is keenly felt at the right moment. There's even more to it than that, as Keaton carefully alludes to something else whenever it is mentioned that the Globe received information about the cases beforehand. There's an underlying unease Keaton suggests in these moments, as though Robby is unsure of whether or not he is remembering something important correctly. He effectively builds on this unease, to the point that you could even miss it on an initial viewing of the film, but Keaton makes it feel very real as Robby has to accept his own failures of the past.

Keaton actually has the one character with a major arc, though its handled in such a subtle fashion by both the film and his performance it sneaks up on you. Keaton delivers so well though that its surprisingly powerful when Robby must admit that he failed to act just as so many did. All three of these performances work even past the notion of having a character arc. They are part of an ensemble in the best possible way. They just add to the film, giving it all the more character, in just how effortlessly they inhabit their roles. Though you barely learn anything about any of their personal lives, you definitely feel that Robby, Marty and Garabedian live outside of the confines of the story. Though to be fair the same can be said about everyone else in the cast, except somebody I'm still not going to mention. The three of them make the right impact. All three have scenes where they stand out but it's always at the right time. Keaton in his confrontation scenes. Tucci's especially great in a memorable scene where Garabedian explains his plan as lawyer, as he reveals the shrewdness of the man, though also still with that layer of concern as it also acts as a bit of a warning about the powers against everyone trying to make the scandal public as well. Schreiber is understated as usual in a pivotal moment where they talk about not taking action earlier. Schreiber makes Marty's reassuring speech to everyone resonate powerfully, as he presents such genuine warmth in his support in his words, while still Marty stays his usual low key self. These are three very strong supporting performances, that never distract from the story, but rather only help to alleviate it to even greater heights.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015

And the Nominees Were Not:

Stanley Tucci in Spotlight

Liev Schreiber in Spotlight

Michael Keaton in Spotlight


Nicholas Hoult in Mad Max: Fury Road

Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation

Emory Cohen in Brooklyn

Benicio Del Toro in Sicario

Josh Brolin in Sicario

Walton Goggins in The Hateful Eight

Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight

Kurt Russell in The Hateful Eight

Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina

Richard Jenkins in Bone Tomahawk

Adam Driver in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Michael Sheen in Far From The Madding Crowd

Matthias Schoenaerts in Far From The Madding Crowd

For Prediction purposes:

Tucci

Hoult

Elba

Cohen

Del Toro

and/or

Goggins

Isaac

Jenkins

Driver


Sheen

Best Actor 2015: Results

5. Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl - Redmayne gives a downright terrible performance simplifying the character into separate turns, one as a bland nothing and the other as a ridiculous caricature.
4. Bryan Cranston in Trumbo - Cranston hams it up just a bit in the early portion of the film, but eventually settles in to give a fairly effective portrayal of whatever the film needs Trumbo to be.

Best Scene: His speech.
3. Matt Damon in The Martian - Damon effectively gives his character's situation the needed dramatic weight, and is decent in portraying his character's jokey optimism, though I did find his shtick to become grating after awhile.

Best Scene: The Launch
2. Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs - Fassbender gives an engaging and intriguing performance as he builds his characterization around the variations within the facade of Jobs. 

Best Scene: His second talk with Sculley.
1. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant - DiCaprio gives a great performance, finding nuance within his minimalist character, which works so well in tandem with the film's grand scope and vision.

Best Scene: Glass discovers his son.
Next Year: 2015 Supporting

Best Actor 2015: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio won his Oscar from his fifth acting Oscar nomination for portraying Hugh Glass in The Revenant.

The Revenant is an impressive, though not flawless, film about a man fighting for his survival in order to seek his revenge against the man who wronged him.

Leonardo DiCaprio with his last two performance, Django Unchained and The Wolf of Wall Street, has been letting loose a bit, changing up from the style of his work which started in the previous decade, where his performances was often defined by extreme emotions. Though I suppose I have been more forgiving than some in regards to these roles, I do see where the criticism comes from as DiCaprio would often focus too intently on a single aspect of his character such as in J. Edgar where he focused on the character's emotional vulnerability, though there were times he'd find the needed variation such as in The Departed. Now The Revenant might seem like DiCaprio is going back to his old ways in the role of Hugh Glass in this film. After all Glass's wife is indeed dead just as was the case for DiCaprio's characters in Shutter Island and Inception, and there is another tragedy ready to befall him about a third of a way into this film. So it would seem time for DiCaprio to focus intensely on just the anguish of the man's life. Well, that's not quite the case, and that's not really the intent of this performance. This turn actually has much in common with his career best turn in The Wolf of Wall Street, though I must admit I have quite a bit of explaining to do on that point.

But before I get to all that let's just examine Hugh Glass as a character. He had an indigenous wife, with whom he had a son, and then she was killed which resulted in Glass killing man. After that he became a tracker for an ill fated hunting expedition along with his son. DiCaprio is good in providing an appropriate bond with his son in the few scenes we are given between them. In the first scene of the film DiCaprio offers the right warmth of a father giving words of comfort to his younger son. With his older son though DiCaprio changes this rather well by giving a colder edge to his relationship showing Glass as trying to keep his son in line, and out of danger. It is not as though the love has not vanished, but rather DiCaprio importantly suggests the sort of relationship that would develop given that Glass must protect his son, but also prepare him to survive. Now with that all out of the way, other than a pivotal event, that's about the sum of what we are given in terms of Glass's backstory. It is a minimalist character since even that history we are shown through images rather than through dialogue. Speaking of dialogue, Glass has very few lines throughout the film with the character being almost unable to speak for a good chunk of the story.

What is probably the most obviously impressive element of DiCaprio's performance comes in as Glass, scouting ahead for the party, accidentally comes afoul of a bear and is severely mauled. It needs to be said that DiCaprio is terrific in the scene as every moment of the attack feels real through his performance with every scream of agony being keenly felt throughout the ordeal. This goes for every instance in DiCaprio's work in terms of the depiction of the physical pain that Glass goes through. DiCaprio makes your skin crawl as every cut, every festering wound, even every measure to reduce the pain is realized in vivid detail by him. DiCaprio does not limit any facet of this portraying even Glass's haggard breaths from the damage to his lungs, and throat as well, through his course whimper that barely escape his mouth just after the bear attack. DiCaprio portrays this incredibly well as he only gradually even gives Glass his voice back, as even at the end of the film since his throat is still far from full recovery. DiCaprio is uncompromising in the realization of Glass's terrible state which is essential to the film, as in DiCaprio's performance one can see what Glass must endure in his attempt to survive his long journey. The weight of this is on DiCaprio's shoulders and he does not falter in this regard in the slightest.

Of course if Glass was not suffering enough, due to the frequent attacks by a hostile group of natives, and almost being eaten by a bear, he also has to deal with a selfish jerk by the name of Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) who is one of the three men left behind to watch over Glass. Fitzgerald naturally wants to smother Glass, and I love this moment in DiCaprio's performance as his face is almost saying "are you kidding me?" as Fitzgerald makes it basically impossible to say no to his proposition. This unfortunately leads Glass's son to try to interfere with Fitzgerald's plan, which results in another tragedy for Glass. DiCaprio's reaction again terrific in properly expressing the disbelief and intense anger at seeing Fitzgerald's terrible action. DiCaprio portrays it well as though Glass is trying his best to make himself overcome his injuries but is forced into just witness the event in horror. Fitzgerald, to add to that all the more, leaves Glass for dead, though it does give Glass purpose to survive. Glass starts on his trek, which begins with him literally crawling for life, as he falls upon the corpse of his son. It's one of DiCaprio's strongest moments because he does not use the moment to once again reveal his hate for Fitzgerald, but rather takes the scene to somberly show his love to his son one last time.

Now comparing this to Wolf of Wall Street seems odd, but actually with that performance and this one he embraces his actual movie star presence, which he seemed almost to be actively avoiding at times with some of his earlier performances. Now this is not in terms of a larger than life personality that he presented in that earlier film, but rather finding the ability to standout within the frame. After all the film has a considerable scope and clear directorial vision, but DiCaprio succeeds in standing with it rather than being overwhelmed by it. He remains the human focus in the right fashion, though perhaps not in the way one might expect. DiCaprio does not keep Glass's journey focused solely on the idea of revenge, and does not give a performance as though Glass is obsessed with this. In fact this part of DiCaprio's performance is surprisingly, though effectively, rather subtle in his realization of Glass's intentions. He portrays less of a vicious anger, but more of a respective duty to his son, rather than an act of potential personal satisfaction. This is echoed well by one of the few scenes where Glass actually explains his personal feelings, when he states his earlier act of violence. Again DiCaprio does suggest this as Glass's actions being defined by hatred, but rather as an honest act to protect his son.

DiCaprio does not give a single focus to his portrayal of Glass during his attempt to survive the wilderness and find Fitzgerald. He captures the needed visceral qualities within the story whether it is physical torment from his trials, or the direct fear when he is trying to escape the group of natives that were trailing his party. DiCaprio keeps alive the emotional touches of the past, that again DiCaprio is rather affecting by showing Glass being burdened not by hatred but rather sadness as he remembers his loss. DiCaprio does not leave every scene though to either portray Glass's current physical state or the motivation for his survival. There some great "slight" moments in his performance that bring more nuance to Glass. One of my favorites in this regard is when Glass mimes shooting at an elk with a stick. There's wonderful appreciation for better times as he takes the moment to understand his hardship. One my favorite sequences in the film is when Glass comes across another survivor Hikuc(Arthur RedCloud) who has also lost his family. DiCaprio and RedCloud strike up endearing chemistry in their few scenes together, they're especially good in the moment where the two catch snowflakes as though both of them are taking a moment to enjoy life once again, if only for a brief moment. DiCaprio finds the needed variation within Glass's story, which is particularly important considering the potentially limited nature of his character. He does not dwell upon simply the revenge, he does not focus upon that until Glass is staring Fitzgerald right in the face. In that moment DiCaprio brings the necessary intensity as he releases his rage against Fitzgerald. After their showdown though DiCaprio does not create this as a portrait as a man's triumph over nature, or even over his enemy. DiCaprio instead reveals the end of the pursuit to be a hollow. He is haunting in his final reaction of the film as Glass looks to see what is left in his life, but nothing's there. Just as one should not give up after a bear mauling, one should never cave into peer pressure. DiCaprio gives a great performance as he works in tandem with the film to give a compelling portrait of survival. 

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Best Actor 2015: Matt Damon in The Martian

Matt Damon received his third acting Oscar nomination for portraying Mark Watney in The Martian.

The Martian is a good film about a lone astronaut being accidentally stranded on Mars who tries to survive by using the power of science.

The film opens with just a brief scene depicting the crew of the mars mission before a quick evacuation and an accident which leave that lone astronaut left on the barren planet. We pick up with Mark Watney waking up and having to perform an emergency operation on himself to treat his injury. Damon vividly realizes the pain in Watney as he goes through with the operation, and the moment of brief anguish as Watney finally has time to comprehend his predicament. After just a few moments of soberly pondering his fate, Watney decides to do whatever it takes to survive until he can be rescued. That basically is his most serious minded sequence for a great deal of the film, as Damon, as well as the film, decide to portray Watney as an optimistic go-getter who constantly makes light of his situation. To Damon's credit, he does not go overboard with Watney's enthusiasm, oh it's strong to be sure, but he holds back enough to keep an important idea alive behind it that keeps his work from becoming farcical. The idea being his humorous attitude is basically a coping mechanism to deal with his loneliness, and terrible situation. Damon allows this to be assumed, which is essential, but this does mean the humor element of Watney is flawlessly performed either.

Damon's frequent asides, and I mean frequent, old Mark Watney seems to have a bit of joke to go along with every single thing that he does, are delivered in an enjoyable enough way, at first. Damon, at least in this instance, does not prove himself to be a great comic actor as it does become a bit repetitive after awhile. He more or less delivers every one of Watney's cracks in the same way. It is not that he even had to give a outstanding comedic performance, but Damon does not quite have enough charm to make up for that either. That is his charm does not act as a bit of override so to speak, to make Watney wholly endearing no matter what he's doing. With Damon, Watney does become just a bit tiresome with his constant comments that do stop being funny after awhile. Luckily for the film Damon's performance actually is not a one man show in say the way it is for Tom Hanks in Castaway, or Sam Rockwell in Moon. Damon does not have to carry the entire film on his shoulders as the film very frequently breaks off to see what the large ensemble of characters are doing in back home to try to save Watney. This is a saving grace, since I don't think I personally would have been able to take entire film devoted to Mark Watney and his long line of various science related jokes.

In fact as the film proceeds it jumps to Watney all the more infrequently, and spends more time in creating the larger scope of the world wide effort to save Watney. It still jumps back to him now and again, but it eventually has a cut off point when the film goes ahead one year just before Watney's rescue will be mounted. This limits Damon's performance somewhat since we suddenly see Watney after that one year. That is he's not given the chance to really show a gradual decay in Watney's physical or mental state, we just meet up with him after he's clearly been through a rough year. Damon though is good in quietly conveying the mental and physical degradation in Watney. His optimism, as well as his jokes, are still to be found, but Damon's good in reducing it as well by downright dropping it when he's not talking to a video log or to NASA. Eventually Watney must go through with the rescue, which is still extremely risky. In that it involves Watney taking off in a bare boned remote controlled rocket, and he will basically be flung into space in the hope that his old crew can somehow catch him.

Just as the launch begins, Damon has an outstanding moment as all the fear and pain of his experience as well as that of his present course comes out, but at the time he also creates the sense of a definite joy as it seems his ordeal may be over soon. It's a brilliantly performed moment by Damon as the emotions poor out in such a genuine mess revealing what's really been going on beneath the surface with Watney the whole time. After that point though Watney reverts to his old bag of tricks, even during the rescue itself since at one point he announces that his intentions to fly like iron man by depressurizing part of his suit. The film actually also only briefly touches upon his moment of rescue, as it quickly cuts away to Watney being back on earth quite comfortable with his place on earth once again. Though I must admit I don't love this performance, I can't when I do find it become just a bit grating after awhile, but this is still a good performance which carries his portion of the film well especially in providing the needed emotional weight to the story in some pivotal moments.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Best Actor 2015: Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs

Michael Fassbender received his second Oscar nomination for portraying the titular character of Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs takes three different product launches for an insight into the life of tech giant Steve Jobs. The film builds up with first third being good, the second being rather great, but then falters with a problematic third act.

Michael Fassbender plays the man behind it all and has probably more screen time percentage wise than the so called "one man show" performances of his fellow nominees, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant and Matt Damon in The Martian. He's in pretty much every scene as the film follows him as he deals with every person and problem in Steve Jobs's life. Fassbender actually looks nothing like the real Steve Jobs, but he goes about doing his best to make up for that. The first being his voice which Fassbender actually surprises with, despite liking Fassbender I'll admit his accents have never been his strong suit, but here he maintains his version of Steve Jobs's slightly whiny timbre. It is not an exact replica but Fassbender makes it his own to the point that it always seems a natural part of his character. In addition Fassbender takes upon Jobs's certain mannerisms, which are interesting, as with the real Jobs, in that they are sort of understated yet overt. That is Fassbender's performance is not so obviously mannered yet the distinct way he keeps a careful posture, and his particular use of his body language, especially in terms of his hand and arm movements, is that of Jobs. Now even all of this, except the voice, actually has a bit of hidden purpose which I'll get to later.

Now a pivotal line in the film is when Jobs's oldest friend and work partner Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) states that the Jobs we see in the majority of the film is something that he's invented, and there lies the key to Fassbender's performance. Fassbender most of the time plays the part in a very exact, seemingly too exact, fashion as though Jobs is on some other wavelength than all of humanity, as he sees the world in a way that no one else can even decipher. Fassbender carries himself in a grand fashion as though Steve Jobs's instructions are not just some obsessive man who is becoming hung up on the slightest detail, such as the perfect picture of a Shark or ensuring that when he does his demonstration that the fire exit lights have been turned off, but instead plays it as though he is indeed an artist who is making these specific demands in order to realize his precise vision. Though everyone else doesn't exactly share Jobs's own enthusiasm, Fassbender is very effective in conveying this personal passion in Jobs that drives him to treat minor details as though they're pivotal to the success of his project. It is almost slightly inhuman at times, as Fassbender very much projects these choices as though it is from a mind above it all.

Of course Jobs is not above it all as he has to deal with many things in his life, which all spring up at different moments during each presentation. This includes professional arguments, that sometimes become personal, with a computer designer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) over various things starting with a glitch, John Schulley (Jeff Daniels) Apple's CEO mostly over Apple's board of directors which rarely approves of Jobs, and Wozniak due to Jobs's refusal recognize the importance of the Apple II. As well as completely personal problems involving his former girlfriend Chrisann (Katherine Waterston) and his daughter Lisa, who he tries to deny paternity to. Mixed between all of them is Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) who tries to act as a mediator of sorts. Now a challenge arises due to the nature of Jobs's presentation within the film, in that he is this constant of sorts. Fassbender does maintain this as Steve Jobs never fully loses that certain control about himself, yet there still must be more to him to develop any sort complexity to the relationships within the film. Fassbender does this artfully actually by having these moments of variation in his personal wavelength though they are of a loop of sorts. That even with change it always in the end comes back to original center of his personality which is Steve Jobs as "the genius".

Fassbender utilizes this brilliantly in conveying Jobs's real relationship with each person. In his interactions with Andy, Fassbender adapts a considerable passive aggressive streak in Jobs as every spoken word towards the man seems to have a bit of venom beneath it, suggesting his complete lack of empathy for the man. On the other hand with John Sculley Fassbender fashions a more openly aggressive shade to Jobs, though less petty in nature, revealing a much more genuine passion within it as his arguments with Sculley far more directly impact his ability to create his visions. Underlying these moments though Fassbender is very good at establishing an understanding and certain respect.  He and Daniels craft important moments of rapport when the two seem to be working together in tandem. In his scenes with Wozniak, Fassbender is quite clever in the way he provides a contradiction in the relationship. Whenever Wozniak calls him out on something or demands any sort of recognition, Fassbender brings an ice cold intensity to Jobs reflecting an immediate defense to try silence any idea that he might be inconsiderate or even worse, wrong. On the other hand when they are not in a direct argument Fassbender's reveals an earnest warmth suggesting so well their original friendship, that has been covered up by the man that Jobs has become.

Now with his personal matters there is perhaps the biggest revelation of the truth behind Fassbender's performance which is to indeed make the whole idea of Jobs a facade. There are a few scenes set before any of the products that might seem a bit slight, but essential to Fassbender's characterization. Fassbender quite bluntly reveals a far more relaxed man who is a guy with a vision to be sure, but there is not that grandeur, his physical mannerisms for example are of an average man. There's a much more endearing enthusiasm as Fassbender shows the real man in these scenes before he became the Steve Jobs we see in the rest of the film. Now with that in mind his personal scenes with his daughter and the mother of that daughter, one can see the most substantial break in that facade as Jobs basically reveals his worst and best sides. In regards to his dealings with Chrisann Fassbender does not hide a general disdain to her, and in this case trying to keep his composure only softens his attitude. Fassbender does not shy away from actually carrying this coldness over to Jobs's relationship with his daughter, where there is an inherent harshness in his detached interactions with her that seem to reveal a especially pathetic part of Jobs as basically a man who won't own up to his own mistakes. Nevertheless there are a few moments where Lisa shows her unconditional love towards him, which Fassbender presents just a momentary break in Jobs that suggests him being actually affected by this. There's even a cruelty within this though as Fassbender makes it so brief showing that Jobs will not even lose his crafted image just to recognize his daughter.

The last relationship is between Jobs and Hoffman whose treated as basically his assistant in the film, this is technically least heated in that both actors portray their interactions as fully comfortable with one another leaving Jobs to leave his crafted image firmly place, with Hoffman gently acting as a moral conscience for him. Now of course the relationships all get into a bit a toss up for the film's act which does kinda fall apart in two ways. The first being many of the relationship fail to build to anything special, Sculley and Wozniak basically go over the exact same things. The other being theu go in the wrong direction, the relationship with Hertzfeld's takes a weird and ill conceived turn. Hoffman suddenly become an extremely loud moral conscience. His relationship with his daughter takes the hardest turn which wants an immediate feel good switch around evidenced most by its choice of song to end the film. This might leave Fassbender in a difficult spot, but I actually don't Fassbender's performance is harmed by the film's ending which is both lacking in change yet wants too much of it at the same time. Fassbender's whole take on the character up until the point has to keep Jobs's persona as a constant, and even the moments of change always revert back to that persona. Now that means he gets away with it, so to speak in, in terms of the lack of change but that still leaves the extreme change for his daughter. Well Fassbender does not succumb to the schmaltz the rest of the film seems striving for in terms of both the writing and direction. In his final scene with Lisa, Jobs finally states that he's "poorly made". This could have been a time to fail the character as he becomes this great guy who admits fault, but Fassbender does not do that. He instead shows it to be the same sort of momentary glitch of the facade that he portrayed beforehand in his interactions with Lisa. Fassbender reinforces this by returning to his usual self when basically tries to appease his daughter by boasting about some new ideas he has. Fassbender's performance contradicts the film, but its the right thing to do. Fassbender stays true to his portrait of Jobs, which is as a man fighting with himself, not to do the right thing, but rather to become the icon he wishes to be.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Best Actor 2015: Bryan Cranston in Trumbo

Bryan Cranston received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Dalton Trumbo in Trumbo.

Trumbo is a watchable enough film about the trials and tribulations of a Hollywood screen writer during the blacklist.

Trumbo is a film that decides to give its story a certain style as though it is a film from the period in which the story takes place. Well this is somewhat misguided as it seems to believe that all films from the period were a bit overacted, which was not the case. Now we get a series of imitations throughout the film ones of very prominent actors including John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Edward G. Robinson. Michael Stuhlbarg as Robinson does the best job out of those by actually not focusing stiffly on imitating the man's mannerisms and voice. The imitations extend to somewhat lesser known figures like Otto Preminger and Hedda Hopper. Hey, even Alan Tudyk portrays Ian McLellan Hunter as though he's giving a bad imitation, even though most people probably have no idea what the real Ian McLellean Hunter was like. This choice extends to Bryan Cranston's leading turn as the titular Trumbo, which to be fair it is unlikely that one could wholly shy away from if they tried given his mustache, cigarette holder, and an apparent affection for working while bathing. Cranston does indeed embrace this, going head first in bringing to life Trumbo's particular way of speaking and his physical idiosyncrasies. 

Now to Cranston's credit he actually does match Trumbo's real life ways fairly well, but dials them just a few notches past normalcy. I won't say he goes too far, since he very much goes for a comedic excess. This is understandable given that the film wishes to be a comedy some of the time. It's after all directed by Jay Roach who got his start in broad comedies, and you know when broad comedy directors...alright I won't go over again. Any who the film's tone tries to mix comedy with the drama of the situation, which does not work too well in about the first twenty minutes of the film. This extends to Cranston's performance where it seems a few slices of ham could be trimmed off of Trumbo as he flaunts his superiority of wit at his opponents, the problem is this also extends as he's just spending time with his family. Cranston's overt approach though does find its place when Trumbo is put in front of HUAC. His excess actually really works in the situation as he finds the right combination of humor and passion as Trumbo goes upon taking on the committee's questions by asking a few of his own. Thankfully after this scene Cranston also dials down his performance considerably, and seems to become far more comfortable in the role.

This is probably more likely a side effect of Cranston depicting Trumbo as his ego has been deflated somewhat due to legal defeats, and facing jail time, either way it's a good thing. It becomes far easier to accept Cranston in the role, and his performance grows far more effective. Cranston thankfully is not ruled by his mannerisms and is able to find what lies beneath it all to reveal actual human qualities in the man, not just being a caricature of him. After Trumbo is let out of prison the film basically jumps around, not necessarily in a bad way, as it follows Trumbo as he deals with the large number of different people in his personal and professional life. The film puts much upon Bryan Cranston as he basically must jump around the various hurdles placed in from him in order to match whatever tone is required for each character and situation. Cranston manages to balance it rather well in the lighter situation such as dealing with the schlock movie producers he goes to work for, where Cranston offers just enough of a sardonic touch while staying fairly dead pan in dealing with the men who are even more extreme than he is. He nicely plays it up just a bit more when Trumbo jokes about their situation with the other writer who have been blacklisted.

In turn when dealing with someone adamant about the blacklist, such as Hedda Hopper, Cranston brings the right quiet disdain and disgust as he almost tries to avoid a direct confrontation. Cranston is wise to contrast this in the scenes where he deals with people who have named names in order to avoid their own careers being ruined. Although Cranston still conveys a definite disgust, he carefully relays an undercurrent of sympathy in his condemnation that keeps his Trumbo from seeming overly self-righteous. Then there is Trumbo's most personal scenes with his family which are jumbled in a way, since we never are shown a natural flow from one scene to another. It's either Trumbo telling them a new plan of his, showing concern for them due to outside threats, or yelling at them for not doing exactly what he demands of them. Although we mostly get glimpses of each of these sides, Cranston performs each quite well. He brings the needed energy as he tries to almost boost the family's moral. When he sees the hardships of his family, as well as some of the other writers, Cranston is moving by earnestly depicting Trumbo's quiet empathy for others. Then in his most negative side Cranston is good in portraying a strong bluster, that he makes a bit thin, which actually effectively conveys the idea that it in part comes from the stress of his situation. Cranston's performance works in realizing the film's intent for Trumbo, which is as the triumph of an individual over some sort of establishment. It even ends with a speech to sum his whole journey up. But again to Cranston's credit he delivers it well by only ever bringing an emotional truth to his words. Though I do think he makes a few missteps in his performance, most of them being in the just the opening twenty minutes, Cranston delivers a fine leading turn that one would expect from this type of biopic.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Best Actor 2015: Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

Eddie Redmayne received his second Oscar nomination for portraying Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl.

The Danish Girl is a downright terrible film due to many reasons really, but in part because of a seemingly very thin understanding of its subject matter. 

Eddie Redmayne having won the Oscar for portraying Stephen Hawking as a person going through difficult physical changes, once again does this in The Danish Girl though this time the most extreme physical changes are purposefully chosen by his character. Of course, like The Theory of Everything, everything starts out in an average enough fashion as Redmayne plays Einar Wegener as a painter who is happily married to his wife, also a painter, Gerda (Alicia Vikander). There is nothing notable about Einar in Redmayne's hands. He basically keeps to a coy smile or two and that pseudo Hugh Grant style of speaking in slight jumbled way while blinking quite a lot. The most notable thing about him is his relationship with his wife, which is not really atypical they just evidently love each other, and I'll grant that Redmayne and Vikander have enough chemistry to make that believable. Redmayne though almost seems to strive to have nothing of note about him as he mostly keeps to some particularly blank reactionary glances in his scenes with Vikander, and to her credit she seems to be striving to create some sort of dynamic in their relationship. For most of his early scenes Redmayne is content with keeping Einar a man without substance. He has no motivations, very few emotions, no history, he might as well be a lump of clay ready to be molded by the story I suppose.

Now there are a few indications suggesting that there's something up with Einar, and those are the scenes where he is looking at women's clothing, or there's the first time where he wears a dress. Redmayne is a bit atrocious in these scenes. In the moments where he is glaring at the clothes he gives this psychotic intensity as though he's planning on murdering them later, and then when he puts on the clothes he acts as though he's suddenly been entranced by a spell. Redmayne's performance, as well as the film, both seem to suggest that Einar's personal joruney is all started just because of a fascination with women's wear, since Redmayne offers no other indications anywhere else. If there's some dresses around there's something up with Einar, when there's not he's perfectly content to be well just kind of a boring. Redmayne by making these moments so detached and separate actually seems to imply as though Lili is not who Einar truly is, but rather that Einar suffers from Dissociative identity disorder with Lili being a different personality entirely. To be fair the film itself treats it such. When there is a possibility of some sort of connection to be made, Redmayne wastes it though by instead instantly becoming a teary eyed troubled soul, which he portrays in a most overwrought fashion.

After one extremely poorly thought out sequence of looking in the mirror, with music that sounds like its out of a horror thriller, Lili has taken control. I hate to describe it as such, but that's the way the film decides to approach the matter. Redmayne plays it as though he's being taken over with just a side effect of a sudden illness, which Redmayne plays up for all its worth, and it comes off just absurd. Eventually the film becomes tired of the looks of longing and the same pained expressions allowing Redmayne to purely be Lili. Now maybe that's where this thing could have gotten interesting I suppose, even if Redmayne leading up to it was rather ineffective. The problem is though Redmayne is also quite awful in his depiction of Lili. He decides to portray Lili specifically as some sort of delicate flower in human form. Redmayne goes all the way with this, with his constantly slightly tilted head, his frequent fluttering of his eyes as though he's actually doing a parody of what a woman acts like. Redmanye sort of attempts to make his voice pitched higher in some scenes but he's extremely inconsistency in this attempt that it is more distracting than anything else. Of course this is all surface, important to be sure, but perhaps there's something more when Redmayne looks deeper into the character.

Well there's a bit of problem because Lili has no character. This was a similair issue I had with his character in The Theory of Everything but compared to this, that film featured a complex portrait of Stephen Hawking. There is nothing to Lili which the film itself seems to admit with the line "I want to be woman not a painter", so guess that just means all there is to Lili is womanhood in the broadest of broad senses. That in itself is a bit of a problem due to Redmayne basically already going about making a stereotype of a woman with every over the top mannerism he gives to Lili. The more one sees of Lili the more ridiculous Redmayne's act becomes as every little twitch and slight smile are so poorly conceived. The idea of Lili just being this artificial delicate flower becomes all the more prominent at the end of the film when one of Lili's operations goes wrong. Redmayne can't even die in a way that seems natural. With every one of his coughs and damaged expressions he seems to specifically want to present Lili's death as though Lili was this pure thing just too good for this world. Lili does not die in any real pain, Redmayne makes this that special sort of pain that one usually only sees when Bugs Bunny is pretending to die. The scene is suppose to be heartbreaking but it ended up being laughable because of Redmayne's ludicrous approach. Almost everything about this depiction was poorly thought out. The whole notion of the split personality is already a very questionable simplification, but hey it does give Redmayne a chance to give two bad performances. One as Einar, a bland man who is content in his blandness, the other being Lili, a caricature of a woman content with being such.

Best Actor 2015

And the Nominees Are:

Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant

Matt Damon in The Martian

Bryan Cranston in Trumbo

Best Supporting Actor 2015: Results

5. Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight - Ruffalo sticks out like a sore thumb with his excessively mannered turn that seems so false within a film going for a strict realism.
4. Christian Bale in The Big Short - Bale is able to make his character's various mannerisms seem natural the problem is the film never allows him to take it anywhere past that set up.

Best Scene: His introduction.
3. Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies - Rylance gives a moving, inspiring, amusing and technically even devious yet unassuming performance as he artfully makes his Soviet spy everything the film needs Rudolf Abel to be.

Best Scene: "Standing Man"
2. Sylvester Stallone in Creed - Stallone manages to not only find new ground for his seventh depiction of Rocky Balboa but also is able to pay homage to his previous iterations in his return to the character.

Best Scene: "If I could take everything that's good out there and put it into a bowl"
1. Tom Hardy in The Revenant - Good predictions Michael McCarthy, RatedRStar, Jackiboyz, and GM It needs to be said I hate to have to rank these top three. All three do fantastic work and if any of the three were to win the Oscar I'll be more than happy with it. My personal favorite of three, and I love all three of their work, is Tom Hardy's brilliant turn as John Fitzgerald. Hardy makes for an effective and surprisingly even entertaining villain, while still managing to find depth within the motivations of his character.

Best Scene: "God is a Squirrel"

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Best Supporting Actor 2015: Tom Hardy in The Revenant

Tom Hardy received his first Oscar nomination for portraying John Fitzgerald in The Revenant.

My fellow writer on ....uh... films and performances, Calvin Law, aptly compared Tom Hardy's cinematic style to that of a combination of Gary Oldman and Toshiro Mifune. Like Oldman Hardy always seeks to disappear in his roles, rarely ever keeping the same voice or mannerisms from part to part, but somehow, like Mifune, he carries a physical presence that is most definitely all his own. In the role of Fitzgerald, Hardy once again changes his accent this time to a thick Texan drawl which effectively suggests his background in addition to making him seem right in place given the film's time period. Hardy in addition past this carries himself in a particular way that emphasizes the survivalist that Fitzgerald is. There's a constant aggression in terms of his physical demeanor as he's always eager to occupy someone else's space, and never allows another person to stand on higher ground than him. Hardy presents Fitzgerald as a man whose not only ready to attack, but he's also always very watchful of an attack. There is a sense of paranoia that Hardy conveys in Fitzgerald that rarely leaves him that again suggests so well Fitzgerald's troubled history that most certainly started long before he ever started upon the troubled hunting and trapping expedition lead by Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) or came in contact with Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Now as threatening as Hardy makes the man in simply his nature, Hardy adds to all of this through his domineering screen presence. Hardy can hold a scene all in his own way, even in some his earliest work like Black Hawk Down and Layer Cake he stood out making his characters seem far more important than they were, and in 2015 he made a scene of just mutely indicating how he wanted guns passed to him completely captivating. On a quick side note I can't help but feel that his performance in Mad Max is becoming criminally underrated as though his performance was just a given. Hardy has more lines to deal with in this case but once again commands his place in the film in that fashion so unique to Hardy himself. Hardy adds to the threat and menace of Fitzgerald as a character through this. Hardy's great because he never allows Fitzgerald to seem second to anyone, as he even when he's taking orders from Captain Henry, he always seems to exude a control of his own domain. Hardy gives Fitzgerald the needed impact to be a great villain, and probably even without saying anything Hardy could have been able to make Fitzgerald a worthy adversary for his rival survivalist of sorts Hugh Glass.

Hardy with the setup of the character, just in his physical manner, and that dominance he exudes so well makes Fitzgerald a palatable threat throughout the film. What I love perhaps the most though is that Hardy in his depiction of Fitzgerald's most active scenes does not portray him as this evil mastermind, but instead plays him...as well to quote Marty McFly in Back to the Future 3 "he's an asshole". In the early scenes, even before anything goes wrong, Hardy is terrific in playing up just how consistently miserable Fitzgerald makes everyone else with his focus on just his own personal pelts. Now what's so great about what Hardy does with this is actually how unrelenting he is in making Fitzgerald such a pain in everyone's backside. Hardy doesn't mind showing exactly what Fitzgerald is with most his behavior, which is that of a single minded jerk. This could have seemed too much, but I have to give Hardy the most credit as in his depiction of behavior he's only ever reminded me of people I've known with a similair self absorption. Hardy's loud and that's the only way to be with a man like Fitzgerald who really wants everyone to know quite clearly he only cares about himself. One of my favorite moments in Hardy's performance is his reaction to seeing Glass's mauled, it isn't concern, its just that of lout who's annoyed that this will probably inconvenience him in some way. This might not have worked but Hardy makes it so brutally honest that it absolutely does.

Hardy takes this feature in Fitzgerald and makes it almost too genuine. Hardy's so good because he shows it to be such casual behavior, though actually ties into the mindset of a survivalist, as he can't even wrap his head around the idea that he should ever put someone else first. Hardy makes it so perfectly plain that the first concern for Fitzgerald is always Fitzgerald. Another one of my favorite moments in this performance, I have lots of them I must confess, is when they are struggling to keep moving Glass and it is decided that three men must stay with him. The first two being volunteers, who even will put up their own pay for the sake of Glass, but the third does not come forward. No one will take it until the Captain, and the two men basically offer a great sum of cash to the third man. Hardy's reaction again is flawless as he shows Fitzgerald's face light up. Again Hardy does not keep it as a master plan, he does not suggest that Fitzgerald already has plans for Glass, rather he really makes even worse by so blatantly putting it that Fitzgerald just doing the whole thing for money. When he does end up trying to get Glass to agree to death, Hardy's once again marvelous by finding such a callous indifference to life, this time not even due to malice rather due to impatience, though once again from being concerned only with his own life.

Now with that comes Fitzgerald's most heinous act, which is brilliantly performed by Hardy. This is again because of something atypical Hardy does, that once alludes to the nature of his character. In the moment there is a viciousness but only as though its his instinctual reaction to being attacked, especially by a native. Hardy only emphasizes this all the more as a second or too later basically acknowledes that he went overboard, not through genuine empathy but rather through an especially cruel shrug. That instinctual reaction though is given sense by Hardy when Fitzgerald recounts to the other man who stays to watch Glass, Bridger (Will Poulter), when he was scalped. It's a beautifully played moment by Hardy as he once again keeps Fitzgerald's tone of voice as a bit indifferent and a bit hateful, but in his eyes, that are away from Bridger, you can see that he's about to cry, and is actively trying to keep his composure. Hardy reveals the pain in Fitzgerald from his past, and is even moving in the moment as Fitzgerald only reveals to himself the sensitive man traumatized by his mistreatment. From this though Hardy creates the sense of much of the man's motivation which above all else is his survival. This is reflected all the more in perhaps Hardy's best scene as he recounts to Bridger a story about Fitzgerald's own father finding God in a squirrel. It's an outstanding scene for Hardy as he recounts the story with an underlying warmth, and manages to be genuinely inspiring as he speaks the words. What's so fantastic about it is that Hardy does not compromise the character. It's still all about himself though as he presents the words in a way that it is Fitzgerald in fact comforting himself with the story. Hardy is so good because he does not hold back in terms of the villainy of the character yet still gives him depth. His final scene is a grand example of that as he's so downright pitiless as he even takes away anything Glass could have gotten from his revenge, by bluntly stating the futility of it, yet Hardy still brings a very real fear in face all the same. Hardy balances it all so well, and its astonishing that he even can bring a bit of levity to the proceedings while still maintaining the character without question. This is outstanding work from Hardy, and I loved every second of this performance.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Best Supporting Actor 2015: Christian Bale in The Big Short

Christian Bale received his third Oscar nomination for portraying Michael Burry in The Big Short.

The Big Short is a mess of a film which tells three separate stories of Wall Street investors who all decide to bet against, "short", the housing market.

A common problem when a broad comedy director, like Adam McKay, tries to make a more serious minded film is that it can result in an odd tone as they can't seem to let go of their urge whenever there is potential for a cheap gag now and again. The problematic tone is found in The Big Short and crosses over to the performances where every one is not exactly on the same wavelength. Ryan Gosling plays his role as though he wandered off the set of a not as good version of The Wolf of Wall Street, Brad Pitt plays his role dead seriously, John Magaro and Finn Wittrock play their roles like they're the hapless heroes in a broad comedy, and Steve Carell's voice and walk seem like a comedic creation yet his intentions for the role never seem to be a such. Then there's Christian Bale whose story seems to be in even more of his own bubble than the other two as most of his scenes never leave Michael Burry's office, or are just him having some sort of reflective narration about himself. In turn Bale's performance actually is in a bit of a bubble all its own, though to be fair in this case the film's portrayal of Michael Burry is that he's suppose to be a guy in a bubble all his own.

Bale gives his performance very much a take it or leave it quality, though this is technically very much required for the part of Burry whose suppose to be detached from most everything and probably has Asperger syndrome. The film puts an emphasis on this all the more in the way his scenes are edited as the narration will be over his normal interactions as though to make it so we also are disjointed from him all the more. The film does this as an attempt to show that this disjointed quality in Burry is actually what enables him to see the flaws in the Mortgage market which propels him to start shorting it. Bale in turn gives a portrayal of Burry that from our position seems quite random, and actually to Bale's credit he perhaps gives the performance that might have been what the tone of the film should be. Bale in no way gives a comedic performance, but rather presents Burry exactly as he is. He's never playing for laughs but the potential for that is there. I will say this approach might have worked quite well if the film had been more intelligently directed and edited. Not that this causes Bale's performance to wholly fail though, but the film's tone is too random to make proper use of what he's doing.

Now what Bale is doing just in terms of an abstract view is some random behavior....a great deal of random behavior. Burry has a lot of personal tics as Bale has him speak in kind of an internalized way even when he's directly speaking to someone, and never quite feels like he'll talk right at you. It does not stop there as he just does what he does in terms of behavior whether it is brushing his teeth, or drumming to music in as though he's oblivious to others. Bale keeps his body language withdrawn that always makes him seem a difficult man to approach. Bale will even have Burry sometimes suddenly laugh or smile in a somewhat awkward fashion. Now what Bale does well is he makes this randomness feel natural enough to make it all seem like something normal to Burry, and in fact should be a bit off putting for someone else watching him. It's random to us but it's not random to Burry. Bale pulls this off, and I did not feel like I was just watching Bale act, I felt like he made all of it feel as something a guy with Asperger syndrome would do. Now having said all that, this performance really did very little for me. Again because the film does not make use of what Bale is doing in an effective fashion.

The only interactions are from either those who are playing it dead seriously too which means again Bale is still stuck in his bubble with only the occasional brief minor character having some over the top reaction to him. None of it becomes very amusing, but it did not necessarily have to be that way. It should be engaging at least but the way the scenes are handled there's Bale there doing his thing, and that's it. There's no where to take the behavior past...... well the behavior, especially since Burry basically just gets his short set up then just ignores everyone. This leaves Bale only with the behavior, which in itself becomes a bit repetitive and not too compelling. The film is basically done with him before it even reaches the half way point but it still occasionally cuts to him as he is doing something on a computer, writing down a few numbers, or doing some more drumming. Again only behavior, as the film never bothers to come up with something for Burry to do that's dynamic, which might be true to life but who cares it's a movie. I frankly felt the film halted whenever it came back to Burry, at no fault of Bale's either. All you're left with is a guy acting like he has Asperger Syndrome. To Bale's credit, once again, he pulls it off, but film does not let him take Michael Burry anywhere past the set up.