Monday, 26 June 2017

Alternate Best Actor 2003: Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa

Billy Bob Thornton did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Willie T. Soke in Bad Santa.

Bad Santa is a very enjoyable comedy about two criminals whose MO is to work as a store Santa Clause and his elf then ripoff the store's safe.

Billy Bob Thornton is an actor who technically was never defined by a single genre, as before and after his breakout in the drama Sling Blade, he's taken roles in any type film really. It is interesting to see him land on the fully lead role in a broad comedy, and his approach is distinctly Thornton. As with his performance in The Man Who Wasn't There, for much of this film the appeal of his work comes from the consistency of the exact approach he takes. In this case his approach is playing Willie Soke as a man who just does not give a crap. We see this from his first scene where Thornton portrays the minimal amount of effort as Willie performs his duties as a Santa Clause more than halfheartedly coughing out his question of what the kids want for Christmas before kicking them off his lap, while barely even staying in the seat through extreme slough as sitting up straight would seem to require too much of him. Thornton's approach is most fitting to a man who rather pee his pants then bother to go to the bathroom since that would just a be a little too hard for him.

Now as ridiculous of a character as Willie is right from the outset, a man who even when performing the crime itself puts as little effort into as possible spending more energy in finishing off his beer before starting the job, this may seem like Thornton will give a broad over the top comedic performance. Thornton does not do that instead giving a rather down to earth portrayal of this lout, though that is what makes this performance so funny. Thornton makes it so Willie does not need to act so out of place as a store Santa, he merely is completely not right in the part even for a moment. Thornton's hilarious here by staying so true to this approach which is to just be so pure in being Willie as this "scum of the earth". It is a little bit fascinating that in different context this would almost be a disturbing performance but given where he is and what he's doing it is instead comedic gold. Thornton just is this low down sort in everything and it is almost strange how funny he is in this by how he doesn't hold back. When he randomly breaks something because it just for whatever reason is bugging him at the wrong time Thornton goes all in with his anger, but since what he's usually beating up is say a plastic reindeer it is most amusing.

Thornton is consistent in his portrayal of Willie but he is in no way one note as he finds so many ways to reveal just how much of a slob the man is. This is in his general disdain for all things, but he undercuts this so comically with his rabid desires for drink and women which he will not stop seeking just because he's Santa such as with his lusty glances towards any woman whether she wants them or not. Thornton's great though with the complete lack of skill he presents in Willie's whole routine portraying him as a guy who is just going to do what he does and that seems to be it. The thing is though Thornton's approach to give technically a honest though hilarious performance is pivotal to his development of Willie. This being that even at his very worst Thornton portrays always a thick layer of self-loathing in everything that Willie does. When he's trying to have some of his fun it feels less of a thrill and more of some temporary reprieve from his horrible existence. Thornton shows his personality to be specifically toxic by how little joy he reveals Willie has in life and how real his hatred is which alludes to years of abuse even before he tells his story.

Now this performance is rather incredible as Thornton pulls off something quite remarkable even past just being so funny throughout, which is he ends up being kind of moving too. This comes in Willie's relationship with a strange little boy Thurman who Willie starts living with as the boy the lives alone with a senile grandmother in a very large home. Thornton's portrayal of Willie's relationship with the boy is technically where his arc lies, though again Thornton does this in a very specific way. Early on Thornton portrays a fascination with the weird boy that is again hilarious as he depicts in his reactions to the boy. Thornton reveals the wheels turning in Willie's head as he tries to decipher the boy who he can't quite understand yet does see any easy mark in whoever his guardian may be. It is in this relationship though where Thornton actually reveals something important about Willie in that Thornton only plays an overt maliciousness in Willie if someone tries to get in his way of doing what he wants to do, or attempts to call him on it. Although his common state is of a cantankerous misanthrope and he set off very easily Thornton suggests that Willie isn't all bad.

Thornton doesn't simplify Willie by making him this nice guy though, but instead reveals his less awful side by showing it to be the motivation for his awfulness for the most part. There is a genuine pain that Thornton brings in every horrible act to Willie and that sadness technically defines the man more than his slovenly behavior. Thornton's performance reflects this throughout and in doing so earns the change in Willie by the end of the film. The reason being Thornton doesn't make it this overt change in personality rather he just portrays it as Willie finally facing his self-loathing through Thurman who passes no judgements on anyone other than himself. When Thurman beats up on himself that is where Thornton is surprisingly moving yet he makes it work in his character as in his eyes he finds a man seeing a boy suffering his same sort of suffering as his own and not liking it. I love the moment where the Thurman gives Willie a gift as Thornton's performance is so perfect in realizing how this causes a change in Willie. It isn't a clean change of a bad man becoming a good man, but rather Thornton presents a man being forced to look at his sorrow directly since he can't lash out against someone who only ever showed him love. Of course this all sounds a little dramatic and the thing is Thornton stays consistently amusing even as he reveals the better Willie. A great moment near the end is a showdown with his thieving partners who intend on killing him, and Willie breaks down. Thornton does not portray this breakdown out of fear, but rather out of sentiment that they are missing the true meaning of Christmas. This should not make sense as even in this moment it's still pretty funny to see the rough Willie break down, but it is also affecting because Thornton's "dramatic" approach earns it. This is a fantastic performance because it gives you everything you expect you want out of the lead of "BAD SANTA" in terms of the comedy yet brings enough depth to this to allow a heartfelt discovery of the Christmas spirit though in the messy way fitting to Willie T. Soke.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Alternate Best Actor 2003: Daniel Brühl in Good Bye, Lenin!

Daniel Brühl did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Alexander Kerner in Good Bye, Lenin!.

Good Bye, Lenin! is a terrific film about a young man in East Germany taking most unorthodox measurse to protect his mother from experiencing a fatal shock after a coma caused her to be unconscious through the entire German unification.  

Daniel Brühl being a German actor obviously has played his share of Nazis as well as villains in his English language work, and even in his technically sympathetic roles he usually plays rather prickly sorts. It is quite a treat though to see him here in this role where he's not playing a Nazi, certainly not a villain, just a normal guy. Brühl's Alex in the opening scenes of the film is particularly normal young man living in East Germany though he does engage in just a bit of rebellion, the little that there can be against the totalitarian government. Really though Brühl's performance even suggests this is not as a major as it might seem portraying a far greater interest in running into a young woman also at the protest than in the protest itself. There is nothing questionable even in this though as Brühl brings a genuine unassuming charm to Alex, and in this early moment importantly shows his convictions in the moment where he is arrested and simultaneously his mother has her near fatal heart attack from the shock. Brühl is quite affecting in this moment in capturing the son's intense concern for his mother which is pivotal for the rest of the film.

Well that heart attack puts Alex's mother into a coma, which leaves her unaware of the German reunification which Alex and his sister Ariane fully embrace, though Alex continually visits his mother where he also finds that the young woman, Lara, he formerly met at the rally is one of her nurses. Brühl again is incredibly charming by offering such earnestness in both Alex's enthusiasm towards his new discoveries in Germany, but also in his constant concern for his mother. Eventually his mother does awaken but with Alex being given the warning that her next heart attack will probably be fatal. In order to avoid the great shock of the collapse of their old way of life Alex takes it upon himself to hide the German reunification from his mother. Now this is the central conceit to the film and Brühl's performance is essential to not making it feel ridiculous. Brühl makes it work by portraying Alex's devotion to his mother's health so honestly. Although he is lying to her Brühl's delivers these initial lies with only the utmost warmth, and gentle regard always emphasizing that Alex believes this is the only way to save his mother. 

The film then proceeds to reveal Alex's strange game where he takes many unorthodox methods to present everything that his mother sees as still being part of the old Germany. Brühl brings the right energy to the performance as he pulls you right into Alex's mission by making it such a sympathetic prospect. Brühl makes these such engaging scenes though because he reveals everything that comes with them. He has those moments where he is so endearing and encouraging in portraying this ingenuity in Alex as he tirelessly finds ways to create and refine the illusion. Brühl is never one note though in that even when he's in the process itself he does reflect the sort physical effort needed, as with each successive scene Brühl conveys Alex just wearing himself out a bit from it all. Furthermore though he also brings the real frustrations in his arguments with his sister over the illusion as he delivers his counters with that conviction that alludes to his motivation, even while it becomes harder and harder to keep it up his illusion. Meanwhile though I love those moments he has where Alex sees his mother happy, and Brühl so powerfully reaffirms that underlying motivation every time by presenting just the most genuine love towards his mother and happiness at seeing that she is still with him. 

Although his mother's world is crafted by Alex, Alex's own existence is not a constant outside of it. Now one positive aspect of this is in his relationship with Lara to where Brühl makes for a great low key romantic lead. These scenes are pretty modest yet offers the right sweetness to them, though with just the right reservations at times in the persistent argument over Alex's treatment for his mother. Another problem though appears in the form of Alex and Ariane's father who they can now technically reconnect with, as he disappeared to the west when they were children. Brühl has a great scene where he goes to see his father, who has started a new family. In the scene Alex's dialogue is fairly sparse but Brühl's eyes though say it all as they reflect the years of feeling abandoned. He presents this as a sorrow but not anger though suggesting Alex's willingness to potentially forgive the past particularly so that he can bring his father back to see his mother one last time. That moment though is simply the natural state of this wonderful performance by Daniel Brühl as he makes Alex such a likable but also believable lead. He's charming yes but he also offers the right convictions to allow the central conceit to work. He makes you empathize with the young man's plight throughout the film. It's terrific performance and I have to say I hope we'll be able to see this side of Brühl again sometime in the future.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Alternate Best Actor 2003: Ivan Dobronravov in The Return

Ivan Dobronravov did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ivan in The Return.

The Return follows two young brothers on a strange trip with the intention to bond with their estranged father after a 12 year absence.

Ivan Dobronravov plays Ivan in the most creative naming of a character since Alex Frost as Alex in Elephant. The idea behind such a naming could be to reinforce a certain realism, as the actor should not be as detached from the character, or at least an idea of sort of hiding the acting. Well unlike that other performance from 2003 Dobronravov's performance seems to support this choice. Dobronravov was obviously a child when delivering this performance, and giving any reality to a character is one of the first indicators of a good child performer. There is not any precociousness here, as Dobronravov presents from his first a scene a kid in a fairly troubled situation. We see him early on with his brother, and his friends, or at the very least his peers as they play a game involving heights. Dobronravov is terrific in this opening scene since he realizes so effectively the distress of the situation. In first portraying the intense fear of a child's fear properly, as he breaks down physically in his reaction. Further Dobronravov afterwards captures that terribly shy embarrassment as he shows Ivan attempting to pull himself together, while only falling apart all the more when facing ridicule by those around him.
 
The film then cuts as Ivan and his brother Andrei return home after the incident. We are given just a few moments but Dobronravov and Vladimir Gari as Andrei both create the right inherent chemistry of two brothers who share a strong connection. There isn't a lot said in regards to the matter it is known through the performances as the two both reveal just that right sort of ease with each other, and certain comfort the two share when directly interacting with one another. Their time at home changes suddenly when their father suddenly reenters their lives and swiftly takes them on a strange trip. The central conflict begins through the separate reactions of the brothers. Gari's performance shows Andrei mainly going with the flow portraying an active attempt to become re-acquainted with their father, whereas Dobronravov establishes early on a hostility towards the man. Dobronravov's performance once again works by the sort of intensity only fitting to a child's particular reaction here. Dobronravov importantly creates the right lack of certainty in the emotional state, as he shows the distress that seems to stem from both his feelings of abandonment as they do from his feelings of not knowing how to feel about the situation.

Dobronravov gives a very stubborn performance that is quite effective in showing Ivan refusal to go along or in any way open up to his father. From the moment they set out in the car Dobronravov is consistent in portraying that raw anger of the son towards the father that has the right senselessness in a way, since again it is a kid dealing with this not an adult. As the film progresses though the father's behavior is random as he seems to try to fulfill every role of a father possible in a rapid succession. Dobronravov's performance is often reflexive towards this in portraying the growing confusion in Ivan towards his father's bizarre behavior. His performance does well though as he takes in these moments to gradually worsen Ivan's state as his underlying anger begins to also become confused with feelings of disbelief, paranoia, and even isolation as Ivan begins even losing his connection to his brother. This eventually leads to Ivan acting out in a call back to the opening scene involving a high tower. Dobronravov earns the breakdown as he makes it a powerful release of everything Ivan's been dealing with in a single act, that again is not refined moment of outrage, but rather as messy as it should be for a boy in his situation. This leads to a sudden tragedy and the film suddenly shifts as does Dobronravov's performance. What happens though makes sense for the swiftness of the shift and Dobronravov's fulfills the needed change. That being he shows similair confusion of emotion but now it is defined most strongly by sadness rather than anger, showing the boy still to be lost though now for a different reason. This is a good performance as Ivan Dobronravov realizes this difficult state of this boy through his strange situation offering the needed honesty to the specific drama.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Alternate Best Actor 2003: Russell Crowe in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Russell Crowe did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Captain Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

Master and Commander is a curious special joy for me as every time I watch the film I always somehow seem to forget just how good it is before watching the film again.

Now despite the film's great success with the Oscars overall it received no acting notices, Paul Bettany's snub being altogether mind boggling, but Crowe has seemingly been on the Oscar blacklist ever since his BAFTA altercation in 2002. Then again it may be that Crowe's performance is one that is easy to take for granted, I did that myself when I somehow failed to find him a spot in my alternate lineup, a lineup which included Tommy Wiseau. Why is that though? Well this performance is perhaps not what one might expect just hearing Russell Crowe playing a naval captain, but of course that's what makes this such a marvelous piece of work in all truth. One the great successes of Master and Commander is how vivid life on the ship feels. A great contributor to that is Russell Crowe as Captain Jack Aubrey which again just the idea of Crowe as a naval Captain would suggest maybe a more directly intense performance, that is not the case nor is that a problem. Jack Aubrey is of course not a Captain Bligh, or even a Captain Vere, he's a different sort of man, a better sort of man.

Crowe's performance here is atypical and almost the opposite of those performances in which he made his name such as The Insider, L.A. Confidential or Gladiator, where he portrayed a dark determination. There is determination but Crowe does not use it to define the man. What Crowe uses to define him is the idea of Aubrey as this Captain during the Napoleonic wars. Now what I mean by that is Crowe does not define his Captain as only a man of battles. We are introduced in an attack, a surprise attack where Crowe conveys the visceral quality of that moment but he does not dwell upon longer than the battle lasts. Crowe portrays Aubrey as being particularly attentive to what happened in the attack beyond that his French foe got the better of him. As Aubrey examines the ship and most importantly learns of the casualties among the crew there is an essential concern that Crowe brings to every step of Aubrey's duty. Crowe does not gloss over a moment of the process as he brings an needed devotion of a Captain who truly cares for his ship and every crew member aboard it although not in the same exact way though this is just part of the unassuming complexity of Crowe's work here.

Crowe of course brings the strong old school presence as usual, Crowe has the right awareness of that though here, in that his performance uses that knowledge to the point that he doesn't need to attempt to amplify it for Aubrey. Crowe's method here makes Aubrey particularly distinctive in the film and I love the way Crowe simply is in charge. There is no effort required, he is the Captain. This though again is not where it stops for Crowe's work though. He is not just the Captain for the duration of his appearance in the film, but rather Crowe's portrayal evokes the years on the ship. This is seen within basically everything that Crowe does onscreen. There is that ease he portrays in his surroundings as Crowe shows Aubrey move around the ship as it were his home on land. Crowe manages to capture this very exact sentimentalism of sorts just in the way he looks upon certain facets. Crowe brings what is a joy in the experience of being on the ship and enjoying what it is. Crowe importantly shows that Aubrey loves this experience of being Captain as well, which extends even further to his whole life which has been in the Navy. Crowe exhibits a man who owns the ship, but also shares it with all those within it as well.

There is his relationship with every member of his crew. The strongest focus of course being with Paul Bettany's Doctor Stephen Maturin, but more on that later. There is also his relationships with each of his officers each which vary through so strongly through Crowe's performance as he realizes Aubrey's relation with each man separately. With the very young Lord William Blakeney (Max Pirkins) Crowe reveals the utmost earnest warmth of a father, though with a distinct ounce of respect to one of his crew members. There is even his seemingly future Captains, of Lieutenant Pullings (James D'Arcy) and Midshipman Calamy (Max Benitz) where Crowe crafts a differentiation through his slight variation in manner to each. He offers each man the respect of a true comrade but there is a greater simplicity with Pulligns treating him as a man just about at his level whereas Crowe offers the manner of a teacher towards Calamy to aim him towards bettering himself as an officer. There is also the far more problematic relationship with Midshipman Hollom (Lee Ingleby). Crowe is brilliant in his direct interaction with Hollom, as he portrays the held in greater frustrations in the Captain over Hollom's inability to fulfill his duty. Crowe shows Aubrey hides though in an attempt to offer his encouragement in hopes the man will become a better officer.

Crowe is quite different yet so naturally so in his portrayal of Aubrey towards the crew. This is quite the fascinating juxtaposition actually as he very carefully offers similair sentiments but in a different way from the officers to the rest of the crew. Crowe does bring a warmth towards every member of the crew particularly in their successes but he does this with a certain distance. He offers a somewhat less personal delivery and manner. He doesn't become a machine but he does always set the Captain apart. This is an interesting trick which Crowe pulls off flawlessly as he delivers the praise in a more generalized way and even when he specifies it is of this greater commander rather than a friend. He sets himself apart so effectively as he shows the man who knows his duty needs this separation, but still a connection. Crowe creates that connection that makes the Captain more than just a man around the crew, in that he is this specific inspiration to them all. Crowe is outstanding as he captures a Aubrey as being successfully the legend of Lucky Jack when he commands his crew in pivotal moments whether it is saving the ship or preparing for a battle. Crowe's manner has this certain grandeur and undeniable charisma as his words carry such a rousing spirit to the point that you'd feel any man worth a salt would follow Aubrey into battle.

There is yet another side to Aubrey in his friendship with Doctor Maturin. Crowe and Bettany have the truly effortless chemistry of lifelong friends and there is a certain magic in just the slightest interaction such as the fun the two have together when playing strings together. Crowe though is terrific though showing a greater vulnerability in Aubrey in his scenes with Maturin, as in this he reveals the way Aubrey carefully extends himself for this most personal counsel. Crowe and Bettany show the men who see each other exactly as they are and even in their arguments there is always the underlying concern for one another. The two are great in the way they make this relationship so genuine that so much can be unsaid in terms of both performances. When Aubrey denies Maturin wish to explore the Galapagos islands, Crowe face remarks his own disappointment in not being able to help his friend even as he speaks the order to deny him, however later on as he states the order to grant the wish again Aubrey never says it's just for him yet there is such unconditional love in the more officially worded order. Both actors realize this relationship so well that you can predict exactly how they will interact with another given any situation because it feels that you just know who they are as friends.

Now Crowe manages the different sides to Aubrey with such a certain perfection in that he never depicts it as this purposeful method of the man, but rather how the man has come to be from his life in the Navy. He's learned how to be a proper Captain, and exactly what it takes. What is so remarkable is how every facet flows from one to next while always being the single man that is Captain Jack Aubrey. Crowe by achieving this amplifies so much of the film by how vivid he makes everything Aubrey is going through. This leads to such powerful moments through Crowe's performance even though the emphasis isn't always squarely on him given director Peter Weir's careful eye to not ignore any facet of the ship and those aboard. There is not a wasted second as you know who Aubrey is precisely through Crowe's portrayal of him. In a moment where  he makes sacrifice one man to save the ship, there is not a great deal of time spent on revealing the anguish yet it is all there in Crowe's reaction the reflects the difficulty of the act. When Maturin is injured in an accident, Crowe is deeply affecting through his subtle yet so poignant depiction of Aubrey seeing his wounded best friend. There is even two separate funeral scenes which could seem redundant yet they are not in the least, with part of the reason being Crowe. The first Crowe in the few words he says offers the pathos as his call upon Aubrey thinking to his own failure, and his delivery of the words are that of apology as much as they are of remembrance. The second though Crowe offers a more exact approach fulfilling wholly the role of the Captain. It is something he's done before, but Crowe puts no cruelty within this fact just instead infusing the words with the respect the Captain should offer to his fallen men. This is not a performance about a single moments but every moment. Crowe's work simply allows us to be with this extraordinary man, learn exactly who is as a person, as a friend, as, well, a master and commander.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Alternate Best Actor 2003: Alex Frost in Elephant

Alex Frost did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Alex in Elephant.

Not since Gerry have I seen such attention to the detail of walking slowly, here though the film ups the ante by including jogging and eventually even some driving.

One of the random individuals the film focuses on doing nothing for awhile, is Alex Frost as Alex, proving Gus Van Sant's impressive imagination when it comes to naming characters similair to when he referred to both leads of Gerry as Gerry. Oh wait though this film rides on the trivialization of a horrific event through the use of artistic pretension though it is as meaningless as Gerry. Now before one mentions, oh don't you see Van Sant's saying that there is no logic or message to be taken from violent acts, that's not really true evidenced by his scenes that focus on the killers where they engage in playing violent video games, plan their crimes, and kiss one another since it is a film by Gus Van Sant. There is an indicator of a violent reaction to their hollow lives, though naturally in a rather hollow fashion. Now the leader of the two is Alex played by Alex. We get to spend some time with him as he plays piano, but more importantly as he walks slowly around from one place to another. You see that is the most essential element of every life, slow walking, could you imagine life without walking, I'm quite sure life is defined solely by the walks we take. Oh, wait I'm writing about this performance right now, eh I don't know after watching the film I think I'll take a walk, I'll be back in ten minutes.....

What a walk. Hey wait a minute is this an ensemble film, or is Frost lead, I don't care. Anyways back to Mr. Frost again. Well see his performance is very dull and detached. Well this may seem the style of a killer but I could describe most of the performances as also dull and detached. I mean when we see the shooting start the photographer student casually takes a picture, is he too a psycho killer??? No probably not but there is nothing distinctive about what Frost does since almost everyone else is more or less in the same malaise. This even includes when the killing starts and Frost walks from scene to scene as though he is walking to class, I mean show some respect to walking man! Frost's work is indifferent as everyone else is making it so his work in no way stands out, he's also just sort of there. Hey hold on though what about that kissing scene, oh wait he's pretty blasé about that too, never mind. Okay maybe I'm being a bit unfair here, what about his line deliveries, well they're pretty amateurish, though obviously that was Van Sant's intention right, because I really hate those performances that come off like real people or at least engaging in some way. Well eventually through all that pivotal walking we reach a conclusion where Alex corners two students and plays a game to decide which one to shoot first. Frost wakes up to become a psycho killer in this scene, he'd be chilling I suppose if there was any consistency here.  In the scene though Frost becomes a far more active and excited sort ill-fitting to all that he did previously in his performance, but hey if you're not going to care most of the time stay not caring. All I ask for is a little consistency. Eh I'm tired, I think I'll take a walk.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Alternate Best Actor 2003

And the Nominees Were Not:

Alex Frost in Elephant

Rémy Girard in The Barbarian Invasions

Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa

Daniel Brühl in Good Bye Lenin!

Ivan Dobronravov in The Return

And a review of:
Russell Crowe in Master and Commander

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1968: Results

5. Trevor Howard in The Charge of the Light Brigade - Howard gives a properly strict and slightly ridiculous portrayal fitting to a man who cares more about his stature as an officer than for any of his men. 

Best Scene: Strange seduction.
4. Klaus Kinski in The Great Silence - Kinski gives an effective villainous performance interestingly by taking a rather low key approach showing his Loco as always taking a calm and easy approach to his killings.

Best Scene: Loco wins.
3. Ian Holm in The Bofors Gun - Holm makes an impact through his limited screentime by so effectively presenting the incisiveness of the one man willing to confront both his immediate superior and his out of control fellow soldier.

Best Scene: Flynn confronts O'Rourke.
2. Tom Courtenay in A Dandy in Aspic - Courtenay gives a brilliant performance that creates a complex portrait of a spy who purposefully hates everything and everyone as a means of defense, and rises far above the one note villain the film likely would have settled for.

Best Scene: Gatiss visits Eberline in the hotel. 
1. Tony Curtis in The Boston Strangler - Curtis gives a chilling and effective performance which never relishes in the idea of playing a serial killer, instead offering a haunting and vivid depiction of a psychotic.

Best Scene: DeSalvo's breakdown. 
Updated Overall

Next Year: 2003 Lead

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1968: Ian Holm in The Bofors Gun

Ian Holm did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning BAFTA, for portraying Gunner Bill Flynn in The Bofors Gun.

The Bofors Gun I found to be a little bit of a hidden gem about the conflict that develops one night between a recently promoted Lance Bombardier, Terry Evans (David Warner), and a self-destructive Gunner, O'Rouke (Nicol Williamson).

The film focuses on one small section of men through a night where they are assigned to guard a useless gun for an extended period. There is a difficulty to begin with with Warner's Evans being put in charge the small group of men he use to be part of as just one of the regulars. Further complications from Evans's success of the night determines his ability to go home and attempt officer training. Most of the men of the section have little respect for Evans and are at best indifferent to him, his only friend in the group is Holm's Gunner Flynn. Holm makes important use of his early scenes by providing just this warmth in his early interactions with Warner. Holm provides a most genuine support in these moments just providing earnest encouragement presenting Flynn well as just looking out for his friend. This is even found when Evans takes command, and Holm even utilizes a few important reaction shots. In these moments he shows Flynn watching Evans, not looking for flaws to exploit but rather watching with an honest concern hoping his friend will not falter.

As the night goes on O'Rourke's behavior becomes more and more problematic with the other men either partially encouraging it or doing nothing to prevent it, and with Evans hesitating to do anything since it may compromise his return home. Flynn appears for a while as Evans's only solace, but only a solace of sorts as provided by Holm's performance. Holm portrays very specifically a directed delivery representing Flynn attempting to encourage Evans to do the right thing. In each scene we see him in though Holm also reveals a slowly growing frustration in Flynn as Evans keeps avoiding directly dealing with O'Rourke, and allows the problem to continue to grow. Holm builds those frustrations until a scene with Flynn and Evans are alone together, and Flynn tells Evans the blunt truth. Holm is excellent in this scene as he brings such a incisiveness to every one of Flynn's words towards Evans, as he tells him that he is doing the wrong thing. Holm is careful though as he does offer such an intensity in revealing anger towards his friend, but he still shows that Flynn is remaining a friend. Holm's delivery does not go towards hatred just a striking disappointment, portraying Flynn's words as tough love. This stands well as a foil to his scene where he goes and confronts O'Rourke over his behavior. Holm is as incisive in this scene as well but this time offering a strict hatred towards the man. Every word Holm gives a strong coating of venom as Flynn reveals his severe disdain for O'Rourke, and it is cathartic moment through Holm's work as the one man willing to stand up to the out of control O'Rourke. Although the film ends away from Flynn, focusing naturally on a more direct confrontation between Evans and O'Rourke, Holm though in his limited screentime makes his impact particularly through those two aforementioned scenes. Holm gives a terrific performance as he delivers the needed uncompromising sanity that ensures Flynn stands out by being part of the group, but never exactly one of them. 

Monday, 12 June 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1968: Tony Curtis in The Boston Strangler

Tony Curtis did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Albert DeSalvo in The Boston Strangler.

The Boston Strangler is a mostly effective film about the search for the titular killer that feels like a precursor to serial killer procedurals like Zodiac and Memories of Murder, though it isn't as successful as those films. It is yet another example of director Richard Fleischer seeming most adept at realizing darker subject matter though, even if he does unfortunately indulge in some of those forced attempts at an overt style so common in the late 60's.

The Boston Strangler follows the police as they work the case, following them as they struggle to solve it through various false leads while the killer continues to strike. The film over an hour in reveals the killer to the viewer as Albert DeSalvo played by Tony Curtis. Curtis is an actor who apparently wanted to be taken seriously, despite often being cast in pretty boy roles, and like his work in Sweet Smell of Success, that seems rather evident in this performance. Curtis isn't at all distracting, despite being a recognizable face, as he enters as DeSalvo. Although Curtis is playing a serial killer, he's not just playing a random loner psycho, but rather a man who was a killer while living as a seemingly normal family man. Curtis resists any possible urge to telegraph his performance, which would have been wholly ill-fitting given the film's tone, despite even the material setting up, inaccurately apparently, that DeSalvo suffers from a split-personality, more on that later. The initial scenes of Curtis though follow DeSalvo as he makes excuses with his family in order to go continue his murder spree.

The murder scenes, like Fleischer's masterpiece 10 Rillington Place, are handled without exploitation though that is not to say they are not brutal. They do not relish in the violence but they do depict the viciousness of it. Curtis's performance is part of this in his exact depiction of the serial killer who keeps killing as a habit. Curtis is chilling by the ease in which he portrays DeSalvo's manner in these scenes whether it is in asking the potential victims to let him in, like a workman just asking to be able to do his job, or when the assault begins. DeSalvo asks for silence, claiming he will not harm his victim to do so, Curtis delivers this calmly, a calm that is consistent within the scene. Curtis never goes broad with the killer even for a moment though realizing in such eerie detail this man going about his sinister task. This is particularly off-putting as Curtis shows how DeSalvo manages to get away with the crimes in that method of seeming so innocuous until the attack, then during the attack granting that disturbing serenity as he begins, though his eyes always tell of his true intentions for his victims.

Eventually DeSalvo is caught in a failed home invasion but not in a circumstance where it was obvious he was trying to murder someone. Curtis's work is striking by how natural he is in these scenes portraying such a honest fear in the man as he tries to plead to be let go. Curtis does not give away the killer instead showing the man behind all of it. There is a pivotal scene where he meets with his wife and Curtis is excellent because he does not telegraph any evil within this man. If you had not seen him participate in the crime it could seem as just a scared man who made a mistake through Curtis's realistic portrayal. It is rather remarkable to me that I just took Curtis as DeSalvo in the film, and the idea of Tony Curtis playing a killer wasn't even a thought in my mind due to how natural his work is here. Curtis is outstanding in the way he creates almost a sympathy by how genuine every facet of the incarceration and the separation from his family do afflict him. Curtis never dehumanizes the killer actually by showing the real ordeal the man is going through even beyond why he is there.

The film introduces though the idea that DeSalvo suffers from a split personality disorder, which Curtis takes as an idea but doesn't go with an obvious approach to realize it. He does not portray it as a simple switch, or a switch at all for that matter, that would be more akin to a villain in a different kind of film. Curtis instead maintains the tone of the film by creating this as something far less clean within DeSalvo's psychosis. Curtis reveals the broken psyche of the man as a mess, as the moments before his final interrogation, he keeps the indications subtle and incredibly effective in these slips into his urges and his madness. This film leads towards its final scene which is basically the confession of DeSalvo. This is depicted as prompted by the lead investigator (Henry Fonda) but the scene entirely falls upon Curtis's shoulders. The investigator prods the confession by going over with DeSalvo his crimes trying to force him to relive them. Once again Curtis's work is stunning by how subtle he stays for much of the scene. For quite a while he just reveals the intense and raw emotion swirling in the man's mind, just through the gradual unnerving change as he listens. Curtis, worthy of comparison's to Peter Lorre in M, conveys all the damaged thoughts in the man's mind as he suffers through his own remembrance. Eventually he prodded towards his reenactment which Curtis builds towards in a way that is bone chilling by the way he has DeSalvo give himself to the moment, and we see the full insanity of the man. Curtis is absolutely haunting in his depiction of this by giving this unmistakable life to such a monstrous act. It is never a single thing as he reveals with the act this harrowing cluster of lust, hate, and also pain in the act. The film abruptly ends with the end of the "confession". Curtis earns this decision as it feels as though nothing more should be said after that moment. This is an amazing performance by Tony Curtis as he creates such an unsettling and vivid portrait of the man that is the murderer.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1968: Tom Courtenay in A Dandy in Aspic

Tom Courtenay did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Gatiss in A Dandy in Aspic.

A Dandy in Aspic is a spy thriller about a British agent, Eberlin (Laurence Harvey) being tasked to find a Russian spy among their ranks the problem is he is the Russian spy. The film suffers from what seems to be a central conceit to show a contrast between the inhuman loyal British agent against the supposedly sympathetic fake British agent, this is problematic when you cast the man best known for playing a robotized assassin as the "good" one, and an amazing actor as the "bad" one.

The role of Gatiss is an interesting change of pace for Tom Courtenay who usually played more sympathetic roles, even in Doctor Zhivago we learned how his Pasha became so cruel and bent. Gatiss's role is made clear from his first appearance where he is lurking in the shadows of a firing range. Gatiss is set up to be essentially the villain of the film, even though technically in most Cold war thrillers he's doing the hero's work. Courtenay is such a great actor though that he doesn't appear to have any intentions to simplify Gatiss at any point, even if perhaps the film would like him to at times. Courtenay knows though how to create such fascinating characters though, and use what is given to him and build upon that. There is something already intriguing about his shady operative, but they decide to go further in making him distinctive by giving him a strange looking cane he always has with him. The cane that does not help him walk, but rather is his secret weapon of choice. That idea that not even his walking stick can be trusted is within Courtenay's performance, though what Courtenay is doing is creating this man defined by the duplicitous world he lives in, but to be fair the end result of Gatiss's mission is noble.

Courtenay's performance, as usual particularly for his stellar 60's run, is incredibly gripping. Courtenay's physical manner has this certain tightness about him at all times, there is an exactness in any way he stands or even speaks to someone. Courtenay uses this to show the way Gatiss's lack of trust even in his body language. Courtenay portrays the man carefully never getting too close, and even when he does his cane seems always ready for its true purpose. Courtenay does not waste an ounce of himself though as in his eyes there is such an incisiveness as though is he constantly analyzing whoever or whatever is in front of him. There is no moment of rest that Courtenay portrays and reflects this in the restrictive nature of his manner which he reveals as the conditioned state of the man to always keep his distance. Courtenay actually approaches his work similair to the way Gary Oldman would later play spy master George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Courtenay though gives it a very specific inspiration in that instead of portraying the man as someone who hides his emotions, he instead depicts him as a man who covers it all up by instead always having such a negative view about all around him as a further defense mechanism needed for his line of work.

Courtenay is terrific as he oozes such palatable disdain for everyone and everything around him. Courtenay infuses such venom into every delivery as he shows the man who indeed seems to hate everyone, and everything. Courtenay never overplays this though and does not use this to just make Gatiss an obvious villain, which seems the film's intention. Now Courtenay acting as such a contemptible sort is compelling to watch in itself, but that is not all there is to his performance. Again Courtenay plays a certain game in this in suggesting that there is perhaps more to Gatiss than the hateful man he presents. This is partially in the way Courtenay always presents the hate with this certain control suggesting that Gatiss uses it for a purpose. He always keeps a certain obsession with his task always as part of his disdain for all things. There is an even more pivotal moment where we see Gatiss gather Eberlin from a hotel room with his love interest, a photographer Caroline (Mia Farrow). Courtenay is brilliant in the scene as in a brief reaction he reveals a certain pain in witnessing Caroline's affections for Eberlin, seeming to suggest Gatiss's frustrations in seeing something he does not allow himself to have. Gatiss does leave a final comment to Caroline that is at the expense of both her and Eberline, but the same venom is not in Courtenay's delivery. He eases it to convey just the slightest hint of empathy that the man usually destroys within himself. He steals the film completely and really the film should have just been from his perspective. Courtenay goes beyond the call of his duty to create a complex portrait of this spy, when it seems the film would have settled for a one note fiend.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1968: Trevor Howard in The Charge of the Light Brigade

Trevor Howard did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a BAFTA, for portraying Lord Cardigan in The Charge of the Light Brigade.

The Charge of the Light Brigade depicts the titular event during the Crimean war, unlike the original film that bared the title this one takes a harsh look at the British military. It's a film where the effort to make a great film seems apparent, but never is it successful in becoming one even for a single scene.

Trevor Howard plays the pivotal role of Lord Cardigan who lead the titular charge that led many British soldiers to their deaths, but without any actual ground gained on the battlefield. The film acts as a build up towards the titular event where we meet the unit and the various personalities in the battalion. The unit includes the somewhat rebellious yet seemingly heroic Captain Nolan (David Hemmings), the amiable yet ineffective leader Lord Raglan (John Gielgud), and Howard's Cardigan. Howard's a natural fit for the character who is a brash and bold leader which is a quality Howard is obviously quite capable in realizing. Howard's performance is fairly broad in his approach but it does make sense for the role of Cardigan. After all Cardigan is a man who in the film, and in real life, demanded punishment for bringing a black bottled wine, to a champagne only dinner. Howard's work makes sense of this insane sort of mentality as he gives the part this innate intensity fitting to such a man. Howard always keeps Cardigan with underlying strictness to the idea of soldering.

Howard's approach is rather clever though in that he shows this idea to be very egocentric as it is to Lord Cardigan. In that Howard always gives himself this stiff manner always in his physical portrayal particularly in his rather tight jaw throughout, along with delivery that is most often this very exact bark as though he is always giving orders even when he is not. Howard does not present this as a man being a great soldier though instead he presents it as a man very much abusing his power as a commanding officer, in that he shows a man so caught up in himself that he only cares about the soldiers in the context that they do not reason why they just do or die. Howard in his approach effectively creates the internal logic in the man that manages to realize the mindset behind such a man who would hound one of his men merely for not for drinking what he's drinking. Howard in that intensity presents the weakness and sensitivity in a way, since Howard shows with a man so wound up that the outrage just seems to come so naturally.

Now this is a film where you can tell it was cut up by studio mandates as there are scenes that indicate subplots that either having been started or are not properly resolved. It makes for a messy film, though it does give us a scene where Howard gets to play more with Lord Cardigan. That is a moment, a historically inaccurate one, where Cardigan goes about having an affair with the wife of one of his fellow officers. Howard makes the most of it by portraying the awkwardness of the career soldier in the scene, as he portrays it with all the needed vigor but in a most improper way. Howard again maintains Cardigan as always the officer and treats the woman less as a woman, and more a horse he's breaking in. Now that scene seems somewhat arbitrarily thrown in but at the very least Howard thrives with Cardigan in different circumstances. That scene though is just a moment before leading to the titular event, which is a strangely muted scene for the most part, and does not deliver the impact it should, like say maybe the ending of Gallipoli does. One can barely sense the climax as it occurs. Howard is consistently good even in the ending though and stays with the terrible man that he has set up Cardigan as even through the charge. In that he still shows the man staying true to who he has always been. When the time comes to name the blame Howard gives just the right bit of final bluster to a man who has learned absolutely nothing from his experiences or from the deaths of his men, adding actually the right bit of cruelty to it all. This is a good performance, in fact most of the performances in the film are good, though it's a shame it is part of a film that almost wastes the great potential of the story.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1968: Klaus Kinski in The Great SIlence

Klaus Kinski did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Loco in The Great Silence.

In this film we are unfortunately not granted the proper Kinski vicious growl in his voice, being overdubbed as per usual for a spaghetti western. Luckily Kinski is not exactly an actor who struggles to speak without his voice. Kinski here plays the lead villain for the film, the evil bounty hunter that stands against Jean-Louis Trintignant's Silent bounty hunter named Silence who only kills in self-defense. Kinski's Loco on the other hand kills without much reservation at all. This is actually a rather interesting performance for Kinski, given it's Kinski and he's playing a character called Loco. Kinski actually takes a pretty low key approach to Loco never delving into his sort of madness found in so many of his performances. Even with the name of the character though Kinski's approach absolutely makes sense for the character given that Silence's greatest challenge in attempting to defeat Loco is that Loco knows Silence's methods, so Loco's plan is to merely avoid ever picking an even handed gunfight with the man.

Kinski makes for a good villain here in that he actually also downplays even the villainy in his performance, as even in his method of killing Kinski portrays this certain ease in Loco's behavior. An ease of a man not of some sort of sociopath indifference but rather that of man just doing his job the easiest way he knows how to. Kinski's portrayal emphasizes the idea almost as a man who has sort of figured out the way to manage the old west, and that is to take things as they come. Kinski's performance actually is a little oddly endearing in a way because of how honestly he presents Loco's behavior as a bounty hunter. When he collects the men he kills, he portrays no sadism in it, in fact his portrayal would actually almost be acceptable as a hero in another western as long as all those he killed were criminals. Kinski never plays Loco as an exact villain in his manner and his facial expressions are always of technically what would just be a cool customer nor more no less. Even in one of his worst actions, where he kills a woman, Kinski does show such earnest emphasis as he clears the killing as self defense since the woman did try to shoot him. Kinski is actually even rather humorous in his interactions with Trintignant's Silence by portraying such curiosity in his reactions, showing Loco's method to analyze rather than get emotional over the man trying to kill him. What Kinski's performance does so effectively is suggest why Loco's should be the one who wins over the day since he offers such a calm and carefully collected man throughout the film. Kinski gives a strong performance that offers a striking presence be presenting one man in the film he seems to be able to take everything in stride. 

Monday, 5 June 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1968

And the Nominees Were Not:

Ian Holm in Bofors Gun

Trevor Howard in The Charge of the Light Brigade

Tony Curtis in The Boston Strangler

Tom Courtenay in A Dandy In Aspic 

Klaus Kinski in The Great Silence

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1968: Results

10. Vincent Price - Witchfinder General - Price gives an interesting performance attempting to bring complexity to his morally compromised inquisitor, unfortunately the film decides to use him just as a one note villain.

Best Scene: Being convinced to give a reprieve.
9. Jean-Louis Trintignant in The Great Silence - Trintignant gives a good performance as he brings the steely gaze needed for his swift killer, along with a bit of pathos within his silence alluding to his motivations though he is a tad overshadowed by his more maniacal co-star.

 Best Scene: Silence remembers.
8. Malcolm McDowell in If.... in McDowell gives a good performance as he portrays the gradual breakdown of a student into essentially a psychopath even though if it might feel like a warm up to his more renowned turn as a juvenile killer.  

Best Scene: Killing spree
7. Burt Lancaster in The Scalphunters - Lancaster gives an enjoyable turn portraying the right comical frustrations within his more typical western hero, along with striking the right endearing chemistry with his co-star.

Best Scene: The final fight.
6. Lee Marvin in Hell in the Pacific - Marvin gives a memorable one man show as a man slowly losing his mind as well as a memorable two man show in realizing a most unique yet believable chemistry with Toshiro Mifune.

Best Scene: The curious showdown. 
5. Ossie Davis in The Scalphunters - Davis gives a very entertaining portrayal of his outgoing yet quietly cunning character, and again has great chemistry with his co-star Lancaster.

Best Scene: The final fight. 
4. Toshiro Mifune in Hell in the Pacific - Shares his scenes so well with Marvin, as well as stands out well with his own one man show as the refined soldier struggling through his ordeal.

Best Scene: Finding the magazine.
3. Max von Sydow in Shame - von Sydow as per usual creates such a convincing relationship with Liv Ullmann which is especially pivotal here as the two together offer such a natural and harrowing depiction of a married couple dealing with and being changed by war.

Best Scene: Killing a man.
2. Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West - Bronson more than fulfills the role of the badass gunslinger, he goes further though creating such an endearing and humorous chemistry with his co-star Jason Robards, then goes even further in offering such an underlying emotional poignancy to the film through his performance. 

Best Scene: The final duel.
1. Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer - This one for the overall came down two rather different performances though by both masterful in their separate intentions. Bronson being such a brilliant minimalist performance, and Lancaster being such a brilliant expressive tour de force. Both have their unique challenges and match every one of them. Lancaster's task is different. Bronson is an essential part to an amazing film. Lancaster though is the factor that makes his film work at all offering a reality and heartbreaking humanity to such a surreal concept. Once Upon a Time in the West would have probably still have been great with a lesser lead, but not as great. The Swimmer would probably have been a failure without what Lancaster does. Even with that somewhat flimsy reasoning though this is still sort of a toss up as I love both performances, but I have to choose one.

Best Scene: "This is my wagon"
Updated Overall

Next Year: 1968 Supporting

Alternate Best Actor 1968: Malcolm McDowell in If....

Malcolm McDowell did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Michael Anderson "Mick" Travis in If....

If.... depicts the slow rise of a violent revolution but it is all based within a single English public school.

The film follows those discriminated being the under class men and those just considered undesirably by the elite students, which is ignored, encouraged, or also ignited by the staff. Malcolm McDowell plays "a" student in the school Mick Travis a role he would technically reprise in O Lucky Man and Britannia Hospital. I write technically because the character is only in name only. All three films are directed by Lindsay Anderson but the character is used to serve a purpose rather than being the story of a single man over three films. The latter two films are more alike, and would make more sense to be examined together. This film is set aside a bit more in that even though this film does have a surreal bent it is less extreme or at the very least less comical in nature than those films. This once stands more alone particularly due to the nature of Mick Travis in this film along with McDowell's portrayal of him, which is actually more limited than you'd expect. For much of the film his character is almost depicted as just one of the characters in the story, not necessarily given a greater importance. Early on we see him only as the student most likely to be different, arriving initially in the school sporting a ridiculous mustache.

For much of the film we are only given snippets of McDowell as Travis as the film focuses on several of the various other characters within the school, Travis is just one of them. When it cuts back to Travis McDowell portrays him generally with this general sort of discontent as though he is annoyed by the atmosphere around him and his main focus is that of finding some way in order to alleviate the problem. In these moments one thing does become obvious which is why Stanley Kubrick cast McDowell as Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange based on his performance in this film. In many ways his performance as Mick here feels a bit of warm up to playing Alex later on. In both films he plays rather atypical school boys though in this case he begins as a far less psychotic sort as McDowell very much stay fairly low key particularly early on where he is almost a supporting player. McDowell there is instead sort of personifies the discontent in the school through his portrayal of Mick's own behavior which slowly changes due to the increasing cruel behavior of the staff and some of his fellow students.

McDowell's performance realizes the gradual growing discontent in Travis as the film continues, though this is fairly minor arc since McDowell from the start shows Travis is already unhappy with his surroundings. What McDowell instead portrays the change as almost this loss of humor towards the abuse in a way. McDowell in the early scenes, and for much of the film portrays this cheeky comic sensibility in his reactions to his "oppressors" in the earlier moments which he also attaches to his initial rebellions which usually make up of basically pranks or fairly mild indiscretions. McDowell engages a sense of fun in that behavior early on as though Mick is not technically taking it overly seriously, in each reprimand though McDowell portrays a more severe reaction along with a growing intensity that makes Mick's transitions to more intense rebellious acts fairly natural. Now though most of his performance is attached to that arc there is the occasional pseudo reprieve of sorts such as when Mick goes out riding a motorcycle to a cafe where he meets a girl, named the girl. What follows is a surreal sequence which McDowell does well enough with in just being part of it in that he brings that certain physically mad energy in his performance that works well within that style. Much of the film though is just gradually portraying Travis sinking to the breaking point but the breaking point is a surreal affair. It's an insane bit at the end though to McDowell credit he does make the progression natural to a certain degree though not all the way. The breaking point though still is a jump further but again that goes in line with the way it is depicted to begin with. The rebellion is ridiculous as it goes from a prank to fully automated machine gun firing into a crowd with Mick as the leader of the murderous students. This final moment as it stands alone is a highlight for McDowell as we see him go full Alex DeLarge, as he brings that same chilling glee as he commits such a violent act. It's a memorable moment and it works well enough in terms of the character mainly due to the film embracing the surreal insanity all the more by the end. Where McDowell in that later film both acted as the humanity of the film, and thrived within its insanity, that's not quite the case here. He doesn't stand out in the same way, and not just due to screentime. He's occasionally engulfed by the film rather standing fully on his own as he does not master the tone in the same way. The character of Mick sometimes feels compromised which is never the case as Alex. It's a good performance, certainly a strong debut, but in the end it does feel but a warm up to his most iconic role.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1968: Max von Sydow in Shame

Max von Sydow did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jan Rosenberg in Shame.

Shame is an excellent film that follows a couple through a war torn country.

The film follows Max von Sydow as Jan with his wife Eva naturally played by Liv Ullmann. The two seemed as though they specialized in playing married couples in a few years also doing so in Ingmar Bergman's other film from 1968 Hour of the Wolf, and later on in The Emigrants and its sequel The New Land. The reason for this seems rather obvious when watching the two together as they have such an authentic chemistry with one another. A chemistry that quite honestly covers whatever part of a married relationship they may need to be in. This is particularly essential in Shame since the two almost share all their scenes together and their relationship is rather symbiotic here. The film actually begins in an unassuming enough fashion as the two just go about what seems a normal day though in the normal day we do see what makes them who they are as a married couple. von Sydow and Ullmann have that ease in each other presence that offers the years together. The two though are equally effective though in sort of portraying the same ease in conflict as when they fight over their past difficulties that too feels so natural and so a part of what they've done to each other over the years such as Jan's infidelities in the past. The two though so elegantly create that rich history as they never define the relationship only on a single facet of their lives.

Their convincing portrayal of the married couple is essential to the film as the two together lead us through their experience through the war, which is depicted here in a unique fashion. The war never exactly happens, we see the military uniforms, the trucks, but it seems almost in the background until the other army begins to show up. This happens without warning with Jan and Eva finding themselves in the middle of it all. The two of them are excellent together in portraying the needed visceral intensity of the moments really as the film takes such a barrage of them which von Sydow and Ullmann have to stay with. Both actors capture the rapid fire confusion in the moment as they reveal the struggle just to keep up what is happening, portraying actually the fear with the lack of comprehension reinforcing the dire nature of the situation. One particularly effective moment in this is when they are suddenly approached by a propaganda crew for a interview and von Sydow and Ullman convey the complete loss of sense in their eyes and delivery as the barely know what is going on. Both are terrific in how natural they in revealing how unnatural the situation is. They are both just two normal people there not soldiers.

I love their physical performances in these scenes as the two of them show so well the two grip one another attempting to hold onto to each other for any source of solace and in the most harrowing moments reveal a particular striking connection than was not nearly evident during peacetime, hidden usually by their various squabbles. The two do not cheat the idea or show that this in anyway truly improves their relationship by any measure. What they instead show is the way the two basically come closer together the more dire the situation given that in their embrace the two show them searching for any comfort in the arms of each other. The two though reveal the desperation in this in that they do not always reveal any success in this act, only the attempt for it and to hold onto something throughout their trials. Again what is so remarkable about this is just how natural the two are together and make every scene have all the greater impact due to that. They pull the viewer right into their struggle as there never feels a hint of acting within either of their performances that offers such a strict authenticity in every scene. The create the needed focal point within every new purposefully random thing that comes from the war.

Now where their performances separate most strongly is within the portrayal of how each of them are changed as individuals through their experiences. von Sydow so effectively keeps Jan an average man in his situation, an average man who isn't quite a coward but also just wants to survive. There is nothing early on duplicitous in this whatsoever through the  genuine fear and confusion he portrays that almost overwhelms the man. This changes though when they are offered some reprieve by an official of one of their armies unfortunately the official requires sexual favors in return. von Sydow is heartbreaking in his depiction of the moment where the implications of this seem to finally dawn on him. The object grief he reveals is palatable as he so quietly just brings to life such earnest devastation in the man. A devastation that is not alleviated by Eva's cold reaction to his sorrow. This soon leads to the other army gaining favor again where they encourage Jan to execute the official. von Sydow is brilliant in the scene as his performances captures such an awkwardness in the moment of a sort of vengeance. He shows the anger within it but also the hesitations of a man who is not a killer. There is something so broken in his performance that fits so well to the average man doing something he should never had to do. The change to the harder man is not a simple transition but rather von Sydow makes it a horrible mess as it should be for a man like Jan. It seems he kills again and von Sydow makes sense of that because of this approach. von Sydow reveals a man on a edge that he barely even understands revealing just this impulsive reactions from moment to moment presenting someone trying to find a way past his breaking point. When Jan in finding his "escape" even suggests Eva need not come, von Sydow makes the brutality in the statement honest by showing it to come from the detached state for survival Jan has fallen into. von Sydow shows the narrow view of the man just looking for any way to depart from his troubles. Their return as a couple at the end is muted and haunting moment as Ullmann and von Sydow leave on the two with each other but lost in the turmoil of their experiences.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1968: Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in The West

Charles Bronson did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West.

I must admit Charles Bronson's work in this film, which is one of my all time favorites, is something I've perhaps taken too much for granted given what he offers to the film. Bronson to begin with had some large shoes to fill in the form of Clint Eastwood as the man with no name in the dollars trilogy. Eastwood was the original choice for Harmonica in this film but turned it down leaving Bronson to fill the role of the man with no name only one given by someone else. Now in terms of the most straight forward sense Bronson proves himself capable of taking over from Eastwood from the very first scene of the film. That first scene being the greatest opener in any film where three thugs await Harmonica's arrival to the town at an almost deserted train station. Bronson appears in one the greatest character entrances of all time, though the film has three of those anyways, as the man with no name is announced through the playing of the instrument that becomes his moniker. Bronson makes himself known as well through his steely gaze that commands such a powerful presence. This leads to a truly unforgettable exchange where every moment of Bronson's performance may as well be of legend, as the man inquires about the amount of horses the thugs have who reply that they seem to be one short for the man. This leads to Bronson's head shake that may as well be a visual definition of badass followed by the verbal definition of it through his flawlessly, well for a lack of a better word, cool delivery of "You brought two too many" leading to a shoot out where the man is victorious.

From that opener alone Bronson proves that he will be as much if not more of the commanding hero than Eastwood. Bronson meets and surpasses the quota in that regard, but that's not all there is to a good man with no name. The man with no name is notable here as he's the only one of the principal characters to interact with the other four those being the newly arrived widow of a murdered family with important land holding Jill (Claudia Cardinale), the bandit Cheyenne (Jason Robards), the black hat killer Frank (Henry Fonda) and the underrated railroad baron Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti). As he stands in the middle, making the most pivotal moves perhaps, Harmonica though does not stand as this stoic uninterested hero and goes further with the role by doing so. The relationship that perhaps gets the most screentime is between Harmonica and Cheyenne the bandit, who actually names Harmonica in their first meeting at a trading post after Cheyenne has just escaped, violently, from his captors. Robards and Bronson together is one of the highlights of the film, which has many of those, as they make such strong use out of every single second they have together.

In that initial meeting scene there is an underlying intensity there due to Cheyenne's situation but Bronson and Robards make it a humorous meeting of two similar spirits who just are not aware of their similarity yet. Robards is great by playing with Cheyenne as calm and collected yet quietly frustrated by Harmonica which Bronson is brilliant at with his perfect smirks as he plays Harmonica slightly trolling the bandit while uncovering a bit information he needs. Their relationships grows so naturally in each successive scene, as the two help each help Jill, and a reason that this is convincing is the chemistry between Bronson and Robards. I love the way the two are when they meet again striking up just this understanding that is given this striking warmth, that is never stated even once, the two exude it in again expressing this mutual spirits. The two from then on, every scene they share, have this sort of rhythm to their performances that is such a delight to watch while establishing such genuine camaraderie between the two. They are fun simply to be around such as in the scene where Harmonica essentially explains the land plot in large bit of exposition which never feels dull through their flawless timing with one another.

My favorite moment in that scene being Bronson's encouraging delivery of Harmonica's addition of "They call them millions" as Cheyenne ponders on the money that could be made from the land deal. I could go on and on with those and two, and you know I will a little more. The two just have such an ease that makes their moments so enjoyable such as the little smile Bronson gives towards Robards when Cheyenne is rescuing Harmonica in a most curious fashion, or one of the best moments in the film when the two save Jill's home from a fixed auction by Harmonica turning in Cheyenne for the reward money. Again the two are just pitch perfect with Bronson offering the right smug satisfaction playing purposefully the jerk as he offers Cheyenne up. I have particular affection for Bronson's sardonic delivery of "They didn't have dollars in dem days" when Cheyenne mentions that Judas betrayed Jesus for a lot less money. Everything with those two is pure gold and those scenes belong to both Bronson and Robards. Neither overshadows the other the two just work in such beautiful harmony with one another as they make Harmonica and Cheyenne such an engaging and endearing pair.

Now having great chemistry with his scene partner was actually found in Eastwood's latter two collaborations with Leone as well, but there is more as the character expands beyond even what we saw from Bill, Manco and Blondie. Although Harmonica is a man with no name he is not a man without a purpose or a past. The purpose is found in helping Jill but also found in thwarting Frank's and technically Morton's plans. The pivotal factor in this is Frank which is very interesting. In much of Harmonica's interactions with these three Bronson brings effectively, very effectively, that badass cool but with a humorous bent as though Harmonica doesn't mind having a bit of fun while also saving the day. Bronson pulls that off with such ease but goes further with actually. In that he has that clever smile so often portraying this way Harmonica seems to get under the skin of his opponent Frank by seeming some how beyond the man in that way he seems to laugh whenever he messes with their plans. That is the front that Bronson often shows Harmonica has, which makes him an incredibly appealing hero, but again Bronson offers even more depth to Harmonica by going even further with the role.

Bronson's performance though is incredibly subtle in this regard yet so remarkable. Watching the film again Bronson proves to be so able in such minimalist circumstances given that Harmonica doesn't say too much. When Harmonica first meets Frank face to face again there is a moment, just a moment, before he attains his usual cool where Harmonica's face express a haunted man, an emotional pain that has laid there for some time. This is an idea that he keeps within his work that grants a greater poignancy to Harmonica's quest, that doesn't even quite seem the simple revenge it could be. That is found in a few later instances where Frank asks Harmonica who he is and Harmonica gives a different name every time, the connection between the names being that they are all men Frank has killed. When he says these names there is certain incisive sadness in Bronson's eyes as though Harmonica starring to Frank soul as he says the name as though his path for vengeance extends far past himself. What I love about what Bronson does with this is that he adds a honest vulnerability even while still being a proper badass.

He  alludes to that deeper trauma within his intention for Frank right until the final duel where he reveals it fully though silently. Bronson is brilliant in this scene though in his portrayal of this as just before the duel begins completely he has that smirk again with Harmonica happy in getting Frank just where he wants him, but when it is finally time for the act Bronson reveals a change. The scene depicts the flashback of when Frank killed Harmonica's brother, but Bronson also reflects this memory in his performance. The smile is gone as he looks into the void of the past, and Bronson expresses without a word the hole that loss left in Harmonica. This is a great performance by Charles Bronson because he manages to reveal this more emotional undercurrent throughout his work which never for a moment compromises his character. It only amplifies the hero and makes such a stronger impact through it which amplifies the power of the film. There is such poignancy he finds in smallest glance such as in his final scene with Robards. Harmonica doesn't say much in the scene, he doesn't have to Bronson's eyes as he sees Cheyenne's wound says it all and it is heartbreaking. This is outstanding work from Bronson as he manages to take what Eastwood did in those earlier films, which was impressive in itself, and takes it to even greater heights.