Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Best Actor 2016: Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge

Andrew Garfield received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Private Desmond T. Doss in Hacksaw Ridge.

Hacksaw Ridge tells the unbelievable yet true story of Desmond Doss, a consciousness objector who went on to earn the medal of honor during World War II. Although I was a proponent of the film after my initial viewing of the film I have to say...................I am still just as supportive of the film.

Andrew Garfield, in a banner year, plays the first of his two roles of 2016 where his character's faith plays a pivotal role, though in rather different ways. The role of Desmond Doss is a challenging role though the type of challenge that one is rarely given credit for. The real Desmond Doss was a rather atypical sort of guy not just because of his heroics, but also just everything about him. Garfield intends to capture that personality that was Doss, which was unusual but that's who he was. Garfield doesn't just do a Virginian accent he does a rather thick one which is only fitting to the real Doss's very thick accent. He actually probably just eases it up just a bit to make it a little easier to hear him. Garfield is rather consistent in his use of the accent. He stays true to it and makes it natural to where his character is from. Garfield work though goes further though in his whole demeanor is defined by optimism. Garfield exudes just a general joy of existence in his Doss, which I'd say is most fitting to a man who can wear a smile on his face after describing removing blood from a man's eyes.

Hacksaw Ridge has received criticism for its supposed sentimental depiction of the early scenes of the film which take place in early 30's/40's Virginia. I would say this has been overstated most obviously because there is nothing sentimental about the depiction of Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving) a man permanently scarred by World War I, who lashes out against his family. After watching it again I also noticed that the thing that can most obviously be construed as corny is the depiction of Desmond's relationship with his girlfriend and later wife Dorothy (Teresa Palmer). The dialogue in these scenes is about as old fashioned as they come, though I must say I don't think this seems ill-fitting to Doss. Garfield matches it essentially by offering a truly sincere portrayal, giving every single hokey word coming from Doss's mouth as the truth at least from this guy who simply loves this woman. Garfield in these scenes does very much call back to an older Hollywood type of romantic, kind of a Henry Fonda in Young Mr. Lincoln quite honestly, and again it suits the character.

Again though this is not Garfield just playing a guy who is happy all the time, even if he tries to be happy all the time. We do see the scenes of him dealing with his alcoholic father who most commonly goes from fits of depression to fits of violent anger. In these scenes Garfield gives us a less openly positive Doss conveying the difficulty within the relationship. Garfield presents Desmond most often conveys a quiet troubled sympathy for his father, portraying almost a resistance to hate more than any direct affection for the man. Garfield does not avoid complication in Desmond rather he accentuates that optimism is basically his natural state, which is what he returns to if no other factors are present to dissuade the position. This feels essential to give an understanding to Desmond, particularly once the film moves onto his enlistment into the army where he attempts to join as a combat medic. As Desmond initially only faces the usual drill Sergeant treatment, Garfield again keeps his earnest approach to Desmond who takes this in stride.

This does not last though as Desmond is singled out when he openly refuses to carry a gun yet also refuses to be kicked out of the army based upon the usual grounds. Garfield delivers the needed honesty in Desmond's words and brings the powerful conviction that needs to be in Doss. After all the film is more about conviction than faith. Garfield makes all of his Desmond cohesive as a single man and the conviction in turn does not feel sanctimonious. There is instead a modesty in Garfield's portrayal of it, his major speech explaining his position Garfield with the right quiet eloquence rather than passionate grandstanding. He wears it with only an internalized pride, but never a boastful one. Garfield gives us a man whose goodness is wholly genuine yet I would not say simplified. In order to take his stand Desmond must endure purposeful mistreatment by the army, in an attempt to get him to quit or to pick up the rifle, they even go so far as to take legal action against him. Garfield is excellent because he doesn't simplify this, by showing Desmond does fully understand the severity of the situation. He portrays well the anguish of his treatment, suggesting that Desmond does suffer from the brutal way he is often treated, though he maintains always just that small spark of the man's nature even at his lowest point.

Doss earns his spot on the battlefield which is in no way a reward as the horrors of war quickly become evident on the titular hacksaw ridge where the Japanese troops are heavily fortified. Garfield is not always front and center given that the film covers the various facets of the battle though it always comes back to Doss. Garfield still maintains his position within the carnage though by offering an effective depiction of Doss dealing with the battle. He captures the wear of in his portrayal of Doss. He actually never really breaks down here at all instead excels in wearing it just beneath the surface as though Doss is absorbing it though not allowing it to overwhelm him. He helps to convey the intensity of the battle yet he also is convincing in giving us this man who would be willing to run back into the hell fire after all others have retreated in order to save wounded. This is when the focus does become closer on Garfield and he's great in essentially providing the connection to every moment of Doss's heroics. This is in Garfield still expressing fear of his reactions in the close calls with Japanese, the most minor joy in his face as he saves each man, the physical wear as he pushes himself to the limit, and most importantly the underlying passion that fuels the man in his seemingly impossible task. There are but a few moments after the perilous rescues. They are incredibly well used by Garfield. He does not give us a Doss who has given up, or one who has become filled with vanity over what he has done. Garfield instead gives us a man who has done good, yet has still been through hell in his haunted eyes. This is an exceptional performance, I don't mind saying it, especially since I quite honestly would find it difficult to see any other contemporary actor in this role, or seeing another approach that would have fit Desmond Doss. Although I wonder if he had an even greater work in 2016? Eh, I'll remain silent.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Best Actor 2016: Casey Affleck in Manchester By The Sea

Casey Affleck won his Oscar from his second Oscar nomination for portraying Lee Chandler in Manchester By The Sea.

After having watched Manchester by the Sea for a second time all of my reservations not only stand but have grown stronger. The film seems obsessed with misery even past the tribulations of the main character, we are given not one but two stories of side characters telling about the death of their own fathers at a young age. At a filmmaking stand point though it is also deeply flawed with the refusal apparently to cut any scene or even cut them down. Particular mention must be noted of director Kenneth Lonergan's personal cameo where the camera follows his character down the street for a few seconds as though we are suddenly going to follow the pivotal character of "pedestrian on street". Although this may in part be caused by the films amateurish use of music, where Longergan overlays a song through a series of scenes with no actual rhyme, and has the scenes keep going just until the music ends. It's particularly questionable in the flashback sequence in the middle of the film where the music doesn't end when the flashback ends, it ends awkwardly a minute later as the characters just are walking down some stairs.

Having said that I always try to look at a performance fairly, even if I did not care for the film, and Affleck's work should not be hand waved away here. This is in a way difficult performance, obviously not to appreciate by the critics's almost drone like reaction to it, but to see why it is truly great. To do so though it is best to look upon the performance chronologically rather than by the film's jumbled version of the story. In the past scenes we see Affleck play Lee as just a normal guy from Massachusetts, with a far more credible and consistent accent than a few of his co-stars. We see scenes with his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) and his nephew Patrick (eventually played by Lucas Hedges) on the boat together. Affleck is good in these scenes by just plainly showing a loving and warm uncle fooling around with his nephew. Affleck offers a guy full of life, not overdone, but just a normal guy who enjoys his life as we also see him with his three kids and his wife Randi (Michelle Williams). Again Affleck's performance just works as a natural depiction of just a guy who loves his family and living his life.

Of course being in Massachusetts one must indulge in some loud obnoxious behavior, the film world version of Massachusetts mind you. Still just as in Good Will Hunting, Affleck is quite capable in bringing that sort of buffoonery to screen, although here it isn't meant to be all that funny and it's not. The behavior though is what leads to the death of all of Lee's children, must be three because having one dead kid just isn't enough for Lonergan, after he drunkenly fails to properly secure a fireplace before leaving to get more beer. Affleck absolutely delivers in the scene first in his horrified reaction to seeing his house in flames, then later in his testimony to the police. Affleck makes the emotion raw as he inflicts every word of his delivery with a terrible pain suggesting the grief at its most intense. Affleck conveys the narrow focus of Lee's mind in the horrible constriction of it all as he attempts to confess his crimes. When it is determined to be an accident and Lee is let go, he attempts suicide. Affleck is excellent in the moment as he makes the anguish palatable in Lee, and brings the needed visceral quality to the man's harrowing breakdown.

We are given just a few brief scenes immediately afterwards though Affleck uses them well as he portrays Lee's grief as very much still alive. He walks as though he is drowned within in it, and only wakes up to occasionally viciously lash out when prodded in any way. Affleck presents the still direct suffering of the grief as he has barely a handle on it since it still actively pains him. This then takes us to the Lee that we see for much of the film, which is Lee in the present timeline. In this timeline Affleck gives often an extremely low key performance almost monotone at times, but that's is not a criticism, this approach is actually the crux of his performance. Affleck's work realizes a man who has come to terms with his grief but has not recovered from it. Affleck's construction of this is rather remarkable in the way he so fully embodies this state of Lee. His eyes are essentially dead most of the time, with only the most muted emotion from them as though that is all he is able to tolerate, his body language is always distant. In that Affleck rarely speaks to some directly or looks them in the eye as though to avoid connecting with them beyond a surface level.

What is most impressive about Affleck's work are that the years of dealing with the guilt and depression seem to be sewn within him. Affleck portrays it to be a part of Lee that leaves him in this strange detached state. Lee's catch phrase is basically "I don't care" and Affleck makes that to be true although not in quite the way you might expect. Affleck doesn't make Lee's behavior that as specifically some selfish jerk, it certainly can be construed as jerky behavior, rather he illustrates a man who is unwilling to make any connect whatsoever preferring his state of not really feeling much of anything. When we see Lee working his job as a janitor for his tenants, there is nothing but the work in Affleck's performance. He reacts just enough to be human, but none of it really phases him even when one of the tenants becomes angry with him. Affleck gives us a man who basically has come to terms with what he's done by closing him off from almost everyone. There is an emotional moment though when he attacks a man at the bar after the man randomly stares at him too long. Affleck handles it as basically a primal burst of hatred for his life, and being reminded of being ostracized after the tragedy, caused by a connection of sorts through that random stare.

Affleck only occasionally from this point has emotional moments as he gives a very consistent performance in terms of expressing Lee's state. This is even as he must go to take care of his nephew after his brother's death. Affleck if anything becomes more detached at times as though trying to keep himself from essentially feeling his pain again. Affleck, even when Lee is dealing with the immediate aftermath of the death of his brother, plays it very close to the chest with only a momentary outburst. Affleck utilizes the moment to portray the control in Lee to basically be detached, he breaks, but basically calms himself to feeling almost nothing as soon as he can. Affleck remains consistent in his scenes with Lucas Hedge's Patrick. Affleck isn't quite cold, as in there is not a single place in which Lee suggests any hatred for Patrick, but he only reaffirms his state by conversing with him yet never quite connecting. Their conversations are just a bit disjointed, as there is a foundation of that warm relationship we once saw, but Lee won't go any further than that. The most he'll go is occasionally snap if Patrick endangers himself in any way, and again in that moment Affleck reflects the intensity of his fear through anger not to repeat his personal losses.

This does leave to an atypical character arc as in every slight change in Affleck's performance, which can be ever so minor, in terms of portraying more overt emotion outside of his outbursts Affleck basically emphasizes two things. He indicates any more warmth in his work also comes with just a bit more pain all the same, suggesting it only causes Lee to further relive his terrible memories the more he opens up. This culminates when his ex-wife openly forgives him. This is actually a scene where I noticed some criticism, from those otherwise positive on the film, against his performance because Affleck is rather quiet in the scene, which completely misinterprets his entire performance. Affleck in the scene still gives us Lee trying his hardest to dodge his feelings and being confronted with the person who most shares his pain, Affleck compromises only ever so slightly. After the moment though Affleck's in his eyes basically his old grief takes root as he has one more violent breakdown filled with rage then another soon afterwards only filled with despair. What seems to be the film's main intent it to gives us this man who cannot actually recover from his losses. What Affleck's performance does is earn this intent, and give understanding to it. He shows us the happy man from the beginning against the man who has come to terms only through a terrible and shaky compromise to commit self exile both physically and emotionally from the past.  This might have sounded like a detached review actually because I don't like the film, but I won't penalize Affleck for that. He delivers in creating a convincing portrait of a man who will never overcome misery, even if I did not find the film all that compelling.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Best Actor 2016

And the Nominees Are:

Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge

Casey Affleck in Manchester By The Sea

Denzel Washington in Fences

Ryan Gosling in La La Land

Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic

Best Supporting Actor 2016: Results

5. Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals - Shannon is the best part of a bad film. He offers some entertainment, with just a bit of pathos, in his portrayal of an uninspired character. 

Best Scene: His reintroduction.
4. Lucas Hedges in Manchester By The Sea - Michael Shannon's work is more consistent but Lucas Hedges's has higher heights in his depiction of a teenager going through grief. Hedges is best when he gives a more internalized performance, but I do find he falters in his attempt to depict a more overt sadness.

Best Scene: Patrick sees his father.
3. Dev Patel in Lion - Patel gives a surprisingly strong performance. He gives a moving and authentic portrayal of his fairly straight forward yet still compelling character.

Best Scene: The reunion.
2. Mahershala Ali in Moonlight - Ali gives a great performance that manages to give truth and a real poignancy to his character who is both a good natured man and drug dealer. Despite appearing in only the first third of the film he makes a lasting impact.

Best Scene: The Beach.
1. Jeff Bridges in Hell Or High Water - Good predictions Robert MacFarlane, Psifonian, and RatedRStar. Although Ali gives a great performance, and it is easily the best actually supporting performance in this lineup, Bridges is easily my favorite overall. Bridges delivers such a vivid and powerful depiction of the old lawman type that surpasses any notion of merely being the trope. It is such incredible work particularly his unforgettable final scenes.

Best Scene: The shootout.

Best Supporting Actor 2016: Dev Patel in Lion

Dev Patel receive his first Oscar nomination for portraying Saroo Brierley in Lion.

Lion is a more than decent heart string tugger about the true story of an Indian boy who loses his family, though is adopted by an Australian family, but attempts to rediscover them many years later.

Dev Patel in the past has not been a favorite actor of mine, finding he has the tendency to be both over the top yet somehow bland at the same time. I will say though in 2016 I found his first halfway decent performance in The Man Who Knew Infinity, so I guess this is now the upswing in his acting. Dev Patel here once again plays the lead role of an Indian without a home, after doing the same in his breakout role in Slumdog Millionaire, luckily his performance here is much better. This is a lead performance, even more so than his turn in that earlier similair film, as we see the younger Saroo, played by Sunny Pawar for one half of the film, and then we shift to Patel for the rest of the film, he's not supporting anyone. With that out of the way though let's actually look at the performance itself. Dev Patel picks up with Saroo 20 years after his adoption by the Australians Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham) Brierley, and is essentially living his life rather well having become quite comfortable with his new found home and parents. 

I suppose it should be said that from now on Patel should only do Australian accent, wear his hair long, and keep his facial hair growing because of all it suits him very very well. I don't know if it had anything to do with any of that, but this easily his best performance. Now in his early scenes the film is pretty low key in just showing how Saroo's life is at this point. Patel has some very sweet and authentic chemistry with Wenham and especially Kidman. You really feel the love they share which is in no way compromised, and just have the genuine rapport of a real family. There is a complication though with his troubled adopted brother, Mantosh. Although on the whole I felt that character seemed like an underdeveloped aspect of the film, Patel though deserves credit for realizing the troubled past in Saroo's interactions Mantosh. Patel brings kind of this underlying understanding, suggesting their time together, yet still effectively brings the right current of frustrations in disapproving glances, and sharpened words towards him.

Saroo's life though is shown to be a relatively easy one as we continue to follow him including a romance with an American Lisa (Rooney Mara). The two have more than decent chemistry as well, to Patel's credit he has a low key charm in him, although I will say Rooney Mara never seems quite right in the role of a normal love interest. Saroo begins to run into more people from India though which reminds him of the family he lost, this sets him on a path to try to locate he where he was lost from. This creates a certain conflict as he begins to focus on the past which makes him forget about his future to an extent. This conflict is what defines Saroo during the later portion of the film, and Patel does a good job of realizing this in a natural way. Patel manages to internalize much of the pain of these thoughts in an intensity that grows within Saroo, which causes him to ignore and lash out at his loved ones to a degree. Patel makes these scenes feel honest by showing the way the unknown of his past is a burden he just cannot bear any longer. This is even satiated partially by his adoptive parents being fully supportive of his quest once they hear about it. Saroo though finally leaves to personally find them, after having located the approximate area on Google Earth. Saroo reaches there and is reunited with his mother. I have to say the scene got me, I'll admit it. Patel's work contributes greatly to the emotional resonance of the scene as he captures the joy upon seeing his mother, but also the heartbreak of it all particularly when he learns that his brother died long ago. It's a poignant heartfelt moment and Patel is there for every second of it. Patel is there for the whole half of his film though. This is a good leading turn by him in a fairly understated way. Patel though succeeds in never mistaking that for blandness, nor does he try, through unneeded quirks, to "liven things up". Patel does so well by simply giving an authentic and moving portrayal of a normal man recovering what was lost to him.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Best Supporting Actor 2016: Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water

Jeff Bridges received his seventh Oscar nomination for portraying Marcus Hamilton in Hell or High Water.

Hell or High Water is a brilliant film about two brothers, Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine), who plan a series of bank robberies in order to pay off the debt on their deceased mother's ranch, and the two Texas Rangers trying to catch them.

Now I say and the Texas Rangers trying to catch them because the film in the end is as much about the lawmen as the outlaws. Yes the film opens with a robbery, but the majority of its final moments focuses on the investigator. Jeff Bridges plays the investigator, Marcus Hamilton, who along with his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) goes about investigating a series of robberies. This is obviously a well worn role, particularly with the addition that Marcus is but a few weeks until retirement. Hell or High Water is a neo-western but Bridges was previously Oscar nominated for playing a lawman in the traditional western, True Grit. That was not a favorite performance of mine, and Bridges actually carries something similar over to his work here. That is his grumbly west accent, though he reduces it considerably here making feel far more natural to the character, time and place. Although both characters are lawmen, Bridges's approach diverges greatly from that earlier performance, in his portrayal of Marcus.

Again with the whole setup being that this is going to be Marcus's last case this might seem similar to Tommy Lee Jones's work in No Country For Old Men, a film this one is often compared to, despite being very different in terms of theme and tone. The comparison of the two lawful characters is particularly mistaken as Jones's Sheriff Bell has become spent working the job where that's not the case for Marcus. Bridges from his first scene importantly adds this certain energy about the man when he hears about the case. I rather love the approach as he's not tired to hear of another crime, rather he's kind of excited about getting something to do. Bridges brings a real enthusiasm to the role suggesting that Marcus very much enjoys being a lawman. In the scenes where Marcus investigates what happened at the bank there is a real comfort that Bridges brings. He not only gives the sense of the wisdom that Marcus has garnered over the year, but also the sense of ease as he does his duty with. Bridges presents a man who is most home when he's tracking down law breakers.

The film is presented as dueling stories with two sets of duos. The brothers, and the two Texas Rangers. Although the story moves forward in both it also fleshes out the relationship of each pair. On the law side with have Bridges's Marcus and his "supportive" friend of Birmingham's Alberto. The two are great together because what they offer is years of an old friendship in the perfect chemistry they have together. Honestly these scenes might not have worked at all if you did not believe their relationship. After all Marcus spends much of the time riffing on Alberto in every way he can think of including make various racial jokes about his Mexican and Comanche heritage. Every word spoken between them and just every reaction feels just so genuine with both actors. The effortlessness of it is all key in that Bridges technically doesn't exactly sugarcoat the insults by any margin, but it is balanced so well by Birmingham's reactions of just a slight smile and a head shake. In turn Bridges matches that by portraying only a real joy in Marcus when Alberto manages a good comeback or insult himself.

There is rich history established by both actors and you just feel it in every moment they have together. Although there is never a "you know I love yah you big lug moment", the real love between the two is just an unsaid truth. Bridges and Birmingham in turn actually really make the more philosophical dialogue of the film also work. In that they both essentially find any tone works because of how real the friendship feels and just breaking off into any given discussion seems normal. They don't only make them come about in a honest way though but it helps to ensure some real gravitas to these conversations. Whether it is Marcus pondering on a group of cowboys actually alone in the world, or Alberto pondering on the way it seems one group just merely steals everything from another, they earn them. They never come off as too much because of the conviction in their delivery but also in the reaction of each man understanding the other. Although they can just as easily be more than a little humorous such as with Bridges's annoyed breakdown of a television preacher, against Birmingham's portrayal of Alberto's exasperated reaction to essentially being preached at himself. They are such an endearing pair.

The main story is never forgotten, and I love the way Bridges's work so effectively attaches why it seems personal to him. As Marcus talks about potential retirement opportunities with Alberto. Bridges is great as there is no future in his eyes as he speaks about how none of the ideas really are suitable to him. What's so good though is that Bridges does not depict this as depression for Marcus rather it's simply not something that will suit him. Bridges gives us Marcus as someone who just really was meant always to be a lawman. There is one particularly pivotal moments when Marcus jokes about getting killed in a gunfight in order to die in a what he describes as a blaze of glory. Again Bridges's delivery of this is key in that it is technically more than half joking, but Bridges also carefully doesn't deliver it as though this is some suicidal death wish. Bridges brings this pride in it, as he knows something like this won't happen, but that he knows what he's doing now is the only thing he can connect with. This is only reinforced when it seems they might have figured out the robbers' plan, as Bridges brings such an earnest thrill of a man doing not only what he's good at but also what he loves to do.

Eventually all of this leads to two showdowns, the first being with Tanner in a sniper's position, acting as a distraction for Toby to get away. Marcus and Alberto arrive on the scene where Alberto is shot and killed by Tanner. Bridges's reaction is absolutely devastating as you see the years of friendship in his face as he writhes in anguish looking down at his dead friend. I have to say what the two actors did makes this scene all the more potent, and knowing the end result only made it hit me all the harder upon second viewing. Marcus though is forced to react quickly in order to stop Tanner, getting into a duel of sorts by flanking him at another sniper's position. Bridges is downright amazing in the scene. In the moment he portrays the physical exhaustion of the climb to reach the position, the violent anger at the man who killed his friend as pulls the triggers, then even the thrill of his accomplishment after he successfully avenges Alberto, Bridges though in the moment of triumph so brilliantly then breaks this into such a terrible sadness as he shows that once again he is only left with the loss of his friend. Quite honestly in that moment Bridges does more to realize the hollowness of revenge through a performance, than some actors that have an entire film do. The film still has one more showdown, between the two lead characters of the film, as a now retired Marcus goes to confront Toby who he's sure was the mastermind behind the robberies. Bridges is outstanding in this scene. Although no blood is spilled, and the actual direction of the scene is fairly low key you could cut the tension with a knife. The actors provide it offering such intensity with Bridges so quietly realizing Marcus's disgust towards Toby's since his actions indirectly caused Alberto's death. I love the way Bridges handles the scene as he presents the "Sheriff" as he  has this assurance in front of Toby exhibiting a confidence fitting for a man with a real sense of justice. Bridges doesn't simplify it though as he carries an underlying nervousness in his being. Bridges suggests in this that Marcus is contemplating in his mind whether or not to take action. They do not exchange gunfire but they do exchange words with almost as much power ending with veiled threats that they will trade more than words at a later date. Bridges is incredible as he gives the strength to Marcus's words as he returns the offer to "give peace" to Toby, but also infuses it with this bleak pathos in his eyes showing that this is all Marcus has left to look forward to in his life. This is a phenomenal performance by Jeff Bridges. He transcends the trope of the old law man, elevating it to another level to give such a vivid and powerful depiction of man, not just the idea of one.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Best Supporting Actor 2016: Lucas Hedges in Manchester By The Sea

Lucas Hedges received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Patrick Chandler in Manchester By The Sea.

Lucas Hedges plays the nephew of our lead character, the troubled Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), and is the son of Joe Chandler (Kyle Chandler) whose death is used basically as the starting point for the film. This leaves Lee to attempt to put all his affairs in order and find some way to take care of Patrick, which is not overly difficult given that Patrick is only a few years away from adulthood. Hedges's first scene technically would seem to be a rather harrowing one where Lee comes to inform Patrick that his father has died. This is done literally at a distance visually, and the whole scene is handled seemingly in order to keep a certain space between us and the grief. Hedges's reaction actually is fairly subdued in the scene, and the succeeding moments just after his father's death. Hedges's approach though is fitting to the character though since he's in public, among his friends, and even it alludes to the idea that Patrick has in some way been preparing himself for it given that Joe's illness was already well known. Hedges's portrayal of this is affecting since he does realize the grief still, just in a very internalized way. There's one particularly effective moment when he first goes to see what Lee has to say, and Hedges wears the dread to hear the inevitable news in his eyes. 

The focus of the film isn't really dealing with the death of Joe, that again is just a starting point. In fact the major moment on that end is still early on and very brief as Lee takes Patrick to see his father's body at the morgue. The scene is only a few seconds long, but I find to be one of the stronger moments in the film. Patrick just walks in then walks immediately upon seeing his father, and Hedges is quite moving in again realizing the hidden sadness as he's too pained to look for long. After this point, until one pivotal moment later, we see Lee going through the motions of making funeral arrangement but the death still is not given that much focus even in regards to Patrick. The film instead shows Patrick's life is still going forward in a pretty normal way. Although as we learn more of about Patrick's normal life we kind of discover that he is a bit of a, well for the lack of a better word, *ahem* a douche. Patrick, as written, is a fairly self-absorbed teen and for some reason a major aspect of the film is Patrick attempting to have sex with his girlfriend, except it's his second girlfriend that he keeps a secret from his first girlfriend. That is Patrick at his worst, and I will admit that aspect of the film I hardly found to be the most engaging.

I ponder if we are suppose to like Patrick in these scenes, they are shown without a critical eye, and it does seems set up to be some sort enjoyable teenage hijinks. It is a challenge then to make Patrick still engaging in these scenes, and it is a challenge that Hedges does not meet. I still question their need within the story, I think if you trimmed all those scenes it would only help the film. Past that though we are mostly given Patrick in fairly low key scenes of just being a teenager, and Hedges is a believable teenager. That doesn't sound like an achievement but it is. He brings the naturalism needed, even when he's being kind of obnoxious Hedges still makes it a believable obnoxiousness. He's also good in his scenes with Affleck, which are interesting in the way their essentially buttressed by flashbacks, with a much younger Patrick, where we see the warmer relationship between two. Those scenes though feel somewhere in the distance, yet still alive, in the detached but not cold interactions between the two of them. Hedges has that ease of interaction as though he still looks up to the guy, even if he no longer reciprocates in quite the same way. There is another subplot regarding Patrick's alcoholic mother that is briefly touched upon. I mention it though because it contains one of Hedges's best scenes as he manages to realize the tension of the scene through just the slight unease of his manner, while portraying the effort to attempt to reconnect in some way through his earnest delivery. This performance works best when it's at its most unassuming but unfortunately there is one major scene, basically his "Oscar scene", where Patrick finally breaks down over his father due to him needing to be kept in refrigeration before he can be buried. There is only one way I can say, that is I just didn't believe it, he goes for it, but all of it felt like a put on. The scene falls flat and I actually find it is the weakest scene of his performance. Hedges's performance works best when he doesn't seem to be "trying", and instead simply gives an honest depiction of a teen just trying to get by.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Best Supporting Actor 2016: Mahershala Ali in Moonlight

Mahershala Ali won his Oscar from his first Oscar nomination for portraying Juan in Moonlight.

Moonlight tells the story of a young black man, Chiron, through three different points in his life.

Mahershala Ali is one of those actors who in the past offered consistently good work in very minor roles, where when watching him one can't help but ponder why he wasn't given a bit more to do. That was especially true recently in the bizarre way he was utilized in the series Luke Cage. In Moonlight though it seems Ali is given his due through the character Juan. The film actually opens with his character as we briefly see him in a short exchange that alludes to Juan's background. The focus quickly shifts towards his central purpose as he discovers the young Chiron (Alex Hibbert) hiding from bullies in an apartment building. Although Juan's method of discovery is to actually tear down a window, one can quickly see that Juan only has the best intentions for the boy. This is made all the more evident through Ali's performance that exudes such a warmth from his presence, through that slight smile and a curious set of eyes as Juan attempts to decipher Chiron's problem. Ali is only genuine in his realization of Juan's charity as he attempts to help the boy by feeding him and giving him a place to stay for a night. Ali brings this ease in the behavior suggesting a natural goodness within the man.

The highlights of the film for me come in the scenes where Juan continues to attempt to help Chrion, and allow him to break out of his shell a bit. Ali's approach to these scenes is very effective in the way he keeps a distance yet at the same time feels welcoming. Ali is careful not to overplay or overemphasize the charity in Juan. He instead shows his charity that is fitting for a man of his rough background, although that is in no way to say his charity worth any less. Ali's restraint is important in that he never makes Juan an unbelievable saint yet makes his good works wholly convincing. Ali keeps a more casual quality in Juan as he portrays him not ever trying to force something out of Chiron instead Ali shows Juan attempting calmly to inspire the change in the boy. There is one truly special sequence where Juan takes Chiron to a beach. He tries to teach the boy how to swim which is particularly authentic moment since Ali was in reality teaching Alex Hibbert how to swim. He also offers a bit of advice on making choices for one's own self. The history of a life feels expressed in Ali's delivery and he earns the wisdom in Juan.

Unfortunately Juan is not just a nice man in the neighborhood, but is also the neighborhood drug dealer. Working as such he discovers that Chiron's mother (Naomi Harris) is one of his customers. Ali is excellent in the scene in bringing out his intense anger as he questions her behavior, and her inability to provide for her son. She counters though that Juan is the one selling the drugs, and Ali is very moving in showing the sad realization in Juan's silence as he is unable to really excuse his own behavior. This leads to a final visit to his home by Chiron where Ali conveys a certain change in Juan. Ali in no way loses the warmth that helps to define his relationship with the boy, but throughout the scene he conveys the underlying shame in Juan as he recognizes that he is in some way responsibility for the boy's hardships. Ali is altogether heartbreaking when Chiron directly asks him if he is a drug dealer, as he so somberly admits to it. Ali is especially affecting in the way he suggests how deeply this pains him, as he reveals the quiet devastation in the man. That is Ali's final scene in the film, which seems unfortunate as it does not feel like we even get to say goodbye, and I will admit I do find the first third of the film to be the strongest part. That is to say nothing against Ali's magnetic work, he is a supporting player after all, and it is the testament to the power of his performance. His charismatic portrayal stays with you long after, his exit and leaves a lasting impression on the film.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Best Supporting Actor 2016: Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals

Michael Shannon received his second Oscar nomination for portraying Lt. Bobby Andes in Nocturnal Animals.

Nocturnal Animals is a glossy hollow film about an art gallery owner Susan (Amy Adams) who receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), which was written from his heart, a broken heart no doubt!!!!

Nocturnal Animals tells two stories, one of the vapid woman who reads the manuscript and ponders on the vapid choices that lead to her vapidness. A wholly inert story filled with terrible overacting from the majority of the cast, awkward dialogue, a jump scare, and people in their late thirties as college students, which attempts to get by through asking the audience to think of what does it all mean??? We also are given the story of the manuscript about a man Tony (Gyllenhaal as well) whose family is abducted by three men after their car is run off an isolated rode. This half of the film is the stronger half, but that isn't saying much. Alone it is an excessively straight forward and derivative thriller. Anyways in the story Tony finds help in the local law enforcement and this is where Michael Shannon comes into the picture as the lawman tasked to try to help the man find his family. Now in the film there is an attempt by most of the supporting players to give a stylized performance a la a David Lynch film, and I don't like even mentioning Lynch's name in connection to this film since it fails so miserably to replicate that type of style.

Michael Shannon is a very good actor, though now if you only knew him by his Oscar nominations you'd think he only ever played quirky supporting roles in not very good films. He's capable of much more, but he does know how to make at least something out of weak material. Again there is that stylized quality to all the supporting performances and it is found in Shannon's work as well, he's just better at it. Shannon plays the Texan police officer who likes to get justice done his way. Shannon delivery automatically is a little atypical and plays it up here just a bit in his casual drawl as he investigates the disappearances that quickly are revealed to be murders. Shannon's a man with presence, a naturally intriguing one, to the point that you expect more from one of his characters even if there is very little to them. That does come in handy here just as Andes goes about asking Tony various questions about the crime. There is something naturally engaging about Shannon asking the questions with those steely eyes of his along with that slight lisp.

On that point I will admit upon my initial viewing of the film I found Michael Shannon to be the strongest element of the film, and perhaps that hasn't changed, yet it does not mean a great deal. This is not a great performance by Michael Shannon, though he is no way helped by the rote character he is given.  He's the gritty officer who has the occasional one liner to deliver some exposition, then later gets to go all Death Wish on the criminals to help the man avenge his family. There is little depth past that even his eventually revealed fatal cancer is more of there for a plot device to enable him to go full Death Wish. Shannon's task therefore is just to kind of be there to make some very banal notes sing. He does so by playing into the style, which does not make a realistic performance, but in a film where the tone doesn't work anyways, you have to take what you can get. Shannon is indeed somewhat entertaining in playing into the type, I have to say on re-watch his entertainment value decreased though, and I fear if I ever saw the film again its terribleness may infect his work all the more. I will also grant a bit of credit in that there is some nuance in his work. In the moment where he finds Tony's family, he grants a bit of emotion in his melancholy glance, after Tony inquires about his daughter's fate, and later offers some anguish behind the intensity as he says that he's changed indicating towards his fatal condition. It doesn't add up to all that much but I appreciate that it is there. He's mostly there to grumble out a few choice lines, which he does well enough, and give some deadly intense stares, which I'm pretty sure is Shannon's resting expression. It's not a great performance, but for me he at least offered something in an otherwise unpleasant experience.

Best Supporting Actor 2016

And the Nominees Are:

Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water

Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals

Mahershala Ali in Moonlight

Lucas Hedges in Manchester By The Sea

Dev Patel in Lion

Monday, 23 January 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1993

Well since there is not a clear strong five for alternate line up, and also since it would be rather impossible to crack my current top five for 93 here are just a few performances I feel are worth mentioning. 

Matthew McConaughey - Dazed and Confused - Alright Alright Alright. Dazed and Confused follows multiple high school students on the last day of school in the 70's. Matthew McConaughey does not play one of the students instead appears as a man, David Wooderson, in his twenties who prefers to spends his nights still hanging around with the high school crowd. This was McConaughey's first role, outside of course being murdered on Unsolved Mysteries, and well he already had it, what ever it was. This role is a great example of the sort of McConaughey wackness that is very specific and something that only he is able to pull off. McConaughey is very entertaining here with his dumb grins, and excessively relaxed delivery bringing life to a guy whose more than a little stuck in arrested development. The thing is though is he loved every minute of it. McConaughey is a delight here though as he makes his role of Wooderson a highlight of the film. McConaughey technically does not avoid the underlying sleaze related to the role, but rather wears it in a way that makes him kind of endearing in a strange way including his speech about the agelessness of "high school girls". It's a fun performance that really could have only been delivered by McConaughey.
Chazz Palminteri - A Bronx Tale - A Bronx Tale is a more than decent coming of age story, although it does feel like De Niro attempting to be Scorsese, about a Italian boy learning about life from his father and in the unlikely source of a gangster Sonny LoSpecchio played by Palminteri. Now Palminteri would be Oscar nominated a year later for his gangster turn in Bullets Over Broadway, but I can't help but if some residual love for this performance played into that. The type would become Palminteri's go to type, even in Coke commercials, and this is probably the best example of his work in that type. Palminteri fulfills basically the man who owns the town well. He has this sort of confidence of a man who believes himself to essentially be untouchable, but coats it well with a definite charm of man who knows how to get people on his side. He never comprises the darker side of the role. That certain killer's edge to the man is always apparent in Palminteri's violent glances, and there is even an underlying intensity in his more friendly moments. The focus of the film is on how Sonny relates to the young boy, but it isn't about how he's a bad influence though, actually sort of the opposite. Palminteri is great in the fatherly scenes as he so effectively conveys the real warmth in Sonny towards the boy, that is wholly genuine, yet he still doesn't hide the nature of the man. Palminteri instead captures a certain wisdom within the man's darkness essentially by showing the intelligence that can be found in a man who never suffers fools and will always lead never follow. Palminteri captures this dynamic effortlessly as does not show two separate men, the teacher and the gangster, but instead effectively gives us the wise mobster with both his faults and his knowledge.
Michael Keaton - Much Ado About Nothing. Much Ado About Nothing may be lead and directed by the consummate Shakespearean Kenneth Branagh, but the film is filled with some actors you'd never guess would come near the Bard. This includes Keanu Reeves (who does as well as you'd expect but it actually kind of works for the part), Denzel Washington (who is actually pretty good), and Beetlejuice himself, Michael Keaton. The whole story is a series of stories, yet Michael Keaton's is probably the most detached, until the end of the film. He plays Dogberry the local constable who along with his merry men solves the rather low key crimes plaguing the central characters. Keaton once again proves that he is a one of a kind actor. Yes he actually does do well with making the words seem wholly natural, but Keaton really makes them his own. This is a downright hilarious performance in just everything he does. The whole set up is great as Keaton walks half as a the proper purveyor of justice and half as a drunken idiot. Keaton steals every one of his scenes beautifully through his consistently hilarious delivery that is filled with just the right bluster of confidence and just the right non-sense in Dogberry's most unusual method of law enforcement. Every second he's onscreen is quite entertaining as Keaton just glories in playing a fool but a fool who gets the job done.
Updated Overall

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1993: Results

5. Anthony Wong in The Untold Story - Wong manages to stay just above the terrible film he's in by having just enough fun with the material while still managing to create a cohesive character. 

Best Scene: His confession.
4. Jesse Bradford in The King of the Hill - Bradford gives an unassuming yet moving performance, realizing a young boy's perspective through a tumultuous time.

Best Scene: At the party. 
3. Leslie Cheung in Farewell My Concubine - Cheung's silent work is a powerful portrait of internalized turmoil within a graceful performer.

Best Scene: Cheng recovers from his opium addiction. 
2. Daniel Day-Lewis in The Age Of Innocence - Daniel Day-Lewis gives his second brilliant performance from 93, this one being a heartbreaking portrayal of a deeply emotional man repressed by society.

Best Scene: The Ending.
1. Anthony Hopkins in Shadowlands - Good predictions Luke, Maciej, mcofra7, and Varun. Anthony Hopkins gives one of his best performances in his harrowing yet heart warming portrayal of not only of the creative spirit, but also a unique journey of a man coming to terms with both love and death. 

Best Scene: Lewis finally pledges his real love for Joy. 
Updated Overall

Next Year: Hmmm I might just wait, but I would also like to hear the suggestions for 1993 supporting, in order to see whether or not there is really a five to begin with.

Alternate Best Actor 1993: Leslie Cheung in Farewell My Concubine

Leslie Cheung did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Cheng Dieyi in Farewell My Concubine.

Farewell my Concubine is an intriguing film that follows two Chinese opera performers through social and political upheaval in China during the 20th century.

A point of order that must be quickly addressed is that well known Hong Kong performer Leslie Cheung was overdubbed by Beijing actor Yang Lixin in this film simply meaning that his vocal performance must be deemed inadmissible for the purposes of this review. Cheng though happens to be a character where the physical performance is more important than the verbal one. The character is often silent and when he is not he most often is merely reciting portions of an opera. The film follows Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou (Zhang Fengyi) throughout their lives starting with their time as beginners in the opera which consists of constant repetition and beatings in order to basically mold them into performers. This is accomplished and the two become friends through supporting each other through the brutality they endure. Their relationship early on is when it is perhaps most earnest, as the two merely care for each other, when they become adults is when the complications begin to ensue and when Fengyi and Cheung take over the roles.

Now there are several scenes throughout the film where we are given the performances which are very strict representations of the Chinese Operas. Now Cheung is very good in terms of portraying this sort of picturesque perfection in manner while still exuding this grace of the performer. His work shows how well Cheng has become in fulfilling the female roles of the opera, in that it has become second nature to him at this point. There is no hesitation or difficulty in Cheung's performance of the performance which is exactly as it should be. In the film the opera is essentially the constant though. The two men always come to perform the roles they learned as children and do so without issue, this is despite the changes in China going around them including the Japanese occupation and multiple revolutions. Early on it seems they can wholly ignore them as even when in public the two men exude the same type of grace as they travel around in their troupe, despite the fact that so many other Chinese disprove of this certain detachment.

In private the men are very much changed by life as they begin to grow apart due to Duan becoming involved with a prostitute Juxian (Gong Li). This proves to be difficult as Cheng's affection for Duan goes further than friendship. Cheung is excellent in his portrayal of this desire in Cheng given that it largely left silent and unsaid for most of the film. The understanding of it comes from Cheung's work as the very way he interacts with Fengyi is very particular. Cheung never suggests the glances of a friend, but rather conveys this connection that alludes to sexual attraction. Cheung though does not simplify this though to make it look as though Cheng is merely lusting after Duan. He makes it purer than that in a way, in that he suggests a real love in Cheung for the other man. A love that transcends even sexuality in a way as Cheung inhabits this history of the men as he looks upon. There is a history of mutual burden but also one of mutual warmth and affection.

Unfortunately for Cheng Duan's own affection only goes so far, and Duan's growing relationship with Juxian slowly creates a divide between the two men. Cheung manages to illustrate the wretched pain in Cheng so effectively, as he brings this intensity to the hatred against Juxian, which only grows the deeper her relationship with Duan, grows, and builds to the breaking point which seems to end the personal relationship between the two men. Cheung is very moving in portraying this decaying state of Cheng after this point, suggesting a man almost lost without the guidance Duan once offered him. This leads to him becoming addicted to opium which Cheung shows as almost his attempt to find a comfort of sorts due to having no one to turn to any longer. Eventually though his condition worsens to the point that Duan and Juxian return to nurse him back to health. Both Cheung and Fengyi are incredibly moving in the quiet reconciliation between the two. They make it convincing as it is all in their eyes that seem to reach an understanding by once again returning to that same warmth as they comforted each other as children.

Their reconciliation only lasts for so long before the Chinese Cultural Revolution takes place which forces out the worst of both men as they are interrogated by Red Guards and prodded to betray each other. Duan does so by accusing Cheng of having performed for the Japanese invaders while Cheng returns the "favor" by revealing Juxian's former profession to the mob. Although this is one of the few heavy speaking scenes for Cheng in the film, outside of the performances, Cheung's work in no way should be hand waved. In his face Cheung brings out this madness brought upon a rage, an old pent up jealous rage built up over years for Duan's preference for Juxian over him that is light to even further by Duan's betrayal. The fallout of the revolution still leads them once again back to the opera for one more performance. Cheung is rather heartbreaking though as he reveals the very end of Cheng after so many years of physical and psychological torment. In that Cheung reveals a man almost captured into insanity in the moment as he seems to technically embrace his role more than ever, but in his eyes there is the sense of a man who has lost touch with the very reality of his existence. Cheung through his powerful silent portrait creates makes Cheng's final act an inevitability, as his performance has shown the path to this final act where essentially his real life finally crosses over with the static life of the opera.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1993: Anthony Hopkins in Shadowlands

Anthony Hopkins did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a BAFTA, for portraying "Jack" C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands.

Shadowlands I found to be a surprisingly effective film detailing the tragic romantic relationship between famed writer C.S. Lewis and American divorcee Joy Davidman (Debra Winger).

Anthony Hopkins was nominated for leading actor for his turn as the very repressed butler in The Remains of the Day, therefore he could not be recognized for this film. I have to admit coming into the film I pondered if this was going to be a similar performance to The Remains of the Day, which is good a performance by the way, due to the fact that he is playing another Englishman around the same general time period. Well that is not the case in the least in this, his fifth collaboration with Richard Attenborough as a director. I suppose the idea of playing such a famous writer one might expect something a bit stuffy, that's not the case. Even from his earliest scenes Hopkins brings such a life to his portrayal of C.S. Lewis, known to his friends as Jack. This is not just some literary figure in Hopkins's hands as he so effortlessly engages the role. Hopkins's performance has this real energy about it, which is rather fascinating since it still entirely fits in the way he realizes Lewis's character. Rather interestingly Hopkins gives us a man who is very happy in his life, even before we get into the central romance, portraying Lewis as someone who at least believes himself to be where he wants to be, more or less.

This performance I'll admit surprised me quite a bit just by how enthusiastic Hopkins is as Lewis. Now Hopkins never only played villains particularly in The Elephant Man where he played the very good hearted Dr. Treves, but that was in a more internalized fashion. Hopkins here is far more extroverted in bringing out Lewis's good nature while keeping in the right confines for a dignified university professor. There is actually one moment I rather love early on in the film when speaking with his fellow professors at the pub. As Lewis turns the conversation to speak of his dream world Hopkins is brimming, almost bursting, with this certain remarkable cheer of man who, in a way, truly believes in what he speaks of. Hopkins shows a different kind of creative spark than is often the case where we deal with the tortured artist. Hopkins is careful to show there is nothing tortured about Lewis. Hopkins instead finds such an endearing passion connected to his own creativity. Hopkins plays these moments as a man almost trying to share the joy he receives from these dreams of sorts with others and brings a real sense of the beauty in this act. Even though it is technically just someone going on about their ideas, that enthusiasm Hopkins brings creates such a sense of purity about it.

Hopkins manages to be equally compelling though even when we see Lewis working directly as a professor. In these lecture scenes Hopkins is rather effective in portraying the charisma of a great teacher. There is this grace that Hopkins brings to his these scenes suggesting the right ease Lewis has in such a setting. Now this is whether he is delivering a larger speech or merely just giving some quieter instruction. The eloquence Hopkins finds is rather perfect actually, aided of course by his very notable voice. Hopkins in no way uses this as some sort of crutch though and I love the nuance he even brings in these moments. There is a running subplot with Lewis attempting to deal with one of his students who doesn't seem to make the right sort of effort in his, non mandatory, classroom. There is a great moment where Lewis uses the man's sleeping in his classroom to explain Aristotle theory on character as defined by action. Now I quite honestly could listen to Hopkins break down such theories all day, but that's not all there is to Hopkins's work. Within that still Hopkins portrays the right fascination in even the difficult student. In that Hopkins is able to accentuate the idea that Lewis very much has a drive to share his own knowledge though he does it in very much his own way.

The central aspect of the film though is Lewis's relationship with the American Joy who comes to see him, basically as a fan, along with her son Douglas (Joseph Mazzello). It is here in which lies Hopkins's greatest challenge in the film in that there is Lewis's arc which has steps to it in the script, yet they are very light and likely would have felt vague without the proper guidance. Hopkins's performance brings this guidance through the way he realizes change in Lewis in his interactions with Joy. Now in their initial meetings Hopkins portrays a real warmth, a rather charming side of him that one does not often see from him. Hopkins shows Lewis in these scenes as a gracious host. He brings a real gentlemanly quality as he complies with any requests though Hopkins still keeps in mind a certain awkwardness in the interaction. An awkwardness that Hopkins makes rather natural in that it actually really is in no way unpleasant rather just something one would expect from an author who is dealing with a fan. Hopkins importantly though shows that the warmth he portrays is in no way a put on at any point, and subtly plants the seeds to the central relationship.

Some time goes on though and by chance Lewis and Joy meet again at one of Lewis's public readings. Hopkins is excellent in the pleasure he expresses in Lewis at seeing Joy again, and there is something truly brilliant how elegantly Hopkins presents this. The happiness Hopkins shows is automatic in a way, and creates the sense that even Lewis isn't quite fully aware of how much he seems to get out of her company. Their encounters no longer become chance though after she moves to England, after abandoning her abusive husband, and Lewis becomes a frequent visitor. In a way to "legitimize" her societal standing she even marries her in the court of law. Now the initial marriage ceremony is a key moment actually in which Hopkins establishes where they are in their relationship. In the moment Lewis gets marries and basically leaves as though all they were doing was taking care of some paperwork. This could be seen as the actions of a cold man, and in fact the more expected way to play this whole thing could have been to have Lewis begin as cold. Hopkins doesn't take this approach, portraying instead something a bit more complex. Hopkins again carries a real affection, but also suggests a certain uncertainty in knowing how to interact with Joy entirely past that. Hopkins though is careful to show this does not come from being uncaring, but rather effectively illustrates Lewis as inexperienced with such matters.

Hopkins's work is very intriguing in the way he connects that ease of his life into Lewis's certain disconnection with Joy at first. In that Hopkins shows a man who is content with his life therefore almost fails to consider properly the idea of changing it in any real way. When Joy calls Lewis out on his behavior not to exactly challenge himself, Hopkins's performance earns the sentiment since he so honestly presented Lewis's peculiar form of creating a personal distance. Things turn for a worse though when Joy collapses revealing she has an advanced form of cancer that will no doubt be fatal. Hopkins is incredibly moving by showing that in this moment is when Lewis fully realizes that he is love, which had already been there but he had trouble seeing it clearly. Hopkins poignantly finds tragedy in the way he expresses the combination of anguish in Lewis at the same time as he expresses his true feelings for Joy. It is pivotal that Hopkins does not make it just some sympathy for her pain as the cause though, as Hopkins brings this heaviness in Lewis's very being as though the lateness of the realization weighs on him deeply. Hopkins is devastating as he brings so much raw emotion in the second marriage ceremony, in the church, as he makes it as though Lewis is trying so hard to keep Joy with him to make up for lost time. They are given a small reprieve to spend time together, and Hopkins finds the bittersweet tone of these scenes so perfectly through his performance. There is such tenderness and adoration in every word through Hopkins's delivery. Again he brings this curious yet powerful portrayal of a painful elation as Lewis spends the time as well as he can even though the underlying thoughts of a difficult future remain. Eventually the future comes to pass and Joy dies. The story lingers to follow Lewis dealing with the grief. Hopkins's work is downright outstanding as he completely loses that ease of life from before. Hopkins shows even an intense anger at the world and God, as he stresses the difficulty in Lewis attempting to understand why Joy was taken away. The only solace he finds is in trying to comfort her son, though they end comforting each other, and Hopkins is utterly heartbreaking as he depicts Lewis's breakdown as he admits to how much he misses her. Hopkins doesn't provide an easy solution to the grief though as even at the end of the film Hopkins gives us a man changed by this forever, a man having lived through something that finally challenged his life of comfort. I love this performance. Hopkins not only gives an effective depiction of this famous author, but goes so much further in his incredible portrait of so much a man goes through with love, life and death.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1993: Jesse Bradford in King of the Hill

Jesse Bradford did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Aaron Kurlander in King of the Hill.

King of the Hill is an interesting film, when Steven Soderberg had a lighter more effective touch as a director besides a montage near the end of the film, about a boy living by himself in a motel just before the summer begins during the great depression.

A funny thing about King of the Hill is for me it almost came off as a companion piece, well we'll say a much darker cousin to A Christmas story, to explain. Well both films are based on the semi autobiographical writings of a man recounting their childhood who were both born in the early twenties. A major difference though is A Christmas Story's basis was written by a humorist while King of the Hill's was based on a memoir. Either way though both focus upon a boy in the 30's and the various events going around his life. This film though technically demands more from its child lead, as there is no adult narrator to buttress the character a bit. It is all on Bradford. The idea of focusing on a child actor actually in itself is a bit of a gamble as it is easy enough to get the two typical sorts of bad child actors. The bland type that just kind of is there and recites their lines with no meaning behind them, or the chronic overacting type that seeks to be cute rather than convincing. Bradford is neither of these thankfully, but this performance is even a bit atypical from of the few other child performances I've praised in the past.

The film opens simply enough with the young Aaron reciting his story about Charles Lindberg though he has written in a way as though he is a personal friend of the man. This just seems to be a method to frame the story though. Now what Bradford does so well is that he makes this like any other kid just delivery a homework assignment, though with just a bit of apprehension as he gives the details to notice most of the other students are bored by his story. Bradford is equally natural, and endearing in a very naturalistic way as Aaron takes his seat and receives more than just a glance from one of the girls in class. Bradford realizes such an honest confusion as he looks around rather sure that he's not the one he's admiring. Now after that point we get the essential set up for the film where the boy is first separated from his younger brother, then his mother due to her illness, and eventually his father while he goes on the road as a salesman. This eventually leaves him all alone at a hotel with some strange characters in and around it. From here on in the film we get more of scenes and moments then a plot line, which actually something I rather like about the film.

This structure works particularly well in tandem with Bradford's unassuming but not underwhelming approach to the part. Bradford is careful to show that Aaron isn't this deeply troubled boy really as a person, and in a way is not quite aware of just what his situation might be given the time and place. Bradford is careful to still have a general undercurrent of childhood enthusiasm within his performance, very utilized by him. In that Bradford conveys a definite sense of fear with the unknown at times yet he links it well to suggest a certain interest in the various new people he's discovering and getting to know. Bradford doesn't inflict Aaron with an inherent damage still exemplifying that he is still a kid in this situation, and importantly interacts with his situation as a kid not an adult. This can even be in rather simple, yet very effective ways, such as his relationship with a girl, Ella, also in the hotel who suffers from seizures. It isn't a romance that Bradford depicts, as he so well shows a shyness in Aaron of a boy who just wouldn't quite know how to react even when it obvious a girl likes him. What Bradford instead gives a warmth of a real friend instead, and brings such a delicate sweetness in these scenes suggesting the right gentle concern as her condition worsens.

That is one of his experiences though as Aaron attempts to find some other source of income, all the while trying to avoid a sinister bellboy attempting to change the locks on his room. Bradford is again incredibly good at portraying this so honestly as a boy attempting to gain money, whether it is hatching bird eggs or attempting to be a golf caddy. In both circumstances his attempts do no go particularly well. Again Bradford does not portray any sort of emotional collapse in Aaron in these failures, portraying instead a resilience within the boy to keep going. It is not to say Bradford doesn't portray anything though instead he very subtly wears these defeats in his performance, very quiet yet very moving all the same. This method of Bradford's alludes well to Aaron's nature, which is to try to take things in stride since that's really the only way he can take them given his situation. Bradford by doing this no seems underwhelming by internalizing every moment so well, whether is the genuine happiness at seeing his mother again, or the horror at discovering one of his neighbors has committed suicide. That is all except one aspect of his life that comes back to Aaron's story of Charles Lindberg at the beginning of the film. The first person perspective of the story ends up connecting to the frequent lies that Aaron tells his classmates and even his teacher in order to avoid revealing the truth about his difficult circumstances at home. Bradford portrays these lies as something that come so easily from him, yet within his words there is an unease not of the lie but rather for his peers to learn the truth about his home life. This nervousness about his situation grows until he attends a party where he finally hears that so many of the students are well aware of what he has been trying to hide. Bradford is rather heartbreaking by so effectively realizing Aaron's pain. He perhaps loses his composure most at this scene, yet Bradford still wears much of it within his work to show the anguish in his silence. Aaron never gives up despite his hardship and that is the key of Bradford's performance. His work is poignant as it conveys the experiences of this boy, as it makes it through his life. Bradford is convincing in showing the difficulty of it as well as the joys that can be found, and most importantly the ability to keep going.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1993: Jeff Daniels in Gettysburg

Jeff Daniels did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in Gettysburg.

Gettysburg divides its time between the Union and Confederate forces during the battle of Gettysburg. The southern forces focal character is sort of General James Longstreet played by Tom Berenger, one of the leading generals on that side. That character is more passive in a way, and his story is in way dealing with the various personalities of his fellow southern leaders. On the northern side though the focus is given to a lower ranked colonel, but one who ends up playing an essential role in the titular battle. This focus is one of the strongest elements of the film, and a great deal for that being the performance of Jeff Daniels as that Colonel. We get a very narrow perspective in his scenes as we are given a man who must deal with everything as they are, and what comes to him. Now what comes from these scenes goes beyond I feel than even just the events of his portion of the battle. Chamberlain story begins when his unit receives a group of soldiers, considered deserters by their refusal to fight, where he is given the choice to deal with the men as he wishes, which includes the possibility of having them shot. At this time we are also introduced to Laurence's brother Thomas (C. Thomas Howell) a lieutenant under his command, and his more battle worn Sergeant Buster Kilrain (Kevin Conway).

Daniels instantly establishes something that contributes so much to his work, which is his approach to portraying Chamberlain. He does not present him as this man of the military, which is fitting having been a college professor before the war, but even more so seems so much of a man than a period figure. He never seems to be that to merely represent something, as Daniels performance feels so lived in and authentic even with that overgrown mustache needed to match the historical portrait of the man. Daniels in the early scenes brings this lightness to his performance, that does not stem from a lack of understanding for the material, but rather an effective realization of the state of the person. Daniels shows a man technically living his life, though his life is an unorthodox circumstance. Now in this approach Daniels adds so much more to the role by this. Daniels brings these nice touches that he delivers in such a casual yet wholly authentic way, such as his humorous attempts to get his brother not to refer to him as Laurence. Daniels is great in this moment as he does no show the unease in him stemming from trying to be some tough guy soldier, but rather just so earnestly presents a guy attempting to fulfill his position properly.

In his first scenes we see him deal with the problem of the deserters, and I love how Daniels handles the scene. As he speaks with the man Daniels actually doesn't express the utmost command as he deals with the man, instead portraying a man of a different nature trying to gently get through the situation. In the scene where Laurence speaks with the deserters' spokesman, who names his amount of engagements as well asking Chamberlain his own amount, the humble way Daniels delivers the admission of "less" so effectively realizes the Laurence's modesty. In order to deal with the deserters though Laurence attempts to encourage the men to continue fighting essentially by telling them his own purpose in the war. This is an essential moment not only for Daniels's performance but for the overall film as it gives life to pivotal element in the civil war that is virtually left out due to the constrictions of the narrative. That element being slavery. Daniels in the scene so beautifully renders Laurence argument for the cause to end slavery. It is actually a very quiet and calm yet powerful speech that Daniels gives, so eloquently verbalizing not only his distress towards the institution but also his passion for ending it in order to free men. The majority of the deserters end up joining with Chamberlain, and it is Daniels's performance that makes that result absolutely convincing.

Again though so much of the strength of Daniels's work comes in the quieter moments, and something I love is the way he crafts the relationships with both Howell's and Conway's characters. With Howell, Daniels is terrific in that awkwardness he brings of the older brothers attempting to look out for his younger brother, while trying to be his commander at the same time. Daniels is great in realizing the difficulty in that and helps to suggest how their relationship was before the war, with Thomas perhaps expecting too much from his older brother with Laurence possibly giving his younger brother a bit too much leeway, yet behind it all there is a very assumed love of such a relationship.A different relationship though is with the hardened vet Kilrain. Daniels and Conway's chemistry is even stronger in a way than with Howell, as the two actors convey so honestly this mutual respect the two have one another. It is often stated yet so perfectly assumed in the way Daniels shows just the way he listens in their scenes together. Daniels shows the way that Chamberlain is really taking in what the man has to say and so values not only his experience but also their friendship. It is all so effortless though as you can see the two have spent some time serving together in their ease and warmth in their interactions.

The middle section of the film ends up being the pivotal part that Chamberlain plays in the battle, which is on the second day where he must defend a hill known as Little Round top. The hill is essential to preventing the South from flanking the Union army. This engagement is the strongest sequence in the film, and Daniels's work is one of the major reasons why. Daniels throughout the scenes always so effectively continues to show this man, this professor of etiquette, in this dire situation as he must lead against the onslaught of southern soldiers attempting to take the hill from the Union army. There is nothing taken lightly in this situation as Daniels brilliantly realizes the wear of the battle not only in terms of the physical degradation but also the mental degradation of the fight. Again though he's also a brother in the situation, and one of the most moving moments in the film for me is the anguish Daniels brings in Laurence, brief as it must be given the battle, as he has his brother plug a hole in the defense. Daniels is incredible as he completely shows a commander trying to keep his troops together, a soldier trying to keep himself alive, and an older brother's terrible concern for his sibling he cares dearly for. Daniels makes the distress feel so real, especially in his harrowing scream of "Tom!" when it appears his brother is about to be shot. So much of the intensity in the sequence comes from Daniels's devoted performance, that never allows a single moment to lay flat. He internalizes all of it into his performance. It doesn't end there as Laurence must make a daring decision to lead a charge in order to defeat the southern forces after he runs out of ammunition. Daniels is downright amazing in the scene as he makes it more than simply a man taking the charge when he most needs to. Daniels realizes that of course, but throughout the moment he also keeps alive a real fear of a man who's not entirely sure of  his action but has no other choice. Daniels makes it a particularly rousing moment though because he earns it so much be finding Laurence's inexperience in the moment making the victory all the greater. Daniels only brings this home all the more in the relief and just the right amount of joy Daniels expresses in this success. The pain of the battle is completely embodied by Daniels work yet he makes the triumph all the greater, as this is just a normal man accomplishing something he perhaps wasn't even aware that he could do. Again the whole sequence is made something truly remarkable through Daniels's portrayal of a real man going through every second of the attack. 

Now that sequence is when Daniels leads the film, but he continues to appear in the final day of the battle which focuses upon the South's last effort to advance. Daniels has a few key moments, that have a great impact through everything else in his performance that already helped to establish. Daniels in these scenes again wears the battle, not only in his direct leg injury, but also in the haunting way he presents the horrible experience of it all even now that he is given a "break". The loss of that attack technically is not finished though as evidenced when his brother reports on Killrain's condition, who was shot twice during the battle, which is to reveal that the man died. Although the death is off screen it is the most heartbreaking one in the film, Daniels devastating in his reaction, showing just how torn up Laurence is by the news, and conveys just how much Laurence cared for his friend. His simple delivery of "yeah" to acknowledge his friend is all that is needed, as Daniels infuses it with such honest emotion. In the end Laurence's final scenes in the film are simple yet fitting entirely to the character, and does not feel underwhelming due to all that Daniels brought beforehand. The final sendoff being but an embrace between the Chamberlain brothers after they have survived the events of the entire battle. It is poignant and all that is needed. This is an exceptional turn by Jeff Daniels. I love the performance as it is such nuanced and powerful depiction of one man within a great war.