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.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1968: Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer

Burt Lancaster did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ned Merrill in The Swimmer.

The late 1960's offers a peculiar stage in filmmaking, representative of the greater cultural changes of the time. In the final few years there was a strange state in how different the films were as there were the old Hollywood mainstays still, in fact the featured actor of this review's other vehicle of 1968 was in the more traditional western The Scalphunters. The Swimmer offers quite the difference in style, and is a style that only existed for those few years really. In that the new Hollywood was starting to or about to start to come into presence in the seventies yet there were those old Hollywood films that looked as though they could have been made in the fifties. There were also those films that were quite unique though as they represent some of those directors attempting change their styles or utilize the new techniques sometimes effectively sometimes not so much, leaving the films sort of between two periods. The Swimmer is one of those films as it has those qualities, and takes upon subject matter that in terms of the broad ideas was tackled in fifties yet its approach is quite different. This is fitting though to this film given that the story of a man who decides to "swim" his way home one summer day doesn't exactly suggest a most literal interpretation.

Although the film presents its events as literal, as in they do happen, the technique often falls into the surreal fitting to the surreal concept behind the story. This story though, and the film itself could devolve all into itself becoming an exercise or an experiment, possibly even a failed one if it were not for Burt Lancaster. If I may go on a slight tangent for a moment and think about the comparison of Lancaster and his friend and frequent co-star Kirk Douglas. That connection is not their only one given their breakout in the mid-forties and their similair careers as leading men. I have stood by my clear preference towards Douglas for his consistency as an actor, though this view has become grayer the more I see of Lancaster. Nothing will rid Lancaster of his lesser works, yet with him there is this individuality of his best work, a surprise of it, a rarity in that it seems as though it is only capable from Lancaster himself. Now to divert back to this film as this is an example of that, not just because of Lancaster's swimmer's physique, but there is something he does here that only seems like it could come from the actor.

The film opens with Lancaster's Ned as he dives to swim through a pool coming out to be greeted by a small group of friends. Ned was swimming in his friends' pool and seems to be on good terms with the people as they engage in very small talk. Lancaster's performance here sets up Ned very effectively as he seeds who he is, yet does not tells us who he truly is, yet. In that Lancaster creates the right ease of conversation as they speak about really nothing at all though Lancaster does emphasize a particular focus in Ned on the pool and swimming. When speaking about other things Lancaster shows enough of a comfort as Ned speaks of them, but switches to a far stronger passion in his words when discussing the idea of swimming. This becomes all the more notable when he speaks to his friends about the days of old and swimming down a stream in the summertime. There is such a powerful nostalgia for his words as Lancaster's eyes seem looking back to those old times with such affection, though perhaps just as a man reliving a good memory. This leads Ned though to come up with a rather strange idea.

The strange idea to make his way home by going from house to house for a swim in each of his neighbors' pools. When discussing this idea Lancaster carefully portrays this in that it can be taken one way, though with hindsight we'll learn it means something else. Lancaster at first though speaks of the idea with such earnest desire and that it seems like it might just be the fun idea of some free spirit having a good time on a summer day. There is nothing too alarming about Ned's plan, and Lancaster to his utmost credit seems to create a logic to it in his portrayal of Ned's nostalgic perspective. As he begins his journey, the journey itself seems suitable to this view as the initial swims are given this lust for life through Lancaster's physical performance. In every physical gesture early on, whether it is swimming through a neighbor's pool, or running alongside a horse there is such sheer unadulterated joy Lancaster reveals in the act. It goes beyond just a fun time though as the exuberance in every facet of Lancaster's being emphasizes the idea of a man living to the fullest, or so it seems.

As the swims continue as do Ned's interactions with the various people around the neighborhood and this seems a pleasant enough affair at first. One of the first groups Ned comes across is a group of neighborhood former kids including Julie who used to babysit his kids. This initial meeting is brilliantly portrayed by Lancaster because on the surface he continues as this man on his pleasant journey as he greets every one of them so warmly, and even races Julie in the pool for a good swim a few times. Lancaster though, in this warm greeting, though suggests a sadness, a subtle quiet one just as he reflects on just how old all the kids have gotten. He doesn't lose the smile on his face but in his eyes and within the words Lancaster alludes towards this hidden sorrow. Again it's slight, and it seems not too worrisome, but it's there. It can be forgotten soon enough as he goes off with Julie for awhile and she talks about her old fantasies of the past involving Ned, which leads to a future one from Ned. This is even made somewhat innocuous by Lancaster, despite being technically a creepy old man lusting a young woman as there is a purity to the request as though he is asking to live out a dream or perhaps the past.

Julie rejects the offer leaving what Lancaster depicts as a frustrated yet not broken state as he continues his journey. His next interaction with a few neighbors is a little salty, but he eventually comes across a boy near his empty swimming pool. This is a downright amazing scene for Lancaster which he uses to reestablish Ned's journey as something special, something hopeful. He takes the boy on an imagined swim, by miming the motions through the empty pool, and that joy of life resumes. As he speaks to the boy there is such palatable optimism that Lancaster brings as he speaks about wishing one's dreams true. There is such belief of this in that moment, and Lancaster shows the way Ned recaptures the spirit to live out this peculiar dream of his through his interactions with the boy which are genuinely heartwarming if inspiring. Lancaster shows the way Ned basically goes on cloud nine after this experience until this moment realization, where Lancaster perfectly breaks that certain gaze when Ned runs back to stop the boy since he believes he might try diving into the empty pool. In that moment Lancaster offers a strict reality, and I love the way he does this as it emphasizes a danger in dreaming.

From there on Lancaster's work further reveals what is going on with Ned as he continues his trek to less friendly waters such as when he crashes another party with less than welcoming hosts. Lancaster's performance effectively creates this conflict within Ned as he attempts to continue his own dreams even as realities keep confronting him. In the gate crashing party Lancaster turns on the charm on the hostess and a guest, though it doesn't do much for him, but it calls back to the beginning of the man who seemed to be enjoying life. The salty reactions though offer little, and Ned is bluntly faced with a bit reality again when he sees that the neighbors have a hot dog cart he used to own. This scene could easily fall apart but it doesn't because of Lancaster. He somehow makes this man pining for his old hot dog wagon absolutely heartbreaking since he shows such a loss in his resolve as he asks for it. Although it could be like a boy wanting his toy back, and in some ways it is, Lancaster makes it so painful to Ned as in the pleading he reveals just how much the item means to him beyond the object itself.

The journey does not get much better though Lancaster still reveals just hints of pleasure when he has the few chances to swim or run. Lancaster's physical portrayal is so pivotal as again there is something primal in these moments of the man attaching himself to the act as form of comfort. The comfort though is wasted though such as when Ned meets his old mistress at another pool, where Lancaster carries the overlying charm as he speaks about their old times together yet undercuts it all with the unease in his face as she reveals nothing pleasant about the experience. That terrible time leaves Ned with only one pool left the communal swimming pool, which he struggles into and as he swims through Lancaster finally shows not even a hint of happiness in that act anymore. Things only worsen when the locals harass the "rich man" Ned over his debts and his personal failures. Lancaster is devastating as he shows Ned without the net of his dreams even as he attempts to defend himself through false claims that reek of such desperation revealing just the pitiful soul Ned is in the end. The revelation being that in way Ned is kind of the crazy man walking around in his underwear spouting nonsense, he just happens to wear better. What we see when Ned gets home is just inevitability due to Lancaster's performance. This is outstanding piece of work by Lancaster as he makes the film successful by always providing a human element that stops the film from being overcome by its stylistic choice and its metaphors. Lancaster makes the human connection through his work which is incredible as he makes the viewer understand Ned's delusions and even creates the appeal of them. He makes sense even out of the central conceit by so brilliantly realizing who this man is in such harrowing detail. I love this performance as it is a masterful and deeply emotional portrait of man lost in both his dreams and his sorrows.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1968: Toshiro Mifune and Lee Marvin in Hell in the Pacific

Toshiro Mifune and Lee Marvin did not receive Oscar nominations for portraying the Japanese Captain and the American pilot respectively in Hell in the Pacific.

Hell in the Pacific is an effective film, other than its needlessly bleak ending, about an American and a Japanese soldier during World War II being stuck on a desert island together.

The film features quite the starring pair with Mifune and Marvin, both real life veterans of World War II themselves, and thrusts them into a somewhat atypical film at least for the period. The film begins with both men already on the island, and with each man lacking the ability to speak the other man's language. The film opens with the two basically discovering each other where a battle of sorts takes place, though mostly for the collected fresh water on the island. The film though it was made by an English language production company and crew it technically isn't really an English language film per se. Both men speak and only really speak in their language. There is no preference made within the film, and there is no preference made in terms of who is the true lead so to speak. It is a very interesting set up since in a way it sets us with sort of two one man shows at once, though they do interact even that is very much internalized within the performances of each man for much of the film.

We have Lee Marvin perhaps one of the most "man's man" of the sixties as the American pilot and Marvin is sort of known for his particularly easygoing performance style even when playing technically intense characters. Marvin though is sort of the guy who just wears any hard edges so well within himself that it seems often like he does not need to try too much in that regard. That seems to free him up in a way to give perhaps a performance not always expected of the standard soldier which works very well here as the marooned man. Marvin establishes his role well in terms of the time that has likely been spent even before we meet the two men on the island. In that Marvin realizes the idea that the American has been here awhile right in his performance which lacks that outward intensity at times though he instead replaces that with this bit of insanity. Now this is not true insanity that Marvin shows but rather just the sort of partial madness inflicted on a guy who has been alone talking to himself for some time. In Marvin's delivery when he talks to himself there is a casual quality as though he's been doing for a while now to the point he doesn't give it even a second thought since he's been on the island for so long.

Then there is Toshiro Mifune, who despite being my favorite actor is not an actor who I have actively looked for his English language work. This mainly because, despite learning all the lines, he was often overdubbed poorly though since Mifune's voice is very distinct hearing anything else coming out of his mouth just seems wrong. Thankfully there is none of that nonsense here since Mifune speaks mostly in Japanese with just a few scant words in English in his real voice still. Mifune offers to begin with a more intense performance than Marvin, which is obviously something Mifune thrives with. Mifune's approach though is very much fitting to the Japanese man though given the different codes offered by their military with Mifune's character technically instructed to kill Marvin's character by the soldier's code. Mifune's approach fits that idea offering that killer instruction within his performance though he carefully mutes it ever so slightly. Mifune also portrays importantly the wear of the island in his performance as well. Mifune handles it as perhaps the second man to come though by depicting this underlying uncertainty in his physical portrayal of the Japanese Captain's manner. He has a certain fear in his intensity, as he shows the man looking for any surprises while trying to figure out his situation on the island.

The initial "battle" is very well played by both actors in that neither depict this as this cunning scheme by either man in order to get an advantage over the other. There is something more about it in both show there to be this desperation in every strike they take, and both portray that the men are as confused as when they attack as when they defend. Neither portray any hatred really in these early scenes but rather a defensive suspicion of sorts as they each make their moves against the other though usually only getting the upper hand for a moment. The two are great in the way they portray this seeking for connection even in these early stage such as in there technically most intense confrontation when they come for a duel of sorts the Japanese with a makeshift wooden samurai sword and the American with a knife. Marvin and Mifune both do well to depict a nervousness and confusion in their eyes as they reveal the men not wanting to fight to the death, while also showing that they don't know exactly what else to do either. They continue on the fighting even past this point but in the right awkward fashion. Mifune showing it as the Japanese soldier never really having an exact passion in capturing the American, just doing his perceived duty, while Marvin shows the American making a literal game out of it times almost joking around fitting to the somewhat aloof state he established that the American is in.

They eventually stop trying to best each other and begin attempting to deal with their situation of being on the desert island. The two though begin separated in this task and we are granted a bit more of each actor giving their own rendition of Castaway, just Wilson happens to be an actual person. Now in this rendition the two both thrive since they are both incredibly magnetic performers though in different ways. Marvin again continues to excel as the man who has kind of lost his mind as he brings such natural humor to the man pondering over his situation, and trying to decipher and work with his other "friend". Marvin does some talking, but often as mumbling though which wholly suits the role of the man who is more than a little lost both mentally and physically. Mifune on the other hand though conveys a greater resolve in the Japanese soldier, though is also comical in his own way as juxtaposed against Marvin's performance. Mifune though captures almost this rigorous devotion as the Japanese man attempts to prepare for his situation through this quietude of a man almost in meditation, only occasionally broken in his often amusing befuddled reactions towards whatever Marvin might be doing at a given moment. I have particular affection for Mifune's studious and calm re-raking of some sand after Marvin steps in it.

The two do begin to work together in order to make a raft to escape together and the actors work in creating the right type of chemistry with one another. The right type because there is always a certain disconnect in the verbal aspect which Marvin and Mifune portray fitting to two people who can't quite even say hello with each other to begin with, and their vocabulary doesn't improve all that much as the story progresses either. They work well in creating the physical interactions, that do actual create a chemistry there. The two begin to slowly have in through the subtle physical gestures and facial ques to create a convincing connection between the two. What is most notable though in this is how Marvin and Mifune reveal this growing ease in each other presence, as the two pull back on some of the aspects of their performances that defined the men alone, Mifune losing his intensity, and Marvin actually becoming less aloof.  Both actors are remarkable though since they do end up saying so much without really saying much of anything just by making this friendship all in the unsaid, and mutual devotion that each show is focused upon helping each other get off the island. When they manage to escape the island it i inspiring not only in the accomplishment but through how believable Mifune and Marvin make the two enemies become allies. The film though reaches its unfortunate ending where the men come to another apparently deserted island. Although their good feelings continue at first they get reminders of the war, by finding an abandoned army base, and the conflict begins again. Both actors make this a painfully believable transition as well with Marvin showing the American falling back into his own world again, and Mifune is rather heart wrenching depiction of the Japanese soldiers anguish as he looks upon various images of destruction against the Japanese in a LIFE magazine. The connection is gone as Mifune shows the Japanese man falling into his own sorrows  and anger related to the war, while Marvin shows the American unable to find any useful words to bridge the gap. I'd say the film could have ended with the two at the moment and would have been fitting to both characters and the terrific performances of the lead. The film though throws in an arbitrary final moment that unfortunately undercuts rather than amplifies the rest of the film. Thankfully there is the rest of the film though which contains to very impressive performances by Mifune and Marvin who both give intriguing one man shows yet manage to transition naturally into a unique two man show that results in a powerful portrait of two enemies finding common ground.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1968: Burt Lancaster and Ossie Davis in The Scalphunters

Burt Lancaster and Ossie Davis did not receive Oscar nominations for portraying Joe Bass and Joseph Lee respectively in The Scalphunters.

The Scalphunters is a very entertaining western about a fur trapper and a former slave attempting to take on a group of vicious scalp hunters.

The Scalphunters fits into that apparently too rare sub-genre of the unlikely pair western, the western equivalent to the buddy cop movie. Like Red Sun and much later Shanghai Noon it takes the enjoyable formula of mixing two types that normally wouldn't go on a western adventure together. In this one we get technically the more typical western hero with Burt Lancaster's Bass who is just trying to make his living trapping yet gets cheated by an Native American chief who forces him to trade his furs for the slave Joseph played by Ossie Davis. Of course Joseph goes around claiming to be a Comanche Indian rather than a slave. There we have our set up but what needs to make this truly work is our two leads. First we have Lancaster who nicely is actually giving a bit of a mix of what are his two usual starting points of either the stoic man or the crazy one. Lancaster nicely plays this one in that Lancaster begins physically looking as though he may be a your more usual typical western hero but the moment he opens his mouth Lancaster strongly suggests otherwise. Then we get Ossie Davis who is usually quite the welcome presence in any film that he appears, this film is no different in that regard.

What sets any film of this sort apart, and what often determines its success is the chemistry between the leads. This is established well to begin with, through the very differing styles of the characters which are properly realized by both Davis and Lancaster. Davis brings this consistent energy as Joseph Lee portraying him as a man with often a smile on his face, but this is not a simple sort that Davis makes. There is always this certain glint that Davis brings to his eye, though more on that later. Lancaster on the other hand is entertaining by his method of portraying Joe Bass as this "hard man". Although technically speaking Bass does have the requisite skills of a western hero Lancaster skews this to begin with by having this comedic element with the character perceived toughness. Lancaster is terrific in the way he portrays the character's constant fussy state that cleverly undercuts the usual western type. After all Lancaster does indeed stand tall, he's technically the right type to begin with yet Lancaster purposefully subverts that by showing those frustrations, that Bass has over losing his furs and most things for that matter, in this sort of childish manner.

The two of them are great fun together in their clashing styles of essentially comedy. Lancaster so intensely portraying Bass while Davis carrying such an easy going approach to Lee. The two of them strike up that right type of antagonist friendship through that conflicting approaches. Davis delivering his long eloquent statements by Lee showing off his considerable skill as a orator, while Lancaster depicts such pained reactions at being unable to compete at the same verbal level is a particular delight. The two though importantly, even initially as the two try to get up on the other in some way, portray this underlying warmth between the interactions even when they fight. This is something just small in their interactions though it properly plants the seeds of a real camaraderie once the plot gets started.The plot being when the group of scalp hunters, lead by Telly Savalas's Jim Howie, not only steal Bass's furs themselves but also capture Joseph Lee. Although this might seem a somewhat swift separation of our co-leads, they thankfully have many more moments together throughout, but also get their chances to shine on their own as well.

Davis fittingly for Joseph Lee gets the most to say as he tries his usual routine with the scalp hunters in order to gain some favor, even though they plan to sell him when given the chance. Davis though again gives such a charismatic portrayal that he makes it wholly believable he would sort of win his captors over. Again though Davis even as he charms with his elegant ability with words, which Davis grants such an innately pleasant quality to, there is that glint in his eye still. That glint though revealed to be a definite cunning by Davis in Joseph Lee who is never quite as carefree as he makes him out to be. Davis does this even when technically Joseph is playing the part of the likable companion, as he brings this certain incisiveness in even his kind words, and always that knowing quality beneath his delivery. Lancaster's scenes are technically a tad more limited given that all he can interact with is his loyal horse yet he still makes the most of these moments. Again Lancaster sort of charges his performance the right way as he is quite humorous while convincing in portraying the perhaps misplaced intensity in Bass as he strives to get his furs back no matter what in a sort of vengeance more fitting to familial loss than monetary loss.

Thankfully though we still get the two occasionally meet whenever they have the chance which generally results in some marvelous comedic moments as Lancaster and Davis know exactly how to play off each other to make their friendship just so endearing. They successfully earn the weight that is granted as the situation becomes more severe and they both start to get into life or death fights. Lancaster and Davis give such an honesty to portraying the concern the two have for each other in the end, though they do this so well by playing these moments so quietly, almost as though the men are hiding their concern yet absolutely earnest in it. The two naturally come together as a real duo even though their final act really is a extended fight scene between the two, but they even manage to create this sense of good nature within that despite their frequency of going for the dirty blows. The two of them capture that remarkable ease in creating the right dynamic that makes all their fighting almost a show of affection, though it just be a most curious show. Lancaster and Davis just exude that fun right in their performances which is infectious to watch as well. The two  are a classic entertaining mismatched pair throughout the film, and really if the film chose to continue on their final quest I could have gone right along with them.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1968: Jean-Louis Trintignant in The Great Silence

Jean-Louis Trintignant did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Gordon aka "Silence" in The Great Silence.

The Great Silence is a fairly effective spaghetti western, though its ending is more than a little questionable, about a bounty hunter who will only ever shoot in self-defense.

A common factor in any spaghetti western is the issue of dubbing and the various languages of those involved particularly the star who often was of a different nationality than the majority of the supporting cast. The Great Silence found a way away from any complications of this by having the lead character played by Jean-Louis Trintignant a mute. This is an interesting choice and makes the man named Silence a rather stoic hero even as stoic western heroes go. This forces many characters around Silence to describe Silence leaving himself mostly there for the most intense action. This actually goes to such a degree that one could argue that Klaus Kinski as the chief villain Loco, also a bounty hunter but without a code, is even co-lead with Trintignant since the film focuses almost as much on him as it does Silence. The casting itself also does seem to be an odd thing though with Trintignant certainly not the first man you'd expect to see in any type of western.

Trintignant though certainly offers quite the unique face for a western which obviously comes in handy for this part and it works in creating a certain atypical skew for the character. In that Trintignant carries a steely stare but not quite in the intense way you may expect. There is instead a certain detachment in his stare that actually does work effectively in creating both a menace in regards to the character but also suggests the state of Silence. This is as Trintignant does convey a certain damage right in the man as he portrays almost an underlying pain in Silence not as a man who is fine with his Silence but is rather pained by it. Trintignant handles this sort of detachment rather well as there is something innately broken within his performance while this also never seems to compromise his stance as sort of the hero to the western. In fact Trintignant makes something seem all the deadlier by that detachment as he guns down, not that he is wholly unfeeling, yet rather a no voice to speak any possible distress.

Although for much of the film Silence has the upper hand since he easily kills all who oppose him but this ends when he comes in contact with Kinski's Loco, who rather ironically is just a little too cool headed to get set off by Silence's attempt to pester him into a fight. This finally puts Silence off his course and Trintignant does successfully explore past the strictures of the type as the tides turn against Silence. Trintignant in these moments captures the more emotional rawness of his state through his eyes particularly in the scene where Silence thinks back to when his family was massacred. The film though again messes with its perspective a bit too much perhaps as it almost seems to become Loco's story and it is only in that view where the film's excessively bleak ending makes any sense. An ending where its silver lining is a bluntly stated message that reveals how the villains actions eventually led to good reforms down the road, which offers little solace. This does reduce Tritntignant's performance's impact a bit by the end of the film. He's still good particularly in revealing the final anguish in Silence in the final duel, yet rather strangely in the end Silence ends up being overshadowed in his own film by his rival Loco, and Tritnignant ends up being a bit overshadowed by Kinski.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1968: Vincent Price in Witchfinder General

Vincent Price did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General.

Witchfinder General is a flimsy pseudo-exploitation film about an inquisitor during the reign of Oliver Cromwell.

Vincent Price had perhaps a somewhat curious career progression as an actor. In that he started out in very much the prestige picture such as Laura and The Song of Bernadette, but eventually began to appear in a long series of b-movies often as a campy villain. There was more than a slight indication of this in his early work in that he would play often shady characters, but they were not quite the overt villains he came known for. This brings him to this film which itself seems a curious clash of the two phases of his career quite honestly. In that the movie is not quite sure what it wants to be in that it may wish to be a grim realization of the cruel witch hunters of the time, yet its approach very much focuses on the violence, and very little on the characters suggesting the tone more of a violent exploitative horror film. The characters for the most part are incredibly simple, there seems an attempt at further complexity at times yet this usually is forgotten in favor of more bloodshed.

Vincent Price stands in the center of the film as the man who wishes to become the Witchfinder General by uncovering witches all throughout England. Price seems set on his own performance at the very least, even though the film doesn't quite seem set on its own tone. Price goes for the more nuanced approach to the material, very much away from his usual campy type of villainy to portray the witchhunter Hopkins in a very quiet manner. Price is consistent in this in very much trying to impress some sort of reality on the film in his dark somber approach. Price's approach is actually a tad surprising since even in his earlier prestige picture work he usually would be a more flamboyant figure. Here though Price very much seeks to be the puritan really his character should be. Price whole physical manner is that of a hard and cold man. He is effective in this approach as everything about him has this coldness to him in his dark eyes always peering for some sort of weakness, and his straight forward delivery fitting to an official who is going about his task with proper precision.

The character is not quite so straight forward though as revealed early on by the first scene where he goes about interrogating a catholic priest, which involves having his men randomly stabbing the man's back supposedly looking for the mark of Satan. The priest though is granted a respite when the priest's niece offers to prostitute herself in exchange for saving her uncle. This offer is immediately accepted by Hopkins and Price does not depict any sort of conflict in the man over this. Price approach actually instead very much sets up the character as a man who is more than willing to abuse his position to get what he wants and there is never a second thought in his depiction. This again is effective though as Price is appropriately creeping in showing the complete lack of hesitation in the man as he goes from his violent interrogation of doing "God's work" at one moment then giving into lust with the woman the next. The film never really goes anywhere with this idea in terms of revealing the hypocrisy of the character instead he ends up just being basically a monster who needs to be defeated by the end of the film. Price stays consistent within his character throughout even in its more bombastic conclusion, more fitting to a traditional monster picture. Price isn't quite just the monster and is a chilling presence throughout the film. His performance though seems a bit misused in the end as it suggests a greater complexity but it never is allowed to explore this in any real detail. This is a good low key performance by Vincent Price, but the film prevents him from giving a great one.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1968

And the Nominees Were Not:

Lee Marvin in Hell in the Pacific

Burt Lancaster in The Scalphunters

Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West

Malcolm McDowell in If....

Vincent Price in Witchfinder General

Predict Those Five or These Five.

Toshiro Mifune in Hell in the Pacific

Ossie Davis in The Scalphunters

Jean-Louis Trintignant in The Great Silence

Max von Sydow in Shame 

Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer

Or Both. 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2012: Results

5. Ronald Cheng in Vulgaria - Cheng is easily his film's highlight in his hilarious and appropriately ridiculous portrayal of an over the top gangster.

Best Scene: Dinner time.
4. Cillian Murphy in Broken - Murphy gives a funny, moving and above all very honest portrayal of just unassuming teacher accidentally getting involved in some rather difficult situations. 

Best Scene: Apology
3. Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Gangs of Wasseypur - Although the film mutes his impact Siddiqui gives an effective and affecting portrayal of a man forced to become a gangster when you do see him.

Best Scene: Somber victory. 
2. Bradley Whitford in The Cabin in the Woods - Whitford gives a very funny portrayal of a white collar worker who just happens to run a murder factory.

Best Scene: The merman. 
1. Thomas Bo Larsen in The Hunt - Bo Larsen gives a terrific performance that is essential to the film as he finds the complexity of the man who condemns but eventually forgives his best friend for a horrible, though false, crime.

Best Scene: The Church.
Updated Overall

Next Year: 1968 Lead

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2012: Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Gangs of Wasseypur Part 2

Nawazuddin Siddiqui did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Faizal Khan iin Gangs of Wasseypur Part 2.

Gangs of Wasseypur Part 2 I'm going to assume, I have not seen part one, continues the story of a gangster family in India.

The film opens with the murder of the original patriarch then soon after the murder of the heir apparent of the Khan family in a series of reprisals. It is therefore left to Nawazuddin Siddiqui's Faizal to continue the family's criminal organization, which also involves holding political office, as well as to get revenge for the deaths of his family as viciously commanded by his own mother. Siddiqui should be the lead it seems but he's not due to the wavering focus of the film that actually seems like it's setting up another part as this film is going on. The film itself suffers from its pacing due that wavering perspective, the musical sequences of course, and just slowing down at the wrong moments. That unfortunately dilutes what is the most compelling aspect of the film, that being Siddiqui's performance. As early on Siddiqui is quite moving in reacting to both of the deaths that compel his motivation but also in these moments sets up Faizal as far more an observer of the crimes than a true criminal himself.

In the context of his mother's orders Siddiqui is rather effective in portraying that sort of desperate pride in the son attempting to satisfy his mother. It is less taking over as the gangster but rather just attempting to satisfy his apparent duty as a son. That idea is set up brilliantly at first though I wish the film really let him explore this in more detail. Instead it jumps around focusing on the other players and Faizal's story too often gets lost within the proceedings. We do of course jump back to him attempting to be the master gangster and from scene to scene. Siddiqui's quite good in portraying this growth in the confidence of that side of the man. This goes beyond just normal confidence though as Siddiqui starts to slowly develop even the style fitting to a "proper" gangster. In that he actually naturally begins to develop almost a Scarface esque swagger to his performance as his power seems to grow and he seems to becoming the gang boss his family "needs" him to be. Again what we see of Siddiqui, even when these glimpses are brief, is pretty fascinating I only wish the film did not so often mute this transformation through his focus and pacing. Every moment that you really feel as though the film is going to become more insightful into Faizal's story it cuts away, despite Siddiqui alluding to greater potential when we do see him. The only time the film seems to give him the proper time is in its finale where he and his gang finally fully exact revenge. At the end as they are successful in their revenge but arrested by the police though not is all at it seems. This moment the film finally lingers on Faizal and Siddiqui is rather heartbreaking as he projects all of the emotion that Faizal has kept way leaps to the surface though not in joy rather in sorrow of the man realizing the hollowness of his accomplishment. That moment is great and I wish we had gotten the full arc of this reluctant gangster leading up to that point though Siddiqui gives us the proper pieces through his performance the film doesn't know how to place them. This is a strong performance when it's there, but the film doesn't seem to be aware of what it has.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2012: Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins in The Cabin in the Woods

Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford did not receive Oscar nominations for portraying Gary Sitterson and Steve Hadley respectively in The Cabin in the Woods.

The Cabin in the Woods is an entertaining enough slasher movie satire, though I did rather hate its high school nihilist ending.

The title suggests a standard trope in a horror film as a group of stereotyped teenagers or young adults go into a spooky cabin in the woods for the weekend. That set up though is pre-subverted from just about the outset as the dark credits fitting for a horror film are stopped in favor of two white collar workers at seemingly a government facility talking about their domestic problems. The workers being Sitterson and Hadley played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford who perhaps seem a bit out of place to open a slasher film or to even be in one. Richard Jenkins being the always reliable character actor often cast as some sort of official, and Bradley Whitford being perhaps the replacement for William Atherton as often the guy for obnoxious entitlement. The two represent the alternative factor that purposefully sets the film apart as the two men are there to essentially construct the typical horror movie unbeknownst to the five setting off towards the cabin. They are not there merely to set up the story though as the film focuses on their operation of the cabin horrors as much as it does on the denizens of the cabin.

Whitford and Jenkins don't reinvent themselves here the fun actually is in the fact that they play their parts that would be typical to a film that just takes place in some random office building. Both meet their roles so well with Jenkins being sort of the slightly more exasperated sort emphasizing just sort of getting the job done though still with the precision of a consummate professional. Jenkins though is good in just playing it as though setting up the murders is just more or less an average day for Sitterson. Whitford nicely does not duplicate Jenkins though they both very much are the office workers, but Whitford goes for a slightly different angle. In the back and forth with Jenkins particularly early on when they are not even talking about the mission they are nicely on the same wave length of two long time workers who are just shooting the breeze offering equal parts ridicule and support to one another. Their work history is a known factor in this. Now Whitford's performance though differs from Jenkins in that in the work Whitford portrays a more overt investment for Hadley towards the the mission not terms of it being a success, but rather in terms of the fun that can be had from it.

Now the humor of the satire most often comes from these two playing their parts in this way with Jenkins's reaction of often complete disinterest at the various events, while Whitford is often very funny his rather skewed interests particularly in his sorrowful face at seeing once again that the cabin will not be attacked by mermen. Of course even that Whitford does not portray as a major heartbreak just sort of the disappointment like if his boss had cancelled free pretzel day. The only time they break this darkly humorous state of pseudo-contentment is when something goes wrong that requires an immediate fix such as when they have to prevent the survivors from escaping through tunnel. Jenkins is particularly effective in these moments though as he portrays Sitterson wake up and get into gear as the absolute best professional he can be if the situation calls for it. Whitford though is equally good though showing the general, less helpful, frustrations of guy whose jobs has become a lot harder. The two of them consistently enliven the film with their presence of offering such a different type of performer in the slasher film, that I found to be easily the most enjoyable part of the film. Any moment they try not to waste. The highlight for me is probably in Whitford's performance late in the film, as all hell is breaking through almost literally, when finally a merman appears though not quite at the right time for Hadley. Whitford's reaction though is perfection as he captures awe at perhaps the fortune of finally seeing it then the sheer disbelief of having the misfortune of being in its line of sight. The two of them terrific as the "villains" because they don't play them as villains, even with their blase attitude towards death. They're just guys doing a job, in fact Hadley briefly shows just a bit of sympathy though Whitford plays this as a very distant sort of admiration rather than true sympathy. That lack of exact villainy is partially because they are enjoyable to watch but they also find the right tone. That tone which not only makes their characters work but is also pivotal in creating the right type of satirical bent for the film.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2012: Ronald Cheng in Vulgaria

Ronald Cheng did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Tyranosaurus in Vulgaria.

Vulgaria follows the misadventures of a film producer To Wai-cheung (Chapman To) attempting to get a movie made.

The film itself starts out fairly well but flounders as it continues partially due to its leading man, partially due to its wavering tone with these semi-serious moments ill-fitting to the irreverent style of the overall film, and because Ronald Cheng is only in three scenes in the film with two of those scenes being rather brief. His first scene comes as our producer To goes about seeking a Chinese mainland investor to fund his film, unfortunately the man is Tyranosaurus a member of the Triad. Not unfortunately for us though as Cheng is incredibly entertaining in the role offering the flamboyance fitting to the man's name and his over the top manner of dress. Cheng is clearly having a blast but he lets us in on the fun as Tyranosaurus begins as the most gracious of hosts towards To offering him all the strange meats he could dream of. Cheng brings the proper ridiculous swagger to the role of such a gangster who is interested in making a most peculiar film, as everything he does is rather overt though importantly most hilarious. Cheng makes it go even further though in that there is a certain menace in this humor.

That is particularly in the way Cheng depicts the ease in which Tyranosaurus brandishes his gun. He plays it all just as a rather casual thing for the crazy man. Unfortunately for To, Tyranosaurus is easily offended and if one does not eat one of his stomach turning dishes they must commit a bit of bestiality. Now that is most absurd and Cheng's performance brings the best out of it by the conviction he brings in his delivery of the man's madness. Unfortunately Cheng disappears after the sudden conclusion of that scene, to avoid the actual depiction of bestiality,  and we are not graced with his presence again until basically the finale of the film. Thankfully we are given a bit more of him as Cheng continues to derive some comic gold from the material in his portraying such intense disgust at not getting the film he wanted, then later just pure unabashed sleaze as the man takes far too many liberties with one of the actresses at the premiere. Cheng goes all in and is such a delight in this approach. Now here's a film where just about everybody is going over the top. The film would have benefited from a true straight man since Chapman To does a bit too much clowning for his own good. The film also needed a few more comedic performances that worked, but at least there's Ronald Cheng who absolutely succeeds. He's such a fun bit of insanity in his 10 minutes or less of screentime, and I wish the film had given us more of him. 

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2012: Cillian Murphy in Broken

Cillian Murphy did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Mike Kiernan in Broken.

Broken is a low key and I found to be rather effective coming of age story set in a pseudo To Kill a Mockingbird framework.

Now it's pseudo in that we do have a lead young female character who goes by a nickname, this time Skunk, who has a brother, given far less focus than in "Mockingbird", a father (Tim Roth) who is a lawyer. Several of these elements though are subverted particularly in the Boo Radley equivalent who in the end is shown to be dangerous in his mental derangement, and the low class father (Rory Kinnear) isn't quite the villain Bob Ewell was in the original film. We also aren't given a real Tom Robinson the closest we get is Cillian Murphy's Mike. We first meet Mike only really in passing at first as Skunk's nanny, Kasia's, boyfriend. Ge is given a more substantial role when it turns out he's Skunk's new school teacher as well. Although Murphy is an actor who often excels at playing the off-beat character or the man in an incredibly tense situation, though I actually liked seeing him here as just an average guy.

There may seem "baiter" roles at hand with Roth's sort of take on Atticus Finch, Robert Emms as the deranged man or Rory Kinnear as the loving yet violent father, who are indeed all good, however even though he's grappling with the least intense material Murphy actually left the strongest impression for me within the confines of his low key character. Murphy in no way tries to change that idea either, but is effective in playing Mike as an unassuming guy who almost accidentally gets caught up in the problems within Skunk's neighborhood. I like the honesty that Murphy brings that just adds a nice bit of life to the proceedings in a character that easily could have been forgotten about. Murphy so naturally realizes the various sides of Mike that Skunk sees him in. He brings the right type of awkwardness in this as Murphy shows sort of the strain as he attempts to be the proper teacher while still having these casual moments though suggesting the the sort of friend he has been in the past.

Murphy's performance actually brings in a nice bit of humor to the film though in a way that is natural to the overall tone of the film. For example his wordless hapless reaction to hearing a not so pleasant message from Kasia delivered by Skunk. Murphy is such an enjoyable yet understandable luckless guy here. Murphy brings the right likability through his earnest approach such as in his scene where Mike saves Skunk from harassment by the local bullies, the daughters of the Bob Ewell equivalent. Murphy in the scene does not command much of anything but he is so good at showing just the most noble intent in Mike as he tries to help. This unfortunately for Mike leads to him being accused of rape by one of the daughters followed up by a sudden severe beating by her father. Murphy somehow makes this somewhat amusing despite the severity of it by in his genuine reactions that show just how taken aback Mike is by it all. He further avoids melodrama even as he chews out Skunk's father for helping him, since Kasia is now seeing him instead, because he captures that undercurrent of comical disbelief with the very real emotion of his strange situation. Furthermore he is even moving as Murphy brings such vulnerability in Mike's later phone call to apologize for his behavior. This performance is notable because he essentially gives Mike a reason for being in the movie since he technically could have been eliminated. Murphy gives Mike purpose by offering the right depth in his little side story that is quietly humorous yet still sympathetic as just the wrong man in more than one way.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2012: Thomas Bo Larsen in The Hunt

Thomas Bo Larsen did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Theo in The Hunt.

One of the major reasons The Hunt is such a powerful film is how convincing it is in realizing its scenario of this kindergarten teacher Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) being ostracized and demonized due to false allegations of sexual abuse. In this it seeks no simplification even though Lucas is clearly innocent the whole time. The film though does not seek to create the accusers and the believers of the accusations into villains. This includes the pivotal role of Theo played by Thomas Bo Larsen who not only is the father of Klara the girl who first claims to have been abused by Lucas, but also happens to be Lucas's best friend. In the early scene Bo Larsen's good just by being convincing at being a normal guy. He has such a natural chemistry with Mikkelsen, as I love the way they sort of have that casual way of fooling around with one another fitting to a rich friendship, and the earnest warmth Bo Larsen brings in his delivery when Theo asks Lucas about custody of his son.

There's one scene that is technically outside of directly interacting with Lucas where it is a tender moment between Theo and his wife. I love the moment because of just how authentic it feels between the two of them and how honestly it just offers a real history outside of the confines. The film excels, amplified by these performances, because it never feels constricted by the central element. That is of course a pivotal factor but as with Bo Larsen's performance there is so much more than that to the community we see, and the people meet that makes the degradation of it all the more powerful. This degradation comes when Klara lies about Lucas's actions, which leads to a sort of hysteria as everyone start to believe it. This isn't simplified which is well shown through Bo Larsen's performance when Lucas comes to attempt to explain things to Theo.  Bo Larsen is brilliant as he creates the complexity of Theo's belief because he actually portrays this conflicting feeling, a wish to disbelieve the act of his friend yet the heartbreak of accepting that something horrible was done to his daughter. He manages to make sense of the belief of the lie and actually creates sympathy for the man even though we know he's wrong.

Bo Larsen's work helps to importantly make the situation all  the more convincing and honestly are the more heartbreaking. There's a scene later on where Theo speaks with Lucas's son Marcus. Again Bo Larsen finds the nuance of the past within situation as he portrays the underlying desire to reach out as the old friend and help while though offering the cold distress, and tension of man still pained by what he believes has been done to his daughter. This eventually leads to the Christmas Eve Church scene which is the highlight of Mikkelsen's masterful performance. In On the Waterfront one should never dismiss Rod Steiger's contribution to the taxi cab scene most noted for Marlon Brando's performance, nor should one dismiss Phillip Seymour Hoffman's incredible work in the processing scene in The Master though Joaquin Phoenix may leave the strongest impression, and one should not forget Thomas Bo Larsen's contribution in this scene. Bo Larsen's own reactions are essential to the power of the scene as he subtly alludes to Theo coming to grips with a certain shame, and understanding of what he has done to his friend. His final reaction when Lucas stares right at him is particularly effective as Bo Larsen shows that Theo has nothing to say for himself in this realization. This leads soon to an incredibly moving scene where Theo admits his mistake, and this is because Bo Larsen earns this so much as in the sort of spoken realization the years of their friendship and the pain of his mistake is so deeply felt in his face and his words. Thomas Bo Larsen's role overall is limited yet critical to the film. His work not only makes the town's forgiveness of Lucas believable but also very poignant. His screentime is limited but within it he importantly adds so much to the film by granting the needed complexity and really humanity to those who turn on Lucas so brutally.  

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2012

And the Nominees Were Not:

Bradley Whitford in The Cabin in the Woods

Richard Jenkins in The Cabin in the Woods 

Thomas Bo Larsen in The Hunt

Cillian Murphy in Broken

Ronald Cheng in Vulgaria

Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Gangs of Wasseypur Part 2

For Prediction Purposes:

Whitford in The Cabin in the Woods

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Alternate Best Actor 2012: Results

5. Tom Courtenay in Quartet - Courtenay rises above his material and offers some dignity in his portrayal of an aging musician still holding a grudge.

Best Scene: The church.
4. Toby Jones in Berberian Sound Studio - Jones amplifies the best elements of his film through his unique and compelling portrayal of a man in a strange purgatory.

Best Scene: Calling the airline.
3. Mads Mikkelsen in A Royal Affair - In his second best leading turn of the year Mikkelsen gives a charismatic and moving portrayal of a decent man trying to play the game of the royal court for good.

Best Scene: The Execution.
2. Mathias Schoenaerts in Rust and Bone - Schoenaerts gives another great physical turn this time as a man who finds solace in connections yet fails to understand them.

Best Scene: Saving Sam.
1. Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt - Good predictions Omar, Giuseppe, Luke, Robert, Charles, Anonymous, Jackiboyz, RatedRStar, Michael Patison, Tahmeed, Varun, moviefilm, and Alex. Well of course Mikkelsen was easily my favorite of these five, though good performances all. Mikkelsen though is on another level here and the only performance that can stand against his work here is Joaquin Phoenix's equally impressive work in The Master. Phoenix's work as the broken man trying to find some sort of path against Mikkelsen's work as the normal man going through a terrible situation. Each are compelling in their own way, and each have their own set of challenges which they both surpass at every turn. Both are two of the greatest performances I've ever seen, and since I am pained to choose right I apologize in advance. 

Best Scene: The Church. 
Updated Overall

Next Year: 2012 Supporting

Friday, 5 May 2017

Alternate Best Actor 2012: Tom Courtenay in Quartet

Tom Courtenay did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Reginald "Reg" Paget in Quartet.

Quartet is a tad cornball film about an aging quartet of opera singers coming back together to sing in a concert to save their retirement home for musicians.

Tom Courtenay has fairly recently began reappearing in films after disappearing almost for the entirety of the seventies, purposefully apparently to focus on the stage, after his stellar run in sixties. Courtenay began some sparse appearances though but now is having regular appearances again. Well that is much appreciated to see Courtenay in films again particularly in this film. This film overall just lays on the cheese a little thickly through the unfortunately somewhat cloying performances of some of the cast, and the choices by director Dustin Hoffman to treat perhaps everything a little too lightly. Thankfully there is Courtenay to add a bit of grumpiness to the film, and actually what I mean by that is more realistic grumpiness not sort of that, sweet grumpiness that would be quite intolerable in this film. Courtenay actually bothers to try to infuse any pathos into the proceedings through his depiction of Reg's disposition from hearing that his former wife, Jean (Maggie Smith), is coming to live at the retirement home as well.

Courtenay is actually willing to take the further step as in his initial reactions to see her and in his repeated refusals to even speak to her for a more than a few words. Courtenay in these moments does not sweeten this by any mean offering some real anguish within his harsh turns away, and years of holding a grudge in his cold refusals. Reg's attitude comes from Jean having cheated on him many years ago and Courtenay actually conveys that sense of betrayal in these interactions. He grants them though, even in the initial reaction, more complexity than that. In that Courtenay is able to express the sort of particular sort of damage within Reg's view. As Courtenay expresses the past affection within the current bitterness. Courtenay attempts to actually convey the years of holding this in through these scenes something that is sorely lacking in the other problems depicted by most of the other cast members which are boiled down to basically a cutesy eccentricity.

The film though perhaps wish to get their leads in on the goofiness of the elements outside of them, Courtenay in a scene where Reg is trying to teach opera to hip teenagers. Courtenay though manages to keep his dignity intact with this scene, and even offer a bit of dignity to the film in the process. Courtenay does this by offering just the right quiet passion in his delivery as he speaks of the power of opera, and as well even makes the right mild curiosity not seem ridiculous when the conversation turns to rap. The same goes for a scene where Reg curses out one of the employees of the retirement home which is all set up to be overly cloying but Courtenay actually delivers the insults with enough venom to keep from being so. Courtenay strives to find some reality in the situation and develop a character with Reg not just a set of quirks of an older person. Courtenay succeeds in this even when the film battles him at every turn.

The most severe challenge in this regard is perhaps in Reg's forgiveness of Jean which feels sort of rushed. It isn't quite dealt with as one would imagine it should be either, they just kind of work through it. This is all done rather quickly with little to no major problems. Courtenay to his credit once again though does make it work though by in those cold scenes suggesting again that underlying affection and just slowly showing that comes out again. He makes it a natural progression mainly through his performance and through his chemistry with Smith which is endearing enough. The film though is in a rush to get to his disappointing ending, where obviously they shouldn't have made it about opera singers. Courtenay's performance here made me wish he had given a part with more depth because he does find depth in what is a paper thin role. He does his best to bring the best out of the material. I wish he was in a better film but I will say he made this a better film through his performance.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Alternate Best Actor 2012: Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt

Mads Mikkelsen did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning Cannes, for portraying Lucas in The Hunt.

The Hunt is an excellent film about a school teacher being accused of sexual abuse.

The second leading turn from 2012 for Mads Mikkelsen comes in a modern set piece where rather than playing a doctor who changes a kingdom he plays a rather normal man, which is also in contrast to his supporting roles in his English Language films where he is so often cast as the villain. Mikkelsen gives an appropriately unassuming performance in the early scenes as we see Lucas go about his day as a kindergarten teacher. There is something about this performance, even as Mikkelsen is just establishing Lucas as this likable normal guy. In that there is effortlessness to the point that it seems we are observing a man never a character. Mikkelsen though is equally at ease in how captivating he is all the same. There is nothing that Mikkelsen is doing other than representing an honest normal person but it is utterly transfixing. It is difficult to see where even to begin in terms of what Mikkelsen is doing that is so special even at this stage of his performance. His work though transcends any acting in a way that is fascinating but also pivotal to his role.

Mikkelsen's work makes us familiar with this man in the bit of joy he gets with working with the kids, but also the sense of responsibility with them as well. He allows us to learn of his dynamic with his friends as the somewhat shy, but outgoing enough member of the group. Mikkelsen's turn just is rich with history in that we have seem to come into observing this man's life at a random point. Mikkelsen, depending on with whom he is interacting with, says so much whether it is the comfort with his best friend Theo, or his slightly awkward yet charming in his own way flirting with his co-worker Nadja with whom he starts a relationships with. Mikkelsen allows such an investment into Lucas even as there is only one major difficulty in his life early on. It is again such remarkable work in how well realized Mikkelsen makes Lucas, yet without seeming attempting to enforce the viewer to notice, but one must when watching the film. The one major difficultly that we do see early is Lucas's inability to see his son, as he attempts to negotiate with his ex-wife to be able to have more days of custody with him.

In the phone calls to his wife though Mikkelsen is incredibly moving as in his words and the urgency he depicts the love Lucas has for his son. The honesty to his simple desire to just see him and spend time him is so eloquently found by Mikkelsen's performance. One does not see his son for quite some time into the film yet you want him to be able to because of Mikkelsen's heartfelt work. A far greater trouble comes unexpectedly due to Theo's young daughter, Klara, developing a crush on Lucas, which she attempts to act upon by giving Lucas a gift and kissing him on the lips. Mikkelsen's terrific in the way he is able to find the complexity in this relationship when Lucas has to put a stop to her behavior. In that he grants the right assertiveness yet warmth as he just attempts to tell her why it is not appropriate behavior. Again the depth Mikkelsen finds is notable though as there is nothing that only stands on the surface in his work. In this Mikkelsen creates the difficulty in the relationship by showing Lucas's affection as real, though entirely proper, which is misinterpreted by the young girl.

This leads Klara to make up a false story about Lucas having sexually molested her, which the head of the school believes. Mikkelsen importantly is able to convey how the lie actually grows all the more through Lucas's initial reaction, as he makes it such an honest moment of sheer disbelief that he doesn't deny only because he doesn't believe anyone could believe it. Mikkelsen portrays the lack of weight it initially has on Lucas's mind as he has Lucas go on basically as normal, since he knows there is no truth to the charge. The charge grows though which Lucas discovers first by discovering he can see his son leading him to go confront the head of the school. Mikkelsen is outstanding in the way his performance works two fold in that on one side, from the audiences view there can be such sympathy, while conveying also the way Lucas does not help himself in a natural way. Mikkelsen presents such earned outrage at the very notion, since he knows it is an absolute lie. He expresses this without reservation that reveals his anguish over not seeing his son due to the head of the school calling his wife, but it also shows how this indirectly does no endear himself to those around him.

The lies only grow which leads to a sort of hysteria among both the parents and children as they start accusing him of having abused multiple children. Mikkelsen is outstanding in capturing the intensity of the situation and Lucas's attempt to deal with the situation. Again how vividly he has already realized him makes these scenes all the more effective. Again though he shows so well that anger connected with people so easily believing the lie about him, and there's a great scene where he purposefully makes Nadja leave him because she shows any doubt on the matter. Mikkelsen though makes the action not only understandable but also powerful since within the anger he is able to attach to the turmoil in the man from being doubted over such a severe crime. When Lucas goes to attempt to speak anyone including in his friend Theo and his family who already begin by treating him as a convicted criminal, Mikkelsen finds such poignancy and pain there as he so gently delivers Lucas's earnest attempt to clear himself of the wrongdoing yet it falls upon the deaf ears due to the emotional state of his former friends.

Lucas's ostracized by his friends and criminal charges are even created by the false testimonies of the school children. There is a bit of happiness though as he is reunited with his son Marcus, and these moments are particularly affecting by how honest Mikkelsen realizes Lucas's joy at seeing his son with making the connection between the two wholly genuine. The reunion though is bittersweet though as Lucas is at first arrested, but even after he is released he faces harassment from the townspeople. This goes further than being ostracized by everyone except his own family as his window is smashed, he is attacked at the supermarket and his dog is murdered. Mikkelsen is amazing the way he is able to reflect Lucas taking in this abuse, as he shows him trying to stay above it in a way, but everything that happens still deeply hurts him. Mikkelsen wears this damage so powerfully as he shows the man just barely keeping it together with so many horrible things happening to him. Mikkelsen makes the moments of resilience carry such an impact after given such detail to the pain. In the supermarket scene for example where Mikkelsen ensure you feel every hit he receives from the aggressors yet makes the determination in Lucas believable when he goes back in to face his attackers. Mikkelsen is able to convey the way the modest Lucas breaks out of that modesty as a necessity of the confrontation and in doing so creates such a satisfying moment when he achieves his minor victory. However even after that moment Mikkelsen reveals the very real sorrow in Lucas when he has walked away from the crowd, giving the man forced to live solemnly by a community that has abandoned him.

This comes to a head when Lucas attends the Christmas Eve church service despite the hatred the town has for him. Now this scene, I'll admit from the outset is one of the best pieces of acting I've ever seen. In the scene Lucas sits in the front of the church alone watching the service paying attention to Theo in the congregation and his daughter in the choir. What happens next has allowed Mads Mikkelsen in this film to join the ranks of Richard Jordan in Gettysburg, and Dana Andrews in The Ox-Bow Incident, in that though I've never cried from a film I came very very close watching this scene. Mikkelsen is devastating as he reveals all of the trauma he's received in his emotional breakdown that is raw and absolutely heartbreaking. There are two moments where he turns to look directly at Theo and Mikkelsen again captures so much ache in a glance. His eyes say so much of what Lucas has been through and the sense of betrayal by being judged by his friend so swiftly. Mikkelsen is outstanding, as Lucas directly confronts Theo, by being such a mess fitting to a man who has had his life ruined by a lie. Mikkelsen has it all come out in such way that it so harrowing to witness. It goes even further as Mikkelsen makes it convincing that this show of emotion would make Theo reexamine his judgment. I'll admit I needed this film to have a happy ending, which does, mostly. The reason being Mikkelsen's stunning work that made me empathize with Lucas to such an extent. There is no limitation because of the fact that Lucas is a pretty normal guy outside of the central lie by how evocative and complex of a portrayal this is of a normal person. Mikkelsen gives an all time great performance as this is an example where I did not feel I was watching a character, but rather was just allowed to see this man bare his terrible burden.