Saturday, 24 February 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2017: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs and Michael Palin in The Death of Stalin

Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs and Michael Palin did not receive Oscar nominations for portraying Nikita Khrushchev, Lavrentiy Beria, Georgy Zhukov, and Vyacheslav Molotov respectively in The Death of Stalin.

The Death of Stalin is a hilarious and biting dark satire focusing on the immediate political fallout in the U.S.S.R from the titular "loss".

An essential ingredient to making this very exact tone of the satire to work is found within the cast. This includes just strong performances all around in the best ensemble from 2017, but it goes further than that in terms of the very nature of the casting and the performances. It's best to begin then with Steve Buscemi as he would unlikely be anyone's first casting choice for Nikita Khrushchev in a film about the history of the Soviet Union, or even in a prestige British representation of such a story. The Death of Stalin is neither of those things of course in its approach and Steve Buscemi's casting is a perfect representation of this approach. The idea isn't to represent a strict historical truth in the least, though there is historical truth to be found in the film, but rather it purposefully sets itself outside of this to create a unique satirized version of Russian. This makes Brooklyn born Buscemi as just a natural part of the film. He is not only a natural part though but Buscemi's style as an actor ends up being this rather natural fit to who Khrushchev will be in the film, which is as our "hero" the use of quotations very much needed there. Buscemi's unassuming performance style though is the right one for that of Khrushchev who is just as much of a political operator as his chief rival, but Buscemi's approach just makes him seem all the more approachable.

This is in stark contrast to Simon Russell Beale as Lavrentiy Beria the man in charge of NKVD who essentially were the police in the Soviet Union who performed the most dirty of the dirty work of Stalin's regime. Beria is the film's "villain" however again that is as much of in need of quotations as the use of hero for Khrushchev. Beale's performance though is this fascinating little juxtaposition as he makes Beria essentially the most honest dishonest man around. This is as Beale so embraces the very nature of the man in his portrayal as someone who genuinely thrives in the system. Beale conducts himself with this most definite ease in itself in almost every moment as the smoothest of political operators mainly because he so understands the situation he is in. When early on he casually mentions one of their colleagues will soon be gone, to be taken away by the police, Beale delivers it with such a glib attitude that establishes Beria so effectively before the plot even begins. Beale reveals this man as oh so comfortable with his existence within this system who unlike the other men does not put on any other personal delusional fronts. In that what Beale does is stand out among the pack as the man most comfortable with being a completely despicable human being. That devilish grin of his and wily eyes are of the man who has long fashioned himself within this life of backstabbing without a single hesitation in any facet of it.

The titular event, while at first Stalin just becomes incapacitated, springs all the men of the inner circle into action in order to attempt to find their own ways to take advantage or deal with the situation. Naturally enough Beria is the swiftest to take action, and Beale properly shows a man glorying in the acts as he for a very brief period is unencumbered by any authority above himself. There is such a horrible glee that Beale brings in every little bit of use of power in these scenes particular his exact joy when giving out a new list of people to be taken away or possibly killed. Beale delivers the needed incisiveness in every word as he goes about in his act of seizing power through his alternate source of power by quickly making a puppet out of Jeffrey Tambor's Georgy Malenkov who technically is next in line by virtue of procedure. Beale's great in his interactions with Tambor in these moments by speaking to every word with him either with the man as though he's offering specific and leading stage direction to a bad actor though occasionally with a more terrifying glance to suggest his capability to destroy the man if he doesn't properly stay in line. Beale brings the right type of physical presence in the role in a very unique way as in the way he holds sway by carrying himself with this calm command, and those eyes of his which almost always carry that unmistakable intensity of a true political, well really any kind of, cutthroat.

This is against Buscemi's portrayal of Khrushchev which he brings a bit of natural manic energy to as he first comes on the scene of Stalin fitting to a man just quickly trying to come up with a way to deal with the situation that will determine his fate. Buscemi's great here in figuring out this exact way Khrushchev puts forth his way of dealing with his office, which is much more as a proper politician, though that is not necessarily a good thing. Buscemi's very enjoyable in bringing out this sort of the need to act as the politician kicks in at seeing Stalin's soon to be corpse, as he so overly expresses his sorrow as a proper man of the people giving his respects to their leader. Buscemi oversells this in the right way as the man just really enforcing the act showing Khrushchev playing this as a man trying to make sure onlookers note that "Khrushchev almost wept at seeing Stalin's corpse". Buscemi though is careful to show that Khrushchev is not a true fool, but even that act is a maneuver that he quickly drops at the sight of Stalin's urine soaked pants. Buscemi properly switches gears in that moment to show Khrushchev basically switching to the political operative mode though, after fulfilling the politician's duty, as he begins to deliver his own incisive ways though in a different way than Beale which is a strangely key thing in this film.

This key element is in the difference between Buscemi's approach to Khrushchev against Beale's portrayal of Beria which is a fascinating interplay particularly in terms of audience perception of each. This is one of the, many, brilliant parts of the film as really Khrushchev isn't a good guy either, yet I found myself siding to him by how well these performances realize these two characters. Buscemi again brings the right unassuming quality, which is in part the politician act, however he goes further to show it with a bit of honesty in that he cannot embrace really evil in the same way Beria does. Beale on the other hand does show the more honest dishonest man by in no way hiding the gruesome grotesque nature of the man. Beale particularly puts so much hideous elation when finding a new rape victim, or delivering the mentions of his own ill deeds so brazenly. In a way this is more honest than Buscemi's portrayal who shows Khrushchev as someone, who to be fair isn't as evil anyways, but also manages to delude himself to a certain degree. Buscemi however makes Khrushchev more likable also though by bringing this emphasis on the idea of the man as having any reluctance in being a cutthroat. Buscemi again is careful in the way he reveals this in these moments as once again more for show in the reluctance, however it is much appreciated for decency's sake.

Of course these two it needs to be also said are hilarious here in just kind of a traditional comedic way in every single scene. This is in part due to the two's flawless delivery of the rich dialogue given to them. Beale delivering Beria's one liners though as more exact daggers into anyone who dare trespass him, Buscemi, again somehow being likable in this by bringing more of a sardonic energy in cutting down his opponents such his "two clowns, one joke between you" to deflect an insult by two of the less powerful members of the inner circle. Their performances also are hilarious in terms of their physical energy that is classically comedic. I have particular affection in Beale's work for his way of portraying Beria's mad dashes while disposing of and replacing files while Stalin lies dying on the floor. Buscemi also excels in this regard particularly in the scene of Stalin's funeral wake where Khrushchev tries to get a better spot to hear a conversation between members of the inner circle by attempting to make it look like it is part of the ceremony. The conviction that Buscemi brings in each step, and again a bit of that false properness of a politician, as this very refined act that is in fact just trying to be in a better place to eavesdrop. Beale and Buscemi make for a great pair though as the two true leaders of the two sides matching each other well as Beale the oh so assured monster, against Buscemi the proper harried underdog.

Of course in this power struggle there are many players with two of them perhaps being the most important as the wild cards in this game at a very grand scale. The first being Jason Isaacs's Georgy Zhukov the leader of the armed forces. Isaacs is essentially Peter Capaldi's Malcolm Tucker for this political satire as a man who doesn't give two "excrements" about making himself heard and heard well. Isaacs comes in fast and hard as a man almost with more medals than will fit on his uniform and Isaacs properly is as proud as that amount of medals would suggest. Although Beale and Buscemi do have their own form of command here, Isaacs delivers a different sort of a man who has fought hard and long with his particularly, and so deliciously blunt delivery of "What's a war hero got to do to get some lubrication around here" before being introduced in text by the film. Isaacs conducts himself as a man who kind of is aware of power in a more direct and obvious way as a proper soldier.  Isaacs's gruff accent is perfect for the role as a man ready to growl and pounce at any point. Isaacs delivers every one of his take down with particularly pinpoint accuracy fitting to a man who doesn't mind risking death with words given his more hands on experience with death. Isaacs is a treat every single minute he is onscreen by in every moment conducting himself with such a comedic, yet real, intensity that is absolutely perfect. He's just a joy to watch while also wholly fulfilling his particular role which is as man who makes his points clearly and directly to make sure they are heard. Isaacs has so much fun here as the man who has no delusions in a different way in that he plays the game with a different sort of perspective on the whole thing, since again power is different to him. My favorite scene of his though has to be when Khrushchev goes to seek help from him to dispose Beria, to which Isaacs delivers a magnificent false concern about Khrushchev's idea before revealing this to be only a joke, and that he is more than eager to destroy Beria. It just a moment of pure comic gold sold to perfection by Isaacs's performance, which there is not a lot of here, but every second of it is something quite special.

The other wildcard is in Michael Palin's Vyacheslav Molotov. I have to say first off I couldn't be happier at Palin's return in this film after having not appeared in a mainstream live action film in almost 20 years. They couldn't have asked for a better actor though to pull off the tricky part of Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin's most loyal man but also the one who was to be taken away in the opening of the film. Now this requires a certain balance of things in this role, that thankfully Palin is a master of. Molotov is of course partially defined by the fact that Stalin had his wife imprisoned, used by Beria as a sex slave, though Molotov remained working with Stalin. Palin, as always, brings an innate charm to the part here just in this way as an affable old statesman that from the moment you hear he's going to be taken away, it is very easy to feel sorry for him. Palin in addition though finds a real pathos as he remarks on the loss of his wife though, and convincingly finds this strange state of the man. He offers a genuine earnestness in portraying the feelings of a loving husband, but where the comedy comes in is how this fashions through the type of man that is Molotov. Molotov being absolutely loyal to Stalin to the point that when he hears he was originally going to be taken away by the police, Palin only offers the most honest, and in turn hilarious, concern as he ponders how he could've wronged Stalin. Palin is exceptional in the way he is able to make this sort of ridiculous state of the man actually believable by just how well he can be absurd yet believable at the same time. This becomes particularly important once Khrushchev and Beria try to fight for his support, where Beria brings Molotov's wife to bribe the man, while Khrushchev tries to play towards the man's strict loyalties. Palin plays again finds a certain quality of the loving husband when he sees his wife and reveals a most genuine jubilation at the initial sight of her. Palin though makes the love of the husband real, however he still reveals that what is more important to him is his loyalty to Stalin, which requires that he see his wife as a traitor. Palin again is equally funny when revealing Molotov's support for Khrushchev's power play, because he brings such a fervent devotion to the denouncement of his wife, since according him Stalin was right, which he feels Beria wrongly absolved her of. What's so fantastic here in his performance is that Palin is able to be extremely humorous yet he makes this absurd nature of the man seem logical in his own peculiar sense of being caused by his undying loyalty to Stalin.

Khrushchev's plan to destroy Beria comes from technically both of them causing a massacre after Beria's men going about killing or at least causing the deaths of many of the Russian citizens Khrushchev allowed in to attend Stalin's funeral. Khrushchev though makes the first step which again I love how Buscemi brings such a dogged determination that again somehow makes him seem the righteous one even though he is just about as guilty in causing the deaths as Beria is. This is against Beale's depiction of Beria who is effectively just so smug you can't help but hate the guy who seems so assured of his grotesque abuse of power. Beale naturally keeps this quality when he is initially taken prisoner and he believes he might be able to get his way out of this still. Beale carries himself with such a firm disregard for everyone around him, carrying such venom in every delivery of his as he denounces everyone around him while also lashing out at everyone around him. Beale still carries that personality of command as though he keeps such a viciousness in his hatred, though with enough of a creeping up undercurrent of unease, but mostly something Beale portrays as being overwhelmed by Beria trying to stand firm in his position of power. Of course his insults get him nowhere and the inner circle decide to blame him for the massacre, and quickly make a trial and convict him in no time at all. Now this final sequence I think is a testament to the genius of the film, and to the strength of the performances of all particularly Buscemi and Beale's. This is the one scene that strictly and mostly strongly moves closest to the purely dramatic. There have been talk of deaths, and even the sight of them, however with a purposeful distance within the satire. This one scene that makes it more tangible because the violence finally happens to a named character who we know, which is Beria. What's so brilliant about this is he's the worst of the worst, however with that in mind he still is a person we've gotten to know. In turn Beale is actually kind of heartbreaking as he loses all pretense and just brings such a palatable desperation as he begs for his life. In that moment the bluntly hits you with the reality by showing a more concrete loss of life, even though it is through the man most deserving of death in the whole film. The other touch that's so great though is Buscemi though who also changes as he loses that underdog status and reveals Khrushchev as much of a cutthroat as Beria in his ice cold deliver of his insults while the man is shot then burned in front of him. The execution of this is incredible as it is uncompromising as it reveals this story was always about a group of terrible people, though Beria might have flaunted his vile nature more openly all of the characters are very bad men. The entire ensemble here is magnificent though in realizing this duplicitous world so well in creating each and everyone of this vile sorts creating this tapestry of amorality, oh yes and being quite hilarious while doing so.
(For Isaacs and Palin)
(For Beale and Buscemi )

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2017: Results

10. Thomas Jane in 1922 - Jane delivers a solid turn in granting a curious yet honest life to his very peculiar character that manages to realize the strange state of the man without devolving into caricature.

Best Scene: A ghastly messenger.
9. Christian Bale in Hostiles - Bale's work here has the raw materials of a great performance yet he is consistently ham strung by the film's underdevelopment of every facet of his character's journey despite Bale's best efforts to sell them as this hardened soldier.

Best Scene: Burying his friend.
8. James Franco in The Disaster Artist - James Franco manages to go a bit further than just providing a hilarious impression of the strange and enigmatic Tommy Wiseau, as he does find enough of a depth within the nearly impenetrable character. 

Best Scene: Too many questions. 
7. Sebastian Stan in I, Tonya - Stan delivers a great performance here as he manages to not hold back in his depiction of the casual cruelty of a insecure man, but at the same time delivers a very funny portrayal of a fool.

Best Scene: News of the attack.
6. Jeremy Renner in Wind River - Renner delivers a brilliant turn here going against the expected approach for his role, and creating a different yet wholly convincing portrayal of a man dealing with his losses and the idea of retribution.

Best Scene: Way to make peace.
5. Robert Pattinson in Good Time - Pattinson gives a truly magnetic turn here that matches the kinetic pace of the film by so effectively realizing this man who will do anything to solve his problems except for the right thing.

Best Scene: The back of a police car.
4. Song Kang-ho in A Taxi Driver - Song carries this film every step of the way through his incredible performance that manages to begin as an amusing lightly comedic turn that naturally transitions to a heartbreaking portrayal of a man bearing witness to an atrocity.

Best Scene: A different kind of song.
3. Hugh Jackman in Logan - Jackman ends his tenure as Wolverine on a high note far beyond the original expectations of the role. Jackman expands beyond the limits of the past performance to give absolutely heartbreaking portrayal of a man coming to terms with his age and loss, and facing the responsibilities in his place as a "superhero".

Best Scene: So this is what it feels like. 
2. Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049 - Gosling delivers a masterful performance in his creation of this exact state of the replicant that seemingly is now more machine than man. His exploration of the extent of this, and the ability to change within this context is realized with such a true poignancy by this flawless performance.

Best Scene: The memory is real. 
1. Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky - Good Predictions Lezlie (x2), Charles (x2), Tahmeed, Omar (x2), Luke, Robert(x2), Nguyễn Ngọc Toàn, and RatedRStar, I will say this is not a clear cut case for me in the slightest as I hold Gosling and Stanton's performances in equally high esteem. It would pains me to deny other one the top spot. On any other day I could side towards Gosling as both of these performances are among the best of the decade. Nonetheless my #1 is Harry Dean Stanton for his swansong performance that couldn't be a more perfect send off for the actor. It is one more chance just to appreciate his one of a kind screen presence and talent with this tender, funny, and incredibly moving portrayal of man coming to terms with his age and mortality. 

Best Scene: "You smile." 
Overall Ranking:
  1. Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky
  2. Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049
  3. Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread
  4. Hugh Jackman in Logan
  5. Song Kang-ho in A Taxi Driver
  6. Robert Pattinson in Good Time
  7. Jeremy Renner in Wind River
  8. Sebastian Stan in I, Tonya
  9. Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out
  10. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in Shot Caller 
  11. Ethan Hawke in Maudie
  12. James Franco in The Disaster Artist
  13. Liev Schreiber in Chuck
  14. Jake Gyllenhaal in Stronger 
  15. Steve Carell in Battle of the Sexes
  16. Laurence Fishburne in Last Flag Flying
  17. Tom Cruise in American Made
  18. James McAvoy in Split
  19. Joel Edgerton in It Comes at Night
  20. Chris Pine in Wonder Woman
  21. Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq.
  22. Christian Bale in Hostiles 
  23. Sam Elliott in The Hero
  24. Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour
  25. Steve Carell in Last Flag Flying
  26. Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name
  27. Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes
  28. Michael Fassbender in Alien Covenant
  29. Levi Miller in Better Watch Out
  30. Thomas Jane in 1922
  31. Robert Redford in Our Souls At Night
  32. James McAvoy in Atomic Blonde
  33. Vince Vaughn in Brawl in Cell Block 99 
  34. Kyle Mooney in Brigsby Bear
  35. Brian Cox in Churchill
  36. Chris Hemsworth in Thor: Ragnarok
  37. Shawn Yue in Mad World 
  38. Kevin Harrison Jr. in It Comes at Night
  39. Dave Franco in The Disaster Artist
  40. Pierce Brosnan in The Foreigner
  41. Claes Bang in The Square
  42. Rajkummar Rao in Trapped
  43. Domhnall Gleeson in Goodbye Christopher Robin
  44. Kenneth Branagh in Murder on the Orient Express
  45. Ben Whishaw in Paddington 2
  46. Tom Holland in Spider-man: Homecoming
  47. Ben Stiller in The Meyerowitz Stories 
  48. Colin Farrell in The Beguiled
  49. Ross Lynch in My Friend Dahmer
  50. Douglas Booth in Loving Vincent
  51. Adam Driver in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  52. Jacob Tremblay in Wonder 
  53. Ben Mendelsohn in Una
  54. Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver
  55. Adam Driver in Logan Lucky
  56. Traci Letts in The Lovers
  57. Josh O'Connor in God's Own Country
  58. Charlie Hunnam in The Lost City of Z
  59. Adam Sandler in The Meyerowitz Stories
  60. Ewan McGregor in T2
  61. Ben Stiller in Brad's Status 
  62. Jaeden Lieberher in The Book of Henry
  63. Dan Stevens in The Man Who Invented Christmas
  64. Will Arnett in The Lego Batman Movie
  65. Keanu Reeves in John Wick Chapter 2
  66. Fares Fares in The Nile Hilton Incident
  67. Cosmo Jarvis in Lady Macbeth
  68. Josh Gad in Marshall
  69. Colin Farrell in The Killing of a Sacred Deer
  70. Anthony Gonzalez in Coco 
  71. Elijah Wood in I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore
  72. Chadwick Boseman in Marshall
  73. Andrew Garfield in Breathe
  74. Channing Tatum in Logan Lucky
  75. Dan Stevens in Beauty and the Beast 
  76. Bryan Cranston in Last Flag Flying
  77. Nahuel Perez Biscayart in BPM
  78. Géza Morcsányi in On Body and Soul
  79. John Cho in Columbus  
  80. Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick 
  81. Jackie Chan in The Foreigner 
  82. Keith Stanfield in Death Note
  83. Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  84. Michael Caine in Going in Style
  85. Alan Arkin in Going in Style 
  86. Jason Sudeikis in Colossal
  87. Joel Edgerton in Bright
  88. Sam Claflin in My Cousin Rachel
  89. Arnaud Valois in BPM
  90. Aleksey Rozin in Loveless
  91. Will Tilston in Goodbye Christopher Robin
  92. Noah Jupe in Suburbicon 
  93. Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman
  94. Tom Hanks in The Post
  95. Matt Damon in Downsizing 
  96. Will Smith in Bright
  97. Liam Neeson in Mark Felt
  98. Taron Egerton in Kingsman: The Golden Circle
  99. Javier Bardem in Mother!
  100. Morgan Freeman in Going in Style
  101. Vin Diesel in Fast 8
  102. Luke Evans in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
  103. Justin Timberlake in Wonder Wheel
  104. Matt Damon in Suburbicon
  105. Ben Affleck in Justice League 
  106. Tom Hiddleston in Kong: Skull Island 
  107. Michael Fassbender in The Snowman
  108. Jason Segel in The Discovery
  109. Ali Fazal in Victoria & Abdul
  110. Brad Pitt in War Machine
  111. Mark Wahlberg in All The Money in the World 
  112. Nat Wolff in Death Note
Next Year: I'm taking a break until the Oscars, but the next year after that will be 2008 lead.

Alternate Best Actor 2017: Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky

"When I come on screen...You see whatever he's suppose to be playing. You know...and that's the gift...You can't teach that." - M. Emmet Walsh.

On September 15th of last year we lost one of the most vibrant residents of cinema in Harry Dean Stanton. The long faced actor, often sporting a hang dog expression, with a smoke in one hand and his lighter in another. Born of Kentucky though eventually training in California Stanton began his career in the early fifties which would last more than another 60 years. In that time Stanton, if he found a few seconds of screentime you'd say, hey who was that guy, a few minutes he might become more fascinating than whoever the lead suppose to be. Stanton simply became whoever it was that he was suppose to be playing. There was no time for, to quote Stanton, "bullshit" in his work. He just was whoever we saw, and was more than any bland idea from any screenwriter or director. This was a person we were meeting even for a few seconds of screentime Stanton made this character real whether it be a country singer, a bank robber, a "blind" preacher, the janitor on a star ship, or even the apostle Paul. Stanton was whatever was needed, as he never slept walked his way across the screen, when he came on this character was someone who lived a life that we might not have seen, but Stanton made us believe this person existed beyond the limits of the celluloid. Although leading roles were sparse for Stanton, we thankfully were granted one in his portrayal of Travis Wim Wenders's Paris, Texas. Stanton in that performance proved there was never too much of a good thing for Stanton as the more time we spent with him the more intimate of a portrait he could present to us, offering one the greatest performances of the 1980's in that film.

Although that was a memorable outlier Stanton more or less returned to the world of the character actor, remaining one of the all time greats in that regard, and always a welcome sight whenever his scraggly face would come onscreen. Before his passing though we were granted one last time with Stanton at the center of the spotlight through fellow character actor John Carroll Lynch's cinematic love letter to the actor in Lucky. The film proudly displaying the man in the lead as playing the titular role of one Lucky a man of Stanton's age making his way through life in a small town in the desert. A modest film in nature, and fitting to the nature of Stanton who needs no more than that to deliver a performance that could be only from the man himself as Lucky shares much in common with the actor that only seems to make this performance all the more special. Stanton comes on the screen in the way that defines Stanton as he is compelling just in his singular way of lighting his cigarettes while walking across the sandy sidewalks of the town like an old tumbleweed making its rounds. There is something inherently fascinating in Stanton as this unique performer who simply is well fascinating in himself. We see Lucky, we see him walking, and he already has more character than hundred disposable caricatures from most films. Stanton represents seemingly the very idea of life in his worn expressions, and just that gait that is Stanton's personal stride as he makes his way in his own damn time, thank you very much.

The film itself is representative of Stanton in making the possibly ordinary so very extraordinary in its own modest way. Stanton is right at home then, endlessly watchable as we watch Lucky go about his day that usually starts with a few exercises, a cigarette, then stop by for a cup of coffee and a crossword puzzle at cinemas proprietor (Barry Shabaka Henley here going by the name of Joe)'s diner. Stanton is of course an effortless delight as he goes about trying to solve the puzzle briefly with his perfect little aside of a "three letter word for asshole starting with a J" when his particular puzzle solving skills are questioned by Joe. Lucky seems to solve most things with a walk to his next stop along the way to each which has its own little history that Stanton provides just in the brief words he shares with whatever who or what he comes by. Whether that be his slightly more contentious attitude towards Joe, or his more overt pleasantries to the local shopkeeper and his commenting on her son's name of Juan Wayne. Stanton finding just a bit comical nuance while offering the more appreciative warmth to the rather unusual use of the name. The one thing that seems a bit of a sour note is Lucky occasionally stopping by at one point on his walk, towards an initially unseen sight, to utter an expletive. There is a harshness from his lips naturally, but a real anger in his eyes evoking some tale of woe to whatever this may be though we will not know for some time. Even with cruder moments there is almost a certain, for the lack of a better word, cool that Stanton offers this old guy who is just going about his day in the way he knows how.

His nights all lead to the same place a bar called Elaine's filled with its own color and not just the bloody Marys that Lucky prefers in his choice of drink. Lucky seems there just as much for the conversation as he waxes on one of his crossword answers, realism. Stanton's particular delivery of the examination of the word by Lucky is a marvelous bit of idiosyncrasy that could only be offered by Stanton's particular way with words. He captures this philosophical emphasis on the idea of looking at things as they are, and in Stanton's eyes there is a man pondering what exactly it means to see things completely clearly. All the same simply in his way with the words itself has a smoothness that is pure Stanton and just wonderful to hear him ponder away on "what you see is not what I get". In every interaction in this bar though there is that distinct life that is Stanton in every little exchange whether it be with the bartender, the tough as nails bar owner Elaine (Beth Grant), or her longtime companion Paulie (James Darren) you can feel the years really of Lucky passing the time with this most unusual crowd. The most notable of them being Howard played by David Lynch, and though we were just talking about realism it seems surrealism follows the director where ever he may wish to traverse. Stanton and Lynch were frequent collaborators in the directors own work, and seemingly the camaraderie of that experience shines right through the screen as old Lucky so genuinely offers comfort for Howard and his loss of his old tortoise, President Roosevelt, who "ran" away.

I will admit that I probably could watch a whole film of just Harry Dean Stanton hanging out at Elaine's and engaging in just a few conversations. There is that vividness of his performance that just grants such a pleasure to watch this man who has such abundance of experience exuding from his very being. The film grants us more though as Lucky has a fall that perhaps changes what realism means to the old timer. This is initiated through a most fascinating and most humorous meeting with his doctor (Ed Begley Jr.), who can't do anything for Lucky but to suggest he keep living while while also suggesting he reflect on his age. Stanton's blend of sardonic asides with a bit of genuine confusion at the most unusual advice of the doctor is but a little gem of a scene. Stanton finding this exasperation in the explanation of his situation, yet a more serious curiosity in the doctor's suggestions that he can't do anything for him that wouldn't hurt him, placing Lucky in a state being as old with nothing he can do about it. This is right down to the idea that he might as well smoke since it hasn't harmed him at this point in his life. Stanton from his moment though creates this sense of introspection in Lucky as he must now examine what it is to be his age, and what it is to have lived the life he has lived. Lucky maintains more or less his routine, but Stanton shows that it is no longer in more or less the same way. There is now a different type of contemplation not of discovery of a word like realism, but rather facing the idea of realism in the examination of life and death.

Naturally enough Stanton finds this quiet struggle, and makes this conflict of thought so very palatable as he examines this even as he just attempts his simple little crosswords at the diner, or goes back to his bloody Marys. There's not a comfort within this though as Stanton finds the real difficulty in examining mortality that is something truly remarkable in his eyes that say much in each and every sorrowful glance. The one thing that initially rips him from this state Stanton so elegantly finds in a bit of sudden anger as he finds Howard making out his will with the help of a lawyer Bobby Lawrence (Ron Livingston). Stanton still of course manages to be hilarious in his quick ripping into the poor lawyer trying to set up Howard's estate to give it all to his missing tortoise. The bluster that Stanton brings is terrific in this evocation of perhaps a bar fighter of old as he so effectively pesters and prods the rather meek little man with jokes and more direct threats for what he sees as hectoring his friend. Stanton finds though in this anger that same sorrow that itself projects less amusingly as he tells Howard that his tortoise is not coming back. In that moment Stanton instantly finds just the seemingly sadness in this, as this loss seems so cold in Stanton's voice as a man projecting his own pain. Stanton's reaction to Howard's breakdown though is both moving and pretty funny as he brings such concern in his eyes for his reptile loving friend yet fashions through towards almost bubbling over in anger towards a somewhat baffled Bobby Lawrence esq. who has barely said a word.

It is the way that Stanton breaths truth into every word though that has defined his career in a way, and helps to define this performance. Stanton finds what there is in the past and summons it towards the center while he so effortlessly brings us this state of Lucky nearly stuck in this unease. This can be more tumultuous as found when Lucky tells the story of having accidentally killed a mockingbird due to his inaccurate BB gun. Stanton in his eyes and his delivery of these words brings us to this point in his life in heartbreaking detail. He fashions the vividness of the event in his mind of just a boy losing all joy of a moment in this loss of life that led to only a silence. This idea of silence though is what Stanton attaches Lucky's sad state to, although even this is wonderful in the way he doesn't allow it to artificially overwhelm his work, but rather so naturally turns it into this recurring thought. The silence makes the mind ponder his past mistakes, even as simple as mistreating Liberace in his mind, and Stanton's performance conveys this sense chagrin towards the foolishness of youth as it places him in this uncertain future. The one moment of a real breakdown is so modestly yet powerfully realized in Stanton's somber cry of "I'm scared" that reflects this state of Lucky who is temporarily caught up in his own feelings of self doubt and pondering what is to be both alive and what it means to eventually die.

As notable as Stanton's work is when he is the focus, as also typical to Stanton, his work never stops even when he is simply listening to some else. Stanton always creates this awareness that again is of a man taking what their saying not waiting simply for his next line. This is essential within his work though in Lucky's journey isn't a descent but rather uplifting in the end. This seemingly begins when he is able to explore the idea of a mortality with a much younger man, and a man he just so brazenly disrespected in ole Bobby Lawrence esq. Stanton is wonderful in every word of the man's own story of near death he takes in and within his eyes there is this growing appreciation not only for the man, but also this idea that he's not the only one who need to contemplate death nor need he contemplate it as a stark sorrow. One of the best moments in this film comes when Lucky spots a fellow veteran in the form of old Alien co-star Tom Skerritt. This scene is pure beauty though in the two old timers coming together as Skerritt and Stanton find such a warming pleasant chemistry that they realize so perfectly in their war tales. Lucky's tale as a cook on a naval ship, a history he shares with the real life Stanton, Stanton finds the appreciation for the past again in his more pleasant tale of the war of avoiding potential death. Skerritt's is far more heart wrenching as he describes a Japanese little girl's smile while believing she is embracing death, while it his moment as intended, Stanton naturally knows when to support and when to lead. His work stays quiet, and I don't mean because he doesn't speak, but he truly supports Skerrit's work by in every moment so clearly reflecting the meaning of every word in Lucky's mind that makes the scene all the more affecting.

Stanton's performance is a distinct pleasure and something wholly poignant to watch as he finds Lucky losing that sorrow and just fully embracing a joy in life by appreciating the journey. In a scene of Lucky going to a Mexican fiesta is a particular joy for us as well as Stanton regales the party but really all of us with a song. This is one that is an unforgettable moment as Stanton delivers one so purely from the heart. Every moment of the song finding this profound jubilation in the very act, as Stanton finds Lucky embracing his life to its fullest. This is not by blinding himself from the realism, so to speak, but rather finding in the song an acceptance of discovering happiness even when there may be sadness in one's mind. This idea though could still seem alien though until Lucky's final visit to the bar where he hears of Howard's acceptance that his tortoise had to go somewhere, and he decides to try to light up which is strictly forbidden. Lucky, in his attempt to explain the "truth" of the matter of the claimed expulsion from another bar, the very place he habitually utters an expletive to along the street, he falls into his philosophy of the life and death. The verbal gymnastics of falling into this discussion of bar loss to life loss couldn't be more natural in that this is who Lucky, and Stanton so flawlessly delivers that through his performance. What is more downright awe inspiring though is as he speaks about life amounting to technically nothing, and that we all must eventually go into a dark void, is that Stanton's delivery of this with the most perfect of loving smiles makes the idea of staring into nothingness downright inspiring. He seems to comfort us all in these words and it is a marvel onscreen that could only ever have been created by Harry Dean Stanton who so embodies simply the act of living. That's what he did in every one of his performance and this is culmination of that talent. Not since John Wayne in The Shootist, or perhaps this supersedes it, has a swansong leading turn been such a flawless representation of a performer. I want to end this on just the Stanton's final scene in the film as he breaks the forth wall to show a truly happy man staring at us. He says adios without word but fitting to Stanton with all the emotion you would need. Of course we're going to miss him however we can only say goodbye right back, and appreciate the time we spent with him.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2017: Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049

Ryan Gosling did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Officer KD6-3.7 in Blade Runner 2049.

Blade Runner 2049 is the outstanding sequel to the 1982 film about a future defined by the existence of androids called replicants that humanity uses and disposes of as they see fit.

I will admit upon initially hearing of the sequel to the original film I had some concerns. It easily could have been a lazy cash grab similair to Ridley Scott's Alien Covenant. What gave an obvious glimmer of hope though was that it was being helmed by director Denis Villeneuve whose previous efforts were that of a devoted filmmaker who only seems interested in projects with at least some ambition. Coming into the film the first time I had no idea exactly what to think, though I was developing some random theories in my head, where they were going to take the original story given that the promotional material was more focused on images than the actual plot. My theories of where this film would take us was instantly turned on its head from the opening scene of the film where we meet our lead played by Ryan Gosling. I suspected he was going to be a replicant but I thought it was going to be a revelation further in the film. This is one of the many brilliant decisions in the narrative as it begins with an alternate perspective as we follow this Officer with the serial number KD6-3.7 known for short as K. The replicant who works as a titular Blade Runner aka a police officer who specializes in retiring replicants who have committed any form of rebellion from their original intent. Unlike Harrison Ford's Deckard from the original film, who may or may not be a replicant, here we know that Officer K has the job of killing his own which offers a very different viewpoint in which to broach this vision of the future.

If I had known more clearly of this casting and character I might have had some concerns. Obviously Ryan Gosling is one of the most talented actors of his generation however, despite loving his turn in Drive, his performances as more understated characters were starting to become a little stale, and in 2016 he thankfully offered two memorable extroverted turns. The concern of this return of course could never inspire itself since I was not aware of it until I was already engrossed into the film, and more importantly, in regards to that concern, Ryan Gosling's performance. From the outset of his performance a great task is impressed upon his work, and to a slightly lesser extent Sylvia Hoeks's performance as the replicant Luv the girl Friday to the malevolent creator of the replicants Wallace (Jared Leto), which is to realize this new form of replicant that is described in the opening text of the film. A replicant that does not run, and is no longer like the rather emotional androids we found in the original film through Sean Young's Rachael or Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty. They are suppose to exist in a different way in which free will is not a concept. Gosling's portrayal of this not only establishes that but perfectly differentiates his work from his previous minimalist turns. Gosling's work is fascinating here in this exact creation of K from the opening which is to define K essentially through his profession, which is as a blade runner obviously.

Gosling's performance finds this way of the new replicant which is this almost exact amount of humanity required for existence and interaction. Gosling's performance is incredible in this consistency of the portrayal of this as he makes K enough of a human in that he would not be overly off-putting to actual humans, but also separated enough to clearly denote that he has been made rather than born. In his opening scene where he interrogates and then executes a rogue older replicant Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), Gosling portrays the part with essentially this exact precision. Gosling projects this manner of an intelligent though perhaps too direct detective in the way he speaks to Morton. He does not do it in a truly robotic way, but almost a too effective of a fashion in terms of the interrogation. It's remarkable as Gosling reveals a machines way of being the perfect detective, which includes the right bit of humanity. He offers just a bit of that in his gentle small talk for a moment when he speaks about not wanting to try Morton's garlic until he's done with the "harder part" of his day. There are no mistakes in this act as Gosling shows the efficiency of someone not bread but created for the purpose of being a detective. This includes just enough of the courtesy, that most humans would appreciate being there, but only enough of a courtesy. Gosling shows this small talk as basically part of the detectives method as he attempts to calm the man into giving himself up, but when he doesn't Gosling is equally effective in delivering the cold brutality needed for a hired killer.

Gosling's performance is amazing in how well he fashions this state that establishes what is this future replicant. After he disposes of Morton Gosling portrays again this directness in K as he surveys the area to fully understand the situation as required by his duty, though again with just enough of a bit of comforting asides for his superior Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) when describing his injuries from fighting Morton. This little aside though is again so effectively portrayed by Gosling as this enough of an emotion not to be eerie when describing the situation, but not enough that K could ever define himself as a person to another person. When returning to the station Gosling only all the more develops this compelling idiosyncratic creation of what a replicant is now. K, even as he walks by hostile humans, Gosling grants a retiring subservient body language as he almost hides from those calling him a "skin job" as confronting a human would be against his very nature as programmed. He is instead is attuned to avoid and stay very much in his place. One of my favorite scenes in this film, in which I have many, is when K is run through his base line test as though he is a computer where he is given a series of potentially emotional prompts that require a mechanized response. Gosling effortlessly depicts this strange juxtaposition where he hones these pointed delivers, and nearly vacant stare, but only with just this threadbare connective emotional tissue Gosling gives the most minor evocation of as though it is a required cushion for the replicant, an ever thin one.

Although K is clearly designed for a purpose we still follow him as he goes about his day even past working directly as a detective. Gosling uses essentially that programming baseline as this anchor as a starting point for use to remove that distance, as even though he is clearly not a human there is something human there. Again though that human factor seems a comfort for the replicant to function correctly as we see him go home where his only company is a hologram designed to be anyone's company named Joi (Ana de Armas), and he lives a life of very slight escapism within his small apartment. Gosling carefully does not change the nature of K outside of performing his duty and properly still portrays the replicant that is K even outside of his work. Gosling instead exudes just the right degree of contentment in this escapism again that is this certain core within K, but also faint in a way. Gosling naturally discovers this unique dynamic within his performance as he shows enough of a detachment in these moments to still be artificial, but he places that beyond what lies in his eyes that grants just that undercurrent of the stabilizing emotional connection required for such a complex being to exist at this level. Gosling's work provides such an unique foundation for who officer K is. He creates an understanding of how this replicant works and behaves, but also provides how there may be more though in very atypical way.

The first hint of the core of emotion perhaps shifting within K comes when he along with the lieutenant figure out that Morton was part of a group of replicants hiding a child born by a replicant. The initial breakdown of the information Gosling again delivers quickly and efficiently as K once again doing his job just as as a loyal worker should. When Joshi tells K to continue the investigation and find and destroy all evidence of this child, that breaks the very nature of the replicants, there is just a glimpse of something else. It is a brilliant moment of acting by Gosling as though his state is suddenly momentarily broken, as he holds in this gasp of emotion that Gosling seems to show as this conflict between the programming of subservience against that baseline of more empathetic emotion. Gosling realizes this in a second long reaction before portraying K seemingly having reestablished himself as a servant when firmly stating that K is incapable of saying no to the request. He seemingly then begins the investigation to destroy the child. The investigation is not performed alone though as K brings Joi along with him as he tries to uncover the mystery. Gosling's performance is again wholly remarkable in the way he subtly reveals this minor change within K as he reacts to the idea of this child born yet still of the same nature as him. The transition of this is so carefully and delicately handled by Gosling's work which so effectively realizes the emotional crux of the film.

There is no moment in the investigation that is taken for granted by Gosling's astonishing portrayal of K slowly unraveling the truth. This is in part in that relationship with Joi where I would argue Gosling and Armas have the most heartwarming chemistry out of any onscreen couple from 2017 despite neither character being human, in fact one barely has a physical form. The two together though find something so special by finding the limitations and creating this very specific form of expression that comes within that. On Armas's end it is interesting as she seems to show here move past Joi's base programming by having moments of not just overwhelming simplistic affection but rather something more complex. Gosling matches this through his depiction of K slowly having more than just minor comforts in his interactions with Joi. He begins to look her as more than just this distraction from the hellish landscapes around them, but in his face he grants a deeper meaning as he looks at her that conveys a definite love as they go on their journey together. Gosling gradually creates a growing attachment that he offers a more defined concern and care for her, even though she technically is just a hologram. Although most even disregard his choice in having a "fake" girlfriend, Gosling finds the attachment along with Armas that makes Joi seem so much more than just this pleasure hologram. Their relationship seems to mean more as K looks to her as a true companion while she attempts to give more than an idea of a life, even trying to give him a real name by calling him Joe instead of just the first letter of his serial number.

The investigation leads seemingly to K's implanted past involving a memory of his as a boy where he hid a wooden horse. When Gosling originally delivers the story it is in that fashion of the machine recounting it on the surface as something phony just to grant him solace, however Gosling infuses the words with a certain haunting quality quietly within that at the same time as K knows the memory to be false however he does find a type of comfort in it still. Gosling's work is stunning as he maintains that replicant status, but tests it. The first being when the mystery leads him to seemingly the same wooden horse that he remembers from his false memory. Gosling again has such a simply incredible singular moment as he portrays this internalized burst of emotion, that he plays as this withdrawn outburst as though it is the machine trying to maintain the man, yet is struggling to do so. Gosling shows this way the emotion changes though as that undercurrent switches from this core of comfort to now an almost searing pain. Gosling in the second baseline test in his expression now attempts vacancy yet a terrible intensity lies within it, his words attempt repetition to suit the programming of robotics yet malfunctions as even the mechanized response now seem messy with sentiment. Gosling's portrait of this barrier breaking as the function against emotion is becoming imbalanced is absolutely awe inspiring. My favorite moment of this is when he has his memory of the horse tested to see if it is real. When he is told it is Gosling delivers his only major overt moment of expression and it is earth shattering. Gosling's single moment of this primal yell of sheer anguish is heart wrenching as not only is it so flawlessly implemented and earned within his performance, but it also captures this torment of K both in regards to what the memory means but also as it clashes against what is to be his very nature through this expression.

K chooses to follow this revelation, that he is the child, and therefore the son of Rachel and Deckard from the first film. K tracks down Deckard in his hideaway in an abandoned Las Vegas. Gosling carefully maneuvers this scene in portraying this passivity again in K, but now with a different intention within it. K tries to not harm Deckard, even when he originally attacks K thinking he has come to kill him, and Gosling shows this as not a programming design rather a genuine desire. When they speak eventually about his past Gosling is outstanding in finding this nuance in the way he speaks of the child with this level of curiosity and concern. He speaks underlining some hopeful intention to see this connection between them particularly with his almost loving delivery of "stranger" towards Deckard, after Deckard had explained that sometimes to love and protect someone you have to be a stranger. Finding Deckard though leads to nothing but tragedy though as Deckard is captured by Luv and Wallace who wish to dissect his child, and Joi is "killed" by Luv. If this was not enough K is left to learn that he also was not the child, since it was a girl not a boy. Gosling's work is devastating by wearing the sheer impact of this within yet still staying true to K's character. It leaves all the greater impact because Gosling exudes this within this internalized way still realizing the nature of his origin still, but now the emotion overwhelming the center of his being.

One of the most moving moments is when there appears as respite as K comes face to face with a "living" advertisement for the Joi program. For a moment in Gosling eyes there is a comfort as he looks at her that turns to all the greater sorrow when it calls him "Joe", and Gosling conveys K understanding that possibly Joi was only acting on her programming the entire time. Gosling though finds this conviction through the emotion to be more than the machine making it entirely convincing that he would go to save Deckard from his captors. There is a very simple moment at the end of the action sequence after K has saved Deckard, but it is the evidence of the greatness of Gosling's work. Oddly enough though it comes from Deckard as he calls out to see if K is okay by calling out his name as Joe. It isn't so much Ford's delivery, although there's nothing wrong with it, but I find the moment so very affecting because of Gosling. The reason though is Gosling's work through the film gradually granted such humanity to K's journey to the point that seeing him recognized as a person and not a machine is a deeply poignant revelation. Gosling's creation of this arc couldn't more graceful or resonate. He gives the story of Deckard's child its real power through his reflection of what it means within this individual finding his own purpose and sense of self through it. His final moments of the film one no longer sees  a detached machine making its way through the world, one sees a man finally finding contentment fully on the surface. Gosling's performance is masterful as he gives us the machine in his realization of the replicant that is K in the opening of the film, but by the end of the story he reveals the man within.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2017: Thomas Jane in 1922

Thomas Jane did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Wilfred James in 1922.

1922 is an adequate enough Stephen King adaptation, although I think the story probably could have been handled as just a segment in a horror anthology film, about a farmer taking a most unorthodox method to maintain his house and home.

1922 is very much in the vein of classical Gothic horror, southern Gothic in this case, as Stephen King does a sort of a variation on Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart", though here with the lead of Thomas Jane's Wilfred James as a simple farmer type. Jane being no stranger to a King adaptation however this time in a very different role as the central lead. Jane's whole performance is fashioned as a different kind of perspective in this lead character who he takes on his peculiar journey. Jane plays the part more akin, though with more depth mind you, to a character who would more likely be a side character used as part of the atmosphere of a typical horror story. This includes Jane playing the part with a thick southern drawl, and his whole physical manner being of a man of the earth type. Jane emphasizes a certain simplicity in this in the way he speaks so bluntly even with his technically colorful accent performance wise, however Jane fashions it to be a naturalistic aspect of this man of this time and place. His whole performance embodies this man who is made to be part of the earth in a way in his comfort in the rural land, in his simple gait, stoic manner and that pronounced droop in his lip that fills perpetual frown of contentment worthy of a man who lives his rougher life through the land and very happy to do so.

The initial conflict from the film then comes from his wife's desire to move from the farm, due to the value of the land they own, and move into the city. This is with or without Wilfred but she intends to take their son either way. Jane through his realization of this specified nature of the man does find an internal disturbing logic within the man as he decides to murder his wife in order prevent from his son from moving away. Jane doesn't portray this idea as a man with any sort of sadistic glee but rather portrays it as an anger attached specifically towards this decision. When we see Wilfred finding this decision Jane attaches this certain pride for the land, a very problematic pride, which should seem outlandish however Jane's way of finding it within his exact characterization actually does make sense of it within the man's bent logic. He projects that pride of wishing to hold onto his own land no matter what he says. The planning of the murder he says the same way his Wilfred would go about refusing to sell his land to anyone and speaks of the murder as he would planning the planting of a new crop. Jane is notable in the way he makes this initial monstrous action such a natural aspect within his work. He makes this seem like the actions of the man with a very specific worldview rather than of some overt psychopath although Wilfred does qualify as that as well in his own way.

The man successfully murders his wife along with the help of his son before dumping her body into his well. In the initial scenes of the cover up again Jane effectively portrays this as a man just going about his life as the way he sees fit, a rather problematic way to most, however Jane again normalizes it within that very exact portrayal of his. There is a momentary respite as Jane depicts this relief in the man ready just to live his days by tending to his house and home as he always intended without interference. The tell tale heart aspect of this story rear its head within the rats that feast on the man's wife's rotting corpse, and which continue to haunt him throughout the film. Jane in his reactions to specifically the rats embodies well this seed of a guilt from the first instance which he portrays well as just a momentary fear that he tries to quickly cover up as soon as possible. The rest of Jane's performance is dealing with the idea of his specific guilt towards the death of his wife. Early on in this process he shows these as those lapses into fear that usually result from being occasionally reminded of this gruesome end, but much of the time Jane portrays that same sort simple stoicism that initially defined the man as again just the man who thinks himself as the this guardian of his house and home. When he even describes his decision to his son Jane delivers his line with a modest certainty of this farmer who just believed that he knew best.

Obviously given this is Gothic horror things must not go unpunished for our main character as in addition to the frequent appearances of rats other troubles soon arise when his son runs off with the neighbor's daughter, after getting her pregnant. This leads to the gradual downfall of Wilfred as his guilt seems to take a supernatural turn as he begins to see visions, whether real or fake, of more rats and of his dead wife bringing him news that their son has become a bank robber before dying along with the neighbors daughter as his accomplice. Jane reveals this growth in guilt also within his performance where he portrays that loss of that stoic conviction or even pride that defined his initial decision. Jane devolves properly to a more introspective portrayal of the man coming to understand his mistakes revealing a more overt humanity in the fear now revealing itself to be within a more genuine remorse. Wilfred never openly admits his guilt to anyone other than himself however does so well to portray this growing rot within the core of the man through essentially revealing a more open manner in his depiction of the man's emotions. He shows Wilfred no longer able to find solace in his ways as a "man of the earth" and instead finds this man wallowing in his misdeeds. There are no further revelation to destroy the man just more visions of his misdeeds, and essentially they get louder just as the heart got louder in Poe's story. Jane in the end shows the man not breaking as this extreme anguish but rather a more subdued yet powerful evocation of the emotions as the man quietly bears witness to his crimes now with the understanding that he destroyed all that he wanted to preserve through them. This is a strong performance by Jane as he manages  to realize the unique manner of the man in a convincing fashion while avoiding making Wilfred a caricature or a one note monster. He grants insight into the strange man and his horrible decisions, even if that makes all the more disturbing in a way.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2017: Sebastian Stan in I, Tonya

Sebastian Stan did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jeff Gillooly in I, Tonya.

I, Tonya tells the trials and tribulations of figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie).

I, Tonya is a very entertaining take on the material, though it lifts its methods very blatantly from Martin Scorsese it thankfully applies them well. This approach though is particularly effective in the way it is used to fashion the story as an anti-inspirational biopic. In that we get technically have some beats from a typical biopic but turned on its head here in the story of the infamous Tonya Harding. This is right down to her significant other playing a pivotal role in her story. Where this is usually left for the Oscar role of the "supportive wife", like Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything, this time we get the "supportive" husband in Sebastian Stan as Jeff Gillooly, those quotations on the supportive very much a requirement. Now I, Tonya has been a rather heavily praised film, and deservedly so. Sebastian Stan seems to have become one of the most underrated performances of 2017 in a critically acclaimed film, as he could not even get a single citation from even one of the most obscure critical groups in either lead or supporting. Stan is in one of those strange situations though where I feel his performance was taken for granted. This can often happen when someone who is not all that well known plays a despicable character.

Stan is best known for playing Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier in the Marvel cinematic universe films yet even there he flies under the radar despite some strong work in his latter two turns as the character, but again there he played a secondary role with a sparse amount of lines each time. This apparently seems to have caused some not to be aware that this is a transformative performance by Sebastian Stan, and a brilliant one at that. There is nothing about Stan as Bucky or any of his other performances, or in interviews that suggests he's at all the right man you'd peg to play the not quite infamous, due to attention spans, Jeff Gillooly. Besides the mustache, that as Gillooly describes in the film as something he is apologetic over, Stan fully embodies this particular man. For example his vocal performance here is particularly impressive, though not given much credit, because of  how low key it is. Stan though fashions that sort of squeaky sounding voice of the actual man. His work is completely consistent in the realization of that to the point that he even is able to find naturalistic variations within his voice through Gillooly's higher pitched timbre. Of course it is so good one does not even think about the fact that Stan is putting on a voice at all, it just sounds like it is his normal speaking voice, but of course it's not.

Stan is equally effective in terms of his physical manner in the role which again is not at all typical to Stan's normal screen presence. Stan typically has a more outgoing effortlessly more intimidating style fitting towards a man with self-confidence. Obviously that would not work for Jeff Gillooly so Stan realizes this intensity of insecurity in his body. He carries this tight restrictiveness in his manner and the way he faces someone speaks is always a little off kilter as though he's often afraid of direct confrontation or even eye contact. He is more often retiring in his manner as someone who has not a hint of faith in any of his own abilities. Again this is something that Stan just so effortlessly brings to his performance that it is not noticeable unless your trying to examine his performance as I am doing here. He just naturally behaves as Jeff Gillooly and makes it such a given that no one even notices that his performance is quite a leap, again perhaps because Stan isn't well enough known himself, but also perhaps because Gillooly's not an especially well known historical figure. Stan's recreation of this man though is notable and he does accomplish this with such ease. He manages to never make it seem as though we are looking at Sebastian Stan playing this part, he just comes off as Jeff Gillooly in the film which should not be something that is hand waved.

Of course his performance does not end there either in his realization of the subversion of this type of character usually found in a more hopeful story. We get the early meeting between the two where it appears to be love at first sight. This is something that Stan rather hilariously realizes in his portrayal of Gillooly's love struck face, and his perfectly meek delivery of "you like food?" as his pick up line to Tonya. We very briefly get the "romantic" side of the man which Stan portrays as actually genuine in his affection at Tonya at least in some very basic level. In these moments Stan correctly portrays this overt attachment to her in their less difficult moments, and he portrays this almost sorta flimsy exuberance in these moments as trying to be the good boyfriend and later husband. We have their interactions which are incredibly well handled by Stan in that he portrays this very exact sort of charm here. In that he doesn't play at this overt charm that would be appealing to most people, however he does find something there in a very unassuming way that one can at least see the vague appeal that Tonya finds in him. Stan correctly relates this only to the moments though where he is trying to directly show his attempts that he loves her in some way, which he makes honest in the moment even if they are dishonest to the man as a whole.

Those moments are quickly subverted by the frequent scenes of Gillooly's physical abuse of Tonya. Now most of the time when this is a feature in a character it often becomes the sole emphasis within the actor's performance which usually becomes quickly one note. Stan avoids this pitfall, though not in a way of softening his character, as he makes these moments as just the basic part of what makes up Gillooly, which in a way is more disturbing than if he had to muster energy to be abusive. Stan depicts these scenes as basically just something that he does that is just basically an innate behavior of his as breathing is. Stan makes the moments as a natural part of his insecurity as a person. Stan handles them as casual as clockwork in any moment their alone and he portrays just a minor frustration as more than enough reason to hit her. Stan doesn't portray this at Gillooly's low point but really just his typical state of being for such a pathetic man. He makes them as these attempts to quickly put her down the moment Gillooly feels down about anything himself. He doesn't depict this as building him up as some bully seeking confidence, but rather just this further stewing in his own misery where he tries to bring Tonya right down to where he is. His moments even of apology Stan actually makes earnest, in that he's not a sociopath, but in his weak willed delivery of the apologies shows it stemming from the exact pitiful core of the man.

What is particularly remarkable though is that even with these pretty horrible moments of abuse this is actually often a rather funny performance at times, though usually in a fairly dark way. What Stan does isn't to ever try to be funny but rather excels in just presenting this wretched man that is Gillooly and amusing things can come from this due to the strange state of the man. That state that Stan makes so pure that it is occasionally hilarious because of how unabashed he makes this. For example when Gillooly goes about trying to make up with Tonya, over his friend's Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walt Hauser) parent's phone, Stan delivers every time he asks Shawn's mother to redial Tonya's number in the same one would as a child upset while at friends house. Stan delivers this certain cordiality towards this every time, and again it ends up being very funny since Stan makes it seem so authentic to the man he has established up to this point. This can even be in a pitch black sense at times though for example when Gillooly threatens Tonya with a gun, while also threatening to commit suicide. Stan brings all the appropriate emotional intensity to the moment, but also through the funnel of the guy Gillooly is. When he does fire in the heat of the moment, there is natural bit of dark humor in Stan's "oops, I didn't mean it to go this far" reaction when Gillooly sees he might have seriously hurt Tonya. Stan manages to find the balance in his performance because his work always stay so true to the character.

Of course what defines the story, and what Jeff Gillooly almost as important to I, Tonya as Tonya herself, though the name of the film suggests she's not so innocent as she often claims in the film, is the attack on her chief rival Nancy Kerrigan. We never get really the full story, however what we do get is the realization of Gillooly's particular method at being the "supportive" husband to Tonya's life story, through his attempt to sabotage the competition. Stan finds this sort of toxic support though throughout his interactions with Robbie as Harding. As in the moments of her success Stan portrays a directly honest happiness for her success, unless it diminishes his presence in her life. Stan then proceeds to depict the initial staging of the idea again rather comically as the man who is going to make her Olympic dreams come true. There is sort of this false cunning that is rather hilarious that Stan projects as he considers the plan with Eckhardt where he does portray a  type of confidence, the weakest most pathetic attempt a confidence you could see. There is not an ounce real confidence mind you there in that he is the same physical manner but not just with this brittle attempt at being the "good husband". Of course thing quickly spiral out of control as the attack is launched, though we never exactly get a clear explanation in terms of the exact awareness of all parties. Stan during this portion often gets sole perspective as he becomes sort of the king of dunces as Gillooly attempts to deal with his involvement. The scenes between Eckhardt and Gillooly are particularly entertaining though in the way Stan and Hauser play it as dumb and dumber. As Hauser plays a man with firm delusions that keep him a sort of bliss against Stan playing a different kind of delusion by depicting such overt, and rather funny, frustrations as he thinks he can deal with one of the few people if more incompetent than himself. The highlight of this perhaps being the moment of seeing the attack coverage on the news with an amazing primal scream by Stan, fitting to a man who realizes he's screwed up to a colossal degree.

Stan is great in the public scenes where he shows again that attempt at a confident, innocent, Gillooly that just couldn't seem more unnatural or unbecoming to the man as Stan still presents him oozing with that same desperation that defines him as a person. As the story begins to unravel Stan is terrific by showing this already underwhelming act slowly falling apart in each successive scene to reveal a more overtly pathetic individual who is overwhelmed by both the idiocy of both the other guys, and his own. Stan delivers every line as a near confession with so little sincerity in his voice, and weakens to the point he shows us practically the same guy who asked Tonya if she liked food near the beginning of the film. Now the one facet I haven't addressed, because it is the most separated in his work, is Stan's portrayal of the current Jeff Gillooly giving his version of the story. Stan once again excels in this, as I love how he plays it that Jeff may or may not have learned anything from his story. He properly changes himself enough to reflect the older age of the man, but what's more important is the way he tells the story. In terms of learning a lesson Stan brings enough of an embarrassed air to voice he speaks of the worst times to suggest perhaps a more introspective man. At the same time though he delivers the same pathetic quality within the bit of pride he expresses in certain moments of the story such as when describing when Tonya asked him back or his feelings on the use of his name as verb to describing hitting someone in the leg was "kind of cool".  That is yet another facet of this great performance by Sebastian Stan as he fully embodies this pitiful man in a way that never becomes one note naturally making a cohesive individual out of the different sides of the man and at the same time finds a surprising degree of humor in presenting this as the typical "supportive husband/wife" character gone very wrong.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2017: Song Kang-ho in A Taxi Driver

Song Kang-ho did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Kim Man-seob in A Taxi Driver.

A Taxi Driver follows an unassuming Korean taxi driver as he escorts a German reporter trying to cover the Gwangju uprising.

I will admit that my initial glowing reaction for this film was amplified by the fact that I knew nothing about it going in making its particular revelations of what the story entails especially striking. Although do not misunderstand me I like the film a great deal, but it's not a flawless film by any measure particularly not when the film leans the scales of fictionalization perhaps just a bit far in its climax. It takes kind of an Argo approach where it has successfully had a lower key yet very tense climax, but then decides to follow it with a more overt action climax. I will admit the action climax is well done in terms of technique, but it just feels a little excessive. Having said that, what originally made me so invested into the story still stands which is within Song Kang-ho's portrayal of the titular taxi driver. Now I must address my perhaps hasty comment in the past in regards to Song Kang-ho where I described him as a "poor man's" Choi Min-sik. That was an unfair statement as Song Kang-ho is a very talented performer in his own right. This performance is further proof of that in that his work carries the film even beyond the fact that he is the lead of the film. Of course as we open up the film this seems like a fairly lightweight performance by Song Kang-ho. This is right in the first shot where we open with him cheerfully singing along with a song on the radio while he drives his taxi around Seoul. Song makes a rather brilliant decision to approach the role from the outset as though he is the lead in a comedy. That's seen from his energy from that opening sing song realizing a man with a song in his heart though not exactly carefree.

Song's approach is notable though as he navigates the early scenes where he goes about what seems like a normal day for the taxi driver Kim. Song delivers the role as this sort of rascal you'd expect from a little more farcical style comedy as in the early scene he scoffs at some young protestors for having it "so good", and goes about chasing down one of them after they inadvertently cause him to break a mirror on his taxi. What I love here is that Song doesn't play it as though we the audience watching him should notice that anything is wrong about this in anyway. This is just a fun performance to watch as Song brings such an abundance of energy to the part that manages to make Kim rather endearing even as he tries to chase down the young guy. He brings just this right type of exuberance in the role fitting to a hapless comic hero even as he deals with a pregnant couple using his taxi, that wouldn't be out of place in an 80's comedy. Kim briefly chews out the man when he doesn't have the money to pay, and what could be a despicable little scene Song makes work in the sort of humorous exasperation he reveals. Although he's not getting his fare, even this is made properly of no importance as he attempts to complain, until the man promises double the next day, where we get Song's hilariously timed instant switch in Kim to a most accommodating taxi driver. Song's terrific in that he does play Kim as a kind of a jerk, but properly as the kind of jerk who is easy to like.

This is not to say that we don't see that Kim has a few problems, as he we find out he's a single dad who is having difficulty making his rent. This is obviously a problem although it is purposefully not given too much gravity by either the film or Song's performance. Song delivers the right earnest, if somewhat hapless, affection though in his early scene with his daughter. He shows well that though Kim loves his daughter it is obviously not exactly prepared to be this great dad. There is just a touch of sorrow that alludes to their mutual loss, though Song effectively portrays this as enough in the past that it no longer is directly upsetting however is still inherent within his relationship with his daughter. Song naturally uses this as part of our sort of hapless hero who even with those problems still is in no way bogged down by them that would make him lose this unique spirit of his. This spirit that is so well realized by Song as something that is both endearing yet selfish at the same time. That sense of fun is so effectively created by Song fitting to a guy who really isn't overly troubled because in his view his problems are not so great they cannot be overcome. Song though finds this exact way this is created though through the narrow perspective that he portrays that defines Kim. Song specifically delivers every line early on that concerns someone out of his situation as this quick brush off of any such concerns returning always to his own experience which while isn't perfect Song shows that he can get along with it just fine.

Kim decides to essentially steal a rider from another taxi driver after overhearing of the inordinately high fare offered for a trip to Gwangju. The rider being a German journalist (Thomas Kretschmann) from Japan intent on covering the uprising in the city despite the South Korean government's ban of foreign journalists. Kim, not knowing the actual details of the job, takes the journalist and here we advance to what could initially be just the beginning of an old fashioned buddy road trip movie. Song is hilarious here in continuing to portray Kim's self absorbed way as he goes about dealing with the journalist who is a particularly demanding costumer. I must say I have particular affection for Song's purposeful butchery of the English language when pretending he has some degree of fluency in it. Song's delivery in this is sheer perfection of a man just trying to get through the most basic communication to get the journalist to stop talking. Song just rambles out any of the words he can as quickly as he can, but then always trails back into Korean as though he only has a very limited set of words he can go by. The majority of their communication ends up being non-verbal then as the two go off where Song continues to be great in actually being kind of a real jerk yet doing it in such amiable way. As Song puts on such a smiling face while attempting any point of actual communication, particularly when it is about his fare, then instantly switches to almost a death stare, a comedic stare mind you, when he goes back to mock the man in Korean.

The two make for an entertaining pair even as Kretschmann plays the journalist as only mildly annoyed by Kim's lack of conviction towards his job. Song though is great in always portraying that exuberance to please only within the context of making the money for the job, but really a general pettiness when that is not a concern. Song's reactions are very funny as he continues to quietly insult the man still just in that singular frame of mind. A chance for this comes when they initially arrive at Gwangju that is obviously going over some considerable upheaval though they arrive during a calm. Song doesn't break his more comedic side even as they arrive in the strange place though he naturally adjusts just early on in portraying the man's slight confusion at the sight of the place since he had no real awareness of. He's still self absorbed though but now in a different way. When the two show up the journalist is greeted with open arms by the local students trying to protest the government, and who initially offer considerable praise to the taxi driver who brought the man. Song's still very entertaining in just showing the rather sudden burst of a foolish pride, even though he has been more or less complaining the whole way without any awareness for the importance of the trip. Song transitions well in calming the more overtly comedic performance to just a still lightly comic one as he discovers something is going on but doesn't take too much note of it.

The situation though slowly appears to be more dire though and Song's terrific in portraying this slight confusion as this representation of him slowly coming out of his bubble a bit. He is sidetracked though when the locals question his motives, and he changes his relationship with the journalist from comically distant to more intensely so. This is mostly in part when those motives are questions and Song's terrific in portraying almost this defense as instinct as the man who in his mind is doing what he's doing for a good enough reason. When the two begin to explore more of the city Song is so effective in just creating this sense of discovery in the man which at first is with a bit of joy as people start treating him well for his "deed", while also capturing this certain bliss of a man who has no idea what's going on. Song presents this especially well by still showing it as mostly within this stuck perception though on how it specifically effects the man. His interactions with the locals and the journalist Song still makes very curt as he would treat any customer still. When they witness more overt violence though Song again carries this character to next stage so well but does not over step the moment. In that he now finds that same self-absorption though now without any humor and just this sense of concern for himself along with a bit of anger for the journalist who he believes put him in this situation.

Song is outstanding though in how subtly he realizes the change in just the scenes of interacting with the locals and the journalist. In these middle scenes he's very quiet and Song's body language is a man just kind of shrinking into his own fear. The kindness of the locals and the moment of just interacting as people Song brings just the slightest change as he begins to notice the people. Song brings out just hints of warmth conveying a slowly growing camaraderie. I especially love his moments with Kretschmann as he captures this perfect combination of this ever so slight understanding towards the man, but with this striking passive aggressive manner that he realizes in these bits of dark joy he finds at any time he can secretly make fun of the man. In every instance of witnessing another horrific misdeed by the government Song naturally ease out of this state and slowly becomes more open and honest in they way he interacts with those around him. Song has a great scene, after the journalist saved him from a vicious soldier, where he finally reveals something about himself to the man, though sort of accidentally keeps it secret since it's in Korean. It's a powerful moment though as Song exudes the man finally breaking his "man as an island" mentality by revealing his own tragedy in the past of losing his wife. Song replays this loss in his performance capturing the grief in this way of understanding the suffering around him finally suggesting a man who has perhaps now come to terms that he was not alone in his pain.

Kim leaves Gwangju without the journalist, in order get his car properly repaired and to return to Seoul to take care of his daughter. While he is getting his car repaired he has time to himself. This is a incredible scene that Song Kang-ho uses so well as this juxtaposition to the man we saw as he entered Gwangju. There we saw the man mostly concerned with his money and his own problems while being oblivious to the obvious troubles around him. In this scene he walks around a celebration and Song's performance conveys the way the man cannot enjoy what is around him as in his mind he shows the man drifting back to the horrors witnessed in the city particularly when all he hears is the government propaganda on what is happening there. This is best realized when he takes off in his taxi again, singing along with the radio as he did in the opening of the film yet now instead of the joyful sing song of a man in his own world Song delivers a wailing tune weighed down by his awareness of the rest of the world. When Kim returns to make sure the journalist makes it out of the city this could come off as overly maudlin yet it is is absolutely earned by Song's performance. In the final act of the film Song's performance becomes mostly reactionary yet it makes no less of an impact. He is fantastic and downright heartbreaking in every scene by showing the full extent of the gravity of the situation in his work. As he watches every atrocity Song's performance ensures the emotion is not lost through realizing how every moment nearly breaks the man. His work with Kretschmann is particularly notable as they don't really say much more to each other yet just the way they look at another powerfully conveys the mutual connection through both their sorrow over what they have seen but also within the conviction to unveil the truth to the world. This is an amazing performance by Song Kang-ho as he pulls the rug out from you by anchoring this film and its tone throughout in such a notable fashion. It is his performance that makes the extreme change in tone from the opening frame to the final shot work. He is convincing in every moment as he goes from this goofy guy in a largely comic work, to a wholly dramatic and devastating portrayal of a man living through and coming to terms with such a horrifying experience.