Sunday, 29 April 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1957: James Cagney in Man of a Thousand Faces

James Cagney did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Lon Chaney in Man of a Thousand Faces.

Man of a Thousand Faces, I suppose rather fittingly, is rather like Richard Attenborough's Chaplin, except a bit more era appropriate in terms of delving into the "dirt" so to speak, following a famed silent actor/director through his success on stage/screen, and the struggles in his personal relationships.

James Cagney was obviously no stranger to the biopic having most famously played George M. Cohan in his Oscar winning role in Yankee Doodle Dandy. Although this film is certainly still a biopic of its time, it does differ from that earlier film in delving into some darker material fitting to the famed horror actor. What may seem less fitting is perhaps the casting of Cagney who was about ten years older than when Chaney died when this film was made. Cagney overcomes any such second thoughts though just by being what he is, which is a great actor. Cagney though is particularly tailored made for the role as in some ways Cagney was a silent leading man, even in his great success in sound. Cagney though missed the silent era basically by just a year or so, however the sort of physicality needed for a silent actor was often one of his greatest assets as an actor. Cagney very much has what are the tools to play Chaney even if from the outset he doesn't seem like the first choice for the role, Cagney makes himself the first choice, just as quite honestly what he did with Cohan as a well. In that Cagney's way of specifically performing a "performance" is particularly important for this role as Chaney, as it was for Cohan.

Now part of this performance is just fulfilling the elements of a more typical biopic, although with some unique elements at least for the time. This gives Cagney very much the chance simply to deliver an, as per usual, terrific charismatic leading turn. The personal side of the story mostly involves his relationships with his two wives which also extend towards the relationship with his parents and later his son. His first relationship being problematic with his shallow first wife Cleva (Dorothy Malone) who is troubled by Chaney's parents who are both deaf. Cagney is fantastic in these interactions in portraying effectively an understood infatuation with his wife in the early scenes though that quickly develops to this growing frustration. He properly makes this more overt in the moments where she directly questions his "biology" essentially due to his parents, which Cagney's reaction realizes the sense of harm this does to Chaney. This further realized through the moments between Chaney and his parents alone which are brilliantly played by Cagney. He brings such a direct and pure sense of love for both parents. Obviously these are purely silent moments of sign language, and in each instance Cagney conveys the earnest care Chaney has for both of his parents.

That creates the problematic relationship with his wife, who can't get over Chaney's parents, which Cagney illustrates so well in each successive scene by slowly realizing this underlying distress towards her behavior. He creates the right inherent tension, and this sense of betrayal in every interaction to essentially realize the divorce in Chaney's mind even before it is realized. This is in stark contrast to the relationship between Chaney and his second wife Hazel (Judy Greer). In their scenes Cagney strikes up just a far unassuming yet much more genuine in a way sense of love between the two that both actors establish well as this simple given through their quiet yet potent interactions. This is similarly found in Chaney relationship to his son Creighton. Obviously there are many stages of this however Cagney is terrific in portraying actually more depth towards this than to even be expected from this type of biopic. In that in part he is very good in bringing such a sense of tenderness in the interactions with his son early on, bringing so much warmth in his eyes that he manages to make rather moving when Chaney briefly loses guardianship of him. That is not simplified though as Cagney later just as firmly portrays a real distaste, and anger, that he portrays as a reflection of his old frustrations when Creighton decides to see his biological mother against Chaney's wishes. Cagney doesn't hold back in these moments offering a proper intensity that is fitting towards the earlier troubled relationship, that in turn makes the later unconditional reconciliation with his son all the more moving.

As good as Cagney is in the more traditional narrative elements of the film, what makes this performance standout though is his recreation of what made Lon Chaney the titular man. Obviously Cagney is aided by some proper recreations of Chaney's old makeup but this performance goes far beyond that. Cagney's immense physicality as an actor heavily plays into this as he has that certain energy of his very being that essential to bringing Chaney's creations to life. Although I think the film itself would have benefited with a deeper delving into Chaney's career, nonetheless Cagney is brilliant in recreating the every specific scene depicted within his career. Cagney's physical work is outstanding as he never simplifies any of the creations we see. This includes his moments as this vaudeville clown, which is not a simple thing, but a fully bodied performance. He is both entertaining as seen, but also so good in creating this distinct style of performance so naturally. The same becomes true for Cagney in creating some of Chaney's famous roles including the Phantom of the opera and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Cagney brings to life, albeit briefly, these characters so effectively to the point one could have imagined Cagney perhaps should have done more of such overly mannered physical turns in his own career. In each he creates the "creature" as a character more than just an image. My favorite single moment of this is Cagney's depiction of Chaney's portrayal of a handicapped man walking again. It is just a brilliantly performed piece of physical acting by Cagney as he creates the whole scene just within his own work, and is compelling just to see him perform this act. Although I obviously would have loved to have seen the film delve deeper into the man's life and career than the film does, Cagney is more than up to the task of the man even in this somewhat limited perspective. He is gives a striking turn that not only is a moving portrayal of the man, but a convincing depiction of what made him famous.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1957: Rod Steiger in Across the Bridge

Rod Steiger did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Carl Schaffner in Across the Bridge.

Across the Bridge is a decent thriller about a European embezzler trying to hide out near the Mexican/American border only by stealing the identity of a lookalike only to find that man is a wanted assassin, a problem I think most of us know all too well.

Rod Steiger I will admit quite worried me as the film opened in a scene where his character is fielding pressing questions about his troubling business history as well as his wife's suicide. In that I've found more recently in my exploration of Rod Steiger's career that there are certain problematic tendencies that are common in his lesser performances. These Steigerisms are on display a bit here early most notably his way of doing this strange loud high pitched yell to signify anger. Thankfully though these are only very briefly used by Steiger, and in context of the entire performance it isn't too egregious as this representation of a man as a pressure cooker just on the edge of letting out his emotions given his situation. That is where his Carl Schaffner is just on the edge of being discovered and about to be liable for a prison sentence. I'll admit though I had a bit further worry, this one a bit more unfounded, in his portrayal of the German Schaffner given his future success in The Pawnbroker. Steiger uses a similair accent here, that actually just becomes a natural part of the character, and successfully further entrenches himself into the role through it.

The strength of this performance quickly became more obvious to me as soon as the plot really kick starts as Schaffner finds himself on a train in his attempt to escape to Mexico in order to escape his prison sentence. Steiger does not portray this initially as a man on the run in a traditional sense. In that he does not portray an overt desperation within the character at first. He subtly exudes just a bit of it enough to be believable, however he introduces well the idea of the cutthroat businessman here on the run as well. This is seen through his portrayal of his initial actions which carry this definite calm in Steiger's performance, and successfully distinguishes the man from the pressure of facing actual consequences. We see the man distinctly running away from them, and the ease that Steiger depicts effectively reveals the man's amorality early on. This personal attitude continuing even as he steals the identity of a fellow passenger who closely resembles him. When Steiger first tricks the man directly, then later directly hectors him for his identity, Steiger carries this intensity with right assurance within this behavior. He delivers this cold efficiency to these two important scenes showing a man ready to avoid taking any responsibility for his actions, in fact rather determined to do so.

Schaffner's choice in identity theft though quickly leads him into trouble as he is sent packing towards Mexico to take the fall as an assassin. Steiger keeps this calm in the moments of the wrongful identification though successfully reveals this certain glint in his eye, a sense of slyness as though this is initially just part of the plan for the man to easily cross over the border. This becomes slightly more complex when the process of correcting his identity takes longer than expected. Steiger still does not depict an obvious breakdown though just a minor frustration in every one of Schaffner's claims of wrongful identification.There is still that cold incisive stare though once the opportunity for bribery and avoiding of responsibility appears. Steiger delivers the needed incisiveness through this bit of smugness in every moment as Schaffner ease away his obstacles and seems to once again avoid his real mistakes. The arrival of Scotland Yard in addition to the local authorities growing exasperation with the man requires further maneuvering from Schaffner. Steiger is consistently compelling in that he captures again that manipulators charisma in that while he is not truly charming, how much command Steiger says with every word is with the authority of a brilliant criminal.

The authorities do not stop trying to catch Schaffner though and Steiger is very good in portraying the growing exasperation in himself which he realizes well in a growing subtle desperation in his performance. This change in the man though goes further though as he sees the results of his actions where the local Mexican populace begin to openly reject any hospitality towards the man due to the fate of the man's identity he stole. The one source of consistent support comes from an unlikely place that being the dog of the same mann. Although Schaffner initially coldly shoos the dog away, which Steiger portrays with the same indifference the same way he treats any human with as well. The dog, being a dog, doesn't reject Schaffner though coming to support him even as all the humans around him having nothing but disdain for him. This relationship oddly enough is the heart of the film, and quite frankly the best part of the film. This is due to Steiger's portrayal of this relationship where he slowly depicts this quietly growing warmth in each subsequent interaction to the dog that insists on taking a liking to the man. This warmth becoming almost a direct need for any tenderness, once all other reject him for his amorality, portraying as this full attention towards the dog. Steiger's quite moving in giving it his all and finally revealing just a bit of a soul in the character. This is often just in his silent performance though in bringing such delicate and earnest physical interaction with the dog that only becomes all the more heartwarming, as the rest of Schaffner's existence becomes all the bleaker. Eventually the dog is used as a last resort by the authorities to catch Schaffner as they tie the dog just across the border where he can be arrested. This idea could have potentially been ridiculous however Steiger makes it honestly heartbreaking by having created such a convincing connection between man and dog. This culminates finally where the dog cries for the man's help, and we only see Steiger's silent reaction where he reveals such a genuine anguish that naturally finally reveals a better man than the one we saw that opened the film. In turn this leaves this performance by Steiger on quite the high note, despite my initial concerns.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1957: Victor Sjöström in Wild Strawberries

Victor Sjöström did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Professor Isak Borg in Wild Strawberries.

Wild Strawberries is a beautifully told story of an aging professor reliving the memories of his life as it is nearing towards its end.

Victor Sjöström, though had acted in his time, was better known as a director of the silent era before Ingmar Bergman cast him in this film. He was evidently Bergman's only choice for the role to the point he would have not done the film without him. Sjöström's work was an influence on Bergman as a director so he perhaps he was eager to work with one of his idols but perhaps the needing the eye of a director is what helped to encourage this casting as well. Wild Strawberries, to dust off a term, is very much "director's film" in that the overarching vision of the director is what you take most strongly from the film. The acting though is still an essential facet and Sjöström's work suggests a particular awareness in terms of his role within the film. In that this story of the professor Isak Borg is one often of the observer. The observer though need not be distant or unknown at any point. Sjöström's performance seems to understand this idea most keenly. Now there is a bit of more of direct character development, however that is on the lighter side in terms of the purpose of this portrayal. We do however have moments early on where we see the man before his journey both through land and through time. This is rather brief but Sjöström's certainly captures the proper irritability of a man within his ways as he complains to his housekeeper before he goes on his way. This is short yet important in that Sjöström grants us a view of the man Borg is known as to others, and helps to explain the memories others have of him.

The dreams and memories though are pivotal in revealing a different man, a more introspective one. This is through a combination of a few facets though in that we both have the visual of Sjöström in these scenes, but these are also further underlined by his narration throughout the film. A narration that certainly has a touch of distance, as a man recounting a story rather than living it, however infused with the right touches of emotion within key moments that Sjöström still emphasizes even if they are part of a memory. There are the dreams and memories themselves that are quite different, particularly in the film's opening where the professor suffers a rather bleak nightmare where he witnesses an arm-less clock, as well as finds his own coffin which includes his own corpse. Although the images of this nightmare are particularly striking, one of the most pivotal images within this sequence is Sjöström's reaction. He captures not only the more direct fear that is to be expected, but also more important this unpleasant uncertainty from the nightmare. It is not of a man who understands wholly what he sees, but rather is perhaps most troubled by his lack of comprehension. This leaving a sense of this unknown that leaves Borg in this frame of mind that perhaps ensures a different man will begin the journey than the man who complained to his housekeeper.

Sjöström naturally captures this state of an uncertainty, and even a confusion that creates the right understanding to the more pleasant man we see as he begins his road trip, to receive the degree of Doctor Jubilaris from his old university. A journey that he is joined first by his daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin). Their interactions is well realized by both actors in carrying this surface pleasantry yet underlined by a certain distance from Sjöström, but a touch of passive aggressiveness from Thulin. As she quietly airs her grievances towards him Sjöström passively, yet sympathetically listens to her. In this Sjöström effectively captures both the state of the past and the present in this single interaction. In one he is not taken aback by her unpleasant words, and is almost accepting of them. This might seem strange what Sjöström exudes is a man more of finally listening suggesting a man in the past too saturated by his own insecurities to really to listen to his own family's problems, or even their problems with him. The unpleasantness though is combated in a way though from other memories that appear when visiting his childhood home. It is here where Sjöström is a striking part of a sequence, certainly a facet of it only, but also an essential facet to be sure. Sjöström very seems realize this understanding, of the director's viewpoint, as he allows himself to be only part of the scene, yet makes the right impact in being only a part of it.

There is nothing simple about the memory, and again Sjöström's performance is keenly aware of the importance of the complexity of the memory. In that as he watches his old days of his own past, his family, and his old sweetheart it is not a single emotion elicited when he watches. There is certainly a nostalgic joy at times, a certain joy from getting to relive the old times. There is though still an uncertainty as he watches the less perfect moments of the past. Sjöström is downright haunting in a moment portraying this moment of analyzing a solitary moment of insight into a part of the past he did not witness but is now living. A parallel observation appears in the present as they continue their journey picking up a group of youthful hitchhikers, and, briefly, a bickering middle aged married couple. Sjöström's work again is of reaction yet distinct, and frankly less dramatic to those of the memories. This is fitting towards the idea of social circumstances but also his own barrier from them. His reactions though and even interactions still reveal a man living within his own past in these interactions. In that he finds this playfulness with the young couple, again infusing a nostalgic bliss and appreciation towards youth. This is in contrast to the bickering couple where again we have that uncertainty, though less severe in this instance, as Sjöström shows the man's own marriage being represented with their horrid relationship. 

The middle of his life is further explored through two pivotal scenes one of the present one of a manipulated past created through a nightmare. The nightmare is of seemingly his failure as a doctor, and witnessing a horrid time of his past. Again in this scene Sjöström is mainly just watching his past, but again there is such power in this. His eyes evoking not only an awareness of this past wound, but also the pain in processing this over again. Sjöström's work is quite of the moment, but rather finds such a power within the idea of this observation. His reaction seems bone deep as his whole body gripped state of being forced analyze his life and the pain that it entailed. This is against his interaction with a friendly gas station owner (Max von Sydow) who is more than happy to remind the professor of his deeds of the past, and his gratitude towards him. I love how Sjöström shows this almost moment of Borg being taken aback by this idea of his past having worth, leaving his reaction of this slightly pleasant bafflement that he portrays as almost unsure what to do with. The film doesn't end with a single memory or event that fixed everything for the professor by any measure. Sjöström captures instead this sense of man content with rather understanding of what has come, and what he can take with what is still there. We have a slightly reformation, not quite Scrooge level, as Borg is far pleasant towards his housekeeper, his son, and daughter-in-law than he was before. Sjöström finds the right naturalism within this change by just delivering these remarks now spoken as a man with a sense of joy in what was had, and a willingness to connect to those standing in front him. It isn't portrayed as a true revelation, but just this nuanced depiction of sense of appreciation of life in general. Sjöström doesn't leave a man lost in joy, but just able to have those moments as well as still live with his heartbreaks of old. Sjöström's work is not always the center of a scene, it is always the center of the true emotion in terms of the reflection of a scene, and what the scenes means in a greater context of the professor's life. Sjöström's subdued performance captures the emotion of this journey beautifully being an essential facet to every captivating image and sequence by properly establishing the meaning to each one.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1957

And the Nominees Were Not:

Ben Gazzara in The Strange One

Rod Steiger in Across the Bridge

Victor Sjöström in Wild Strawberries

Robert Mitchum in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison 

James Cagney in Man of a Thousand Faces

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2008: Results

5. Richard Jenkins in Step Brothers - Jenkins offers a great bit of catharsis and entertainment through his hilarious turn that embodies every bit of exasperation possible in his observations of the titular's pair's nonsense.

Best Scene: His dream.
4. Mathieu Amalric in A Christmas Tale - Amalric gives a terrific turn in creating the complexity of his character's unique dynamics within his family that form through his own distinct way of interacting with the world.

Best Scene: The one time he loved his mother. 
3. Tom Noonan in Synecdoche, New York - Noonan as per usual gives a fascinating idiosyncratic turn that both acts as a proper representation of emotion, but also the representation of the act of the observation of such emotions.

Best Scene: His own choice.
2. Jason Butler Harner in Changeling - Although he isn't given a great deal of screentime Harner leaves an undeniable impression through his both chilling and honestly heartbreaking portrayal of a stunted and bent serial killer.

Best Scene: The execution.
1. Lee Byung-hun in The Good the Bad The Weird - Good Predictions Bryan L., Calvin, and RatedRStar. Lee delivers a great villainous turn here that successfully matches and amplifies the film's heightened tone while also delivering a palatable menace, along with even some real nuance in his exploration of what really makes his villain tick.

Best Scene: The duel.
Updated Overall

Next Year: 1957 Lead

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2008: Richard Jenkins in Step Brothers

Richard Jenkins did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Robert Doback in Step Brothers.

A critic once believed that one could not examine a symbiotic relationship more eloquently or more intricately than Ingmar Bergman's Persona, that critic obviously never saw Step Brothers the worthy successor that defies all expectations in its penetrating exploration of the psyche of man.

And by that I mean Step Brothers is about two idiot man children (Will Ferrell, and John C. Reilly) who come to live together as such a titular pair when their respective single parents are married while both still live at home with them. Reilly's father is Richard Jenkins's Robert Doback who often seemed to be my own personal representation during this film. The film itself following this pattern of being kind of funny then really annoying then kind of funny then really annoying and continuing in that savage circle throughout. One aspect that differs from that pattern is Richard Jenkins, who is continually on some sort of point throughout the film. Where his counterpart, Ferrell's mother in the film, played by Mary Steenburgen still mothers her overgrown son, there is less of a cordiality within the character of Robert which Jenkins beautifully realizes. His performance is essentially this slowly erupting nearly apocalyptic volcano of passive aggression that becomes just full grown aggression at his two "sons". Jenkins in a way becomes this trick artist always hitting his marks even when the scene does not. He is consistently hilarious in creating such a raw, and to the point exasperation in each and every one of his reactions. An exasperation that only grows in every moment and settles itself in this intensity of this certain loathing that is particularly great in their Christmas dinner where Jenkins reveals a man retching in the sheer degree of his intolerance. This almost an antidote at times because of Jenkins representing a proper reaction to when the antics are not working at any level, and brings some comic gold by how little "playing up" Jenkins does.

The most consummate professional Jenkins's real intensity he brings is what makes it so funny, as he makes it seem as though Mr. Doback's spirit honestly is seeming to break to his very core. This naturally leads to events that leads the sons to be kicked out of the house, and finally fulfill their roles as adults. Of course that all gets twisted for the climax where at the Catalina wine mixer they must cover for a cover band, but not without a few words of wisdom from old Mr. Doback. This is where he has a change of heart to reveal his own juvenile dream to be a T-Rex. Honestly I can't praise Jenkins enough for the amount of conviction he brings in this most unorthodox speech. He even makes it work in context with the rest of the character, but showing it as almost this mad recall of a past lost dream. In turn it is hilarious as Jenkins acts out his dream a bit by again how seriously he plays it. Jenkins wants you to believe in Mr. Doback's dream, and you'll believe a man can't believe he could be a T-rex. Jenkins inflicts proper hilarity to that moment, and soon afterwards through the sheer eagerness of his delivery as he encourages his son to play his heart out with "Rock the fuck out of those drums Dale". Jenkins steals this film with ease, which some might balk at in terms of an accomplishment, but Jenkins doesn't only steal the film he just sprinkles a little something worthwhile into every one of his scenes.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2008: Mathieu Amalric in A Christmas Tale

Mathieu Amalric did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Henri Vuillard in A Christmas Tale.

A Christmas Tale is an entry into the ennui-filled-reunion genre this time focusing on a family gathering for Christmas while their mother possibly faces death.

The use of many a foreign language actors in Hollywood films is a bit of a curiosity as they become generally known for work in their home country and then is typically cast as some creep in an English language film. That is a particularly strange thing as in most circumstances that is not the nature of their performances in their native tongue, and it often requires one seek out that work to properly see the range of their talent. Mathieu Amalric is one such actor that can even be seen in one of his other performances as such a creeper Dominic Greene in the bond film Quantum of Solace also from 08. A Christmas Tale offers thankfully sort of a different side to the performer here as the black sheep of the family the film focuses. The black sheep for reasons that are not made entirely clear throughout the film, however as the film opens Amalric's Henri is banished from the family by his sister Elizabeth (Anne Consigny) after she pays off the numerous debts he has accrued, however that does not seem to be the exact reason for banishment. Now I write "sort of" a different side to Almaric as it is easy to see why he could be pigeonholed in a certain type role in terms of un-creative casting in that Almaric certainly brings an impish quality here as well. A different type of impish quality though as he carries it in a far more jovial way as though his Henri is in some way embodied by the spirit of Bacchus or of some such sort of like spirit as we catch up with Henri a few years after his banishment.

One of the first acts of Henri's in the film is walking around drunk then face planting directly into a roadway. This would seem perhaps a cry for help for most characters however that is not the nature of Henri exactly, which is so well developed through Almaric's performance. Even in the moment of wandering around there is almost this dancing spirit to it. He doesn't do a dance mind you however Almaric brings a certain energy about his actions that very much embodies this sense of enjoyment within Henri even when suffering some quite extreme physical harm at times. Almaric very much defines around the pain this since of pleasure not of masochism but rather just as part of his overwhelming behavior being this search for such zest towards life. This obviously isn't the most sane of an idea and properly Amalric finds more than a hint of madness in his cheeky little grin even after crashing into the pavement. Amalric portrays it as this bit of insanity yet he manages to project it not so much as this problematic self-destruction but rather this particularly intense and idiosyncratic way of embracing what life has to offer him. The nature of Henri seems to become all the more abundant when he is allowed to return to the family because their mother Junon (Catherine Deneuve) has leukemia and is need of a bone marrow transplant with her same blood type.

Henri visits with his current girlfriend Faunia (Emmanuelle Devos), where he seems to prepare her for some horrible visit with his family. Of course how Amalric interacts with every member of the family helps to define not only his character, but also the family's dynamic and history as well. It is here that we begin to understand the man and Almaric's performance intentions become much more clear. We see perhaps Henri at his purest with his father where actually Almaric portrays the least joyful mania in work and speaks in their moments together with while not an earnestness in his words there is such an honest in his delivery of them and his eyes. This is contrast to the rest of the family where we get much more of the man seeming to live on this extreme edge at all times. A vicious joy of ways that Amalric expresses as Henri speaks to his siblings, particularly his sister. He makes this carefully troubling as this exuding of such joy even when delivering insulting or self-deprecating remarks to himself or even those around him. When his brother-in-law attacks him for one of these such insults, Amalric even laughs this off. There is the intensity of this that Amalric though that reveals this certain anxiety even as he presents such an overt joyousness in the act at all times. The strange juxtaposition of behavior though twists itself in the most fascinating ways between Henri and his nephew, suffering from mental problems, and his mother. In his scenes with his nephew Amalric plays them especially because he actually tones down Henri's typical manner a bit, and adjusts it in a way. He projects a certain more uncompromising warmth to the boy creating the sense of an Uncle trying to support the troubled boy in some way. In these moments Amalric creates the sense of how he would help the boy as Henri's always strangely positive attitude would help the boy as in his eyes as it seems to helps Henri through a rough life.

Of course with his mother it is where we see the painful existence that is Henri's life. Amalric is great in these moments with here as there is such rich, in many unpleasant history between the two felt in every interaction. Amalric presents on the surface the hints of just an old love, as any son should have with his mother, yet around every kindness there is such a palatable resentment in his eyes, and within his delivery. He never loses himself to obvious anger towards her, rather again reveals that joyful attitude that becomes to represent Henri's desperation. Amalric reveals that to essential be this defense mechanism for Henri to deal with both his own failures, but also the disregard so many of his family members have for him. He carefully portrays most strongly when really the feelings of sorrow or sadness should be most prevalent, leaving him in troubled yet functioning state of mind. Amalric realizes this state so well and shows how it brings both the best and the worst out of him. As that even when he does the right thing to save his mother by donating his marrow, Amalric portrays it it in front of her directly with almost a maniacal glee as though to diminish his positive act in order to in no way deliver his love, this is against when we see him with the doctors alone to which Amalric reveals a far more desperate concern allowed away from the limits of his family. Amalric naturally realizes this man who self-sabotages almost to fulfill the role that his family has set for him. He creates the sense that this has been earned in the past, but only exacerbated by his banishment. Although we never learn what caused his sister to banish him, Amalric's work gives understanding to it through this state he makes so vivid. He shows this through a man who has made so many mistakes to the point he never seems to apologize for them rather would remain in his state of "bliss", even if he can't quite succeed with that even. This is a terrific performance by Mathieu Amalric, and easily the most compelling aspect of this film, as he so well realizes the complexity of the man's relationship to his family which in turn creates such a complicated state of the mans so cheerful in his misery.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2008: Jason Butler Harner in Changeling

Jason Butler Harner did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Gordon Stewart Northcott in Changeling.

Changeling has at its heart a particularly compelling true story of a mother, Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), trying to find her lost son which unravels into two separate tragedies however it suffers from slow pacing and some underwhelming performances, especially the child performances, likely in part due to Clint Eastwood's method of doing very few takes.

One tragedy is of Christine Collins's son disappearing. Instead of finding help from law enforcement of the L.A. police department she is instead first ignored, then manipulated, then threatened and abused by them. That tragedy is in part a result of the sadly even darker tragedy underneath that one which brings us to Jason Butler Harner. Harner appears fairly late in the film as the film introduces that this is in part the story of a vicious serial killer who specializes in abducting then killing young boys, one of the abducted boys being Christine's son. We are only given a few glimpses of Harner before the end of the film. This leaves a certain challenge for him in part to make the needed impact given the character is purposefully left as a footnote to Christine's story, understandably so given how grim his story is. The strict perspective into the man is more than enough though given the impact of even only learning part of it as well as due to Harner's performance. Now we are given somewhat the expected from Harner, which is no way anything to sniff at, which is his portrayal of the absolutely horrifying intensity in the brief glimpses of the chicken coop murders. These only last a few seconds but Harner's portrayal of these moments of an atrocity are chilling. There is no respite for a moment just this direct uncompromising evil that Harner portrays as a man behaving on these extreme base instincts.

Outside of those moments though we have more of Harner which I think is what makes this a truly outstanding work from him as he finds a very distinct and particularly disturbing approach to the depiction of a serial killer. Harner is especially effective in these moments, of sort of a flamboyance within the character as written that I think a lesser performance might have used to turn him into a more sort of obvious villain. Harner's work instead uses these moments as terrifying insight into the diseased mind of the man. In that Harner portrays this certain stunted manner as though Northcott is sort of a child in mind himself. He doesn't over do it as to be some sterotypical creepy kid, he just slightly finds this particularly off-putting petulance that is grotesque yet feels very human in the way Harner portrays it. He manages to realize this in a honestly humanizing way as he successfully realizes this awful manner is fitting to this maniac. Harner's approach not only leaves a striking impression it also changes the context somewhat of his final scenes, which technically could have been the simple disposal of a monster. When Christine comes to see him to ask about her son, to whom Northcott refuses to admit killing based on his claim of finding religion therefore redemption. The way Harner delivers this is not as a gloating villain, it is of a messy insanity yet there is something very earnest as he states this horrible retraction. When Christine presses him Harner again is particularly unnerving by basing on this malformed child's responses, even in almost this pseudo attempt to scare Christine by trying to kiss her, it is this momentary juvenile act with the certain shyness Harner brings even within the derangement. When she states she hopes he goes to hell, again Harner by offering that genuine presentation of the character's state it is haunting as he shows in his reaction this real fear in even this terrible killer's eyes. This is expanded to even greater heights in Northcott's execution scene. Harner, despite the character's actions, makes the scene absolutely harrowing to witness. Harner depicts every moment with such vividness from the beginning where there is this pained attempt to find solace in the moment as he speaks his final words and looks to his priest for comfort. He is then is strangely heartbreaking as he moved towards the noose with his delivery of "please don't make me walk so fast". Harner again captures this broken mind and says this almost as a child not wanting to do something, though obviously with the severity of the given situation. Then when placed beneath the noose Harner unleashes just this mania of every kind as we see the killer, but also this man trying anything to get his mind away from his reality before he is killed. He is astonishing throughout the scene. This is a great performance that fully realizes the state of the man, even within the margins of the film, and is especially remarkable as he finds a very distinct, disturbing and powerful approach to a well worn type of role.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2008: Lee Byung-hun in The Good The Bad The Weird

Lee Byung-hun did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Park Chang-yi aka The Bad in The Good The Bad The Weird.

Lee Byung-hun and director Kim Jee-woon is perhaps the unsung actor/director collaboration of modern cinema. I have never even heard it mentioned yet it is a notable one with both seeming to bring the best out of each other. In fact you can almost gauge the quality of a film by Kim by how much Lee Byung-hun is in the film. Kim's best two films, A Bittersweet Life, and I Saw the Devil both feature Lee as a lead where he delivers remarkable turns in each. Even in Kim's good, but not quite great, The Age of Shadows, seems to benefit from Lee's brief but important cameo. Now we have this film where Lee is a major supporting role and seemingly in turn this is one of Kim's better film. It should be noted though that any great actor/director collaboration there needs to be the quality in work from both parties, but there also should be some sense of variety. This film also finds that for their collaboration here with Lee no longer playing the anti-heroes of his leading turns, and now fully embracing the role of the villain. Not just any villain though but the sort of villain that wears his villainous qualities right on his sleeve, after all he is know as the bad for a reason. It goes beyond that just in the image alone evokes a proper classical black hat with Lee being adorned in rather glorious dark leather attire, only topped by his rather glorious haircut. Lee isn't an actor to rely on or to be overshadowed by his own appearance.

Lee rather embraces it then amplifies it all the more. This film is obviously heavily influenced by the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone which in turn were heavily influenced by Kurosawa's Yojimbo. Lee's own work seemed to have had this in mind as his villainous work is less akin to Gian Maria Volante or Lee Van Cleef's performances of Leone's films, and closer to the gun wielding samurai played by Tatsuya Nakadai in that progenitor film. That is not to say Lee simply rips off to what Nakadai did, but rather pays homage to it in the best of ways. The central idea he seems to have taken from that performance was Nakadai's snakelike demeanor. Lee fashions this himself through his own angular smile that just is so fiendish it would have to adorn a villain. The idea of such a smile though is reflected in the entirety of Lee's performance which is that the titular bad, Park Chang-yi, quite enjoys being as such. Lee's work though uses that as a starting point but not as a crutch, and does take the performance in his own direction in a way really in a way only Lee could. As with all of Lee's work his physicality is an essential element. Although he does far less martial arts here than in his leading turns, the way Lee moves is so important here in his character. Lee delivers such a brilliant grandiose swagger that just commands every frame he finds himself it. Lee captures this sense of a proper sort of villain, who knows he's a villain, and isn't just happy to show it off, it is almost as though needs to do so.

Lee's physical approach is an ever prescient element of the character that makes Chang-yi standout in every scene he is in. In that it isn't even just his walk, even the way he may be sitting in a chair has this certain brilliant style to it. In that Lee manages to find this intensity in the exact manner he projects this ease of menace. I love the instance of meeting his employer technically speaking if you were to describe the actions they would seem ridiculous, as Chang-yi is hunched over, with his hair covering one eye as he glances at the man. It could be absurd yet Lee finds just the precise manner to only find a real incisive yet casual quality in this manner, and even one would describe as a sense of cool with the character. I will say I have particularly great affection for what Lee can do with that single eye in that he delivers such a killer intensity within it. That intensity though also is credit to again the variety of Lee's work in his films with Kim. In that he gave intense performances in his two leading roles yet in generally are far more internalized fashion. Lee shows his comfort in completely turning that on its head to bring this intensity through this broad and very entertaining take on this arch villain type. Lee completely alters his style to match the very different style for Kim, and together they beautifully amplify the best qualities of this slightly absurdist western of the east.

Of course even as different as this performance is Lee once again employs sort of his time bomb of emotion though less restricted than in I Saw the Devil or A Bittersweet Life. Lee once again though is masterfully in crafting this core that defines the man that technically is always apparent in his performance yet it is not something he overtly emphasizes. In this film this quality relates to Chang-yi's path once he understands that fellow bandit Yoon Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho) aka the weird is in possession of the map he has been hired to find. Lee is incredible as per usual in delivering sort of the hidden intent within the character specifically in the moments whenever he sees Yoon. In these moments Lee instantly switches the style of intensity to be far more directed, and seemingly based in something almost more honest in terms of what motivates it. He eases off on the swagger instead reveals these conviction in his eyes, and a far palatable hatred when he tries to kill the man. This becomes one of the most interesting aspects of Lee's portrayal as he reveals within this hatred even a certain vulnerability. When others call Chang-yi it up Lee's reaction's so effectively once again alludes to a bit more  to what makes him tick. Lee's terrific here though in actually portraying these moments in a way as the assassin at his most dangerous. When he is questioned by one of his men, there is this glint of a certain type of insanity in his eyes that almost has a certain desperation in it, before quickly murdering the man. It is a fascinating obsession that Lee creates showing that Yoon has done something to him, something that pesters the man. This naturally comes to a head when the titular trio meet in an expected Mexican standoff where Chang-yi reveals his yearn for vengeance stemming from Yoon's old days as a more notorious bandit who specialized in cutting off finger. Chang-yi being one of his unfortunate victims. Lee is great in this final scene in creating this duality in his death stare towards Yoon which is a combination of this almost witless hatred, and a certain joy as it seems he is about to obtain his revenge. As to be expected with Lee working with Kim, this is a great performance though this time in a wholly different tone. Lee gets everything he can out of this grandiose villain being such an enjoyable fiend throughout, yet still while finding a bit needed nuance where appropriate. Now this review should be over, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the scene, which has no major barring on the rest of his performance, of Lee's portrayal of Chang-yi cracking up while watching a rom com. It's hilarious as Lee so earnestly depicts that moment showing that even a psychotic villain can just step back love a good film. That is all.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2008: Tom Noonan in Synecdoche, New York

Tom Noonan did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Sammy Barnathan in Synecdoche, New York.

Tom Noonan is one of those indispensable character actors quite frankly as there is no one quite like him. The contrast between his impressive stature, and his impressively soft voice is particularly notable. It worked to quite chilling effect in Michael Mann's Manhunter, where he played a serial killer, however Noonan's idiosyncratic presence manages to always be something distinctive, however at the same time he always disappears into his roles despite not really changing himself. Screenwriter/director Charlie Kaufman seems keenly aware of this casting him as "everyone" else in his animated Anomalisa, and here in his directorial debut. Noonan has a quite a role really needed for someone whose going to need to make some impression rather quickly. Noonan's Sammy appears once Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) begins his gargantuan theater project to represent his own life. Sammy auditions to play Caden's double with his only qualification being that he has stalked Caden for 20 years therefore knows everything about him. The way Noonan essentially confesses a rather creepy idea is fascinating. In that there is this conviction to this passion that Noonan infuses that is brilliantly specific. In that in this audition we are given is this controlled yet raw intensity he espouses, yet with such a pleasant manner while doing so. Noonan shows the act to be Caden, and all his emotion, yet still shows the act even while capturing what is needed from it. Noonan plays him as a man who can express exactly as he needs, yet it not imprisoned by it.

Of course what Tom Noonan does here is very specific, and an essential facet of the film in that his Sammy is the double of Caden in more ways than he plays him. Obviously Noonan looks, really, nothing like Philip Seymour Hoffman. That is not the point and Noonan's performance hones in on this idea of a different kind of a representation of Caden. In that Caden is an observer rather than an actor in life, therefore it is a most curious thing for an actor to play this observer, while being an observer. That's is a strange idea to be sure, however it makes this a particularly fascinating performance to watch as Noonan realizes this act in his own way that is something rather clever. Caden is of course troubled by this state which Noonan contrasts so effectively by portraying a man in a state of calm in his own observation process. Noonan initially portrays that, despite this life, Sammy wants for nothing in his own existence of acting as the observer of the observer who is troubled by being the observer. Noonan exudes a calm in this place of strict connection, which he plays with in such an interesting way. In that he directly acts a certain moment will present the needed intensity of emotion to be Caden, yet can calmly be himself the next moment, such as so genuinely commenting on the talent of Caden's wife who is an actress.

Noonan's work here is entertaining in itself, in that his exact state is humorous to be sure, but what is so special about it is how well he finds this strange state of the man who is almost a comforting factor in the film by showing a path of the observer initially. The idea though becomes that in a way Sammy is less an observer because he is at least acting out Caden's observations unlike Caden who is simply still watching them. This does not change until Sammy's action to take action where Caden did not which in turn finally leads Caden to take action, the action Sammy had taken, how that somehow adds up is why I love the film. Noonan's work ends up being quite something even more than this curious side show though in the end, as Sammy's observation of Caden's action leads to something more. Noonan is heartbreaking quite frankly in finally attaching the emotion of the performance to Sammy finally observing by removing that initial calm in this moment of observation. This leads to a performance of Sammy, a tragic performance, which is emotionally charged as it should be to represent Caden, yet with this calm as Sammy takes his own action in the performance. It is an utterly bizarre end to the character that Noonan delivers in such a powerful way by naturally reaching this breaking point as the observer becomes the true actor in the end.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2008

And the Nominees Were Not:

Jason Butler Harner in Changeling

Mathieu Amalric in A Christmas Tale

Tom Noonan in Synecdoche, New York

Lee Byung-hun in  The Good The Bad The Weird

Richard Jenkins in Step Brothers

Friday, 6 April 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2008: Results

10. Kim Yoon-seok in The Chaser - Kim gives a good performance in creating this conflicted state of a former detective turned pimp returning to his roots, yet the film lets down Kim by not granting enough time or importance to the development of this idea.

Best Scene: Final confrontation. 
9. Vincent Cassel in Mesrine - Cassel gives in the first part an effective, if ridiculously rushed, portrayal of the different facets leading towards the life of a gangster, then in the second part becoming the "legend" partially in truth, and partially as a purposefully grotesque creation of the man's purposeful making.

Best Scene: In seclusion/trial.
8. Mads Mikkelsen in Flame and Citron - Mikkelsen, as usual, gives a striking turn in realizing the convictions of a man fighting for a righteous cause, while also realizing the turmoil from the evil he must do to pursue this fight.

Best Scene: His final words.
7. Josh Brolin in W. - Brolin gives an entertaining performance that brings the best out of the more comedic elements of the satire, while also finding whatever nuance he can within the bit of complexity within the character.

Best Scene: Failed press conference.
6. Song Kang-ho in The Good The Bad The Weird - Song gives a very charismatic and appropriately off-beat turn that is properly fitting to his character's moniker while also creating a most unusual western hero for us to follow.

Best Scene: Tripping.
5. Chiwetel Ejiofor in Redbelt - Ejiofor gives a great performance that not only anchors the film through the sheer charisma of his presence, but also importantly grants any reality to the overly stylized dialogue as well as offering a very much needed consistency within the convoluted narrative.

Best Scene: Championship.
4. Jean Claude Van Damme in JCVD - Van Damme, who is not known for his acting ability, at least proves his ability to give a great performance in French as Jean Claude Van Damme through his amusing, yet also heartbreaking introspective turn.

Best Scene: "oos"
3. Sam Rockwell in Snow Angels - Rockwell gives a harrowing and heartbreaking performance that manages to humanizes the terrible descent of his character.

Best Scene: A moment of "clarity".
2. Philip Seymour Hoffman in Synecdoche, New York - Hoffman gives a fascinating turn here. He not only manages to tread so carefully within the film's tone, but also manages to give a deeply moving performance through this portrayal of a man who tries to make observation into his way of life.

Best Scene: Final scene with his daughter.
1. Johannes Krisch in Revanche - Good predictions Emi Grant, Michael McCarthy and Luke. Krisch gives an outstanding performance that subverts the usual tropes involved with a revenge narrative to realize a wholly atypical, yet absolutely harrowing portrayal of a man's journey involving facing hate, sorrow, and perhaps in the end finding forgiveness.

Best Scene: Revealing the truth.
Updated Overall

Next: 2008 Supporting

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2008: Johannes Krisch in Revanche

Johannes Krisch did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Alex in Revanche.

Revanche is a great film that naturally is about what the title suggests however probably not in the way one would expect.

Johannes Krisch in the central role is the man we probably would assume will be seeking that titular vengeance though on the outset of the film we have no idea what it will be for, however one can begin to imagine what it could be rather quickly. Krisch projects a rough exterior of a man who has been through at least something, which is fitting as we later learn that Alex went to prison. Krisch's portrayal of this is actually just a small facet of the character that he purposefully portrays as something that in no way defines the man wholly, it is indeed just a minor facet. We see Alex in his life as working at brothel as a janitor where his girlfriend Tamara (Irina Potapenko) works as a prostitute. This would seem like the setup for perhaps a rather bleak existence, and while it's not great, it is not as terrible as the description might make it seem. The reason being due to his relationship with, hidden from Tamara's boss, between Alex and Tamara. Krisch and Potapenko have a terrific naturalistic chemistry with one another. There is such an abundance of genuine warmth in their interactions that only ever exude a love between the two. I love the way both actors make this such an essential part of this as in their interactions they bring this certain casual disarming quality much of the time that only reinforces the idea that these two people share a clear affection for each other and love spending time with one another.

Alex, even when not directing interacting with Tamara, Krisch does not play as an excessively desperate or problematic individual. It's an interesting and effective approach in that Krisch gives sort of a rather casual take on the role. In that he shows a man fairly comfortable within himself and even within his world for the most part. Krisch delivers this level of playfulness in Alex that does well to allude towards sort of his optimistic state as a man, even if his situation would seem problematic to most. Krisch holds this most strongly in regards to that central relationship, however even past that he establishes Alex as very comfortable with his life in a very strange way. A strange way that Krisch's vivid performance makes entirely convincing through that almost childish approach. Krisch reveals a man who almost treats the life as almost a game, however this is not in a callous way. Krisch instead shows it in terms of the perspective of Alex as essentially a child. This includes when he speaks of his intention to rob a bank, or even when he brandishes a gun in Tamara's face. This scene would typically be of some psychopath however Krisch's enthusiasm in his delivery not towards the threat but rather revealing there were never any bullets in the gun is closer to that of some little boy than a hardened criminal. His explanation of his intent even for the robbery itself Krisch brings this eagerness in the words more fitting to a dream rather than a crime.

Krisch's performance makes Alex not only convincing in terms of his attitude but manages to create this innate likability towards the character. He not only portrays the man with a lack of malice but also makes that lack of malice believable by so effectively realizing this certain naivety within the character. That is not to say though that the life of Alex is without problems. Krisch does provide a needed balance that underlies that, as his experience is far from ideal. We see this in a brief moment where visits his farmer grandfather in the countryside who disparages his wayward grandson. Krisch's reactions towards the man are brief in this moment but still maintain this state of Alex. Krisch expresses this by essentially portraying little to no reaction fitting to the man paying no mind in a way to his life by ignoring this disparagement of it. Of course even his relationship with Tamara has that major problem due to her profession exacerbated by her boss who is becoming increasingly possessive potentially even purposefully having customers harass her. Alex intervenes in those moments, and does try to comfort her through these times. In these moments though Krisch is great as exudes only the most genuine warmth in just only further supporting their relationship as well as encouraging their dream running away together through the bank robbery.

The actual bank robbery is far from that of a typical heist picture, as Alex brings Tamara along with his rather foolish plan that involves bluffing his way through the whole ordeal. Again I love the way Krisch only delivers this most direct enthusiasm when speaking of the plan showing that Alex very much believes in the idea in the purest of ways even though it is a crime. When he brings her along even Krisch's work allows this to be more of an oversight on his part than any real intention to cause a problem. The robbery goes off well enough however complication ensues when a local police officer Robert (Andreas Lust) chances upon their vehicle while Alex is in the act, and Tamara is waiting for him to return. Alex coming across the officer in front of the vehicle is nearly even comedic moment through Krisch's reaction which is more of a "uh oh" than anything else. Alex bluffs the officer into submission as well allowing the two to escape in the vehicle however he does not prevent the officer from firing at them as they leave. The initial moment Krisch captures with such excitement of his dream apparently coming to fruition with such hope in his eyes, and just cheery glint in his smile just at the very idea that a cop tried to shoot them as though it was some adventure while believing themselves to be free and clear. Sadly the film must take its darker turn, particularly for the character of Alex, when he finds Tamara has been killed by the officer's gunshots.

Krisch's depiction of Alex's realization of Tamara's death is absolutely devastating. He captures the extreme nature of the sheer emotional pain of the man completely within his being. His portrayal of this fallout is incredible as he shows how Alex losing the grip on everything as he barely can speak, and shakes from the anguish. It is made all the more moving because of how genuinely heartfelt the relationship had been before this point, and Krisch's breakdown represents this loss all in this pivotal moment. It is made all the more powerful as within this Krisch rapidly shows the way all hope, all dreams, and all that tenderness of before fades from his eyes. Alex wholly changes from this point and Krisch not only earns this transition from this moment, but also he so well presents the lasting impact within his performance. This single moments haunts the rest of Krisch's work keeping as this constant within the man. Krisch overlays this shadow that keeps the sense of this loss as an ever present element in his work. From this point on Krisch makes the man ever colder, ever quieter in every interaction of a man whose heart has been pierced by reality. Krisch carefully keeps Alex in all his most private moments still suffering directly from this, and again he takes right back to the breakdown with that same intensity defined by the what it was that he lost.

After his loss Alex rather than running decides to hide out at his grandfather's farm. Krisch now shows a man so very changed in this now consistent intensity in his manner in which that trauma, which he hides in terms of the truth of it from others, but is made ever present in his performance. It develops now in every sense in sorrow, but also hate as even as Alex goes about his chores on the farm there is a palatable anger. An anger Krisch doesn't portray as towards his work but rather infuses towards it because still of that loss. It is interesting also how Krisch naturally shifts the interactions between the grandfather which now switch the type of distance, initially. In that Krisch now portrays direct reactions to the old man's words which only to seem to create the ever greater strain as the old man essentially tries to reform Alex, which he rejects. A further complication arises, and the titular revenge becomes more likely, when Alex comes to learn that Robert the officer responsible for Tamara's death lives by, and Alex also by chance frequently comes into contact with his wife Susanne (Ursula Strauss). Alex's initial interactions towards her are of that similair distance, as Kirsch reinforces the man being stuck within his own thoughts, that is until he learns who she is. That intensity Kirsch readjusts in his work as his eyes begin to show some purpose, a purpose fueled through hate.

Krisch is fantastic in portraying the darkness of this descent at first as he accentuates the most negative emotions. He brings a raw yet subtle anger in every glance towards Susanne initially, which than becomes all the more evident when he begins to stalk her husband after learning of his daily routine. Now what is truly remarkable about this film is this all seems set up to go one way, but then there is a shift to which Krisch is an essential part in making as poignant as it is. This begins as Susanne basically invites Alex to have an affair with her, partially because she cannot become pregnant by her infertile husband but also due to some attraction towards the hardened Alex. Krisch does not return this though as their first tryst on his end, even in the sexual act itself, Krisch portrays as a vicious act defined by the malice that has now come into his mind. This relationship, and that with his grandfather, both whom try to encourage him towards a better life, though causes a shift. A shift so elegantly and convincingly portrayed by Krisch. He does not make this obvious change, but in his reactions towards them he conveys so well the small ways their words slowly works towards his better nature that we saw in the early scenes. In turn Krisch slowly begins to change his direct delivery towards them that eases and delivers that tenderness of old, though not as strongly as in the opening scenes of the film.

The certain darkness still remains however Krisch again returns more just to this emotional pain particularly in one heartbreaking sequence where he finally verbalizes his devastation and loss to Susanne. Krisch is outstanding in the scene because in the moment he shows a man simply heartbroken with this yearning for any solace or understanding from what has been taken from him. This is in contrast to his confrontation of sorts with Robert. Alex never directly reveals himself and Krisch's work accentuates this almost reserved calculation for the moment of either a executioner or a judge set to determine the man's fate. When the man reveals his own turmoil, as well as causes Alex to see his own culpability, Krisch's reaction is one of resignation, but also creates this sense of empathy as Alex feels his own pain yet seems to sense Robert's as well. Krisch in the end no longer shows a man trying to hold onto the hate yet rather finally finds a certain solace in no longer being absorbed by that. In the end there is still a clear sadness that Krisch shows, but now with this hint of hope, and even just a bit of that joy we saw in the Alex we met in the film's opening. The very idea of this film completely goes against the typical nature of a revenge film which usually requires either the "hero" or the "villain" or both to die. In this film neither fits either role, and neither dies yet it is no less powerful than what is found in the best form of that more traditional narrative. The film's less incendiary examination of the theme ends up becoming something rather profound, and Krisch's outstanding work is an essential element within this. His performance so humanizes the struggle, the temptation of the hatred, but also in the end the path towards forgiveness.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2008: Nicholas Tse in Beast Stalker

Nicholas Tse did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Sergeant Tong Fei in Beast Stalker.

Beast Stalker is a mostly ineffective thriller about a cop trying to rescue an attorney's daughter after having previously accidentally killed her other daughter.

Having watched both this film, and director Dante Lam's similar follow up Stool Pigeon it seems he should perhaps return to his more casual, almost Jim Jarmuschesque style of his earlier film Beast Cops, which I had a great deal of affection for. As with "Pigeon", this film bizarrely muddles its plot throughout either failing to create development within the characters or doing it in such a way that dilutes its impact. Both films also suffer from a lifeless central performance by Nick Cheung, this time as a scarred criminal who I would say had some potential as written, but Cheung's approach is one note. It is absolutely baffling that Cheung was the actor to win the best actor prizes for this film when you have the one asset, that Dante Lam should hold onto, that being Nicholas Tse as the primary lead. As with the later film Tse once again is the highlight of the film. This is from the outset just through his incredible charisma as a performer. Tse is engaging frankly even when the plot is not as he just carries such an ease onscreen that it is at the very least easy to follow him through the story, even if the story isn't all that compelling in itself.

Tse has a bit more to work with than just being a needed source of star power for the film. The central story of the Sergeant Tong Fei, in terms of conception, should be a compelling one. We see in the brief opening scenes as confident police detective doing whatever he sees fit to catch the criminals. Tse of course can brim with such confidence and establishes the Sergeant as well as anyone could honestly. The central conceit quickly happens where a car accident intertwines the various characters. Tong Fei's experience within this is particularly traumatic as the confusion leaves him to accidentally kill a young girl the criminals somewhat randomly kidnapped. Tse is terrific in the scene in terms of conveying both the cause, in showing so well the physical confusion of the moment, as well as the grief in his realization. Tse's horrified reaction captures the immediate realization of what the sergeant has done powerfully, even if the film isn't quite sure what to do with this. The film quickly fast forwards past the sergeant dealing with these actions to move onto the story of trying to save sister of the killed he killed as well. I actually think this could theoretically work however neither Lam's script nor his direction is deft enough to realize this approach.

That is not to say that Tse does not give it his all to attempt to make something out of this central idea of the broken and grief stricken detective trying to make things right. Tse has some moving, rushed by the film, moments within there. There is a natural warmth he projects, and effectively realizes that loss of that confidence as he conveys in his eyes that sense of the grief of his previous actions being a constant burden upon him. The film almost seems to purposefully cut away just when something truly remarkable will come from his performance though. It far too often dilutes the focus on Tse to give far too much time to Cheung's story, which I understood what they were going for yet it is completely wasted through his bland portrayal. This sadly diminishes the dramatic thrust of the sergeant's story which in turn diminishes the impact of Tse's work. Tse is consistently good though when he is given the spotlight however it is almost all the more frustrating because of that. I kept waiting for the film to properly devote the time to grant a better insight into the character, but quite simply never gives the character nor Tse the time. Tse has some strong individual moments whether it be a moment of extreme ptsd when in a gunfight, or when he thinks he might have failed the second daughter as well. Tse delivers the raw intensity of these moments, bringing to surface the underlying grief in these moments, that individually are very moving. They are only parts of a problematic whole that always leaves the character's story underdeveloped as the film bizarrely never gets its priorities straight. Nevertheless Nicholas Tse does his best to make what he has work, and he succeeds to a certain extent. Although this still feels wasted in part he does succeed in still breathing a bit of life into the film's proceedings through his charismatic and moving portrayal of an under served character.