Thursday, 31 January 2019

Best Actor 2018: Results

5. Viggo Mortensen in Green Book - Mortensen gives one of the least impressive turns of his career as he's stuck as a broad comedic caricature between two jarring tones of a buddy comedy, and a serious drama.

Best Scene: Writing the final letter.
4. Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody - Malek does his best to enliven the film's surface depiction of Freddie Mercury, as he manages to realizes the power of the man's personality and stage presence, even though not his voice.

Best Scene: Telling the band about his diagnosis.
3. Christian Bale in Vice - Although he's in a terrible film, Bale manages to give a convincing realization of the personal style of Dick Cheney, and manages to find at least some depth to the character even though this is limited by the terrible script he's working with.

Best Scene: Comforting his daughter.
2. Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born - Cooper, despite a few missteps and missed opportunities, gives an effective realization of the rock star personality and presence of his character, while also powerfully expressing the inner demons that haunt him.

Best Scene: Telling his brother the truth.
1. Willem Dafoe in At Eternity's Gate - Good prediction Matt Mustin, Dafoe easily wins this lineup for me in his heartbreaking yet also in some ways inspiring portrayal of Vincent van Gogh as a man who experiences reality in a different form.

Best Scene: Confession about cutting his ear.
Next: 2018 Supporting

Best Actor 2018: Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born

Bradley Cooper received his fourth acting Oscar nomination for portraying Jackson Maine in A Star is Born.

This fourth version of the story about the relationship that develops between a fading star and a rising ingenue, as one reaches their pinnacle and the other drifts off to nothing.

Bradley Cooper in turn is the fourth actor to take on the Maine role, the third to be Oscar nominated for the performance, though only the first to direct the film as well as star in it. Cooper taking on the part this time as the country rock star Jackson, a change taken from the much critically derided 1976 version with real singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson in the role. Cooper's work is the biggest transformation out of the actors, as Fredric March, and James Mason also played actors, though over the hill ones, where is Cooper seeks to realize a character quite different from himself. This is an essential facet from his performance as there is quite a lot on top of Cooper here, and I'm not just referring to his long hair, scruffy beard, frequent cowboy hats and beat red face. The most important part of this though is his voice he uses in the role that is essentially a Sam Elliott impersonation, to the point the film directly refers to it as such and given that Elliott plays Jackson's brother/manager Bobby here. His impression is occasionally a little thick, leaning at moments closer to a Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, sound, though it becomes more than enough of a lived in facet to his performance.

This approach is also a rather necessary part of his performance in order to be convincing as the successful country rocker that is Jackson here as Cooper does not naturally exude that sort of style typically. Cooper though is more than convincing in this regard, and like the film itself, Cooper's performance scenes are considerable highlights. This is not only just being believable when playing guitar and having a more than decent singing voice. He rather is able to exude that unique sort of star power on the stage, that isn't even exactly the same as a screen presence. Cooper though manages to find this effectively even while also conveying a certain exasperation within his solo numbers, reflecting the fading nature of his work in the early scenes of the film. Of course the film itself, and the character end up being as much defined by the star that is being born. Here in the order of Lady Gaga as Ally as an aspiring songwriter/performer whom Jackson meets randomly at a drag bar. Their romance that the film essentially devotes a good twenties minutes to just Gaga and Cooper interacting, as Jackson and Ally develop their love for one another.

Cooper and Gaga in this sequence find some great chemistry with one another. This in just the way the two are being engaged within essentially each other's presences, with Cooper being particularly effective in creating this sense of fascination with every part of Ally. They manage to develop an authentic rapport with one another in their moments of just honestly talking, with a bit of shop talking when it comes to developing a song. They find both the warmth of the moment with a real enthusiasm within their interaction. Cooper is most effective in terms of creating this almost as being an opening for Jackson in this "find", but manages to react to her with just only the utmost sincerity of interest, rather than some sort of one note lust. The most notable scene is essentially the climax of their romance in the performance of Ally's song onstage "The Shallows" which is started by Jackson, before Ally joins in to great acclaim. Both Cooper and Gaga are great in this scene as they capture such a joy and really exuberance in the moment, both in terms of living their dream as performers, but also the way the two of them build mutually off one another in the moment.

That is a great moment, unfortunately I actually think the film is mostly downhill from there for a variety of reasons. One of them being some of the repetition in the character of Jackson. This version of the character not only drinks, he takes drugs, has severe issues with his past, and is also losing his hearing. Cooper certainly captures the wear of these various elements in his physical performance essentially playing a nearly dying man at times, with Sam Elliott's drawl becoming all the more broken in his state of inebriation. The film falls into a series of scenes between another Ally performance, and Jackson expressing a combination of exhaustion, and a jealousy. This reduces their interactions as often Cooper as a director gets in the way a bit. For example the essential of their marriage, which is a highlight in the James Mason/Judy Garland version, is strangely dashed over with neither performance being really allowed to express what it means to the character beyond a swift cursory level. It nearly rushed as we just go back to the back and forth process between Jackson's being a mess and Ally's become the greater star, while also becoming more manufactured in a way. This eventually leading to a moment where he calls her ugly in combination of jealousy, and disdain for drifting from her own songs. I wish more had been devoted within their interactions, as Cooper certainly hits the messy cruelty of the moment, through his drifting delivery, though the impact overall is a touch limited.

Eventually though the film allows things to come to a head at Ally's crowning moment at the Grammy awards, meanwhile Jackson's nadir comes after he is taken off the headliner at Roy Orbison tribute, and performs drunk. This downfall is a touch shakier narrative speaking, as his actually loss of popularity isn't well realized, he seemed to have plenty of fans at his concerts for example. This is not a great moment for Jackson, but I have to say it's not really a great moment for Cooper's performance either. His whole early performance has a bit of a half drunk approach to begin with, however he goes a touch overboard in this sequence playing up every shaky physical movement and slurred bit of random speech to an excess. This too is the nadir of Cooper's performance unfortunately, though thankfully he makes up for it as we approach his attempt at recovery. Now throughout the film we have Jackson's little asides involving his father, that in part most directly relate to his contentious relationship with his brother, and Cooper's portrays these moments throughout. This being almost this attempt at remembering some greater importance and a better way of holding onto something, that any infraction of this is met with rage. His moments early on are strong with Cooper's bringing the certainty intensity as the younger brother tries to reinforce his perspective even as brother is essentially telling the truth. Although even in these moments, Cooper properly shows the subtle understanding that reveals their history that is founded on brotherly love, even if reduced due to Jackson's demons.

This is drawn out more in the moments of recovery, and Cooper is genuinely great in these scenes. He pulls away any of sense of posturing and in his somber delivery really shows the quiet anguish of the man who essentially has never recovered from his initial circumstances in life. What is perhaps Cooper's best moment comes as Jackson deals with this by admitting finally to his brother, that he looks up to him rather than their deadbeat father. Cooper's approach in this moment is fantastic in bringing a powerful moment of hesitation before meekly yet earnestly delivery the truth, showing it as something that was always true to him but struggled to admit it to himself. Cooper's work is most effective here in capturing the heartbreak of the man who is finally aware of his own demons, yet while he doesn't avoid them, is still swallowed by them. His final moment of essentially accepting this is a moving one, as Cooper's reaction captures this moment of a pure hopelessness. Of course I think in all of this there is something lost within attaching his to the idea of the central relationship being paramount, and it is unfortunate that the chemistry between the two initially is lost essentially because it isn't capitalized. The film would've benefited just really from more direct interactions between the two, instead we are left with just a final one, as a flashback where Jackson shares a final song with Ally. A choice I actually don't love direction wise, as just keeping in Ally's perspective in the moment would have been more powerful, however it is a good moment for Cooper's performance as he does once more capture the old tenderness and just a bit of the jubilation, though very subdued, as he sings to her. Although I think there are many imperfections with this performance, as well as limitations brought upon his own directorial choices, overall it is a strong turn.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Best Actor 2018: Willem Dafoe in At Eternity's Gate

Willem Dafoe received his fourth Oscar nomination for portraying Vincent van Gogh in At Eternity's Gate.

At Eternity's Gate fittingly attempts an impressionistic examination of the life the tortured artist. I will say any film about van Gogh already peaks my interest as I find him an endlessly fascinating subject. I particularly appreciate Julian Schnabel's daring in his approach in this film as he tries to experience essentially every facet of van Gogh's mental state. Although the film brushes (no pun intended) rather than achieves greatness, due to a few inconsistent elements, one them being the camerawork at times where you sometimes only get the sense of what Schnabel and cinematographer Beonoit Delhomme are going for rather than simply experiencing.

An interesting thing about this performance is one could argue there are two potential distractions from the outset. One is while Willem Dafoe would seem ideal casting for van Gogh about twenty to thirty years ago, where is now he's over twenty years older than how old the actual van Gogh was when he died. Although this could be seen as a detriment I will say it never even becomes a distraction, as in a way the age of Dafoe helps to create essentially the idea of the wear of the man's life. It creates an even greater inherent sympathy to the character, as this is not a young man yelling at the world, rather an aging man being withered away by it. The other potential one is Dafoe makes no attempt at an accent reflective of van Gogh's heritage, however Schnabel, wisely, doesn't emphasize accents in any cast member rather seeming to wish to achieve more naturalistic turns. Again this never results into distraction, and it is easy to simply accept Dafoe as van Gogh, in this version of his story. A very atypical one to be sure, which leaves a potentially another difficulty this being the idea of the director's film, but again this is not always a limitation not when you have the right actor working within this vision. Thankfully for this film we have the dynamic Dafoe, who typically doesn't just fade into the background even in minor supporting roles.

Many scenes of the film wish to bring us right within van Gogh's perspective, this is sometimes literally in POV shots, but also more figuratively, which are the more effective set ups I feel. One of the reasons being is with the figurative shots we are not only allowed to view the magnificent landscapes but also allowed to see the meaning of these spaces through Dafoe's performance. Dafoe does not just portray a man simply walking through a landscape, but rather realizes in these moments what they mean to Vincent. Dafoe's physical performance is an essential facet to the film as he manages to express the influence of these images essentially within Vincent. Of course this is at times in simply the reaction of joy at these sights, however it is never slight or simplistic in this regard. Dafoe makes these moments essentially these religious and spiritual experiences for the man. They are not only as such though as Dafoe's work conveys this intensity in his reactions in a way that evokes a certain mania nearly of a man overwhelmed within his senses. There is essentially a madness in this something that defines Dafoe's portrayal of Vincent. This is as Dafoe does not portray a man driven to madness due to being a tortured artist, but rather a mental illness that helps to define his art and his life.

Dafoe's approach to the character is brilliant, and very different from the more manic, though also brilliant, turn by Kirk Douglas. Douglas was a man seething in his pains, where Dafoe is fascinating in his alternative take. Dafoe presents a man in Vincent who fundamentally is unable to connect to the majority of other humans. Dafoe finds this very specific detachment, that is strange yet feels wholly natural in his performance. Dafoe's performance realizes this inability to connect in this most unusual way. In that he is not detached as this unemotional thing, but rather Dafoe expresses this difficulty in essentially the excessively emotional way the man exists, without being able to connect in the right way. I love the enthusiasm that Dafoe brings within Vincent's way of interacting with others yet within that makes it so awkward. Dafoe delivers this optimism within the eyes in these moments as he speaks to a random town person that is outstanding. In that he looks at them as though he is piercing through them towards some greater truth. There again is too much of an intensity within Vincent that Dafoe so effectively delivers, showing this way of alienating others essentially as his way of trying to connect to them is in this foreign method. This is not because Vincent desires it, but rather Dafoe portrays a man operating with a wholly different sense of reality.

Physically Dafoe also conveys this so effectively in his interactions with those around him. Again he's so good in bringing forth the way Vincent is so desperately trying to deliver some understanding yet fails to convey this in an appealing way. We see this in a moment where he is discussing his painting with a woman, but then turns to a man requesting to paint him. The eagerness, and randomness of this moment is so well expressed by Dafoe, as we see him turn off the woman in the moment, and not exactly endear himself to others in his way. The connection, and desire in his request is wholly honest in Dafoe's delivery, but distant through the desperation and apparent randomness of the request. This again is not a fixed understood desperation as played by Dafoe, rather it is the natural state of a man who is so far removed, and to him the request would have made perfect sense. Two of the people we do see him connect with are fellow painter Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) and his brother Theo. This is only sort of, and Dafoe uses these moments to bring even more to life the struggle of existence for Vincent essentially due to his alternative perception of existence. With Gauguin, Dafoe shows Vincent as awkward and unstable, as he follows the far more sort of traditional rebel painter around, as their connection exists solely in Gauguin's respect for his work.

Dafoe, in his scenes with Isaac, portrays Vincent as this follower, who passionately expresses his ideas with him but with the same haphazard quality to this. The difference is Gauguin doesn't mind his eccentricities. In turn Dafoe depicts a bit of an attempt to essentially copy the man's manners to an extent, almost as though he think he can be normal by acting normal as the man does. This is of course as troublesome as being himself, as shown in is especially fantastic moment for Dafoe where the two artists use the same model. Gauguin doing so with a relaxed confidence, as well as through a prior agreement, meanwhile Vincent just joins in. Dafoe is great in the moment as he is exceptionally creepy from the perspective from the woman. As his eyes dart with interest and need, and even the movements are of this grotesque pantomime. Now Dafoe doesn't make Vincent this grotesque caricature in the moment, but rather his performance reveals the painful attempt towards normalcy that he is wholly incapable of. This is different than his moments with his brother. Now Dafoe does not suddenly show a normal man in these interactions, but rather reveals the ability to express himself without being rejected so easily given that his brother's love for him is unquestioned. Dafoe delivers a genuine poignancy in these moments as he portrays Vincent essentially releasing his emotions towards his brothers within all his vulnerabilities and sorrows seeking empathy from the one man he knows he will receive it from and not misinterpret his emotions. 

Dafoe's work is marvelous as this realization of man of being tormented by the very thing that gives him joy. In the painting scenes for example are essential in these moments as Dafoe manages to show the invigoration of the act, but so that it is equally unnerving as this urge of instinct even more so than a desire of will. The duality Dafoe funnels into a natural consistency of the madness of the act as it is for Vincent. He is as enlivened as he is tortured by it and Dafoe makes it all of one spirit in his portrayal of every brush stroke. The same is seen in his moments of dealing with either potential subjects, or those interfering with the act. Dafoe in these moments delivers this urgency that nearly becomes a psychosis as though he is gripped within the act, and is indeed beyond himself. This making the need for that human connection all the palatable in his performance as the only means of escape possible, though Vincent consistently fails in this, as painting is in his easiest form expression yet alienating all the same. That otherwise just leaves the lonely man who is mentally unwell, and trying to hold onto anything in front of him. His moment of being left by Gauguin, is heartbreaking as Dafoe manages to bring such conviction in the horrible anguish that he portrays as a man trying and failing horribly to comprehend being abandoned in this way. Although the most powerful moments for in his performance come in two scenes of confessions of sorts, one right after being left by Gauguin leading to his ear being cut off, then later being met with by a priest (Mads Mikkelsen) who is trying to determine his sanity. The timidness that Dafoe brings to Vincent in these scenes is absolutely remarkable, as he portrays man at such a truly vulnerable point carefully trying to explain himself. Dafoe still projects the sense of distance but in a different way as he reveals the calm of the man attempting to clarify himself, even in his most insane acts. In this there is this very specific, and even inspiring passion within his eyes as Dafoe reveals the man that is Vincent as someone who simply sees towards an alternate plane. Dafoe conveys that this both damages and enlightens the man. This is as he explains his view on the life of Jesus to the priest, and in his explanation there is a real power of a man discovering some alternate truth that only he can see that is also reflects itself within his art, even if this torments him all the same. Therein lies the brilliance, beauty and tragedy, that Dafoe captures in his work. In that he expresses the transcendence in Vincent's perspective of the world that reveals itself through the genius of Vincent's work, yet all the same still brings such suffering as it leaves him unable to bridge the gap between himself and the rest of humanity.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Best Actor 2018: Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody

Rami Malek won his Oscar from his first Oscar nomination for portraying Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Bohemian Rhapsody is about singer Freddie Mercury who overcomes adversity to become a musical legend, it's also the feature length version of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_XKpLrXdVQ

This film opens just before the monumental performance of Freddie Mercury's career, but first we must flashback, because as we all know Mercury recounted his entire life in his head before every show. We naturally find a long haired Freddie in his twenties with our performer Rami Malek, all decked out in extravagant, hair, digs, and a mouth piece to represent ole Freddie's proclined front teeth, ready to bring this legend to life. Of course with a little trouble set up by his father disapproving of Freddie, not for chopping his little brother in half like most musical legends, but for just being seemingly a near do well with a love of the night life. This isn't anything too substantial mind you as we get our glimpse of Malek's portrayal of Freddie. Malek, who was better known for more subdued characters up until this point, does turn in a transformative performance. He doesn't look like Freddie really, but he does seek to embody him. This with his heavy and rather idiosyncratic English accent, that Malek makes a lived in element to his performance. It is merely part of it, as it is consistent, and effective approximation of the real Mercury's accent. It honestly could've been quite the distraction but Malek honestly nails the impression, while avoiding becoming just a standard impersonation.

Of course Mercury was a rather flamboyant sort in and out of the stage. Malek's performance in turn is pretty big, but he thankfully does show reserve in the states of Freddie depending on his "audience" so to speak. As a more average bloke Malek presents more as the seeds of the extreme extroversion in his whole personality that is loud. Again he does this well by pulling it back in the early scenes showing the man fully trying to be something larger than life in his very physical being, as no movement is subdued, as Malek does capture a wild energy in the man. Of course he helps to form the band of Queen as the front man to which we see the performance side of Malek's performance. This can be argued as containing both the highlights and nadirs of his performance. In that on one hand his lip syncing is not particularly good. In fact it is often rather obvious. Malek does his best to make up for this in successfully capturing the stage personality of Freddie. Again this would be easy to fall into bad parody very quickly, given just how outrageous some of Freddie's costumes, and his moves were. Malek though manages to produce them while importantly capturing this certain charisma through them. It's a shame in fact that Malek wasn't capable of singing the part, since he succeeds in becoming the on stage front man in just about every other way.

Most unfortunate though is that the film is written by the guy who writes cliff notes versions of  Wikipedia articles and calls them a screenplay, named Anthony McCarten. This means we will not get any real insight into the man that was Freddie, but rather the broadest of broad strokes. In fact for much of the film we just get sort of some Queen antics, with Freddie leading the charge. Malek is more than decent though in these horribly repetitive scenes, where he nicely plays around with sort of the ego/personality of Freddie based on the situation. In that with sort of the public/record producers, he plays it up all the more, and Malek shows him as much of a showman as he is on stage, yet perhaps a bit more cruel in his attitude. This against his scenes with the band where the flamboyance is still present, yet Malek will downplay it more often bringing in the occasional subtle moment, even though the script never has anything interesting for him to say. Malek though offers at least a bit of consistency in his performance as he attempts to find any depth by not playing every moment the same, even though they are pretty much written as such. This is with a good chunk of the film essentially being boiled down to, this song gets written, then this song, then this song.

Any darker elements involving Freddie are entirely blamed upon his EVIL road manager/partner Paul. His use of drugs doesn't even have the requisite "You don't want none of this", scene, it is in fact completely bypassed, as just a generalized idea of rough living due to a toxic one note partner. He breaks up Queen here initially, not because of any serious things like not paying for drugs even one time, but because of the mechanization of his evil partner. That troublesome Paul even keeps his real friends away (the rest of the band, and his former girlfriend Mary (Lucy Boyton)), and tries to stop Freddie from performing Live Aid. This mean keeping him from caring about people having injustices done to them ("women and midgets and such") as though he is simply a villain. Of course it helps when the film itself says he was fired for villainy just in case you missed the lack of subtlety in the screenplay beforehand. This more than anything removes sort of the burden of any of this behavior from Freddie once again limiting the character to being just trapped in toxic relationship, though actually more of as though he is being evilly manipulated. It is pure nonsense that once again limits a real exploration of who Freddie is. It just has Malek needing to play as a bit bent out of shape, and slightly angry, almost like he's under the influence of some manipulator only. It doesn't at all add up to much of anything, though Malek once again isn't the one at fault.

Of course given that depiction of Paul against the loving relationship with his former girlfriend Mary, to which Malek has a nice unassuming chemistry with, one would almost think the film was anti-homosexuality propaganda. The film tries to fix that though by depicting Freddie's later partner Jim as this perfect good. In turn neither relationship is given any real substance just two different extremes. One for Malek to depicting in a confused sulky way and the other for him to portray as loving and warm as possible. Malek hits both notes with as much depth as the film allows for so kudos there, I guess. The only real thing McCarten decides upon Freddie is that he was lonely, and was desperately seeking comfort. A potentially interesting idea if it didn't go past that sentence I just wrote there. That's all there is to it. Having said that Malek is very good in portraying the intense unease in the moments of Freddie alone, and is able to internalize this unease to an extent. This is particularly well done as he shows Freddie at his least flamboyant, as a man just looking quietly for any type of friend. Again this idea of isolation is still thin, but Malek tries by bringing an honest sense of desperation to these moments. We also of course get his AIDS diagnosis, which too is rushed through to a few moments of staring somberly in the mirror. Well again Malek hits his marks, the anxiety of his fate expressed by through his eyes of a man looking to the void, is well portrayed. Not nearly as powerful as another Oscar nominated turn with a man suffering from AIDS, but more than decent.

Every beat though is just a short thin little detail essentially to move Freddie towards his Live Aid performance after he's done living through every year of his life. Now Live Aid here is treated less as a charity concert, and more as say a boxing match at the end of a proper Rocky sequel. In that we get the odds, Queen has performed together in so long, Freddie's voice appears weak, the stakes, Africa depends on it, and then meaning of it for Freddie. It's so important, it cures Freddie's relationship with his father, he finds his good partner in Paul, and Queen will finally merge their powers again to fight for the world. This is even shown as the call center for Live Aid being downtrodden until Queen performs changing the fortunes of the event, and they only stop short of showing a LED readout showing the increase in donations as Queen performs. It is the concert of a lifetime that will make all right in the world if only Freddie can perform to his fullest, before dying like Dewey Cox three minutes after his final performance. Although the writing behind the sequence couldn't be any more absurd, Malek once again delivers, outside of the lip syncing, in fully embodying every move he made in the performance. It doesn't come off as choreography, but rather a natural expression of the man's power on stage. So again kudos to Malek for delivering as he does as the representation of the man, even in a ludicrously written scenario. This is a good performance by Rami Malek, as he manages not to be overshadowed by the subject, other than his voice, and effectively realizes a paint by numbers portrait of him.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Best Actor 2018: Christian Bale in Vice

Christian Bale received his fourth Oscar nomination for portraying Dick Cheney in Vice.

Vice is a terrible film about the rise to power of Dick Cheney.

Vice being terrible is not from a single minor element, but from so many bad, or poorly executed ideas all smashed together like a jigsaw puzzle constructed by an infant. Sadly this is an infant who is constantly condescending to you how brilliant their jigsaw puzzle is and how stupid you are for not noticing how the pieces "should" fit together. Mind you this infant also claims that at the start of the puzzle making that he really was just guessing for the most part, but then at the end tells you all his choices are vetted facts. Of course when writing about this film I will need to digress now and again, as it is hard to not just constantly express my disdain for the overall film. I'm not strictly here for that, though this is going to come up a lot, as I'm here to discuss Christian Bale's performance in the film. This being Bale's second Oscar nominated turn directed by the infant...I mean Adam McKay, and the second where he plays largely a dramatic role despite being in the film that often leans towards the comic in tone, though very poorly mind you. There are a few performances though that are over the top and playing for the laughs, however Bale's isn't really the case, outside one minor detail that I will get to. Bale's here to give us the man that is Cheney, or at least the one allowed by McKay's film.

Cheney was previously portrayed, effectively, by Richard Dreyfuss in the more subtle examination of the Bush administration W. and you know when Oliver Stone is more subtle than you, you might  want to look at yourself carefully in the mirror. Any who, Dreyfuss is in an approximate type of Cheney as in if you hear the casting, you say " that makes sense". Bale on the other hand doesn't remotely look like Cheney or share any of the same mannerisms, so no matter what this was going to be an extreme transformation, which is essentially Bale's trademark at this point. This of course begins with the physical, which at this point it seems like he would amputate his fingers if a role called for, given the extent of weight he puts on here to be the right physical approximation of Cheney. There is more work though to done as Bale seeks to become a full embodiment of every little tic, from his way of tilting his head away from those he's speaking to, his grumbling from the side of his mouth, and just even his exact way of breathing. Bale hits each and every mark in this regard, and feels especially comfortable with these mannerisms, aided by some careful makeup, as the older Cheney. His younger Cheney is less clearly defined, but that has more to do with the script. I have no criticisms here as Bale successfully becomes Cheney physically more or less, and I do think it is beyond a parody impersonation.

I can certainly praise more about Bale's work in terms of his surface performance. Bale, as Dreyfuss did, captures this certain power of personality that is not related to charisma. Bale rather evokes this same sort of internalized determination in his delivery of Cheney's recommendations that seem so assured, that it makes it convincing he could persuade. His persuasion is not through charming those around him, it is rather being seemingly "right" in what he is telling them, and evoking this confidence in a very specific way. This being this quiet in many ways understated certainty. This in part comes from that delivery but also just physical confidence. In a way Bale successfully makes the less appealing physical marks of the character work towards this. In that many of his behaviors like not always looking people in the eye, and speaking out of the side of his mouth, that could be more of a more retiring sort. The power though is within that conviction that Bale realizes in this method, essentially as a man who doesn't need to face you constantly, as he knows, or at least believes he's above you, and doesn't need to speak loudly or directly at you, because he knows you will listen.

Now with Bale really all set to explore Cheney, having his surface qualities down, he just needs a good script to work with to make this an outstanding piece of acting, sadly he's got Vice's. I'll say the comedic tone attempted by the film isn't even the problem with this as Bale plays it straight, all except for the moments where Cheney is having a heart attack where he underplays his own concern. This is over the top by being so quiet as he shows so little worry at it, but I'll be perfectly honest, his delivery of these moments were the only things I found remotely funny in the film. Bale otherwise is consistent with the character as a mostly serious representation of the man, this is even with some terrible "bits" that McKay throws in there. The worst of them being having Cheney and his wife Lynne (Amy Adams), go into a bit of Shakespearean blank verse (not soliloquy as the film says, because it's not one person talking to him or herself) to dramatize his decision to take the vice presidency under George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell). This is frankly an embarrassing scene for both actors however Bale pushes himself through it with as much dignity as he can by just trying to deliver the words as naturally as he can. That is perhaps misguided on his part as it is still atrocious, and both actors look bad doing it.

Thankfully Bale doesn't have to deal with too many horrible bits along the way, but he does have to make sense of McKay's version of Cheney. McKay knows he's angry at Cheney, but just like an infant, his response comes off as more of tantrum than a well reasoned dismantlement of the man. A part of this is in the motivation of Cheney throughout the film. McKay decides to say Cheney's doing it solely for power to the point he shows Cheney becoming a Republican because he likes Donald Rumsfeld(Steve Carell)'s personal style. He goes so far to even have a moment where he asks Rumsfeld "what they believe". This is a ridiculous sentiment, and historically untrue, but above all it's just nonsensical to make this accusation. As a person who has firm beliefs can be just as horrible as someone who doesn't care, as you know this guy Adolf Hitler, had some very strong beliefs, yet still was a nadir of humanity. Anyway this leaves part of the film with Bale just doing this imposing force of "evil" act, and essentially every bad decision ever made, including the creation of ISIS, was done by Cheney's meddling according to McKay. Now that is a problematic in many ways, but one of the major ones is it basically makes the narrative, "Cheney did this, then this, then this, then this, then this, then this, then this" without any real insight into a single element of his political career. Bale in turn doesn't get enough of a chance to really do much past the surface other than portray the brutal force of will that is the man. Bale makes an impact with this to be sure, as his aforementioned realization of Cheney's personal style is effective. It sadly leaves thought the rise to power a rather bland one with Bale rarely getting to really sink his teeth into a scene to explore the character beyond a cursory point.

Of course McKay, I think accidentally, has another possible motivation or by way of only a single draft of the script I would imagine. This being the idea that he's doing it all for his family. This would at least explain the inexplicable, historically and otherwise, inclusion of a very thin conspiracy theory that Lynne Cheney's father killed her mother. I think this is in the film to show Cheney's protective spirit towards his family, though this is rather muddled if that was the case. I honestly don't think it quite as McKay seems timid to the idea of the scenes between Cheney and his family, since he doesn't know what to do with the idea of the loving father, going so far to fully support his lesbian daughter despite it not being politically viable for him. Having said that, while McKay doesn't know what to do with it, Bale does. In his scenes with his daughters, old or young, Bale brings a notable vulnerability and shows just the purest warmth of a father's love. I will especially give him credit in his scenes of comforting his daughter when she comes out to him, or his scene of near heart failure. Bale doesn't wink in the slightest just bringing the deepest tenderness in the moment, honestly depicting a father's love even if the man is questionable otherwise. McKay of course feels he has to lampshade that even with his laborious ending where he tries to argue a case for Cheney's betrayal of his daughter afterall, though this is an especially poorly written bit to which Bale has little involvement.

Anyway I think a far more compelling narrative could've been created stemming from Cheney seeking to protect and build his family no matter the cost if it had been better supported by the script. As Bale is most compelling in this regard, and this seems like a more believable motivation, than just a guy who wants power for the sake of it. This is as it fails to explain why he would be so specific in his endeavors involving the war on terror, McKay seems to suggest he abuses the power just to do so I guess, not for any personal reason, which is pretty dumb. The alternate motivation does work though, and again it genuinely seems like this Bale's take, despite McKay's efforts otherwise, when we arrive to Bale's last scene in the film, which was evidently Bale's idea. It's a legitimately great scene for Bale, from the outset when we see a reporter talking to him. This is the one scene we get to see Cheney fully in the public eye, and Bale's great in putting on the false bit of affability in his slight smile, trying to be a little less coldhearted. He of course then breaks the fourth wall, Bale's idea, but the speech, and Bale's approach plays into that more potent motivation for Cheney's actions. This idea that his "protection" of his family essentially goes to these extremes to destroy all enemies domestic and especially abroad. Bale reveals this quite effectively in his emotional break as this unrepentant, vicious, yet honestly passionate portrayal of the man's conviction to his beliefs. It has a real power through Bale's delivery, that offers a greater depth than he was allowed to reveal for the majority of the film. This brief scene makes me wish that Bale had been in a far better film about the subject. Bale is on point, and at times finds more than is on the page, and often independently rises above his material. Although the weaknesses of this film limit what Bale can do with the character, it is a good performance in an atrocious film.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Best Actor 2018: Viggo Mortensen in Green Book

Viggo Mortensen received his third Oscar nomination for portraying Frank "Tony Lip" Vallelonga in Green Book.

Green Book tells the story of piano virtuoso Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), and his new driver Tony Lip, as they undergo a tour in the deep south.

Viggo Mortensen is one of the very best working actors today. Even in small roles like Carlito's Way, Witness, and Crimson Tide, Mortensen manages to make an impression. His work in the LOTR films is of a proper leading man. Even when the film doesn't work, like A Dangerous Method, Mortensen is always on point with such a considerable range as a performer. His performance in The Road is all time great, his last Oscar nominated in Captain Fantastic turn was a brilliant nuanced depiction of a character that could've easily become one note in the wrong hands. Sadly that Mortensen I write of, is not all that evident in his turn here as Italian stereo...I mean Italian American Tony Lip. Now given Mortensen's prior work I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in terms of being steered into the wrong direction by his director, Peter Farrelly, who is better known for his broad comedies than the prestige drama Green Book aspires to be. I say this because in many ways Mortensen's work here would be far more fitting to such a comedy than a serious realization of the man Tony Lip was.

This stems from a problem with the film, as I mentioned in Ali's review, which it really is broken into that attempt at prestige, with Farrelly falling unto his comfort zone in the world of the buddy comedy films. In fact one can argue it has as much in common with Dumb and Dumber, as it does with say Driving Miss Daisy, as perhaps a more accurate name, given the titular green book plays little into the overall narrative, would've been Dumb and Proper. Mortensen's performance is to mak em rilly Italian, you know, what'che I'm sayings here? His accent would be right at home as the overblown Italian character of a wacky comedy. I would say kind of like Peter Seller's accent as Inspector Clouseau in A Shot in the Dark, that ridiculous French accent, while Mortensen's really isn't far off from that. This isn't an instance though where I feel that Mortensen just decided to go rogue and troll the film. This is rather Farrelly's incompetence when it comes to controlling the tone of the film. This is as Mortensen's work in this way is attuned, by how Farrelly depicts nearly all the Italian material. Everybody's a loud talking, big eating goodfella, or proper workin class fella, whose also big eating. There's not a lot of subtlety given to anything in between, it's a big loud and brash, which in turn is Mortensen's performance, for the most part.

It is easy to see why Mortensen is on this path as a lot of his scenes, especially his early ones, emphasize Tony as this big broad caricature. As we see him punching out punks, eating the largest meals possible, usually comically large, and just espousing himself in a way one describe as lacking a great deal of dignity. Mortensen's work in turn tries to bring this to life I suppose, as I would ask how does one deliver the line "titsburg" when wondering about the size of women's breasts in Pittsburgh, in a particularly subtle way. The character of Tony Lip very much exists within the confines of the broad comedy roots that Farrelly does not shed. Mortensen's work really does just play along with that in his boisterous line delivers, and swaggering around like he's a leaning tower of pizza (wocka wocka). He is an extreme desired to be the extreme odd couple pairing with Ali's Shirley who is a proper, sophisticated individual, who prefers to speak softly. Mortensen plays it up as to be desired, to create the what one would be to assume is the "comedy" of the situation. As I mentioned in Ali's review, the best thing to come out of these scenes, though are just the most casual interactions due to Ali and Mortensen having chemistry with one another. They can carry a conversation even if it isn't always worth having. Again though their depiction of growing warmth between the two isn't half bad, and does depend on both actors.

Sadly though the film has much higher ambitions than its odd couple pairing, which is a problem for Mortensen when he's playing a broad character in what suddenly tries to be a serious drama. He's essentially stuck with the over the top mannerisms, and voice, throughout, though I guess I do have to give him credit for his consistency in his mannerisms. Of course this I suppose is the way to approach as the film just jumps back and forth in these moments with no real rhyme or reason in its tone. There are even some slight indications of a desire for a more dramatic narrative in a few of the Tony only scenes, though only hinted at. These being moments where he is offered jobs, that obviously are criminal in nature, that Tony turns down, and Mortensen, does covey the reservations of such a life. This isn't focused upon in the slightest, and it is a potentially interesting detail just left hanging there. The even worse example of this is the racism of the character that we see initially when he throws away two of his own glasses that black workers drank out of. This essentially never really even comes up. It frankly seems like something from an earlier draft of the script, since there is no point in which it is dealt with. I guess the film just wants you to assume his casual racism went away once he started working with Shirley, however the idea of it isn't really even touched upon in his interactions with Shirley.

That whole component of the film is just a mess as written, therefore Mortensen can't do anything with it, because there's nothing there to work with. There's no transformation in Tony, because they wrote a point A (throwing the cups away) to point Z (telling a relative not to call Shirley by a derogatory term), and no stops in-between. As even the sort of distance between the two shown in their "buddy road movie" scenes, are written based upon their difference in personalities not their races. It is just a mind boggling moment to introduce than to barely even hand wave it away by the end of the film. The film clearly is far more comfortable with its personality based dynamic, which again there is a nice chemistry between Mortensen and Ali there. Now although his overarching performance is broad, the talent of Mortensen can be seen in fits and bits, sort of outside the stricture of the character. These in some purely reactionary moments, hey look at the chosen screen capture, that is a face of some nuance, as he looks upon Ali's dramatic in the rain speech. There are other moments of some nuance mainly in reaction, however they sadly don't add up within the character who from his first scene is a broad caricature, and remains as such to the very last scene. Mortensen almost seems to throw those into just remind us of the great actor he typically is. Mortensen's performance here is essentially sabotaged by a film that wants two completely incompatible elements of a broadly comic character at the center of film that is a self-serious story. Mortensen tries his best to try to do something that fulfills that impossible request, I don't hate it, nonetheless, from what I've seen in his typically very impressive oeuvre, this is the worst performance he's ever given.

Best Actor 2018

And the Nominees Are:

Viggo Mortensen in Green Book

Christian Bale in Vice


Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody


Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born

Willem Dafoe in At Eternity's Gate

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Best Supporting Actor 2018: Results

5. Sam Rockwell in Vice - I have seen some greater vitriol to this towards this performance, which I find is unnecessary as he struggles to even get to be seen without getting hidden by some fish cutaway. Rockwell gives us all his audition to play George Bush, not bad, maybe some day we'll actually get to see him play the part.

Best Scene: Scene from the trailer (no fish edits so it's better).
4. Mahershala Ali in Green Book - Ali essentially gives an Oscar winning performance in terms of conception. Conception mind you, and the formula for this seems a little too obvious even in his own work that occasionally becomes a bit stilted or over the top. It is not entirely bereft of merit, and he has some decent lighter moments in the film.

Best Scene: How he learned to play music. 
3. Adam Driver in Blackkklansman - Driver gives a good understated turn here portraying well the sort of two sides of a guy playing the fake part of a racist, while also being a not racist professional under cover cop. Although the personal focus on his character is limited, Driver does make the most of what he has to deliver a consistently compelling turn.

Best Scene: Thinking about his Jewish heritage.
2. Sam Elliott in A Star is Born - Elliott's role is excessively brief, with his story line being excessively rushed, however he delivers every second he is onscreen to give a moving and complex portrayal of an older brother struggling to deal with his mess of a younger brother.

Best Scene: Backing up. 
1. Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me? - Good Predictions John Smith, Omar, Luke, GM, RatedRStar, Matt, Charles, Robert, Michael McCarthy, Emi Grant and Tahmeed.  Grant wins this in a walk in his effortlessly delightful, yet also surprisingly poignant portrayal of a man who sort of dances around on the fringes of society.

Best Scene: A final request. 

Best Supporting Actor 2018: Mahershala Ali in Green Book.

Mahershala Ali won his second Oscar from his second nomination for portraying Dr. Don Shirley in Green Book.

Mahershala Ali's second Oscar nomination comes from a very different character and film, than his Oscar winning turn in Moonlight. Green Book itself is a film with a doubly skewed intentions. On one hand you have the classic prestige drama, the very classic prestige drama as the film feels more like a film made before than the new millennium in tone and style. On the other hand you honestly have a film more akin to the works of director Peter Farrelly, when working cooperatively with his brother as the Farrelly brothers, which is the comedic road picture, found in partially in their There's Something About Mary, but far more evident in Kingpin and especially Dumb and Dumber. This separation sets honestly two separate expectations of sorts upon the performers, Ali in particular, who despite being put into supporting is co-lead with Viggo Mortensen as Shirley's driver Tony Lip, and often feels closer to the center of the film as a the film attempts to give him the most vivid character arc and personal journey. Although we enter Shirley's life through Tony needing a job, we firmly stay in his life once we enter it, more so than Tony Lip's.

Now on the prestige drama side of things you get the expected set up of two actors playing real people. Ali playing a concert pianist in Shirley, who is so accomplished he literally lives above Carnegie hall. Ali's work here is very mannered in order to create the admittedly rather idiosyncratic personal style of the actual Shirley. Ali's most effective trait in this regard is the higher pitch accent he uses, which he manages to use consistently, and it does feel like a lived part of his performance. Sadly I wouldn't say the overall way he plays Shirely as being overtly strict in his physical manners is as natural. Ali over does this just a touch in playing him as such a man of class that he becomes robotic at times in his way of standing just so straight, and keeping this certain blank expression within his face at times. This is never to the point of overt distraction, but it kind of weighs upon Ali's work at times that makes him seem stiffer than is the intention for the character. As in, Ali himself is the one who comes off as a bit stiff rather than the character of Shirley.

Of course one could argue his physical mannerisms in a way are perfectly aligned with the more comedic buddy road picture in that we have an odd couple through the high brow, thin, prim and proper Shirley, against the crass, working class, overweight, and brutish Tony. Are you ready for some hi-jinks involving these difference, no? Well actually I'd say the completely weightless moments between Shirley and Tony are easily the best moments in the film. This is mainly because Ali and Mortensen strike up some good chemistry with one another. They manage to, even in their deeply mannered turns, find some natural levity in their work as the two clash in a more comedic fashion over minor issues of attitude and personal style. Their moments of less "important" interactions are pretty well realized actually as Ali and Mortensen find the right way to play off of each other to find the humor as well as hit the marks of creating the gradual growth in sense of warmth between them. This really is a classical technique, you'll see it in your Carrey/Daniels, your Candy/Martins, and of course De Niro/Grodins, mind you the instances of these scenes here aren't on level of those aforementioned, but it's more than decent in this regard thanks to the performances.

This film though has higher ambitions seeking to make grand statements as Shirley goes down south facing racism from one corner to another. This is also not helped by Shirley having a bit of a drinking problem, which doesn't help Ali's performance that leads to some, not so great acting from him sadly. His drunk scene unfortunately gets towards a cacophony of over drawn mannerisms that makes Ali's work briefly become a bit cartoony frankly, and any sense of the real sadness behind these acts is lost in the moment. Don't worry though this part of the film also leads to Ali's Oscar scenes, which might as well have Oscar clip written at the bottom of them by how lacking in subtlety they are. Ali certainly throws himself into both of them, that come in short succession. The first in a jail cell, about how he must take a non-violent route to change minds. I mean to be fair Ali throws his passion behind the scene to try to make it work, even as the mechanics of it are far too obvious. The same goes to the scene shortly afterwards where Tony says he's blacker than Shirley is, and we get a most dramatic scene, rainfall and all, as Shirley proclaims "Who am I then". Again I'll give Ali credit here, he puts forth the determined passion once again, with the requisite emotional distress, it's there, if somewhat hollow as the moments as written do not feel earned or. It doesn't really explore the idea of black identity, in fact it almost uses it strangely as though it is just being critical of Shirley then leaving it at that rather bizarrely. Don't worry though it is all cured from playing at a working class black night club. Ehhh, these elements are what don't work about it as it is excessively rote and painfully simplistic. It's not Ali's fault though as he does his best for the most part, even if a touch overplayed at times, however I theoretically wouldn't have minded just seeing Mortensen and Ali hang out for awhile as they do have chemistry. They work together, and together I feel make the "feel good" ending work so far as it's nice to see the two be charming and loving together. Ali's a good actor, this is not his best work, but it is not entirely without merit.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Best Supporting Actor 2018: Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Richard E. Grant received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Jack Hock in Can You Ever Forgive Me?.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a terrific film about curmudgeon and biographer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) becoming a forger of celebrity letters after having lost her job and writing a flop.

Richard E. Grant makes his triumphant return here with what has perhaps become his most noted role since his breakout turn as the titular Withnail of Withnail and I. Although it is fair to say the character of Withnail shares several similarities to his role of Jack Hock here, both roles certainly play to Grant's strengths as a performer, this is not a simple reprise of that performance, and not just because Grant/the character are thirty years older. Jack is a character of many, yet few trades, as we find during the film, but the name is perhaps most fitting to him as that of the bar fly. This is after all how he is introduced as he springs into some random bar where McCarthy's Israel is also drinking, rather early in the day. Grant's entrance is pronounced, as he enters with a spontaneous, rather endearing energy even in the way he summons a beer for himself. Where Grant had a certain flamboyance as Withnail, that was an act in the character, where in Jack, this is very much who Jack is, or at least must be. Although more on that later as first we must discover Jack on the surface, who we should, no must, be described quite simply as an absolute delight. 

Of course he is an interesting sort to be sure as he and Lee Israel initially bond upon seemingly their mutual disregard of the societal mucketymucks. Although this perhaps far more towards Lee who recalls, with great affection, when Jack urinated on expensive fur coats at a party, which she holds in high regard as an accomplishment. Grant on the other hand portrays this devoted fascination towards Lee, perhaps to some sense as a writer on the fringes of high society, but there is perhaps more to that. Let's hold off on that though, as it is easy enough just to have some fun with Grant in the role here. His mannerisms he so naturally realizes as the bit of the show that is. Grant very much plays Jack as a man seeking more than a bit of attention, in his dramatic strides, great grin, and frequently grand gestures. It is not a hollow act though as Grant brings such a zest into every single movement. Grant plays it as much of a man seeking his own pleasure through these actions, just as he is trying to be noticed at the same time. Grant's performance captures this infectious energy that even as we discover more of Jack's less savory qualities, as his living seems to consistent of drug dealing and small time larceny, it is hard not to like Jack due to Grant's approach.

The purpose of his character though is to be the one companion of Lee which only seems possible given Jack's equally dubious position on the societal food chain, which in turn is one of the great joys of the film that being the chemistry between Grant and McCarthy. This being funneled through initially their mutual love of creating a bit of misanthropic havoc, and the certain pseudo disdain they have for each other that is also this connection for them as this understanding of each other. Although there are many of truths held, Grant and McCarthy emphasize this honesty of interaction between the two that makes the friendship work so well. What also helps is pitch perfect comedic timing between the two. This film is not an intended to be a broad comedy, yet there is such natural comedy is realized through the two's interactions. They just derive such authentic humor from their interplay with one another that is absolutely splendid at every turn. Whether it be Grant's oh so sincere swift affirmation of "mmmhmm", when Lee questions if he's really gay for not knowing who Fanny Brice is, or just in Grant's way of conveying his more than a little insincere support of Lee having left a partner, due to her former partner wanting her to care about anyone other than just herself. Grant's delivery of "the never" at the notion is just ever so perfect, just as every little joking moment between the two is as performed by he and McCarthy.

Of course what makes this performance so special, though really just being a delight would already be more than enough, is that the friendship between the two does mean more than a few laughs. This is brilliantly realized in just the very first scene, partially beyond his enthusiasm to speak with someone, but also when they initially part ways with Jack remarking his house is a few blocks down or so. The hesitation in his voice tells this to be a lie, as does the certain somberness Grant brings to his eyes as he turns to the city alone. Grant portrays carefully no real callousness in the relationship, even with the misanthropy involved in some of their actions, showing a thrill in the interaction, a thrill just of a connection to any one. There is one moment in particular I love as he visits Lee's apartment, along with her super, and a exterminator. All three initially flee due to the smell, which Jack too admits to as well that draws him away. Jack returns though and the way Grant delivers that he doesn't mind and will help her clean up, is with an understated yet wholly genuine tenderness of a real friend. Grant is great the way he makes every moment the two share, as something special in his eyes, even if he plays as Jack purposefully underplaying a bit. When he takes her to a drag show, Grant offers this pride and warmth, of a man just happy to share a moment with a mutual spirit. As Grant realizes so well in his performance that Jack is a very lonely man in heart, and craves interaction more so than attention. Although the flamboyant personality isn't fake, Grant creates as an essential part of Jack way of being away from his loneliness. A loneliness that probably is only assuaged by Lee as a friend.

Now we don't see his life really outside of his time with Lee, but there is a pivotal moment where he comes to Lee for aid after being beaten by likely a male prostitute he couldn't pay. Again Grant depicts such real sadness in his eyes, suggesting just life of quiet desperation. Unfortunately the vices of both eventually lead to their parting, especially after Jack accidentally kills Lee's cat, and they both get caught in the forgeries. They share one more scene together some time later, now that Jack has developed AIDS, and she is asking to use him in her autobiography. Grant and McCarthy again excel by showing the two picking essentially where they left off, though now appropriately a bit more guarded as they trade their insults. Grant brings the right coldness towards her that Grant effectively shows coming from her dismissive treatment of him, and as well a definite bitterness towards his fatal affliction. The two though again casually lifts it as they keep speaking, creating the sense of their friendship once again ever so briefly through a little warm insult once again. Jack agrees though does so with the request that she make him "29 with perfect skin" and to not make him "sound stupid". Although the request is comical, Grant's portrayal of the moment is absolutely heartbreaking, though also a little heartwarming in a way, as he wholly finds the sense of Jack sensing his impending death, and that is time is nearly gone though still holding onto something. This is an outstanding performance by Richard E. Grant as he takes a role, that could've been just a grotesque caricature in the wrong hands, and brings such a vivid life to him. To be sure, he's entertaining with his delicious approach to Jack, but also finds such honesty and true poignancy in his portrait of this man on the fringes of society.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Best Supporting Actor 2018: Sam Elliott in A Star is Born

Sam Elliott received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Bobby Maine in A Star is Born.

Sam Elliott has long been a reliable character actor, however ever since his brief though notable appearance in The Big Lebowski, as the stranger/narrator he has received a certain iconic quality within cinema. In that if you want to get someone who just seems to embody some semblance of some sort of western Americana, Elliott is your man. This perhaps partially influenced Bradley Cooper casting Elliott as his brother. This casting you could almost call a bit of wish fulfillment from Cooper, as many would love the idea as Sam Elliott as their brother, even when the math doesn't exactly work out. Although to be fair Elliott being Cooper's brother is merely impractical and unlikely, not impossible, and who doesn't want that man with that iconic of a mustache and voice as their brother? Of course Elliott is currently in sort of another phase of his career, as he's recently being seemingly trying to find roles that allow others to see his acting ability beyond the voice and the mustache, in films like Grandma, and The Hero. One could potentially argue that his part as Bobby Maine, the brother of Cooper's successful though self-destructive rock star Jackson Maine, is a combination of a little of both.

Sam Elliott represents one of the major additions to this fourth version of the film with the inclusion of a brother for Maine. The character does have a slight comparison in the villainous handler in the previous versions, though all the negative qualities of the character has been switched to the Britush agent of this version's titular star, Ally (Lady Gaga). This grants a far personal connection between Jackson, and the man taking care of him, as they are bonded by blood. Now though Elliott sort of made his name as a presence, he is indeed a terrific actor. That's important as Bobby is very sparingly used throughout the film, and honestly given the brother's inclusion I do wish they expanded on the story line a bit. Instead we get sort of a rushed facet of the film where both were the son of a drunk, that Jackson still idolizes, and Bobby continues to take care of Jackson. Elliott though is a force to be reckoned with from his first scene where he reprimands Jackson's self care. Elliott brings the ferocity not of a an angry manager but rather a yet again disappointed older brother dealing with the same nonsense once again. Elliott is direct, and delivers every line with a quick incisiveness that establishes his relationship with Jackson instantly and effectively.

Shortly afterwards we see him in another setting as he takes care of a drunk Jackson. Elliott here bringing a real tenderness in his physical performance showing a clear concern for him, even as he expresses the same type of exasperation over the situation, however now properly tempered by Elliott. Their relationship soon comes to a head, probably too soon in a narrative sense, when Jackson finds out Bobby sold their father's ranch, leading him to violently accost his brother. Elliott plays the scene well, even if it could've used more build up, as he portrays his reaction as this anger tempered by sadness, as explains the worthlessness of the memory of their father while also stating his disdain for Jackson's life choices. Elliott again is terrific in being able to emphasize the love of the brother in his eyes, even while also conveying his delivery the disgust, particularly when Jackson dismisses Bobby's own life. This separates the two, and the film from Elliott for some time. He eventually reappears as a calmer reassuring force to support Jackson as he tries to recover from his demons. Elliott again attunes his performance so well in creating the sense of the relationship as in these scenes we just see the older brother not the manager. Elliott offers the right specific warmth in these moments as he shows Bobby showing his love for his brother, while also still recognition of their past difficulties. The one moment that breaks this is when Jackson recognizes that Bobby was the one he looked up to rather than their father. Elliott's reaction to this is shown only for a few seconds as Bobby is trying to back up his pickup truck to leave Jackson's house, yet it packs quite a punch as Elliott expresses completely how much that declaration meant to him as well as how much he really does care for his brother. Elliott appears only in one more scene, his only major scene interacting with Ally as the two of them reflect upon Jackson's ultimate fate. Elliott's work is again on point as he manages to find the right approach for the scene. In an overarching sense he delivers Bobby's words as comfort towards Ally, and in turn he tries to put up as supportive of a front as he can. Within that though Elliott realizes so naturally these moments of nearly breaking into tears, as he still conveys the love for his brother, though as a man trying to contain it for the sake of Ally. Although I do wish Bobby had been expanded within as a character, with a more gradually paced subplot, this is a strong turn by Sam Elliott as he makes the most of what he has and shows he's much more than a great voice and magnificent mustache.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Best Supporting Actor 2018: Adam Driver in Blakkklansman

Adam Driver received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Detective Philip "Flip" Zimmerman in Blackkklansman.

Blackkklansman is a good enough film following an African American cop, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan.

Adam Driver, who was perhaps the most consistently recognized aspect of this film throughout this awards season, actually has a fairly limited role in terms of scope of character, though large in terms of screentime. Driver portrays the most seasoned undercover detective who ends up working with Ron to investigate the Klan. We meet him initially as the two monitor a speaker with ties to black radicals. It is there that we come to know the character with Driver in the role. Now I won't go to speak to a German man again in Paterson New Jersey to cover Driver here, but Driver is an actor where there is a certain fascinating quality just to his normal presence. It's a little off-beat and intriguing by nature, which is a good thing for Flip who is a pretty straight forward character in the scheme of the film. We know him really just as a competent, devoted cop, who is casually a good guy. This is immediately evident on the debriefing on the speaker where Ron believes him not to be a threat, and Driver delivers Flip's agreement with this as a direct confirmation. This is not of some guy who is overly passionate, but rather just is firmly doing his job, as a decent man.

This remains much the same once he begins the investigation into the Klan with Ron. There is a touch of a dismissive quality towards Ron, though as a rookie cop not as an African American, that Driver delivers well as just a bit of dry ribbing such as when he remarks on Ron using his own name in order to establish contact with the Klan. In order to infiltrate it further though someone obviously needs to take Ron's place, which is Flip. Initially Driver just again hits the marks of professionalism as he preps for the job, and begins his work as an undercover man. Now in the undercover scenes Driver gets to stretch a bit more, though still in a limited sense as a man putting up a front. Driver though is very good in portraying sort of the duality within the character as he deals with the situation. In playing the racist, while actually being one of the targets of the Klan as a Jewish man. Driver realizes this sort of hollow passion, as brings the needed conviction to be believed by the Klan members, while in his eyes expressing no truth within the words. It's a delicate balance that Driver pulls off well as he is believable as an inside man, while also managing to let the audience in on Flip's own feelings on the situation.

Driver's work is important as in a way he facilitates a bit of the humor of the situations involving the Klan members stupidity, by giving such straight laced reactions, or attuned over reactions that Driver plays as sort of as these hidden bit of derision towards them. In this though the film never becomes about Flip truly, despite being the focus of so many scenes, leaving his arc about his Jewish heritage rather limited. Driver though still does some particularly fine work in realizing the little bit of this we are granted. The most notable instance of this being when he opens up to Ron about thinking more about his Jewish heritage. It's a strong scene from Driver as he makes less a grandiose statement, but rather realizes it as this rather subtle bit of self-reflection in Flip. There also a especially strong moment during Flip as fake Ron's initiation to the Klan. It is just his line delivery as Flip has to state being a non-Jewish pure Aryan race. Driver doesn't make it this hesitation, that would kind of give away the truth to the onlooking Klan members, but does find the right awkwardness alluding to Flip's discomfort even as he succeed in playing the part as the Klan member. That moment is essentially what Driver's performance is, which is a lot of strong little moments. We don't delve deeper into his self-reflection, nor any aspect of who he is beyond the investigation, being Jewish and a good man. Driver however makes the most of what he has to work with, and is especially important in helping the film's tone find balance with his careful and subtle work throughout.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Best Supporting Actor 2018: Sam Rockwell in Vice

Sam Rockwell received his second Oscar nomination for portraying George W. Bush in Vice.

Now on paper Sam Rockwell seems like a great choice for the former president with a specific energy as a performer seeming a proper match for the particular style of Bush. Well if you're looking at the result of great casting look elsewhere, not so much due to Rockwell's performance mind you, he's just barely in the film to be honest. Vice's main intention is a film to tell us how horrible Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) is as a person, politician, and the destruction he inflicted upon American if not mankind in general. Writer/director Adam McKay makes him as much a boogeyman as a person, to the point of an extreme simplification of history. This idea was touched upon by Oliver Stone in the better, though far from great, W., but even the notoriously unsubtle Stone granted a bit of nuance to the subject. That's not the case here to the point that the actual president during Cheney's reign as vice president is an after thought. This is as McKay views Bush solely as a puppet for Cheney to control, and so the former president and Rockwell are regulated to a few brief scenes.

One being a quick moment as the black sheep of his own family being drunk at a white house party. Honestly we barely get to see what Rockwell is trying to do in the scene as the glimpse is so brief. There is nothing to scoff at, because why scoff when there's nothing there. Let's jump ahead then to the cleaned up Bush running for president, inviting Cheney to be his VP, inter spliced with fishing footage, because GET IT he's reeling him in, thanks MCKAY!!! I wouldn't have known otherwise. Although because of that we still barely get to see what Rockwell is doing, but now it is clear enough to notice him. Rockwell whips out a bit of the rolling speech of Bush with a Texas twang, with the casual physical manner thrown in. We can barely hear this though as the scene is interrupted by Cheney's internal monologue just as we are by the film's obnoxious editing style. Again he's there but we barely even get a sense of the character. It's been called an SNL impression, which is not completely inaccurate (though slightly), but I'd say that is not Rockwell's fault. The problem is he only gets some scant unimportant lines speaking in generalities for Cheney. This makes it so we can only see the mannerisms, he's doing. He's not doing them poorly, the funny thing is, he's not trying to really be funny. He's trying to realize the character it seems, but the film's against him. The same occurs as he asks Cheney again, it's presented in the same obnoxious way, and again Rockwell is strangely in the background the whole time. In the situation room to determine how to react to 9/11, Rockwell is again forced to just sit and stare. He's got a fine, "I'm concerned" face going, but sadly again we barely get a sense of him. Rockwell manages a bit in portraying an unease and lack of certainty. Finally we get the most Rockwell is allowed to do in another discussion on the invasion of Iraq. Again the focus is on Cheney's manipulations, and in a rather simplistic way. Rockwell though delivers his line with a bit desperation showing the need to stand up to his father's legacy. The sense of it is there is in his performance, so good job there. I have seen some real negativity towards this performance, to which I'd say why? He's simply barely in the film. We only get a glance at him, so honestly what he's doing with Bush physically and vocally can't really "settle" for the viewer. He hits his marks, he hits the requisite emotion, and that's about it. The whole thing feels more like Rockwell's audition to play Bush, rather than him actually playing the part. I mean I'd certainly give him the call back, but I'd try to give him some better scenes to work with once the film starts shooting.

Best Supporting Actor 2018

And the Nominees Are:

Adam Driver in Blackkklansman

Mahershala Ali in Green Book

Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Sam Elliott in A Star is Born

Sam Rockwell in Vice

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Final Oscar predictions (aka I don't want a three page comments section)

Picture:
  1. A Star is Born
  2. Roma
  3. Blackkklansman
  4. The Favourite
  5. Vice
  6. Green Book
  7. Bohemian Rhapsody
  8. First Man
Next two would be Beale Street and Black Panther. Again predicting (hoping) the 5% #1 votes rule, by tech branchers, will get First Man in. I think the same could happen for Beale Street. At the same time feeling this is what could prevent Black Panther from making it.

Director:
  1. Alfonso Cuaron - Roma
  2. Spike Lee - Blackkklansman
  3. Bradley Cooper - A Star is Born
  4. Yorgos Lanthimos - The Favourite
  5. Adam McKay - Vice
The controversy around Peter Farrelly is striking at the exact moment, that might not push the film out but I think could be enough to give McKay and Lanthimos the edge over him. I'd love to see Pawel Pawlikowski pull a Bennett Miller and get in over McKay, however I don't foresee that happening.

Actor:
  1. Rami Malek - Bohemian Rhapsody
  2. Christian Bale - Vice
  3. Bradley Cooper - A Star is Born
  4. Viggo Mortensen - Green Book
  5. John David Washington - Blackkklansman
Same as before, again can Hawke, Gosling or Dafoe surprise? It has happened before, like Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah, who had no industry precursors mentions but got in over a younger crop. But the odds typically are against it.

Actress:
  1. Olivia Colman - The Favourite
  2. Glenn Close - The Wife
  3. Lady Gaga - A Star is Born
  4. Melissa McCarthy - Can you Ever Forgive Me?
  5. Emily Blunt - Mary Poppins Returns 
The fringe contenders again need to be surprises. I'll admit I was tempted to go with Yalitza Aparicio, however will they make Blunt wait again? Maybe. But I'm predicting her anyways. The bigger surprises usually happen here rather than Actor though,  like Ruth Negga, Charlotte Rampling and Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night, so it's not off the table the question though is, who would it be? Maybe Aparicio, Collette, Kidman, Davis or Pike. Though playing it safe.

Supporting Actor:
  1. Richard E. Grant - Can You Ever Forgive Me?
  2. Marhershala Ali - Green Book
  3. Adam Driver - Blackkklansman
  4. Sam Elliott - A Star is Born
  5. Sam Rockwell - Vice
Well my hesitation before around Rockwell being a Globe overreaction has been lifted by his BAFTA nomination. Curious to see if a dark horse will happen, but it doesn't seem too likely.

Supporting Actress:
  1. Rachel Weisz - The Favourite
  2. Emma Stone - The Favourite
  3. Amy Adams - Vice
  4. Regina King - If Beale Street Could Talk
  5. Claire Foy - First Man
Again probably wishful thinking in terms of order, however it is hard to call someone who has been snubbed by both actual overlapping voter groups a lock for a nomination let alone a win, in the case of King. Although Adams seems safe enough now, her role is minor, but sometimes that just doesn't matter. Foy hopefully is bolstered by First Man's tech comeback as indicated by the guilds. Robbie is hanging around too, but her position is certainly flimsy. Blunt is also possible for her other performance, but being ignored by her hometown group does leave a major ? there.

Original Screenplay:
  1. The Favourite
  2. Green Book
  3. Roma
  4. Vice
  5. Eighth Grade
The category isn't deep enough for the controversy around Green Book to stop it here. The top four seem pretty close to locks, barring some MAJOR snub. It's all about that fifth spot really, and typically there is some Indie feature to garner the lone spot. Eighth Grade has the momentum, so that will probably be it.

Adapted Screenplay:
  1. Blackkklansman
  2. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
  3. If Beale Street Could Talk
  4. A Star is Born
  5. The Death of Stalin
The top four seem in a strong position at this point. Going with the Armando Iannucci surprise, as he managed to get in with In the Loop, which was the sole nomination for that film.


Animated:
  1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
  2. Incredibles 2
  3. Isle of Dogs 
  4. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  5. Mirai
Given last year's nominees the change in voting system obviously has skewed the nominees in a far more populist direction. That makes the top four given, though as with The Breadwinner last year there's probably enough there to get something like Mirai in.

Production Design:
  1. The Favourite
  2. Mary Poppins Returns
  3. First Man
  4. Isle of Dogs
  5. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Hard to predict honestly past Poppins and The Favourite, as I could see a lot of random notices here.

Cinematography:
  1. Roma 
  2. First Man
  3. The Favourite
  4. A Star is Born
  5. Cold War
Typically these lineup with the ASC nominees, unless there is an established cinematographer they want to bring back, that gives Delbonnel an outside change for Scruggs, but I don't see it happening.

Costume Design:
  1. The Favourite
  2. Mary Poppins Returns
  3. Mary Queen of Scots
  4. Black Panther 
  5. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
I wouldn't put it past them doing something stupid like giving Bohemian Rhapsody a nomination here, but I'm hoping for the inspired, and BAFTA supported, Scruggs nod.

Editing:
  1. First Man 
  2. A Star is Born
  3. Roma
  4. Vice
  5. Blackkklansman 
A MOST editing Vice nomination, and a best picture contender support nom somewhere (like Three Billboards last year), maybe to Blakkklansman, could be either The Favourite or Bohemian Rhapsody as well.

Makeup and Hairstyling:
  1. Vice
  2. Stan and Ollie
  3. Suspiria
Typically some of the most random nominations can be found here. They love transformation to famous people in the case of Vice and Stan and Ollie, (hopefully they won't go for a bad overbite piece for Bohemian Rhapsody in that vein). I could see Suspiria making it given how extensive the work is there.

Sound Editing:
  1. First Man
  2. A Quiet Place
  3. Solo
  4. Incredibles 2
  5. Mission Impossible: Fallout
More sounds the better typically in this case, plus they tend to like action Pixar here.

Sound Mixing:
  1. First Man
  2. A Star is Born
  3. Bohemian Rhapsody
  4. A Quiet Place
  5. Mary Poppins Returns
The category for musically inclined films, and there are plenty of them to go around.

Score:
  1. First Man
  2. Mary Poppins Returns
  3. Isle of Dogs
  4. If Beale Street Could Talk
  5. Black Panther
Given Hurwitz's random snub at BAFTA, I could see any one of these five missing out as well. 

Visual Effects:
  1. First Man
  2. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  3. Avengers: Infinity War
  4. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
  5. Solo: A Star Wars Story
Support for the film is the only way the extremely dodgy effects found in Black Panther, will make it. Solo, Jurassic World, and Ready Player One, are beloved by few, but they definitely have a lot of effects to go around, which is all that is needed as evidenced by Kong's nomination last year.

Song:
  1. "Shallow" - A Star is Born
  2. "Trip a Little Light Fantastic" - Mary Poppins Returns
  3. "All the Stars" - Black Panther
  4. "I'll Fight" - RGB
  5. "When a Cowboy Trades his Spurs for Wing" - The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Anything past the first three is going to be random, so might as well indulge in some wishful thinking with my #5.

Documentary Feature:
  1. Won't You Be My Neighbor 
  2. RGB
  3. Three Identical Strangers
  4. Free Solo
  5. The Silence of Others
Honestly just pick five, as even "locks" miss out frequently in this category.
  1. Roma
  2. Cold War
  3. Burning
  4. Shoplifters
  5. The Guilty
Like Doc, this category is extremely squirrely so any way is fine, though Roma and Cold War are probably safe. Again I'll indulge in some wishful thinking with my #5, but hey maybe it's run time alone will help endear itself to voters off the shortlist.