Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2013

And the Nominees Were Not:

Toni Servillo in The Great Beauty

Domhnall Gleeson in About Time

Christoph Waltz in The Zero Theorem

Simon Pegg in The World's End (feat. Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz)  

Sol Kyung-gu in Hope

Predict these five or those five, or both:

Alden Ehrenreich in Beautiful Creatures

Ethan Hawke in Before Midnight

Christian Bale in Out of the Furnace 

Terence Stamp in Song for Marion

Masaharu Fukuyama in Like Father, Like Son

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2018: Results

10. Matt Dillon in The House That Jack Built - Dillon makes the most out of the least, in creating at least something worthwhile in one of the most repugnant cinematic experiences I've had in awhile.

Best Scene: Looking at heaven.
9. John Huston in The Other Side of the Wind - Huston's performance delivers on the needed larger than life presence of a delusional director, but within that he brings the needed nuance within the man's hidden vulnerabilities.

Best Scene: A desperate pass.
8. Marcello Fonte in Dogman - Fonte delivers an interesting off-beat turn, giving a sense to essentially a "gentle" miscreant.

Best Scene: Ending.
7. Paddy Considine in Journeyman - Considine gives a powerful portrayal of a man slowly recovering from his severe injuries, never shying away from the most desperate moments.

Best Scene: Call to his wife. 
6. Ben Foster in Leave No Trace - Foster gives yet another great performance, this time in a particularly quiet yet truly poignant portrayal of a man trying to live through his severe trauma while taking care of his daughter.

Best Scene: Taking the test.
5. Steve Coogan in Stan & Ollie - Coogan, alongside John C. Reilly, simply brings the classic comedy pair to life, that would be already more than enough, but they also manage to naturally mine the emotional depths within their off screen personalities and dynamics as well.

Best Scene: The fight.
4. Jakob Cedergren in The Guilty - Cedergren gives an effortlessly captivating turn that brings to life the film's tension through his performance while also giving a memorable portrayal of a man discovering his morality.

Best Scene: Confession.
3. Ethan Hawke in First Reformed - Hawke brings a needed humanity to his heavily symbolic film, granting a powerful portrayal of a man's slow descent towards an unusual form of madness and despair.

Best Scene: Preparing for death.
2. John C. Reilly in The Sisters Brothers - Reilly gave two great performances as one half of a pair in 2018. One as his utterly convincing transformation to Oliver Hardy, and his other in this soulful depiction of a man trying to find a decent path for both himself and his mad brother.

Best Scene: Talking to Warm.
1. Ryan Gosling in First Man - Good predictions Emi Grant and GM. Gosling gives yet another masterful turn this decade in finding yet another dynamic and unique approach to very subdued character. This time in his absolutely striking portrait of Neil Armstrong that realizes both what makes the man ordinary and extraordinary in his vivid depiction of his inspiring achievement and heartbreaking personal journey to the moon.

Best Scene: Private moment on the moon.
Overall Ranking:
  1. Ryan Gosling in First Man
  2. John C. Reilly in The Sisters Brothers
  3. Ethan Hawke in First Reformed
  4. Jakob Cedergren in The Guilty 
  5. Steve Coogan in Stan & Ollie
  6. John C. Reilly in Stan & Ollie
  7. Ben Foster in Leave No Trace
  8. Willem Dafoe in At Eternity's Gate
  9. Paddy Considine in Journeyman
  10. Joaquin Phoenix in The Sisters Brothers - 4.5
  11. Ben Foster in Galveston  
  12. Lucas Hedges in Boy Erased
  13. Robert Redford in The Old Man and the Gun 
  14. Joaquin Phoenix in Don't Worry He Won't Get Far On Foot
  15. Lakeith Stanfield in Sorry to Bother You 
  16. Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool 2
  17. Daveed Diggs in Blindspotting
  18. Nicolas Cage in Mandy
  19. Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born
  20. Marcello Fonte in Dogman
  21. John Huston in The Other Side of the Wind 
  22. Lucas Hedges in Ben is Back
  23. Joe Cole in Prayer Before Dawn
  24. Matt Dillon in The House That Jack Built
  25. Michael B. Jordan in Creed II 
  26. Ben Dickey in Blaze
  27. Rafael Casal in Blindspotting
  28. Jason Clarke in Chappaquiddick
  29. Josh Brolin in Sicario: Day of the Soldado
  30. John David Washington in Blackkklansman - 4
  31. Christian Bale in Vice 
  32. Bryan Cranston in Isle of Dogs
  33. Benicio Del Toro in Sicario: Day of the Soldado
  34. Casey Affleck in The Old Man and the Gun
  35. Paul Giamatti in Private Life
  36. Tomasz Kot in Cold War 
  37. Charlie Plummer in Lean On Pete
  38. Evan Peters in  American Animals
  39. Ed Oxenbould in Wild Life
  40. Stephan James in If Beale Street Could Talk 
  41. Adam Driver in The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
  42. Alex Wolff in Hereditary 
  43. Shameik Moore in Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse
  44. Anders Danielsen Lie in 22 July 
  45. Yoo Ah-in in Burning
  46. Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Fallout
  47. John Krasinski in A Quiet Place
  48. Nick Offerman in Hearts Beat Loud 
  49. Thorbjørn Harr in 22 July
  50. Alden Ehrenreich in Solo
  51. Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody
  52. Mahershala Ali in Green Book - 3.5 
  53. Logan Marshall-Green in Upgrade
  54. Jack Black in The Polka King
  55. John Cho in Searching
  56. Barry Keoghan in American Animals
  57. Jason Bateman in Game Night
  58. Jovan Adepo in Overlord
  59. Ewan McGregor in Christopher Robin
  60. Charlie Hunnam in Papillon
  61. Hugh Jackman in The Front Runner
  62. Craig T. Nelson in Incredibles 2   
  63. Alexander Skarsgard in Mute
  64. Rami Malek in Papillon
  65. Jonathan Pryce in The Wife- 3
  66. Tom Hardy in Venom 
  67. Chris Pine in Outlaw King
  68. Gang Dong-won in Illang: The Wolf Brigade 
  69. Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther
  70. Moka Kamishiraishi in Mirai  
  71. Paul Rudd in Ant-man and The Wasp
  72. Henry Golding in Crazy Rich Asians
  73. Viggo Mortensen in Green Book
  74. Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald 
  75. Oscar Isaac in Operation Finale - 2.5
  76. Jason Momoa in Aquaman 
  77. Tom Schilling in Never Look Away
  78. Tye Sheridan in Ready Player One 
  79. Chris Pratt in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom 
  80. Steve Carell in Beautiful Boy - 2
  81. Timothee Chalamet Beautiful Boy 
  82. Richie Merritt in White Boy Rick - 1.5
  83. John Travolta in Gotti 
  84. Paul Rudd in Mute - 1
Next: 2013 lead, though I'm taking a break for a little while. 

Friday, 22 February 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2018: Ethan Hawke in First Reformed

Ethan Hawke did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning the vast majority of critics prizes and winning the Independent Spirit Award, for portraying Pastor Ernst Toller in First Reformed.

First Reformed follows a pastor of a small parish grappling a myriad of troubling issues. A film with much potential however writer/director Paul Schrader too often gives away his hand by indulging in some particularly aggressive finger wagging towards his audience.

This film fits into the larger scheme of nearly Schrader's entire career as a filmmaker where his aim has typically been to focus upon men on a razors edge drifting towards extremism. Whether this be the survivalist of The Mosquito Coast, the delusion policeman of Affliction, the imperialist writer of Mishima and perhaps the most relevant to this film, the insomniac war vet turned taxi cab driver of Taxi Driver. This idea though intertwined with another film, Diary of a Country Priest, to create yet another path towards the extreme. As with all these films, the performance behind this journey is an essential facet to the work. In this instance we have Ethan Hawke, who while has always been a good performer far beyond the nonsense derision he sometimes has received in popular culture, but has most recently been carving a path for himself marked with several impressive turns in a variety of roles. His performance here as Ernst Toller though is in particular a challenge, as falling into the overwrought, given the often heavy handed writing, is a constant danger. Hawke though was perhaps then the ideal candidate for the role, given his typical approach is a naturalistic one. This is for the best here as line between becoming simply an overt symbol for allegory, and actually realizing Toller as a man could have been easily blurred. Thankfully with Hawke in the role such concerns can easily be forgotten.

Hawke's performance is essential in realizing the initial state of the man that, as typical to Schrader, isn't exactly well balanced even before the narrative draws itself forward. Hawke's performance though is key to realizing this in a way that makes the material more conducive to a real emotional narrative. Take his initial scenes where we see Toller go upon his rather limited tasks as pastor, where he delivers sermons, but more often just seems to be caretaker for his historical church the titular First Reformed. Hawke's work is fascinating in that he manages to find something rather potent in a unique dispassion within the role. This as he finds this certain balance of almost a passion of lacking passion, as he does not depict Toller as someone simply going through motions, even though that is technically what the character is doing initially. Hawke instead portrays this sort spiritual indifference as a considerable burden upon the man, as Hawke's work evokes a constriction of essential the man's soul. This is as there is nothing soulful of his "good works" that Hawke is able to depicts as the man fulfilling his duties without passion. What is remarkable though is that underlying anxiety that Hawke brings within that, which conveys how troubling this state is for the man.

There is a fascinating way he brings this certain detachment within the character that relates essentially to the man's own struggle that burdens him, perhaps to the point of excessive self-reflection. This of course is exemplified with his diary he writes, that is both evokes "Country Priest" and Schrader's screenplay to Taxi Driver. It is technically more similar to the former as there is far less of a sense of it as any type of manifesto. His narration is key to this in creating this as another form of Toller's internalized anguish. What makes Hawke's performance so effective in this is creating the sense of the unknown and doubt. This actually isn't traditional doubt of God, but rather doubt relating more so to existence. Hawke's work is subtle, yet striking in creating a deep rooted pain in the moralization of thought, but also importantly his portrayal of the physical presence of the man. This is actually what I find is an essential factor to the power of Hawke's performance as his way of containing himself in every interaction in these early scenes conveys two things. One being created distance between himself, that creates Schrader's favorite, the sense of isolation so notably, but also the sense of the literal illness of the man. As Hawke, without falling into overt expression, carries himself man in constant state of pain.

An "inciting" incident in this tale comes as Toller is called upon a concerned pregnant wife, Mary....subtle there Schrader....(Amanda Seyfried), to speak to her husband, a nihilistic environmentalist. The scene of speaking to the man is interlaced with Toller's narration commenting on their conversation, a conversation that pressures Toller's views of God and of the world, while the man deeply questions bringing a child into a world he foresees as being doomed. Hawke's performance in this scene as in part he exudes an uncertainty of not knowing exactly how to speak in order to get through to the man. It is with this reserve of the man attempting to position himself as the religious mentor, though unable to wholly commit to this act. This is as the one message he attempts to impart is the idea of losing a child rather than bringing a child into the world. Hawke is incredible as Toller recounts the tale of his son and his eventual death in the military. Hawke recounts this in a fascinating way as a man framing strongly his anguish of this loss, and though such a tale might end with the note of the preciousness of life, Hawke uses it instead to reveal a hole in his soul. What is so remarkable is how calm yet still vibrant Hawke realizes this loss within Toller, where he fails to assuage the man, however Hawke is able to realize this precarious frame of mind of Toller himself.

Toller's words obviously do little to help the man who he discovers along with Mary is planning a terrorist attack via a bomb jacket. Before the man carries it out though he ends up committing suicide. It is worth noting Hawke's excellent moment of identifying the horror in the instance of discovering the suicide. This action though doesn't help Toller as Hawke portrays a man becomes all the more contemplative as he takes in that suicide and begins to examine the man's extremist world view. Hawke's performance is essential here as much of these scenes are within the observant quality of his work. This is as he interacts with the community still, including those who he believe are part of the problem regarding the environment, and Mary. Within the scenes of interacting with hostile youth, and a local businessman, Hawke is great in creating this helplessness of these moments. There is an earnest desire to try to communicate his views in these moments, and in the quick brushing off of any of his statements Hawke internalizes all the greater sense of anxiety. An anxiety that he builds gradually within Toller that is this greater threat to his psyche, and in his moments of explaining it openly we see this most uneasy display of tension from Hawke. Hawke portrays a man who never had this specific cause, yet finds this way of this weight of it within the man's mind. When he explains the environmental destruction as an affront to God, Hawke is outstanding by expressing this difficulty and agony of the act of attempting to refine his passion, especially as it is so routinely ignored by others.

Hawke's performance is essentially volcanic, that he depicts brilliantly by building that tension of the man, that existed even as the film began, but now refining all his anxieties within this one cause that becomes his fixation. The only time he has even a minor release from this is in his scenes with Mary. Hawke's again great by not falling into an easy sentiment in these moments. As even in these moments he only shows a slighter ease of state as this man who still has this level of distance. This is even as he and Mary share a especially intimate state of meditation by lying upon one another. Even in this act Hawke is able to convey in his eyes the sense of his mind still being off in his thoughts that become this festering wound. What is so notable about Hawke's for me is as he maintains, even in the most heavy handed instances of dialogue, a strict reality in his own performance. His delivery and general performance makes sense of this state of a man, who has become embedded within his thoughts, and within his fate towards a state of a very specific near mania. Hawke evokes the gravity of the entire world in his depressed state of being, that becomes dangerous as he begins to react against it. Once this begins to happen Hawke is especially striking as he so naturally built up to such a understated man becoming essentially radical. This is even in the moment of another female parishioner offering some attempt to comfort him. Hawke's immediate moment of outrage towards the woman is rather terrifying as he speaks as though she is pushing him from some divine purpose.

I love though how Hawke essentially makes this is restrained outburst still of a man, who has never spoken up within his life, yet now his sense of ruin is overwhelming. Hawke makes sense of a quiet pastor, who though perhaps dejected, is prompted towards committing a terrorist act using the bomb vest of the deceased man to blow up his own church. This is through that internalized tension of self that includes his struggles understanding his place in his faith, the use of the world, the loss of his son and his own physical ailments. Hawke's work is imbued with that apprehension that finally explodes towards an open rather harrowing breakdown. This is as he prepares originally for the attack, with his vest all prepared, and with this state of  man prepared to release himself to God as his own funeral. The sense of determination is shown by Hawke as a man who seemingly has found his purpose, this is until he sees Mary also entering the church. Hawke's reaction is amazing as this searing pain, as his prepared release is instantly foiled, and he stuck to wither for the moment. This leads to the excessively symbolic moment of Toller wrapping himself in barbed wire as though it was a crown of thorns, but I'll give Hawke all the credit in the world for not only selling it but granting a power to the scene by realizing this state of madness so vividly. Vividly to the point in granting any reality to the sense of a man writhing in that failure of spiritual liberation. Toller prepares an alternative suicide, via cup of Drano, until Mary appears, to which the two make out, naturally. Again on paper this could be frankly kind of stupid, but it is Hawke's performance that sells it as he release as much ferocity in this act as he did placing the barb wire upon himself, revealing the man finding a different release through this expression of love rather than that act of hate. This is an outstanding turn by Ethan Hawke as his performance grants a needed reality to every symbolic gesture, and grandiose statement by Schrader's script, through his haunting portrait of most unusual struggle of a man of God.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2018: Ryan Gosling in First Man

Ryan Gosling did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for BFCA, for portraying Neil Armstrong in First Man.

First Man is a great film following the path of Neil Armstrong to becoming the first man to land and walk on the moon.

This actually marks the third time Ryan Gosling has led my favorite film of a given year this decade, each time in an introverted role. As I'll mention again here it is the mark of a great actor in the ability to find new ground within similar roles. This then is perhaps a natural progression as in Drive he played a man child finding how to struggling express himself, in Blade Runner 2049, he portrayed the android learning of his humanity, but as Neil Armstrong, the first real life role of this trifecta, he graduates to a character who is already a man. This proposes a different challenge then for Gosling, as this work is not about discovery, ironically enough, because from the outset Neil is more or less the man he will be, with that personality becoming a decisive element on his path to the moon. Unlike a few other portrayals of real people from 2018, Gosling's work here is decidedly not fussy within his approach. He brings a slightly nasally part of his voice more reflective of the real Armstrong's accent, which feels lived in, but is just partially there to help grant the vividness of Gosling's work. This is a fascinating trick on Gosling's part given the nature of the character of Armstrong, who unlike his eventual co-pilot Buzz Aldrin, was a very quiet man. Gosling though simply embodies this type of man of a different era. Gosling's subdued manner so effortlessly evokes the place and time, that was essential in realizing this most unique yet seemingly so modest of a man.

The earliest scenes of the film we are given the two separate weights upon Armstrong as a man as he pilots a dangerous experimental ship that results in an unpleasant landing. Gosling's eyes lying a determination in the moment, but with a greater intensity within his eyes beyond that point. This is as we find the second, that unquestionably influenced the first, as we enter into Armstrong's home life. The film focusing initially on the great personal trial of his young daughter suffering from a brain tumor. The greatness of Gosling's work, which sadly I was not surprised by it being generally ignored by most, is not to treat any moment simply as time to be onscreen. Gosling's work rather is this way of working within the canvas of the minimal, that was the man who was Neil Armstrong. Gosling instead fashions something rather extraordinary in this textured portrayal of how does a man, who essentially hates to show emotion, show emotion. This again is not in the typical work of a repression, where the film is about the man losing that repression. No Gosling's work is of a man who is this man, and will always be this man. There will not be change, and in stead his portrayal is creating the sense of allowing us into his unique state of being, while never compromising that nature of the man. Gosling wishes to bring Armstrong to life essentially as the silent enigma he would be to most if one were to look at him in a public sense, but allows the intimacy the cinematic perspective allows.

Take for example the early scenes with his daughter, that in a way Gosling uses as an empathetic entry point for the viewer, as we naturally see Armstrong at his most vulnerable. This is still as a guarded man, but as a guarded man within this extremely difficult time. Gosling bringing the most gentle, yet most definitely striking, warmth in his attempts to comfort his ailing daughter. His eyes watching her treatment filled with the sense of foreboding and sadness. Gosling consistently makes such powerful use of his eyes here, in the closeups he so quietly shows the right pain of the man from this situation. In his call to medical professionals just to see if there are any potential ways to save his daughter, Gosling delivers the lines of that of who most would see as a very stable individual. This is not though the case for Neil where the ever so slight strain in his voice, is Neil's version of being distraught openly to another person. Neil's daughter succumbs tragically to the tumor where Gosling shows the very real emotions of the man so potently. This in the moment of watching the casket and it is in this public moment where his expression evokes a man ready to break at any second. It is only wholly alone where we do see Gosling breakdown in one of the most striking depictions of grief I've seen. Gosling shows the man essentially trying even in this private moment to keep it within himself, yet it is so overwhelming in this truly heartbreaking out pour of the palatable anguish in him.

Neil's way of dealing with his grief though outside of this private moment is by essentially working through it. Gosling's is again outstanding by realizing this very unique nature of the man, and making it wholly honest. This is as he goes to work, while someone comments on that he does not need to go in, his way of saying "I know" is a blunt while brief, with the in the moment of intensity of a man who intends to narrow his thoughts to his work, and sort of away form his grief. I write sort of as there is this brilliant vein that Gosling creates within his performance as this conviction within his task that builds towards space flight. There will be more on that later on this review. What I love though is how almost covertly expressive this performance is by Gosling, because again this is not a performance about a man being someone else, or discovering something new about himself. Gosling shows Neil to be the man he is, that also helps to define his eventual achievement, and in that idea finds the way of the man dealing with these difficulties his own way. There is a scene I love where Neil is applying for the job at NASA for the space program. Gosling is fantastic in the moment of explaining his own views about the importance of space flight, and again the change is subtle, yet with an understanding of his basic state, Gosling reveals this remarkable very internalized passion that outlines his belief so strongly. There is also a moment though where one of the hiring panel asks about his daughter. Gosling's reply of "Is there a question", says so much in so little, in his darting glance, and in his manner that would seem indifferent in a more emotional man, yet is that of a discontented anger in Gosling's Armstrong.

A central element of the film is of course Armstrong's relationship with his wife Janet (Claire Foy) which is a most unique romance in the film. In that while Janet is more emotional than Neil, she is still far more subdued than the average person. Their relationship then is a very tricky one to pull off without making the distance too much, or falling into just a simple repression. This isn't the case actually as Gosling and Foy find a very potent sense of love between the two, though certainly very atypical. A lot of is actually down to the physicality, which is interesting in that we actually see the two touch each other very rarely. It is rather in some quiet, but essential way of honestly just how they look at one another, how they face another, how they touch when they do touch, that grants such a sense of affection even in this rather unusual fashion. There is such a wonderful chemistry though realized in this that grants the sense of the history between the two, that was not some grandiose romance, but two modest individuals coming together. Again I love the instances of where Gosling does open up in a sense, that he brings this impact to, in how they separate. Take for example the moment where confirms their move when he is accepted in the space program. His "I got it" is all business after getting off the phone, but his way of telling her that it can be a good change, again Gosling in just the little somberness in this is able to convey that connection in their loss, and that it still haunts Neil though with the hope of being able to continue on as a family.

In his move to the space program things seem initially positive enough as he makes friends with the other astronauts, including Ed White (Jason Clarke). In these scenes we get a brief reversal of sorts in some fantastic moments where Gosling essentially gets to show a more open Neil, and beyond just public professional camaraderie. There are two scenes that are incredible by Gosling given that in each the lines would seem almost meaningless for a man that is not Neil Armstrong. Take for example a scene with Janet where Neil tells her about some of the developments of the program including a change in the nature of the flight in space. Gosling in this moment is showing Neil as essentially an extremely excited for man, which for Neil is still pretty calm. Gosling makes the excitement so genuine as he shows the way it is expressed for Neil. It is pure to the nature of the man, and it is fascinating how such an introverted method still is so deeply felt within Gosling's work. The same is in a moment where after essentially becoming real friends with Ed he mentions that his daughter had a swing set back home. Again nearly innocuous in the moment, yet Gosling carries the weight of it as this sharing of something deeply personal in his moment of open introspection. His way of looking down in the moment is essentially his way of expressing this grief for understanding to a friend, which Gosling realizes so poignantly, even as this man still is so carefully allowing his inner torment to be seen by a friend.

The space program though is obviously not one for the faint of heart as their fellow pilots frequently die in failed tests. In a way Gosling shows why such a man like Armstrong would be ideal for this given he is not one to breakdown in such circumstances, as he seeks to try to keep himself together at all times. There is an outstanding moment, that is sheer perfection as performed by Gosling, where one of their friends dies, and Neil retreats to moon gazing alone. As a fellow man who when emotionally distraught prefers to separate myself from others in the initial brunt of it, Gosling captures this attitude flawlessly in his especially direct of Neil explaining that he wants to be alone to clearly avoid talking in that moment. Gosling reveals the stress of the emotion however it is within that sharp cut down of Ed trying to make him open up. This strain though becomes in a way this continued vein within the death of his daughter. This as deaths continue, even sadly Ed's in the Apollo11 disaster. Gosling though is able to conduct this into essentially this ever growing intensity in Neil. What's so fascinating though is that this is not towards an emotional breakdown. It is rather through the conviction within his path towards the moon. In every succeeding scene where he discusses the disasters Gosling bring just that bit more passion, that is so powerful for Neil, as he shows a ever growing need to reach his destination. Gosling is able to realize a man who does not lose himself to these losses, but rather conveys they way they quite nearly empower his conviction towards his final goal. This is however never a blithe idea. This is as Gosling in his subtle approach is able to show Neil very much feels every loss deeply, but deals with them in his own way. When directed confronted though Gosling is astonishing in revealing every part of the man trying to keep himself on point.

One small, yet brilliant touch, is his physical approach in each moment. Take for example his scene where Janet forces him to talk to their sons about the chances that he may not return from the spaceflight. It might sound simple, but the way Gosling constantly twiddles his thumbs in this scene shows the way man attempts to redirect himself to maintain his composure fully. This is as his eyes still do convey this more than a hint unease, which is a whole lot for Neil, as he tells his sons what might happen as calmly as he can. The stress of this situation is wholly revealed by Gosling's work which again is so tricky, as he still maintain that general calm, yet shows for a man like Neil, that this is truly harrowing for him. Now I have actually barely mentioned Gosling's performance in the action sequences, which shouldn't be hand waved by any measure. As Gosling's work is essential in their success creating that first man experiencing in every event they go through, creating the sense of strain, the physical wear, but most importantly that forceful determination in his eyes. Gosling work takes you with him in these scenes, as he brings you into Neil's place of mind, and state being at every point, even with the presumed handicap of playing such a subdued nearly enigmatic individual. This is as I wasn't sure what the film would quite offer in the moon landing sequence. An undoubtedly impressively staged sequence in the orchestration on every technical front, and without a doubt an achievement by director Damien Chazelle. What takes the sequence beyond a nearly flawless technical exercise, is the work of Ryan Gosling. This is in creating that human path of the man's grief to this scene where once again Neil has time alone, but now in a lonely spot on the moon. It is a silent moment, it is a brief moment frankly, but did cause me to question a droplet of salty discharge near my eye at the end of this scene? Yes it did. This is in Gosling's expression that is awe inspiring as in his own eyes he captures the loss of his daughter, but also path that brought him to this very personal moment of remembrance for her within this monumental achievement. This is a masterful turn by Ryan Gosling as he fully realizes, and never betrays, this man who is quiet and modest in nature. Then within that purposeful technical limitation gives this vibrant, intimate and heart wrenching portrait of a most ordinary yet extraordinary man.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2018: John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix in The Sisters Brothers

John C. Reilly did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Eli Sisters nor did Joaquin Phoenix receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Charlie Sisters in The Sisters Brothers.

The Sisters Brothers is an off-beat western about two assassins, who are also brothers, being tasked by their employer to kill an inventor, Warm (Riz Ahmed), who has created a way of finding gold. After watching the film again, I rather like the film, though I ponder if I would've loved it if it reduced the scenes of  the second pair of the inventor and the private investigator Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) sent to track the inventor down for the brothers.

At the center of the film we have two atypical western leads in John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix, but we also have two atypical leads in the characters we follow. The two in the opening of the film are just henchmen with a reputation, not any sort of individualistic western hero, going about their job, that happens to be killing. In this then we get a very different perspective in this western through the Sisters brothers, and through these two performances. Now on one side we have Joaquin Phoenix who to say gives a dynamic turn has become rather redundant ever since he came out of "retirement" at the turn of the new decade. John C. Reilly on the other is actually rather dynamic actor as well, though perhaps far more covertly so. I already sang his praises once for 2018 in his turn as Oliver Hardy, but Reilly, despite being best known for his goofy comedies, has been given a variety of performances throughout his career. It is though a special treat then to have two films where he gets the chance to express his sometimes more hidden talents, in not one, but two films about an unusual pair. Of course where he and Steve Coogan, brought joy to the world as Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy, the two Sisters brothers are there to reek havoc upon it.

This is made abundantly clear in the opening of the film where the two men go about dispatching a house of men. In this scene though we too see the actors establish the differing nature of the men in this sequence. Phoenix portrays a delighted, though understated, exhilaration in Charlie as he guns down not only standing men but also the injured. Reilly on the other hand portrays Eli as approaching this in a far more professional approach to the situation. Eli appears to be just as a efficient when it comes to killing however Reilly portrays no pleasure in the actions, rather it as just what it is that he needs to do. Their major difference becomes all the more evident though as their attack leaves a burning barn filled with tethered horses. Reilly expresses an immediate concern for the animals, showing the real passion in this act, that was not evident in the killing, against Phoenix he brings the slyness within the character's callous indifference. A man who doesn't necessarily want to see the horses die, but he certainly doesn't mind if they do. Charlie is the man who is the right line of work, the same is unlikely to be referred to Eli, which is established by so naturally the performances. It then is no surprise as we see the men receive their next assignment, where Charlie is denoted as the higher paid "senior" partner despite Eli being the older brother.

Now as with my other review of Reilly's work from 2018, it is essential to look at the pairing here, which is a fascinating one. Phoenix is great as Charlie who while has a more limited perspective as the more traditionally "flashy" role as the wild card brother. Phoenix once again delivers a compelling turn, which is indeed no surprise at this point, but nonetheless should not be hand waved. His performance manages to capture a very different type of unwieldy personality, which actually is quite a bit different from the typical psycho brother type. This is as Phoenix plays the part of Charlie as essentially this functioning psychotic. He is not a psychotic first as Phoenix is able to approach the part as someone who might be seen as normal at least at first. It is actually specifically in the detachment of those kills that is the most obvious sign of his twisted mind. Phoenix though is great in the way he makes it almost thing that Charlie is in this constant dance with, that goes swimmingly at first thanks to his line of profession calls for it. In turn in the moments of violence Phoenix is amazing actually by often playing them as this certain relief in Charlie, as though it is his moment to shine, and to be able to release his madness in a "useful" fashion. His unpredictability being something he knows how to use to scare his targets, and to thrive in his business.

This goes into great contrast to Reilly's rather quiet, yet incredibly powerful, approach to Eli. Reilly is able to bring so much into who is the man who often observes and simply follows along. This is as the violence is something he again needs to perform, but not something he remotely cherishes or enjoys. Reilly conveys instead this certain exasperation of the life in his face, that carries such a notable weight here in revealing the condition of Eli who essentially has become an assassin unwillingly. Reilly is able then to find this rather unique state of the man who is both burdened by the life and his brother. When in a relatively early scene Eli speaks of being able to go home after committing enough acts of violence, and having made enough money from it, his delivery is able to evoke not only this exasperation towards this life but also this earnest so very moving need to be in a better place. Reilly's performance though is careful though in the way he is about to realize this state not as this more standard "I'm too old for this" attitude. Reilly instead evokes the mindset of a man who has never appreciated the existence, and has been in this life mainly because there has been no other way for him. This again is in that earnestness he brings to trying to set an end date essentially with Charlie for the two to stop killing, as this poignant and humble hope of a good man, no longer wanting to be a bad one.

The two then how they come together is what really amplifies the strongest material within the film. This is as Phoenix embodies and manages to personify a familial madness, as their father was mad, while also portray a lack of the essential understanding that he shows far obvious signs of it, against Reilly's performance which expresses the observer of the madness. A most dynamic observer as Reilly's turn here, is what I would call soulful, as the highest praise I can muster, as there is so much within his face here. This mind you is in every single scene of the film that he is in, every moment that is onscreen, Reilly makes this impact through his subtle yet oh so potent performance. What makes Reilly's work so incredible is the way he is able to convey the long history of the brothers in every expression as he watches Charlie. This is in the resignation as he watches his brother kill and kill again to be sure. There is more though as Reilly's eyes are downright piercing here as he shows a very specific look. This being the look of an older brother looking out for his younger brother. Reilly in this is able to capture the sense of a brother seeking to see where his brother is going mentally, and the sense of concern for him becoming like their father is so powerfully imbued into his work. As Phoenix portrays a man very much with their goal in mind, Reilly shows Eli as carefully watching his brother, with really his well being the real of goal of his. 

I have to admit then what actually became the most compelling element of the film for me consistently was Reilly, who gives such a layered turn, that also offers such distinctly new perspective within the genre. Take for example the scene where the two end up in a, potentially hostile, brothel. Phoenix expresses Charlie's enthusiasm within the questionable place, just lapping up everything with such glee. Reilly though is outstanding in his distance here, especially in a moment where Eli attempts to partake. Reilly is sheer perfection in this scene as his delivery bring such a timidness as he attempts to create a situation with the prostitute as though they are an actual couple who love each other. Reilly is so good here as he avoids making this at all creepy, but rather is able to evoke this honesty in the need to make the connection more than sexual. He does so with the right timidness in the moment, and even a struggle in every word he speaks still suggesting a discomfort with the act. His way of trying to make it something more though is heartbreaking as in his eyes there is such a sense of loneliness in this need to create some moment of genuine affection within such an artificial situation. In this scene Reilly finds a man who is trying his best to make something out of what is really a horrible situation for him, and again is so effective in revealing this good man in a bad place.

The two do not immediately find their target though they do find some other violent men attempting to make a name by killing the brothers for the "prestige". Again the devilish smile on Phoenix's face is perfection as enjoying essentially both the sense of stature from this against Reilly strictly conveying the unease of a man who knows he's going to have to kill again very soon. The trail also leads them to civilization of sorts as they stop by in San Francisco and partake the offerings of an upscale hotel. This is a great scene that is so dependent though on the dynamic between the two. In the scene again Phoenix shows a man reveling in a spoil of sorts, just like he would any other part, whereas Reilly brings this wonderful curiosity to the alien features of the place with such a loving fascination with it all. This situation though leads Eli to finally suggest to avoid more killing by stopping the search after the trail's gone cold. Eli proposes to use their savings to ditch the life again. Reilly is marvelous in this scene as there is such an optimism in his initial delivery of the idea, with the warmth of an uncompromising brotherly love. This is especially in suggesting they open a store, with just a genuine love with his eyes suggesting a man seeing a better future. When Charlie brushes off the idea, that Phoenix plays with such an extreme callousness as though the idea is absurd, Reilly is so moving in the sense of defeat that comes over his face.

The conversation though continues as Charlie suggests he can find a different partner, which again Phoenix brings a disparaging attitude to. Reilly's reaction again says so much as his face is as much disappointment in himself, due to his involvement in their life, as it is towards his brother. I love this moment though as both here reveal the conflict as inherently between brothers. They bring both this frustration in the moment of brothers, Phoenix more openly as they would as boys, but Reilly bringing a withdrawn, yet still palatable anger, of age as he lashes out at his brother. Reilly's moment is extremely quiet yet so potent as grants the years of frustrations in the moment as he directly speaks ill of Charlie's behavior, leaving Charlie to try to attack him in a fit of rage. It is such a great moment as both actors make it such a naturalistic interaction of siblings with a long history. What is as good, and carries the same feeling is the morning after where Eli is still bent out of shape over the fight, while Charlie has more or less forgotten it. Phoenix is great in the scene by playing it so straight as nothing has happened, which captures so well a brother's way of moving on from a brothers' conflict the next day. Reilly in turn is just as good capturing a brother not moving through general moodiness still, despite Charlie's positivity in the moment. There interaction is so honest in this moment of reconciliation, as it isn't of this earth shattering affair, rather something that's happened many times before, though probably over other things. This is best realized in the moment where Charlie lets Eli hit him for his attack, to which Eli wallops him one. Both are hilarious in this moment, in such effortless fashion, with Phoenix's sense of surprise and Reilly portrayal of the deep satisfaction of getting one on his trouble making brother. They both bring just the right touch of petulance in the moment fitting to two boys who have been having this back and forth their entire life.

Eventually the two pick up on the trail of Morris and Warm who have gone into business together, but as one thing leads to another the brothers also join them in their quest to find gold. As the four prepare things together, Phoenix and Reilly again excelling in showing the brothers with their guard as down as it can be. Phoenix is terrific by making this a struggle in Charlie, and almost portraying this certain confusion at every moment of civility, as though his madness just below the surface makes it difficult for him to understand this type of treatment. Eli on the other hand finds a kindred spirit in the non-violent Warm who is willing to converse with Eli. What spurs the conversation initially is the death of Eli's horse. I haven't mentioned yet but Eli and his horse is honestly one of my favorite elements in the film. It is almost entirely silent interaction, as Eli has see the horse nearly killed by the bear with damaging wounds. Where again Charlie could not care less, Reilly best expresses Eli's humanity in every moment with the horse. There is such an empathy in every moment he speaks to the horse or sees his failing health. Reilly makes you not only see how Eli cares for this animal, he in turn makes you care about it. This is to the point that Reilly's final reaction of a sad resignation at seeing the horse's death is absolutely heartbreaking. He does not truly verbalize this until his conversation with Warm about his care for the horse, and Reilly again is so moving by playing it as this quiet release in the moment of finally getting to speak these burdens of a humane person. The conversation continues though as Eli expresses his regrets of having not killed their father, leaving it to their father. Reilly again reveals this as this burden, and I love how muted his delivery as this old regret. Reilly doesn't make this a confession of a psychotic but a genuine disappointment in one's self at not standing up to be the big brother for Charlie. This is as he explains Charlie was never the same after it, and in Reilly's voice he echoes the regret, but also that sense of love in his brother that caused such a regret.

The gold searching goes poorly as Charlie's greed causes over exposure to the chemical invented by Warm, leading to the death of those two men, leaving only Eli healthy and Charlie's shooting hand to be cut off from gangrene. The final scenes then are of a very different brothers that Phoenix and Reilly do not stumble to bring to life this change. Reilly is great by bringing now the confidence and comfort of the older brother, that probably existed long ago, as he protects the nearly disabled Charlie. This is again Phoenix who now is so much quieter as he shows a shame in the man humbled by his own excesses. Reilly though bringing such a driven power as the he fights for both of their lives, offering the conviction of a man who has long sought this dream. This is as they move towards killing their tormentor their former employer called the commodore. The scene before they move into the general is such great acting by both performers as the two build the internalized tension of the moment, now with Phoenix suggesting so well a change in Charlie showing concern for Eli in the moment, and Eli still taking charge now truly as the older brother. This of course leading to a great anti-climax of the commodore having died in the meantime. Both Phoenix and Reilly's reactions are terrific to this showing the annoyance at not being able to exact a personal revenge, with a particularly powerful bit of bitter annoyance in Reilly as Eli punches the commodore lying in his coffin "just to make sure". The two in the end literally return home to their mother (Carol Kane), which is a short but poignant ending of the two with Phoenix showing Charlie now relaxed away from his madness, against Reilly. Reilly's final smile of contentment is utter perfection, as he realizes so wonderfully Eli essentially finally achieving his dream, and makes this little finale something rather beautiful. Joaquin Phoenix gives yet another fantastic turn that one can throw on his ever increasingly impressive resume, in finding his own take on the psycho brother type. I will admit though I partly reviewed him here just because it would've been impossible not to talk about his performance when reviewing Reilly's work. The star here though is John C. Reilly realizing one of the most captivating characters of 2018. He gets the chance to fully show off his considerable range as a performer and does not waste it in his moving and dynamic portrait of a decent man at heart trying to reclaim that decency for both him and his brother.
(For Phoenix)
(For Reilly)

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2018: Marcello Fonte in Dogman

Marcello Fonte did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning Cannes, for portraying Marcello in Dogman.

Dogman is a decent enough film about a full time dog groomer who is dragged down by being a part time criminal in association with a bully former boxer. This is an instance of a film where while the film is not at all bad, the potential of the story does seem to suggest a far greater film could have been from the idea than what we see here.

The central conceit after all is a pretty fascinating one. In that the film essentially focuses on that weird guy usually in the corner of things of a crime film. The guy with some side business who dabbles in the criminal enterprise and is on the extreme fringe of the underworld typically as a nameless lackey. The man though does have a name here, the terribly creatively named, Marcello who we first meet in better conditions as he runs the local dog groomers, fittingly named Dogman. Fonte exudes an unabashed joy in these scenes of dog grooming as he portrays a man wholly in his element. There is nothing but affection for every moment he interacts with the dogs. Fonte delivers just this absolute unconditional love the man has towards dogs, and in turn how much he likes performing his job. Although we will find he has much outside of this life, in these moments Fonte brings an unquestioned contentment of his existence, that he theoretically should be fine with. We also have a few scenes where we see Marcello interact with his daughter. Again Fonte portrays a man who has nothing to give other than life towards his daughter. Fonte brings such a bright smile, and such welcoming physical presence of someone who really just wants to be a great dad. Again in these moments there is this joy of a man really being what should be his life. There is nothing but a simple pleasantness in these moments that Fonte portrays as exactly where Marcello belongs.

Those scenes of pleasantries though are the in-between as the outside world frequently comes in, and not just to have their dog serviced by his gentle hand. This force is essentially personified by Simone, a small time thug, who demands frequently the coke Marcello trades in. In these scenes we see a different side of his existence from the likable enough average man seemingly living a simple life. In this idea though lies the atypical approach of this film. In that typically speaking such a character would be entirely the victim. It would be easy enough even to assume that here as we see the scenes of Simone brow beating Marcello as his "friend". Fonte's reactions in these moments are particularly effective in assuming this submissive pose, not unlike a dog, with his head turned downward, and his wide eyes filled with sadness. He delivers any attempt to not do as the large man command, with the most timid fashion with such little confidence. Fonte expresses though how this bullying does not only push Marcello down, but also creates his one sense of unease within the life. The unease though being directly connected to the treatment of him, which sometimes is even in front of his daughter. Fonte shows a man essentially stuck under the man's thumb in these scenes without any real fortitude to do anything about it.

Again though the actual sympathy for Marcello can be limited by the fact that the character is wholly culpable in the criminal acts. This is further supported by Fonte's performance that portrays no hesitations whatsoever when engages in much of the amoral behavior, when he is just part of the group. Fonte doesn't hesitate in showing frankly a joy, a far less humble or endearing joy than when treating dogs, when taking part in the spoils of such a life. The only scene of any hesitation is after he and the other criminals rob a house, he has to return when one of them puts a dog in a freezer to keep it quiet. Marcello goes back to the place to rescue the dog and even nurse it back to health before leaving. It is a sweet scene where Fonte does bring an that same affection towards the dog, even in this more problematic situation. Immediately before treating the dog though is the only time we see the real regret in the actions themselves, rather the situation, but again it relates to how it effects something he loves again rather than any personal regarding the morality of the action. This might sound like some criticism on my part towards Fonte, and while showing more regrets might have made a more likable protagonists,  this is actually the right approach for the character. The reason being because this film isn't about the downfall of a good man, it is rather the lashing out of a deeply flawed one.

Marcello finds himself the one facing criminal charges and does not give up Simone for a robbery. He accepts his prison sentence then the film commits a time jump. We actually don't get to see what happens to Marcello though, but we find a rather different man on the outside. When he is attempting to interact with his old friends, and his daughter Fonte portrays the attempt of the man to still bring that same affection personality. Fonte though changes this just a touch to illustrate a little more strain of the act suggesting the appropriate loss of spirit that defined the man outside of the criminal world. Where there is a greater change is in his interactions where Marcello demands a payment from Simone, who in turn continues to try to browbeat the "dogman". Fonte though now brings a certain confidence, which is rather brilliantly performed as again in the criminal side of things, he does not portray this is as a positive change. He rather reveals again that more grotesque side of the man who took pleasure in the criminal world, as he depicts this confidence as a striking, and rather off-putting portrayal of a sinister assurance of self. As he demands money from Simone, there is now a control in Marcello, a control defined by a malicious hate by Fonte's performance though rather than a growing internalized sense of self-worth. Fonte's work is unnerving as he reveals this near psychopathy as Marcello gets his revenge by capturing Simone in his shop, then attempting to torture him.

Again the vindictiveness that Fonte brings reflects the pent up hatred of Marcello for the man, but it is also something more. There is a venom and even a glee in the act suggesting that Marcello has gone beyond the pale. This is only shortly before he ends up killing Simone (I'd write spoiler but this is given away by the film's poster rather oddly), in technically an act of self-defense, however in Fonte's eyes there is a clear sense of satisfaction. The ending of the film, which is also the strongest sequence in the film, involves Marcello trying to dispose of the body. It is an incredible scene for Fonte's work as in the moment of this physical struggle he also exposes the mental decay of the man, as in his expression we see a man mentally breaking even as he relieves himself of his greatest tormentor. There's a moment, while disposing of the body, Marcello sees his old friends and begins trying to call them to him. This is obviously an insane act given the situation, however Fonte makes this moment not only convincing for the character but rather heartbreaking. This is as he portrays as this confused outburst of need of something, anything, as he tries to find any sense of the moment. When they do not come he is instead just left with disposing the body, and Fonte depicts a moment of clarity. This has such an impact as in this scene Fonte shows the merge between the killer and that old off-beat, though lovable enough dog groomer as somber understanding of his action sweeps over his face. We finally see that humble dogman see what he's become, and it is harrowing. This is a memorable turn by Marcello Fonte, as he delivers such an off-beat yet magnetic portrayal of a man who slowly falls victim to the negative influences around him and in his own mind.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2018: Jakob Cedergren in The Guilty

Jakob Cedergren did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Asger Holm in The Guilty.

The Guilty is a brilliant thriller following a disgraced police officer, having been regulated to the police emergency call center, who attempts to save a woman who he believes has been kidnapped. 

The setup to the film is a daring one as it takes place in a single location. Although this is nothing new in thrillers, however typically there is still a strong visual element in such films, and the actual dangerous elements do take place in the one location. That is not the case for this film as our police officer Asger Holm is all in the one place, and technically entirely safe where he is. The film then to create its tension depends on two especially important elements, one being its taut screenplay, the other being in their lead of Jakob Cedergren. In many ways Cedergren is the film, as if his performance did not bring you into the story, than the film would falter no matter how well written the scenario may be. Cedergren's work of course isn't just as this blank slate watching the event, as it must grow to mean much more. Cedergren is great then in the earliest scenes of the film handling the routine work of the emergency center. He exudes just the right sort of dismissive smug attitude of a man who believes he's above the job. He conveys an annoyance at following the policies of the position, and just a joking bit of self-satisfaction as he brings this sort small bit of humor in his face showing very little concern towards his callers. Although to be fair these initially are not overly concerning, and Cedergren is great in creating this distance in his eyes, of a man very much thinking of something other than his job as he waits. We only briefly hear a possibility of what it might be when a reporter tries to talk to him, but more than anything this is conveyed within the sense of weight on  Asger's mind so well realized through Cedergren's performance.

This state of indifference towards his job though changes when receives a call from a distressed woman Iben. A call he initially takes a drunkard with that same indifference however when it becomes clear there is something wrong Cedergren's excellent in bringing this sudden conviction within the moment. In this instance Cedergren is fantastic in a way he shows sort of the proper police officer gear chime into the man as he takes this call far more seriously. Cedergren's delivery brings the right urgency and concern as he tries to talk her through finding her location as it appears she is being held hostage. Cedergren becomes absolutely captivating as he tries to find more information through call as we see him so chimed into the conversation as he tries to speak to her, while pretending to be her daughter to her potential kidnapper. Cedergren brings out the true professional in this moment try to cover any information he can, and in his reserved intensity as he calls the local officers to try to find the woman.. Cedergren's brilliant in the way he shows the man now truly pulled into this situation, and in turn pulls us right in with him. There is not a single bit of information that passes unnoticed within his performance. Cedergren is in the moment in every single word as his reactions do create that pivotal sense of tension. This is as he shows the man knowing the longer the situations lasts the worse it could become, and he brings a considerable sense of  the growing gravity of the situation through his performance.

As it is not quickly resolved Asger attempts to become an investigator himself within his limited resources to try to figure out the situation. He's excellent then in changes his work as he calls to the home of Ibsen to find her young daughter on the phone. Cedergren brings the right sort of quieter approach in this moment with a warmer tone in his voice. This is with his eyes still conveying the need in Asger to try to find out the information, but with the right careful concern evoked within his performance that shows the officer's attempt to keep the daughter calm. Again Cedergren excels in the way his performance grants the sense of Asger taking in everything he hears. In the cries of the daughter Cedergren is moving as he shows such a palatable sympathy in the man, showing the right natural humanity in the man as well as the ever rising personal connection with this situation. Cedergren's brings such earnestness in the moment where he tries to tell her that everything is going to be alright, and as he speaks the words there is such a sense of sincerity as he tries to assure her. Cedergren is fantastic by so naturally showing the best side of the man as he portrays him truly trying to do the right thing as the situation escalates. This includes though with that the frustrations of his limited power, and Cedergren is equally remarkable in expressing this growing tension right within his physical work. I love the way he brings that bubbling anger as Asger throws away his headset, not once but twice, as the local authorities somewhat dismiss his attempts to do more.

As the night goes on we are given a bit more of the sense of Asger's life before this time, in the time he speaks to his former boss and his partner over the phone attempting to resolve the matter. The moments with his boss are brief but very effectively realized by Cedergren in giving the sense of sort of a cocky jerk that he likely was before this time. Cedergren brings the right sort of the overly chummy attitude of two who are perhaps just a little casual in their attitude towards police work. His moment with his partner though Cedergren finds the complexity of the man perhaps trying to be better than his previous actions might have suggested. As his partner asks him if his desire to handle the current situation has anything to do with a legal inquest he'll be facing tomorrow, Cedergren's reaction is outstanding as it conveys this moment of introspection as he grants the sense of this connection in this emotional unease. It is just a moment of staring forward yet it says so much due to Cedergren's performance. His work is this effortlessly dynamic turn as again as it so deeply intertwines with every revelation of the situation, as well as his own past. Again the physical work can be something overlooked, however it shouldn't be, as the tightening of his hands, his forward posture and his often pinching lips all convey the personal investment of Asger only growing stronger as it appears the situation is becoming worse.

Cedergren's performance realizes this idea on every front, as this connection only grows. This is in his calls to the assumed kidnapper/husband of Iben Michael, where Cedergren brings such a venomous hatred in his voice. This showing perhaps the attitude of his former days as his anger towards the man, though understandable, Cedergren makes that of a self-appointed crusader more so than of a concerned law officer. Cedergren's terrific in the way he conducts this morality towards immorality as we see in the scene where he calls his partner to break into Michael's home. Asger is breaking the law himself, which Cedergren in the moment, as Asger pushes his partner injects the moment with the real passion of a man absolutely believing he is doing the right thing, even though it leads him to poor decisions. Cedergren, without focusing on it, reveals the man who in the past probably overextended his authority towards the idea of justice, through his convictions and his belief of who was guilty.  In this instance though it appears he's on the right track as he encourages Iben to fight against her captors, and there is an absolutely wonderful moment in his performance as he tries to get her to calm down. Cedergren brings the appropriate relaxing tone to his voice, but what is so notable about the scene is the quiet somberness that slowly engulfs his expression. It shows this poignant little moment of the man struggling to separate himself from his burdens in this calming moment, but still clearly with too much of a burden to remove himself entirely in the moment. Everything is turned on its head though when it is revealed that *SPOILERS* Iben is technically the one "guilty" as she is mentally ill, having killed one of her children, and her husband was merely trying to bring her to get help at a mental institution.

Cedergren's portrayal of the moment of realization is outstanding work as he creates such a sense of the sheer dejection from the constructed truth he's created for himself, and exudes this sadness through his misjudgment. There is nothing lost though in terms of the investment within the situation, it is all though of a calmer more understanding approach that Cedergren depicts. In the end Asger takes the final call from Iben as she's about to commit suicide. Cedergren's rough voice is perfection as everything he's been through in the night is in his delivery. He brings such a power as he delivers still this conviction, though with his eyes filled with such a sense of his own guilt, as he tries to speak her towards survival. Cedergren is downright heartbreaking in his hesitant way of finally speaking of his own crime of having killed a suspect. A revelation that feels wholly earned through that burden he brought throughout the film. When he finally brings it forth here though Cedergren's performance is absolutely harrowing as his eyes are a man looking into the past, and haunted by his failure to be a better man. As he tries to speak her down, his voice is only of this utter conviction towards her with an absolute sympathy if not empathy, with such a quiet yet devoted approach of a man without ego just an absolute concern for the well being of the woman. What is as powerful as that moment though is just his silent reaction as he waits to know what happened to her. The weight of his burden being at its greatest which Cedergren's wears so poignantly. What I love most though is his final reaction to hearing that he was successful. Cedergren's reaction actually is extremely subtle, yet so potent, as it expresses the intense relief, but also this sense of understanding of the man having become a far better man by the end of his experience. This is a great performance by Jakob Cedergren. His work manages to create the central tension of the film flawlessly, ratcheting the tension so naturally in the way he embodies the situation in every part of his being, while at the same time weaving within that  such a remarkable portrait of man realizing his own failures.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2018: Ben Foster in Leave No Trace

Ben Foster did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Will in Leave No Trace.

Leave No Trace follows a war veteran and his daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) as they try to live off away from society.

Apparently once Ben Foster was cast in this film he worked with writer/director Debra Granik to remove a large portion of the film's dialogue. This reminds of a story about Hoosiers, where after Gene Hackman was cast he gave that film's director a marked up script with exercised bits of dialogue from that film. Hackman's explanation for the removal was that he could simply convey what had been written through his acting. Foster seems to have engaged in a similar activity which makes sense as I would not be one to hesitate to compare to Hackman. Both actors are favorites of mine, however there is similarity in performance style often, as their work very much strives to exist within the material, and a consistency in terms of the intense devotion of their work. The strength of this comparison only seems to grow as Foster gets older. The idea for both seems to just get the right to the truth of their role, though in turn they are rather underrated within the general public, Hackman, wrongly, not being seen on the level of the other "radical" leading actors of the seventies like Pacino and De Niro, and Foster still failing to receive the sort of recognition so many of his contemporaries have found at this point. His work in Leave No Trace, is very much almost a refinement of a raw talent as that removal of material, leaves almost the entirety of the character to Foster.

Although I will say they perhaps pared down the script perhaps just a bit more than they needed to, I do like the film quite a great deal but I don't think a little additional information would necessarily have been detrimental to the narrative. Foster's work however is more than up to essentially taking upon the task of covering everything that is missing from the dialogue to try to explain to us the man that is Will. The man who in the opening of the film we find him in a little shelter with his daughter within a national park, illegally. Foster has become known for his intense characters and this is another one of these characters. As I've often written though, a great actor is as much defined by how they can make a similar characters distinct just as they can handle very different roles. Foster proves his measure here in portraying a different type of intense man, which is notable since Foster even has already portrayed a war veteran in The Messenger. Where there though Foster portrayed more so the controlled rawness of a recent experience, here Foster is able to convincingly portray a man the years removed from the war. His Will is a man who more than anything would like to forget. In that we see this in his interactions with his daughter. He portrays just a genuine father's warmth with McKenzie, and the two have an unassuming yet lovely chemistry together. They clearly love each other however this is never portrayed as a simplistic idea.

Foster shows the right sort of father's concern and teaching spirit in his interactions. He finds just the right middle ground in a firm delivery but always with this undercurrent of warmth within it of a man who unquestionably loves his daughter. In this approach Foster finds the man who has been caring for his daughter since he lost his wife as well as has been training with her to survive in an atypical living experience. There is the right bluntness in his manner with her as the idea of their circumstances is always present even in their most earnest moments of affection. Foster realizes the two sides and in that as he manages to bring to life the idea of that he's been nothing but a good father to Tom, but also that there has certainly been a burden within this existence all the same. Foster is able to convey what likely brought both of them there in this approach. As there is the articulation of concern for the outsiders finding them but within these quiet moments of calm. In these moments Foster is able to grant us a man who is hiding away from this all with the one person that he seems as though he can connect to. This person being his daughter where both McKenzie and Foster are able to create this unquestioned connection between the two. Their love for one another is made to be a constant, and there are not a lot of words to this, but rather just in their moments of interaction, which in this instance say more than enough.

We are granted just a bit more to Will when the two are caught and brought to be evaluated by social workers. Foster has a downright amazing scene where Will is asked to answer a series of true or false questions that gauge his mental state. Foster's performance is subtle, and absolutely brilliant in the way he conveys the thoughts going through his head. This being when initially the questions of a more overt potentially deranged person there is a confusion in him, that slowly falls into a severe discontent as some of the questions relating to having some severe trauma, that he has not recovered from, and quickly relate towards his subdued distress. Foster shows a man being forced to really evaluate himself in the moment and is haunting in creating the sense of pain in a man who has to be forced to face, at least in some way, the horrors of his mind. His performance is wholly haunting in the moment because we get two separate senses of the man that Foster is able to realize who Will was and currently now is. In just the way he says he "used to" to work well as a team, Foster is able to show that at one time Will was a healthy man, unlike many of the on edge characters Foster typically plays. Foster is powerful then by showing how terrible the struggle in the man is. Foster portrays that the intensity here is something Will is burdened by, not even as the man he truly is, but rather created through whatever horrors he may have faced in the war.

Again the film still doesn't take long to speak what Will is going through, as he and Tom are given a home and Will is given a job, as well as a chance to renter society.  Foster is great in these settlement scenes as initially in his interactions with others we see a subdued man, still troubled, but at least with the sense of the attempt to try to exist in the world. In a short amount of time, within the idea of dealing with any of the random nonsense of basic society, Foster is again fantastic in showing the immediately growing discontent. There's an especially important moment where Tom comes to Will with her concerns of what others will think of her when they go to school. In this moment Foster does not portray a loving father, but rather a man on edge as his face expresses this strict hatred to even the speaking of the idea. Foster properly doesn't portray this as something towards Tom, but rather in this delivery just Foster is able to convey the idea of how anything from society, that are beyond just basic survival, is this horrible struggle for him to deal with. Foster in his reactions conveys this growing unease not of a man who feels he's above it all, but rather is able to show a man who mentally is just simply unable to take what it means to be part of society. Although it is not explained in words, Foster is able to express entirely what it is that pushes Will to wish to hide away, both in the way he reacts with such internalized distress in his eyes in the moments that reminds him of his old wounds, but also just the way the sort of BS/disinterest of society is no longer something he can tolerate.

 It is then just a natural reaction as Will forces Tom, who was settling into society, to move again. The two continue their trek and again Foster is create in conveying the paranoia in these sequences as Will is completely unstable in what is essentially the "open" area of society. Eventually, with Will almost dying, they find a shelter again, though once again in society even if it is a very secluded one. Foster again realizes powerfully the state of hollowness in Will's eyes as though he is trying so desperately to separate himself from his demons but again being in such a place still keeps his mind painfully occupied. Will again wishes to leave, but now Tom refuses to go on recognizing that she is not broken in the way her father is. Their final scene together is the most expressive moment in the film, and not at all wasted in this sense. Every moment that we've seen them together builds to this scene, and it feels wholly earned as the daughter decides to leave her father. Foster's performance in this scene is absolutely heartbreaking as in the moment he unleashes in his breakdown a moment not defined by the horrors of his mind, but rather the sense of losing his daughter. It is a reaction of pure love, rather than any sort of desperation, as he conveys, again nearly without words fully this moment of understanding between father and daughter as they say goodbye. This is an outstanding turn by Ben Foster, and I'll fully accept my broken recordness when it comes to his work. This is a unique challenge and in turn achievement by him though as he is able to vividly create this portrait of a wounded war veteran, with so few words, and even an often distant perspective, almost entirely through his considerable ability as a performer.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2018: Paddy Considine in Journeyman

Paddy Considine did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Matty Burton in Journeyman.

Journeyman is a strong sophomore effort from Considine about a champion boxer suffering from a traumatic brain injury.

Paddy Considine is an actor who I feel I've probably often mentioned my affection for here, but somehow I never found myself actually reviewing one of his performances. Well thankfully I have the opportunity to do so here, in a performance entirely realized by Considine. This is as the film is his directorial followup from his impressive debut in Tyrannosaur, in addition to writing the script this he did not defer the leading responsibilities to another, and instead plays the lead role himself this time around. The lanky Considine is a one of a kind character actor how has this very idiosyncratic presence that he brings to his roles. A variety of roles mind you as Considine is an actor who while you will instantly identify him in a given role he has a great deal of range in terms of the types of roles he plays and the tone needed for them. It is then just a pleasure to see another leading turn by him again here, in playing really one of the actor's old favorite, that being the bruiser boxer. Although this film, by being set in the modern day, avoids any of the typical tropes of such a part,  and we are given a fairly different perspective in the life of a champion level boxer. Of course this is right in the opening of the film itself which begins with his Matty Burton already on the top of the world, despite the death of his father, as the champion of his boxing league, and happily married with a new child.

Considine simply has the chance to deliver a charismatic turn here as we see him in his press conference for his first title defense against the brash Andre Bryte (Anthony Welsh). Considine though is charismatic in his own cleverly wily sort of way that just adds a little bit of a different spice to the seemingly well worn part, that is wonderful to see here. It is a a basic enough scene in conception as the challenger tries to provoke Matty and makes a show by putting down even the death of his father as this way of playing the extreme heel. Considine is terrific in the scene though in portraying a man who is not phased by the brash words of his opponent but rather a man just on a certain cloud 9. His reactions though to the words are great as in his eyes he creates the right sense of the grief associated with his father but he is able convey this in a way that shows it entirely attached to remembering his love for his father rather than any anger towards his opponent. We continue to see this man who just seems happy in his life in his moments at home with his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker), and his child. Considine and Whittaker are wonderful together just striking such an unassuming yet wholly believable chemistry with each other. Their early scenes are not big moments of romanticism, but still rather so potent in just creating this sense of deep rooted affection between the two people.

This is essentially the seed planted though of the great guy that Matty is initially where the world seems to be his oyster. Now Considine, the director and the actor, doesn't over do this mind you making just a very unassuming happy life that feels so authentic in its quiet state. Now normally this where the champion boxer would lose then have to pick himself up after losing, but that's not the case as he wins the fight. This shown in a relatively brief sequence where Considine reveals essentially a reasoned technical fighter, with a enough ferocity in there, but more than anything conveys the wears of the punches even as he ends up triumphing. His little moment afterwards of sharing this with his wife, is brilliantly performed by Considine because he underplays it so much. It is just with the resounding personally internalized yes, as he shows it more of something he wants to share with her than glory in his own success at any point. This sense of accomplishment is short lived though as the full brunt of the injuries of the fight hit him afterwards and he suffers a serious brain injury. This leaves a full shift in the narrative and most importantly in Considine's performance that goes from the quietly confident boxer to the near amnesiac just struggling to function normally as a person. I'll admit at hearing about this revelation in the film I had my concerns as this could lead to some rather bad and obvious acting, but then again I should've remembered the part was being played by Paddy Considine.

Considine's performance is completely devoted to this task of creating this man in a state of brokenness mentally and how that corresponds to his physical state. This in his muted way of speaking and his constantly guarded and gradual method of moving. Considine's brings nearly a child's timidness, not in a overt gimmicky way, but rather in a illustration of the man's stunted place mentally. Considine finds this natural detachment of confusion along with this physically awkward, stilted and repetitive movements of a man whose various parts of his body are essentially not within the same wavelength of each other. Considine manages to make this feel wholly natural and importantly avoids a lot of the broad posturing that can come with a performance like this. Considine rather is able to create the sense of a lived ailment, even if it is new for the man. The thing is though this is a Paddy Considine film not a standard tearjerker so this does not stop there. This is, as was the case of his previous film, it does not shy away from the darkest elements of such an injury. This is as Considine portrays the stunted emotional connection of the man, this to then translates to Matty no longer being able to interact properly with others. This is as he suddenly has violent outbursts against his wife. Considine is frankly terrifying in these moments because he manages to show these moments as coming from that disconnect and as these random violent outbursts of his brain simply not working correctly anymore. This is in extreme violent reactions to any conflict that are this sharp and rather disturbing outbursts as they are more akin to the tantrum of an infant mind, than of a vile man. 

This dangerous behavior causes Emma to leave him leaving Matty to be treated by others. In the slowly growing recovery of his memories Considine's work grants all the more of the emotional impact in creating the sense of depression that initially breaks the man to near suicide. His survival leads towards an attempt at a continued recovery as he begins to gain back his mental abilities. Considine's is fantastic as he never skips a step making still every movement such a painful difficult act. A man still constricted seemingly within his own body and his mind only slowly finding any sense of maturity. This even in Considine's limited delivery that he gradually expands, but never feels as though he rushes this sense. He finds this state of limited recovery only, with the most notable growth being in the emotional understanding of his condition. Considine is quite heartbreaking in his moments of realizing his losses, as he illustrates in just the slightest shake of the voice, and just such a potent somberness in the man. The one more direct outburst when there is an event to trigger the fight, where Considine captures the visceral intensity of the man's writhing in his pains within both the mental and the physical. Even as the film moves towards more familiar territory, Considine manages to bring a real power to it, in part due to the unflinching earlier moments he depicted as director, but also because of his performance.

Considine even in his moments of speaking in his slurred speech he manages to make feel honest, which is quite the achievement in itself. He goes far further than just the surface mannerisms of it though as he also manages to be so heartbreaking in depicting the man's quiet way of trying to reach back to his memories and his wife. One scene in particular Considine is amazing in is when he calls Emma to come to home to him, who is reluctant for obvious reasons. Considine is astonishing in able to convey the devastation in the man. Considine manages to show the man struggling to keep it together emotionally, but also even physically continue the conversation in such a moment that resonates powerfully. I also though want to mention a different, less familiar, scene that also has its own striking power to it when his former opponent comes to actually see him to apologize for his current circumstances and his former behavior. It's a subdued moment yet Considine's subtle portrayal of Matty slowly coming to realize who the man is, while also sharing moments of his past with a former opponent, manages to deliver such a genuine poignancy. Considine never shows the man suddenly fixed by a single act but rather shows the full struggle of the man here. This is a great performance as he never falls into excessive showy mannerisms, instead just quietly finds the truth of the man's journey. This is in every detail both the hopeful moments of humanity, but also within the dark struggles within. His physical work is of course mannered technically speaking, however Considine's performance avoids ever becoming about the performance, keeping within creating the sense of the character and his journey. This is opposed to just the focus on, look at my way of speaking, that some similar performances fall into . It is remarkable work that is an expression of Considine's considerable talent, however this is always within realizing every minor and major moment of Matty's struggle, in such striking detail.