Thursday, 31 January 2019

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.


Luke Higham said...

Damn! :(

Louis: Thoughts on the songs.

And Thoughts on The Front Runner, Aquaman and Wildlife with ratings and thoughts on the cast.

Luke Higham said...


Charles H said...

As i said before, he's a five for me and i see less flaws within his performances. Nonetheless i'm not surprised you gave him a 4.5 especially considering how your appreciation for Gaga, Elliot, and the film is.

Also i'm glad the Oscar line-ups are finished so now we can move on the more interesting alternates which i'm hyped for.

Calvin Law said...

I do disagree with you on the Grammys scene (which though a bit illogical I thought was powerfully performed), and the very final scene which I thought was the best directorial choice in the film. I do sort of agree that maybe the film didn't entirely capitalise on the full potential of the central relationship, but honestly I don't think I minded that much overall. Maybe the film hasn't stayed as much for me as some of the others I loved this year (it's hovering around 9 and 10 now)...but I do still love it.

Sort of disappointed he didn't get his first 5, but I am glad that Dafoe will win this lineup.

Calvin Law said...

Charles: Not going to lie, most of these nominations were a bit dull (though Louis' reviews were interesting as always in their analysis). Super excited in particular for supporting.

Luke Higham said...

And please do Supporting next.

Charles H said...

I concur with doing Supporting next.

Emi Grant said...

This is quite a bummer indeed. I think this is quite probably the peak of Cooper's talent and it would have been perfect for a five. Hopefully, it was a close one.

Bryan L. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles H said...

Louis: Would you say this is Cooper's best performance so far?

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

I'm disappointed he didn't get his first 5. Even if the film doesn't hold up as well on a rewatch, Cooper's work definitely did for me.

Louis: Was he a 5 on initial viewing for you.

Louis Morgan said...

The Front Runner is a film very angry about the historical implications about his subject matter yet it does not have the fortitude to really be convincing in its thesis that the press shouldn't care about politicians personal lives. It gets on a particular high horse in the regard, or perhaps it doesn't it becomes rather muddled at the end. This is partially because it treats Hart as this arms length which I think was a mistake, as it doesn't know exactly how to treat him.

Jackman - 3.5(Jackman actually is quite good in his scenes of the mostly charming politician with a definite ego. Jackman though handles himself well to the point that I wish there was more to the character than is granted to him. Otherwise though I do like the desperation Jackman brings as he defends himself even though his speeches seem as though they are meant to be the passionate defense of a righteous man. Jackman thankfully does not play them that way, though again the film limits him beyond doing much else.)

Simmons - 3.5(He essentially has the scene stealing role as written, which Simmons does well with to be expected, but goes beyond that in his confrontation scene with Jackman. A scene he delivers particularly well as this passionate exasperation of a hard worker whose essentially been completely betrayed.)

Molina - 3(He's not in it much, but I did prefer him over Hanks as Bradlee.)

Athie - 2.5(Doesn't make much of an impression as the "moral center" of the film. Or at least that's what I assume was the point of the part.)

Aquaman I found to be quite dumb, but at least not entirely bereft of any entertainment. Not that it is particularly good, but given some other films in the genre from DC, it could've been far worse.

Momoa - 2.5(He lacks any real dramatic heft to his work and there are frequently moments where he is quite awkward at times. He does have a certain charm in his personal style even if he can't wield at perfectly.)

Heard - 2(Very very bland.)

Dafoe - 2.5(Very thin mentor role for him, but he does his best.)

Wilson - 2.5(Doesn't play to his strengths as a performer, and just is honestly a little too subtle perhaps at times, as just a general evil guy. He is pretty good in his final reactions though, but too little too late.)

Kidman/Morrison - 3(Collectively the best part of the film. The two manage to find a real chemistry between each other and Momoa in their brief screentime. They manage to create an honest warmth and honestly would've liked more of both of them.)

Louis Morgan said...

Wildlife is an assured directorial debut by Paul Dano. Although as written the drama is a touch repetitive, probably owing to the source material, I did find he managed to find the emotion of the story in a somewhat atypical fashion. In that we get mostly the sides of the overt expression of emotion through the child's perspective that slowly builds to a natural climax of two midlife crises crashing at the same time.

Mulligan - 3.5(Eh unfortunately I found her vocal work a bit like Pike's in A Private War, not quite that bad, but strangely unnatural here. Odd as that is usually never a problem for her, but it just was a little labored unfortunately, as her naturalism is what I like so much of her as a performer. Having said that though her non-verbal work is pretty remarkable throughout in conveying really this growing hysteria in a way as she expresses this proper mess of emotions that send her character on her difficult course.)

Gyllenhaal - 4(Although his screentime was limited I'm glad this was a good performance by him again. He's good in his early scenes in portraying this different sort of unease and madness, of a man who can't put to words his self-destructive state, yet you see it all the same. He's also very when see him again in creating a real honesty in the anguish and anger of his character in finding out what has happened to his home. His best moment though I thought was his final ones where he conveys so well this specific distance, of a man who wants very much to express far more but is holding it all in.)

Camp - 3.5(A performance that I think could've been easily overblown by another actor. Camp though thankfully avoids going over the top, and never lays on the creep factor. He rather shows the right sort of confidence in one's self and his way of presenting himself that offers something convincing to the man's "accomplishments".)

Oxenbould - 4(A low key but rather powerful performance I found. He just gives a properly naturalistic turn he and every point. He really doesn't have a major breakdown moment rather is just so good in conveying the reactions of this normal young kid trying to keep it all together, and understand what is going on around him.)

Maybe It's Time - (A pretty good sort of country standard by Cooper and crew. A nice simple melody, and lyrical combination. It however has the right sort of somber power to it. Mostly simple but in just the right way in its approach.)

I'll Never Love Again - (Fantastic song to be sure, and just the grand power ballad it should be. The lyrics here are fantastic and do hold such a power in every word in reflecting the sense of loss in every moment of it. This all so beautifully handled of the instrumentation of building on the quiet piano with the powered vocals, that slowly become more ornate in such a captivating fashion. As it just keeps building itself so effectively and retains its emotional poignancy for every second of its length.)

Louis Morgan said...

Always Remember Us This Way - (Another great melody in the soundtrack that is similar to I'll Never Love Again, but hardly the same. It has some similar approach in its structure, but on different courses that is also effective in its own way. This in a lower key fashion, that it is still potent as it opens itself kind away from the dramatic ballad to a pop one, which quite well realized.)

Look What I Found - (A more than fine pop song for the grouping particularly well realized by Gaga's vocals, that create such an entertaining sort of pop throughout the tune that has some fun styling, sort of funky in a fun way. Structurally perhaps a touch less precise, but still quite well done since every verse is great.)

Why Did You Do That - (Although treated as the bad song, and the lyrics are purposefully kind of grotesque, the atypical instrumentation and percussion mix along with the vocals is pretty terrific actually. The chorus is perhaps a bit repetitive, but certainly appealing even in a purposefully somewhat overproduced way.)


No, I'd probably say American Sniper.



Emi Grant said...

Oh, man. You also didn't love Mulligan? She'd be in my top 5.

Thoughts on Dano's direction?