Friday, 29 November 2019

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1999: Harry Lennix in Titus

Harry Lennix did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Aaron the Moor in Titus.

As I mentioned in my review of Anthony Hopkins's lead performance in this Shakespearean adaptation, Titus is a whole lot in every way right down to the original source material that is Shakespeare's most insane play. This requires one to absolutely try to own their space of it then in terms of the acting, which brings me to Harry Lennix. Aaron the Moor initially appears as one of the prisoners taken by general Titus (Hopkins), along with Tamora (Jessica Lange), Queen of the Goths and her two sons. Where Tamora's villainous ways are propelled technically by Titus killing one of her sons, Aaron the Moor is a villain basically because, why not. This idea something that Lennix holds onto, and runs with it, which is the best decision he could've possibly made. Of course as needed for such an approach Lennix reveals a mastery of the Shakespearean verse with the ease of his performance, this to the point he quite nearly sings the part. This making the most as the conspirator in the film whom we are given his direct thoughts as he goes about bringing about Tamora's vengeance. This including his earliest scene of rounding up Tamora's ridiculous sons, this Lennix delivers with an impeccable command in his manner that evokes the control Aaron seizes towards the plan, with piercing eyes with a focus on some specific target of his that is without noble intention.

Now the one argument one can make for his great motivator is his affair with Tamora, however even this Lennix delivers as something Aaron brandishes. This lust not defining his own motivation, but rather just some further enjoyment in his living experience that is that of the fiend. I love Lennix's physical manner in these early scenes where he portrays this calm manner. This that does two things. The first that is that of the man to avoid suspicion as he seems as though he is but an observer, however also in this Lennix offers also a man seemingly in the perfect seat to enjoy the chaos he has wrought. My favorite instance of this being as he encourages Titus to cut off his own hand in order to receive a pardon for his condemned son. Every single one of Lennix's reactions plays beautifully into the absurdity of the situation, however by granting a sense of sinister son. The highlight of this being his sort of sly glance of joy of "here we go"just before cutting off Titus's appendage. Lennix portraying Aaron as basically living his best life in the moment, that brings the needed heightened style really both to the film's style but also really the absurdity of Shakespeare's story as well.

Lennix above all captures a needed sense of fun to the material, which is essential as to take Titus Andronicus too seriously would be as serious of a mistake as writing serious too many times in short succession. This even in the reveal of his affair with Tamora through Aaron's child with her, with Aaron bluntly putting to her unknowing sons that he had indeed "done their mother", which Lennix delivers with a perfect shamelessness. Aaron deeds though eventual do meet their natural end as he becomes the prisoner of Titus's noble son, Lucius (Angus MacFadyen), although Lennix's performance is only just getting started at this point. This as Lennix reveals his "deeds" in order to save his son. Lennix to his credit naturally brings just a bit of sincerity within his expression of concern for his son, and effectively connects that concern as the only humanity the Moor has to offer. Lennix is marvelous as subverts that only humanity instantly as Aaron begins his confession. This instantly with such insatiable glee in every word in describing not only his affair with empress but also the destruction of Titus's family including the rape of his daughter. Lennix delivers each line with such devilish jubilation and such intense venom in every breath. Lennix captures this spirit of evil, not defined by a specific vengeance, but rather this thrill as though this endeavor has been the man's life calling. Lennix is absolutely magnetic throughout his speech of a true misanthrope, as he speaks of his thousand evil deeds with his only regret not committing a thousand more, which Lennix offers with the swagger ill-fitting of a confession however ideal for a boast. Although Titus frequently doesn't work, every moment in which Lennix takes center stage it does. Lennix offering such an entertaining work, which finds the ideal tone for the material, in creating the one fiend in the story who suffers no delusions regarding his fiendish ways.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1999

And the Nominees Were Not:

Harry Lennix in Titus

Robert Carlyle in Ravenous

John C. Reilly in Magnolia

Gary Cole in Office Space

Anthony Wong in The Mission

With Additional Reviews of:
Bryan Brown in Two Hands

Peters Sarsgaard in Boys Don't Cry

Alternate Best Actor 1999: Results

5. Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut - Cruise fulfills the general needs of his performance however never seems ideal for the general needs of his character. 

Best Scene: His confession.
4. Nicolas Cage in Bringing Out the Dead - Cage delivers the more expected extremes of his insomniac paramedic, however it his more subdued moments that perhaps leave the strongest impression.

Best Scene: Saving the dealer.
3. Anthony Hopkins in Titus - Hopkins delivers both the needed gravity for any Shakespearean performance, but with a sense of fun needed for the work that is Titus Andronicus.

Best Scene: Some nice pies.
2. Heath Ledger in Two Hands - Ledger delivers a terrific early star turn that manages to effortlessly balance the romantic, dramatic and comedic elements of his film.

Best Scene: Confronting Pando.
1. Jim Broadbent in Topsy-Turvy - Broadbent gives an absolutely winning turn in his approach as a humorous man who takes himself very seriously.

Best Scene: His inspiration.
Updated Overall

Next Year: 1999 Supporting

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1999: Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut

Tom Cruise did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dr. William "Bill" Harford in Eyes Wide Shut.

Eyes Wide Shut is Stanley Kubrick's final film around a man's odyssey after his wife confesses lecherous thoughts to him.  

The pairing of Stanley Kubrick and Tom Cruise from the outset doesn't sound like an ideal pairing. This is with Kubrick often being almost a "prop master" in his use of actors to serve an extremely specific purpose, against Tom Cruise who one can almost say is an auteur actor, in that a Tom Cruise vehicle usually means a specific thing and image. Now to be fair, until his most recent decade, Cruise seemed to attempt to pepper in non-commercial challenges within his overarching famed career of  being a matinee performer. The thing is though Cruise's forays into the non-commercial usually were driven by turns from him that are forceful Cruise turns, showing a different side of his ability, however typically using his known strengths in a way to further his range, like in the same year in Magnolia, later in Collateral, or even in Tropic Thunder. In this film though, Cruise plays our "average man", which one could almost say is a mistake in a sexually charged film that is this. In that Cruise is an actor who doesn't have an innate sexuality onscreen. This is not a commentary on any rumors or the like regarding Cruise,there are many actors without this quality, but in terms of his natural screen presence is that of asexuality. This as the love story rarely is the focal points of any successful Cruise film, not that it is an extreme void, but it isn't what defines Cruise as a performer.

This again all adds up to a strange combination in Tom Cruise in a Stanley Kubrick film, as Tom Cruise in incapable of simply being a man, his own screen presence is too strong for that, being far more ideal for early Kubrick, and for a film about sex, you have Cruise who is not say an early Brando in that regard. I mean then again, perhaps that was all in the grand scheme of Kubrick, who is an infallible some...who believe he made every decision with such meticulous purpose, even when it seemed like a bad decision. We have that possible here with Cruise who is not an expected choice to see wandering the streets of NY looking for sexual answers. Although then again it does offer that later day Kubrick clinical quality he seemed to love so much, as the film is not particularly raw for being about the base human need. It is instead particularly one can examine when you have Cruise seemingly more a curious observer himself than a man dealing with lusts of every kind. A curiosity then is what the film becomes, as does Bill's journey where he finds himself in strange situations, creepy costume owners, orgies, prostitutes, drug overdoses, sexual fantasies, however in each of these, well except maybe the drug overdose, Bill is but an observer. This in only further emphasized in Cruise's performance which keeps a distance from that material almost at all times. This maintaining that late Kubrickian detachment, intentional perhaps, but the right decision, well that's a different question.

The film itself was made in part as the starring pairing of the then married couple of Nicole Kidman and Cruise, which I would imagine didn't help matters there, but I won't speculate too much. Their interactions are limited however, with the fissure developing between the married couple in the film early on, that propels Bill on his strange journey. Kidman quite frankly is a performer who seems more ideal Kubrick, where Cruise would've perhaps been better served back in the mindset of Kubrick when he was working with Kirk Douglas. This as in their scenes together Kidman stands out more in working within the style of Kubrick, where Cruise does seem a bit lost, although that serves his very lost character. I will say the actual performance that there is beyond looking around looking confused, or looking slightly lustful, are not at all poorly performed by Cruise. The extent of this though is always curiously limited, as the man always keeps himself from going the next step, and in turn we keep Cruise at that distance. There are the two more major moments of interacting with Kidman, first in hearing her confession then making his own. In both Cruise does capture the emotional distress of the situation. The rest of the film Cruise is within that limitation, to the point that even when he is learning about strange things, and eventually finding possible answers, Bill still is the quiet observer. The quiet observer that Cruise doesn't portray poorly by any measure, in that he captures enough of a reality to the strange situations, and anxiety in each moment. It is not a bad performance, even if the character doesn't seem at all ideal for Cruise's strengths as a performer. This may have been intentional as those who view Kubrick as infallible would likely say. This as Cruise could be seen himself placed in situations alien to the performer, reacting with the same distance, as Bill as an alien to his life situations, keeping the same distance. This as neither man takes that next step, neither Cruise fully exiting his comfort zone by going that next step of raw sexuality on screen, nor Bill breaking out of his faithfulness towards his wife. I will however, always contest that casting the charisma absent Ryan O'Neal was a fundamental mistake of Barry Lyndon therefore will not accept the Kubrick as infallible view. This while I don't think Cruise's casting is as detrimental to the character, I too have a difficulty finding that I cannot see a better path with a performer more ideal for the material, the character and indeed the director.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1999: Jim Broadbent in Topsy-Turvy

Jim Broadbent did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a BAFTA, for portraying W.S. Gilbert in Topsy-Turvy.

I rather loved Topsy-Turvy, which tells the story of Gilbert and Sullivan attempting to stage a comeback of sorts through the Mikado.

The film borders on an ensemble piece as it does take time with just about every element of the eventual production, focusing on the various characters in and around the Savoy theatre. The man who gets the greatest focus fittingly is the man who without would've made the creation of the Mikado simply impossible, that being librettist W.S. Gilbert played by the always reliable Jim Broadbent. Broadbent having rather a challenge in the character of Gilbert, given that the man is essentially a living contradiction. A contradiction that serves Broadbent's approach to the part which is as a humorous man who takes himself very seriously. This as his most essential professional output involves being a mostly comic wordsmith, who is partial to, as his creative partner Sullivan says, Topsy-Turvy ridiculousness. Broadbent's performance then has two main objectives, one to make sense of this man, and the second to make this man work within the film which takes a lightly comic approach. The sense of the man is within his life that while he has a caring wife (Lesley Manville), he has a troublesome relationship with his father and distant, and all importantly humorless, mother. Broadbent's performance then creates this sense of logic within the character's repression as spurned by such a childhood.

This is as Broadbent presents very much one side a man you would expect from such a life on the surface, which is always interesting for Broadbent for a reason I'll get to on the second part of his challenge. Broadbent though delivers a hardness in manner within the man. This physically stature as a proper businessman despite being an artist first and foremost. When the man discusses his idea with his wife or Sullivan, Broadbent speaks in hard delivery of a man as though he was simply discussing any old financial plan or legal action. This seeming without an obvious passion on the immediate surface. Broadbent carefully though doesn't specifically make Gilbert seem bored however, but this is a hardness seemingly ill-fitting to what it is that he writes. Of course we are party to more than just Gilbert as others see him, as we are given the moments of inspiration that he finds through a Japanese exhibition in England. Although even as this Broadbent portrays only the most careful breaks in the moments of interacting with his wife, which is quite different from when we see him admiring a sword from the exhibition alone in his room. We see him first goofing off alone, where Broadbent suddenly reveals a cheerfulness befitting to a truly topsy turvy sort, as not of that stiffness is evident in the man. Broadbent in this moment is not breaking the character, but rather revealing the humorous man that is at Gilbert's heart that was mostly repressed thoroughly by his childhood. This is further reinforced where we see him admiring the sword and Broadbent has a beautiful moment where his face expresses the true creative spirit in the sincere emotional intensity in his eyes.

Well with that Broadbent brilliantly explains Gilbert, however that still leaves a potentially stiff character in this comedy who needs to exist beyond the emotional revelations of the man, as strikingly performed as those are. Well thankfully Broadbent is the perfect man to deliver this in a way, as he is particularly well attuned actor for both comedy and drama, particularly in his voice that is marvelous in how it manages to both have a comedic light pitch, while still having a dominating depth. Broadbent knows exactly how to use this as he manages to be quite impeccably hilarious as Gilbert. This as even in those scenes of describing his silly ideas, Broadbent is absolutely comic gold in just how directly dry he is about every word, with this underlying conviction of sorts, that is properly, though naturally, ridiculous as Gilbert describes a contrived idea about a transformative potion. Broadbent's delivery of Gilbert's ideas becomes a consistent point of hilarity as he brings such refinement with even the most absurd words in Gilbert's rhythmic expressions. Broadbent's approach is wonderfully entertaining in the earliest scenes of the film, but only broadens as we see the man in action in terms of attempting to realize his project to his vision. Broadbent is fantastic as the seemingly tyrannical man dictating such specific changes along with way with few willing to stand up to his whims. Broadbent carries is this and is incredible in every single scene, particularly an extended one of directing the actors through a scene. Broadbent commands magnificently, and still quite humorously, as he delivers this intensity, without ever raising his voice, in each comment that alludes to a tremendous will to see his achievement to come to life properly. Broadbent so effortlessly delivers the comedy in each scene, while still maintaining the needs of Gilbert as almost a man to be feared by those helping to create his vision. Broadbent makes us see each part of the creative process through his portrayal of Gilbert, whose all his actions are of that of one sort, yet within the frame of existence another This is as Broadbent makes it just a natural part of the contrasting whole of a man who internally is funny truly passionate man, encased within the body of a proper Victorian gentlemen in every respect. In very much the same way Broadbent himself delivers an honest and striking portrait of an artist, encased in a most hilarious nearly deadpan comic turn. I loved this performance.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1999: Heath Ledger in Two Hands

Heath Ledger did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jimmy in Two Hands.

Two Hands is an underrated off-beat crime film, following a young wannabe gangster, who immediately screws up a job for a local gangster.

Well as with any Australian actor who breaks out internationally, there are ought to be an "early" catalogue of their work on their home turf. Unsurprisingly Heath Ledger falls into this group, as the same year he started the beginnings of his international breakout in 10 Things I Hate About You, he appeared here in perhaps overall a more substantial role as Jimmy. The young man trying to make his name through crime is a good starter role for many an actor, however for Ledger this quite a bit different than one might expect. This in that Ledger's work has more in common with a romantic lead than say Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, which actually makes for a rather intriguing off-beat turn for this type of story. It also allows for Ledger to utilize his substantial charm. This is something I mentioned in A Knight's Tale, however where it was weaponized by him in a way there, here it is realized within a sort of haplessness of the youth of the character. Ledger is wholly winning in this regard bringing such an likable eagerness even in the earliest scenes as the man attempts to make an impression with the local crime boss Pando (Bryan Brown). Ledger speaks of this desire though with an innocence that crafts such a likability for Jimmy, as we can see only the sights for a successful life rather any notion of becoming a true violent criminal or anything of that ilk.

Ledger's terrific by showing just as much interest in Jimmy in meeting up with the hopeful photographer Alex (Rose Byrne). This in bringing though a similar enthusiasm that has that same naivety in a way that very much accentuates the hopeful youth of the young man. Ledger exudes that beautifully here in portraying very much Jimmy as a young man with so many chances for the future, though perhaps not exactly thinking of the best way to achieve that. This as fortunes almost instantly shift for Jimmy, as he bungles his first job for Pando by losing 10,000 dollars, due to leaving the cash when he thought he had a potential chance to meet up with Alex early. After the initial intensity of attempting to find the money, having screwed up royally which Ledger depicts quite naturally though there is initially a little shift. This shift as Jimmy ponders just telling Pando what happened thinking he'd understand. Ledger is downright hilarious in this moment by once again accentuating really just how good natured Jimmy is as a person, and that thinking through this logic makes absolute sense for the young man. The dog eat dog world of the gangster just doesn't make sense to him, and Ledger delivers this as the honest world view of the optimistic young man.

This is even as he is targeted for death for his bungling, he still goes about to still see Alex for a date. This leads to a rather wonderful, and low key scene between Jimmy and Alex where they haven't had a care in the world for the moment as they speak to one another. Their chemistry is absolutely lovely as Ledger again is so charming through portraying this certain shyness in Jimmy as he broaches every moment of the conversation still, and the sheer exuberance as the two seem to find something special in each other. They play off each other perfectly in creating the sense of the mutual attraction in the two, and the understand of the two between each other as they speak of their dreams. Of course such dreams are potentially quite short as the date leads Jimmy right into the hands of Pando and his crew, who plan to kill him, despite Jimmy's pleas of getting the money through running a job. This in which we get two scenes of them dragging into the forest, split through their placement in the film, both which are highlights for Ledger. The first being just a darkly comic bit of brilliance as Ledger delivers Jimmy's attempt at a save through a phone number he doesn't know, with the same sort of attitude of a man attempting to ensure the man at the box office that he does have tickets to the show. Ledger's great in showing that the situation still hasn't fully dawned on Jimmy. When we do see this though, Ledger is incredibly moving in portraying again the strict honesty of Jimmy's pleas befitting a young man who really shouldn't be in the gangster's life.

Jimmy manages to just barely escape that demise in order to hook up with a few other local hoods by robbing a bank in order to get Pando his 10 grand. This whole aspect of the film being pretty terrific as a crime comedy, though never so broad that it breaks the overall tone of the film. Ledger adds to this greatly in just his casual manner as he sits along with his fellow "toughs" as he explains the need and use of a shotgun for a bank robbery. This nothing compared to the robbery itself, which manages to be a downright hilarious, though still tense, sequence. Ledger is surprisingly essential in this through his largely silent, and entirely masked performance. Ledger's body language though throughout the scene is pitch perfect in accentuating Jimmy's inexperience but also the ridiculousness of the less than professional bank robbers. Ledger's pitch perfect in the haplessness both of the entry as even his "proper" use of the shotgun feels a bit artificial. It becomes far greater comedy when one of Jimmy's partner's knocks himself up, leaving Jimmy to juggle more than a few things to make a swift escape. Ledger's inability to hold the shotgun, the money, and drag the other man, is properly labored and wrings out every bit of humor he can from the scene. With that great bit of climactic comedy, we are also given a great bit of dramatic climax as Jimmy brings the money to Pando, while also closing their relationship by brandishing a gun before leaving. Ledger has again two fantastic nearly non-verbal moments, first his threat to Pando where his face just bears the distress of the betrayal of the whole life and the anguish now presented towards Pando as threat, rather than fear within Jimmy. Ledger only topping that though with his expression leaving the place with just this sincere sense of relief in his expression fitting a man whose lifted a great burden of both his debt, but also of a life he never belonged within. This is a terrific performance by Heath Ledger as he manages the film's tone effortlessly, creating just an immensely likable lead we want to see succeed within the story of this atypical film. It's a proper winning turn from Ledger in every sense, showing that while all definitely appreciated his talent at the end of his all too short career, it was evident right from the start.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1999: Ralph Fiennes in Sunshine

Ralph Fiennes did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ignatz Sonnenschein, Adam Sors and Ivan Sors in Sunshine.

Sunshine is an effective enough film, though rather repetitive even if that is part of the film's intention, following three generations of a Hungarian Jewish family.

Ralph Fiennes is an actor I hold in a fairly high regard. He is though an actor who I feel is at his best when he is stretching himself in some way. Whether that is mining the depths of madness in Spider, bringing to life a disturbing real evil in Schindler's List, or his two brilliant largely comic turns of In Bruges and The Grand Budapest Hotel. In those performances Fiennes is more than sort of the generalized European leading man, which is not how he started, however it is how he gained some notoriety through his turn in The English Patient. Now, as the more expected role Fiennes is far from an underwhelming actor, he's good in "Patient", but it isn't the type of work that I consider to be Fiennes at his best. Of course, Sunshine does fall into the latter group, however the change here being he plays not one European romantic lead, but three. Here playing the three generations of men of a Jewish family that is slowly ingratiating itself into the Hungarian culture, potentially by losing their own heritage for the sake of upward mobility.

The first man Ignatz Sonnenschein is introduced to us initially as a humble romantic. Fiennes as to be expected does smoulder more than finely in his portrayal of the man wishing his romance with his cousin Valerie Sonnenschein (Jennifer Ehle). Fiennes portraying largely a modest charm of the man whose romance seems to be his greatest concern initially. There is a certain detachment through the film's approach within these scenes that are bridges through the narration of the grandson of Ignatz, also provided by Fiennes, that takes upon an observational tone that leaves the transitions of the man rather swift. This is as we witness quickly the man finding success within the Hungarian world by slowly giving up on his own family's life as a Jewish family. Fiennes portrays this initially with the earnestness of a need of a man just attempting to make headway in a world that he believes is impossible to overcome otherwise. This leaves the man first to change his last name, but this process continues as he begins to fully support the Hungarian political life despite its questionable morality.

We then witness the turn of the man as he becomes more intense and bitter, as his family questions his support for the emperor. Fiennes is effective in crafting that bitterness with that trademark intensity of his. The film's approach leaves him a limited range though as we see the parts of his transformation rather than the whole, until we are led with the ailing, angry man, we haven't really felt the changes just the end of it. It's fine work, but the limits are obvious. Well we then recent as we meet Ignatz's son we move to his son Adam, also played by Fiennes. Adam begins in a stronger position in the Hungarian society than Ignatz did, as a soon to be championship fencer. Again we see basically a reset with Fiennes as the humble, more charming man. Fiennes is indeed that once again however there isn't some great distance in character. He doesn't play it exactly the same, however the nature of the roles leaves Fiennes in a very similar part. This as we see the same trajectory as he becomes more confident through his successes, and in turn more intense in his moments of trepidation.

The major change is the man completely eliminates his history by converting to Catholicism, but this is done not as cold ambition, rather more as this lack of concern. Adam's story though faces a different tragedy as his intensity realizes itself as the fascist movement takes over and he, and his son, are sent to a concentration camp. It is here that Fiennes certainly does excel in the moment of portraying the adamant refusal to deny his stature, and that slowly crumbling physical will as the prison guards slowly torture him to death. This leaves his son Ivan, now played by Fiennes, to lead the film. This begins powerfully enough as we see a different gear in the grieving Ivan trying to explain the death of his father, where Fiennes effectively shows the anguish that penetrates his entire being, with a striking pain as he is unable to verbalize what happened. Again though the nature of the narrative switches from the humble broken man quickly to the revenge seeking policeman. Again Fiennes hits the gear as to be expected however it does feel very much the same. This final man being particularly limited as we see him just go from angry police man fighting against former killer of Jews, then against the Soviets who lashes against after he sees their oppressive ways. There is an intimacy lost here, and not on Fiennes but as the film examines it as this circular process. This circular process that is very much realized in Fiennes's work. This being we see the humble man, the confident man gaining status, the intense man fighting for or against some political upheaval, the lustful man in a forbidden romance, and then finally his end. Ivan having the least tragic end as he returns to his early humble ways attempting to once again regain his lost heritage. The sameness is not a criticism against Fiennes, as this is intended in the narrative and Fiennes does not portray man as exactly the same however every apple fittingly does not fall from the tree. This of course being already that romantic leading turn that I don't believe is Fiennes at his best, however here you have it three times over. Three good performances mind you, but only just that, which don't add up to some greater achievement in the end.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1999: Nicolas Cage in Bringing Out the Dead

Nicolas Cage did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Frank Pierce in Bringing Out the Dead.

Bringing Out The Dead is kind of the middle ground for Martin Scorsese's middle of the night in NY films, between the largely comic After Hours and the very dark Taxi Driver, here in a mix following a paramedic's long nights. I found it to be a largely effective film, if especially off-beat almost set to to be "lesser" Scorsese, however I'd probably say it's his 3rd best film from his 90's output.

As much as this may be the third part of a midnight trilogy for Scorsese, it is part of a far longer list of films from writer Paul Schrader who basically specializes in film's about men on a razor's edge. It is only natural then for Nicolas Cage to portray one of his written protagonists, specializing in men on an extreme himself, although this film and performance is perhaps bit different than one may expected from only hearing the general synopsis. This is particularly within the early scenes of the film where we come to know of his paramedic, Frank Pierce's experience within his strange world of very long nights. Cage's performance in about the first two thirds of the film is rather subdued, especially for Cage, though quite effective in establishing the state of his character. Now this is of course in a physical sense where one can become a bit fatigued themselves by just looking at Cage who is able to emphasize the insomniac state of the man. This with his worn eyes, his retiring physical presence, and his whole face just wearing too many nights within it. Frank is spent, and this is obvious from seeing Cage in the first frame of the film. Of course the nature of how he is in this state isn't just because he's tired, it is something deeper, something rather spiritual.

Cage for the first half of the film almost portrays the part as though Frank is a priest with some sort of faith self-examination. This is in his moments of staring into the eyes of the dead woman he failed to save, but also in his way of approaching the various people he helps. These people in a range of smelly drunks, self-mutilating crazies, drug addicts and just dying people. Frank speaks of seeing the spirits of the dying and Cage narrates with a contemplative calm. A man trying to decipher his existence while also being haunted by it all the same. In his moments of the man on the job Cage initially carefully administers a zen like conviction who is earnest in his attempts to help others even if exasperated by them. Cage balances well though within this approach the appropriate tone for the film. This as much as he creates that sense of exhaustion, and that haunted quality, there is also a sense of the every day nature of his job. This humor within his lighter calls of a man who has been doing it for a long time and has been able to have this casual demeanor in very strange, yet not particularly intense situations. In way this leads towards a detachment at times, befitting a man who when threatened to lose his job encourages his boss to fire him, as though it would be a sweet release.

Cage's performance exists well within playing off actually whoever it is that Frank is interacting against specifically. There are the more humorous beats that he emphasizes with that more casual almost sarcasm of sorts when interacting with his three "partners" of such extreme personalities themselves or the less dangerous calls he falls on. In these Cage plays well as strangely enough the straight man, despite Frank's peculiar state, though by showing this man on his wavelength that creates a certain comedy in his ease with such disparate personalities. I especially love his "are you serious" reactions to Tom Sizemore's especially tightly wound and violent paramedic. On the other side though is his relationship with the drug addict daughter of a man he "saved", really went into a vegetative state, Mary, (Patricia Arquette). Here Cage dials into these scenes particularly effective in trying to provide solace to the woman, while in his reactions conveying the way that Frank himself is finding solace within his interactions with her. These moments of calm within his otherwise haggard state. Of course this is a bit different though with his relationship with her father, who he envisions wants to die rather than stay in his state. This Cage garners a clever intensity though again of this sort of spiritual entrancement and guilt as he sees the dead man "speaking" to him. Cage largely, and effectively downplays this part into this subdued state of the troubled insomniac. The amount of sort of "Cage unleashed" that one expects from any given Cage turn, is limited to the scene of Frank on his deepest end, compelled by a bit of drug use and a bad trip of sorts. Cage thrives with this madness however he uses it selectively, however effectively though as these moments of release in Frank as side effects from specific extremes that push him that little more off the brink. This film doesn't have as concise of trajectory as many of these types of film, as his sort final act is something he's been toying with the whole time anyways, and is less of leap. His major change really otherwise is getting a decent night of sleep. Cage's performance works within the confines and within anchoring the film. It's a compelling turn within a more subdued approach to the man on an edge narrative.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1999: Anthony Hopkins in Titus

Anthony Hopkins did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Titus Andronicus in Titus.

Titus joins the ranks of other 90's Shakespeare adaptations in their attempts to "modernize" the bard through one method or another. Although most it doesn't tackle what is regarded as one of Shakespeare's great tragedies, but rather one of his more forgotten works about a violent roman general reaping that which he sows.

Although the film may not have what is considered one of the best Shakespearean texts, it does feature one of the great British actors, who always seem as though they best deliver at least one Shakespearean turn of note on film. Now the film itself is pretty messy in perhaps an admirable attempt to capture the camp insanity of the text that many have argued was Shakespeare writing a purposeful parody of violent tragedies. Director Julie Taymor seems to throw everything at the wall regarding the film's visual aesthetic which is quite frankly ridiculous. She's similarly less concise in the direction of the actors who are little inconsistent between the wrong and the right way of handling Shakespeare. The wrong way is trying to sound "hip"...I guess, by doing the Baz Lurhmann style of yelling every line or inflecting it with absolutely no emotion. I do say wrong way, because unless you grant meaning to the words you fail them, and really the best way to modernize them is to bring forth the emotion in a way that is universal, rather than treating it like a foreign language you failing to pantomime quite brutally. Thankfully the majority do take the later approach including, one actor with unquestionably the right approach is the seasoned Hopkins, who unsurprisingly has a great command of the bard's words.

Hopkins's work in a way is an interesting anchor within the madness of the film, in that he seems the most tangible, even as the rather unwieldy tragic "hero". This is as his initially appearance is befitting to the great actor's presence as he appears as the war hero, making a recent conquer while dispensing a bit of "justice" among those he has conquered. Hopkins wields his presence in his establishment of Titus surely as this force of not only war but of will. A man who commands more than respect in the way Hopkins brandishes himself. Hopkins in a way properly establishes himself as the poor Shakespearean hero to be destroyed as he presents this idea of power with ease and once again the grace of the general. This with that calm command that creates the force of will that is his Titus, even as the man defers any ambition to the chosen emperor of the foppish Saturninus (Alan Cumming). Hopkins, after this grand introduction, is fairly quiet initially as he initially attempts to fall in line as the new emperor requests his daughter be his bride. Hopkins only presenting a loyal man to a fault. This as Titus kills his own son after that son attempts to prevent this union favoring Bassianus's younger son.

Hopkins even in that act presents a man who distributes violence more of a form of what he perceives as a swift justice than an emotional act, even against his own kin. This as Hopkins effectively emphasizes the man living to his code as a servant of Rome, unfortunately this code favors Titus not, as Saturninus instead marries the vengeful Goth Tamora (Jessica Lange), who along with her lover and surviving son intend to reek havoc upon Titus who had defeated them all in war. This leading to a progression of transgressions upon Titus. First the rape and mutilation of his daughter, the framing and eventual death of two of his sons, and even the removal of one of Titus's hands in a faulty attempt by him to save those sons. These acts likely would destroy the mind of any man, and Hopkins delivers the sheer brunt of the emotion one would expect in a proper decay of the mind type of Shakespearean monologue. This in finally flowing the emotions of the man in a pit of despair at the news, and the sheer pain, both physical regarding the limb loss and mental, in the loss of his family members, as the man is worn down. Hopkins creating the most compelling imagery in the film is his the grief stricken face of a father and betrayed soldier.

Hopkins's work though still seems like we are waiting for something more, as it is up until this point certainly a striking turn, but we might expect more from Hopkins. Of course more we are indeed granted. and the last act is the highlight of Hopkins's work. This as he initially falls upon this daffy quality that Hopkins wonderfully plays as he seems to lose that power of presence, and becomes seemingly an assuming man gripped in madness. Hopkins presenting as a delicate insanity of a man just lost in his grief and lost in his thoughts as though he cannot face reality. Hopkins's right turn though is of course magnificent as once the sons of Tamora let's their guard down, Titus reveals himself as does Hopkins in just a moment of brilliant physical acting. This as when the seemingly harmless mad man Hopkins is a touched hunched over of a man too lost in himself to stand, then when he calls upon for the capture of the man he immediately straightens his posture to once again reveal the dynamic commander. This is taken further though as Titus sees fit to inflict his vengeance upon the two men. Hopkins wearing a striking and vicious intensity showing a man seething in disgust as he flawlessly delivers his Shakespearean monologue with great aplomb. A most worthy note is Hopkins's delivery of Titus's description of his plan to turn the men to "paste" with a calm, Hannibalesque, sophistication that slowly boils towards a quite literal animalistic hate as he makes his intentions well known.

Evidently Hopkins and Taymor disagreed on the exact interpretation of Titus, with both believing in the feigning of initial madness however with Hopkins believing him sane and Taymor still insane, though in different manner. Honestly either interpretation can be accepted as Titus's actions are quite reasoned in their intent, of a sane man, but also so extreme befitting an insane man. The important thing is Hopkins seems to know exactly what he's doing in the climatic feast scene that is easily the best scene of the film, where Titus plays chef serving a delicious meal of meat pies to the Emperor and Tamora. Hopkins is amazing in showing the affable defeated fool seemingly as he delivers the pies to his guests, however with this diabolical glee of a man whose plans are going exactly to plan. This as his meat pies filled with the meat of Tamora's sons. My single favorite moment perhaps being Hopkins's "yummy" reaction towards Tamora as she bites down, that is both hilarious and right in line with presentation of Titus admiring his craft. Obviously not the first time Hopkins has played a literal chef for men, and fittingly Hopkins is right at home in this sequence. The actual reveal of the trick though is a rather difficult scene to play, though exists as it does right in the original text, as we see Titus kill his daughter due to her condition, based on the "advice" of the emperor, before proceedings to reveal the sins of Tamora and dispatching her himself. Hopkins makes it work by certainly embracing the scene, but also in a way both being quite "reasonable" and completely mad. This as in the act of killing the daughter he plays the moment with the strictest gravitas as though it were a religious ceremony as a most carefully planned act by Titus. This is against his act of killing Tamora, where Hopkins portrays as a purely sweeping emotional gesture of someone truly caught up in the moment. This as a combination of abounding joy along with searing anger as delivers the coup d'grace as a man truly living this final act of his life to its fullest. Although I wouldn't call the film a mess, it is certainly messy, however Hopkins's performance manages maneuver itself through both the scattershot ideas of the direction and the madness of the source material itself, through his work that seems to understand both the substance and lunacy of it. His performance both furnishing the needed gravity for any Shakespearean performance, but with a sense of fun needed for the work that is Titus Andronicus.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1999

 And the Nominees Were Not:

Anthony Hopkins in Titus

Heath Ledger in Two Hands

Nicolas Cage in Bringing Out the Dead

Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut

Jim Broadbent in Topsy-Turvy

And a review Of:

Ralph Fiennes in Sunshine 

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Alternate Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor 1952: Update

Well here are some supporting turns I rather enjoyed. 

James Mason in The Prisoner of Zenda - Well as to be expected Mason takes on the role of the villainous Rupert with great relish. In the 37 version we had Douglas Fairbanks Jr. out of his typical element stealing the show, here we get Mason very much in his element. Although this performance is less of a surprise to be sure, he steals the entirety of the film wholesale with his turn where he very much emphasizes just how much fun the man is having as tries to find a way to rule a kingdom he has no right to, or at least benefit in its power plays in some way. Mason is cheerfully evil here, in a classic Mason way, and you can really get the sense of the joy of performance in Mason's work here. It is very much Mason in his most well known element, and in turn he of course does not disappoint. This as he shows a man who loves the games he gets to play for his schemes, perhaps more than the prizes he may gain from it. I especially love his work in two elements in particular. This being his relationship with his co-villain, the attempted usurper Michael's mistress. Mason does his lusty sleaze with such a devious style by playing the whole moment into how Rupert just finds any way to enjoy himself quite frankly. This of course even with Mason pulling off a bit of that charm of his, though funneled through some expertly performed creepiness. The other element are the action scenes where Mason isn't content to just be in them, but owes them with granting such a sense of sheer joy in every moment of Rupert's attempts at murder.
Ralph Richardson in The Sound Barrier and The Holly and The Ivy - Speaking of actors I suppose in his element here Richardson in two roles that share a great similarity yet are very different. In each film, for much of the film, Richardson's character is assumed to be something by the other characters in the film. In David Lean's The Sound Barrier, he's a research scientist whom his daughter views as heartless as he takes part in experiments that lead to the death of one test pilot after another, many of whom are very close to both of them. Richardson here has a purposefully limited role for much of the film, though that isn't to say he isn't still remarkable in the role throughout. Richardson projects this cold conviction rather effectively and in his eyes delivers that determination of a man intent on changing the world. His performance though is this time bomb of a way, as it builds up until the daughter confronts her father for what she perceives as uncaring and unconcerned. This is until she actually sees him as he listens to an ongoing test and a potential pilot death. Richardson in this moment is fantastic in portraying the sheer distress within the man eyes, powerfully showing the very real weight of the sacrifice within the man who is well aware of what is being lost. This only be amplified by his subtle yet striking silent relief in his expression as he hears one of his pilots survive. Richardson showing the good man within the cold conviction in a particularly believable way, because he portrays the moment not as a different man but rather this honest reflection of how this type of man who reveal his empathy.

This is essentially the same structure, though a very different character in The Holly and the Ivy, an early, and effective, example of the ennui filled family reunion genre. Richardson though here played a white haired parson, who for much of the film is man who is seen, but mostly spoken of by others. Richardson serves the role well actually by just portraying his part as a man who appears contented in the presence of quite simply his life. This with the occasional interested, curious if not perhaps concerned interest in his children as they visit, though they speak too little to him for him to be able to speak more. Of course as his family visits for Christmas, all with their own personal problems, they all assume that their pastor father will not understand their problems. This is until he directly confronts his son and daughter who both went drinking the night before Christmas. This as each first assume he will not know anything based upon two separate issue. The first with his son assuming he cannot understand troubles as a pastor. Richardson is downright amazing in the scene by playing such genuine befuddlement at the claim, which is followed by such outwardly moving portrayal of empathy. This being a far more open empathy than seen in his aforementioned performance, fitting to the pastor who is nothing by a loving caring father. I love Richardson's delivery of the pastor's response to his son, where his delivery finds this eloquent combination of disbelief but also the utmost sincerity as the man only speaks words of care and support towards every problem his son reveals to him. This soon followed by a similar conversation with his daughter, who believes him unable to understand her feelings of doubt towards her faith, because again of his place as a pastor. Richardson again is fantastic in the moment in now showing even more this sense of disbelief. Again within this Richardson wraps in this loving warmth in this though of a man hurt, though only hurt only towards his own apparent inability to prevent his family from misconstruing his personality and the nature of his faith. Richardson again excels though in only depicting a fundamentally good man, even as he speaks of his religion not in boisterous piousness, but rather through quiet reasoned words of a man whose own struggles helped cement his beliefs. Richardson is terrific as he once again makes this considerable impression, as this impeccably placed performance, by delivering the essential brunt of his film's emotional impact in one major revelation. In each, Richardson earns the build up, and doesn't waste the surprise in granting two powerful portrayals of two rather different men poignantly revealing their true natures.
Updated Lead Overall
Updated Supporting Overall

Next Year: 1999 Lead