Monday, 23 April 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1957: Rod Steiger in Across the Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1957: Victor Sjöström in Wild Strawberries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1957

And the Nominees Were Not:

Ben Gazzara in The Strange One

Rod Steiger in Across the Bridge

Victor Sjöström in Wild Strawberries

Robert Mitchum in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison 

James Cagney in Man of a Thousand Faces

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2008: Results

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

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

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

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

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

Best Scene: The duel.
Updated Overall

Next Year: 1957 Lead

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2008: Richard Jenkins in Step Brothers

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

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

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

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

Monday, 16 April 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2008: Jason Butler Harner in Changeling

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

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

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

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