Thursday, 14 December 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1965: Charlton Heston in Major Dundee

Charlton Heston did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Major Amos Dundee in Major Dundee.

Major Dundee, in its proper extended version, is a terrific western, despite a little bit of clashing between a traditionalist and modernist view of a western, about a Union cavalry officer calling upon the aid of Confederate prisoners in order to avenge an Apache massacre near the end of the civil war.

Charlton Heston, known for his roles as steadfast leads, seems well enough equipped for the role of the tough Union officer, however this is a bit atypical, particularly for the time for him, given it is a film by Sam Peckinpah, and his leads are never simple heroes. Heston's presence here makes for an interesting one in the film in the way it is used with the character of Major Dundee. Now on the surface Heston is in prime Heston form. He has all his stature, and the power of screen presence that is a consistent factor in all of his performances, even in lesser ones. Heston's innate confidence suits well Dundee as we first meet him in charge of a fort deep into west and out of the way of the main civil war, with the primary mission in housing a group of confederates lead by Captain Benjamin Tyreen (Richard Harris). Heston's blunt approach works effectively in establishing Dundee as this blunt force of will early on. Heston makes the character's determination convincing which is particularly important to the plot where he makes his mortal enemies work for him. Heston delivers in presenting Dundee as this unshakable force from the outset.

The point of Dundee is interesting though as watching it you initially believe the man as well given just how Heston brims with such a confidence. This is even as the film hints that the man is far more flawed than how he presents himself suggests. After all why would such a formidable soldier be practically a prison warden then, it is hinted at that his actions in the battle of Gettysburg were for his own glory than the overall success of the war. This actually can be taken as his motivation to avenge the massacre since Heston portrays this as somewhat dispassionate. In that he never portrays a direct anger or anguish towards those who died, rather his determination seems to only surround the idea of the daring of the task which involves catching such a sly prey, which even involves going into Mexico and risking coming afoul the French army posted there. Heston does not convey those humane ideas as settling at any point into Dundee's mind rather only seemingly the idea of the potential glory in the task through the strength of a man absolutely certain in this resolve. This choice is actually the proper one for the character, and again though watching the film it would seem this is because Heston is just making Dundee this type of unflappable hero, however that is not the case.

The truth is revealed as the film goes on but examining this performance it is two faced once you know this truth. During the beginning of the journey there are moments where Dundee is quiet honestly a jerk, and Heston doesn't hold back in these scenes. He's frankly cold in moments as he lobs insults at one of his men because he comes from the artillery, or questioning the loyalty of one of the Apache working with his battalion. At initial glance this may seem just a man who sufers no fools, but with the understanding of the whole of Dundee it is a palatable egotism that Heston reflects in his performance. Now to be sure this is not a case of Heston making this a pure negative rather he does find the complexity of this brashness of a soldier. On one point Heston does realize essentially the usefulness of this in any scene in which he initially comes to a battle of wills with Tyreen. The intensity of the man's daring that Heston provides shows effectively his ability to keep them inline. This is also seen in his moments of strategy against the enemy which Heston conveys the worthwhile nature of his passion for victory. There is a darkness within this though as Heston reveals such a lack of empathy as a man perhaps willing to risk everyone lives if it means a great victory.

Now I will say in part this is a performance that is aided greatly by his frequent scene partner in Richard Harris. As Stephen Boyd did in Ben-Hur, Harris provides the right type of foil against Heston's more direct work. What Harris does, which I will get more detailed on later, is essential in creating some of the complexity of the character of Dundee by the way he challenges the typical Heston presence. To be fair, unlike as Ben-Hur where he stays much more the hero, though here Heston challenges it a bit himself. This is mostly seen through a needed diversion where Dundee is wounded and must be taken to hospital in Mexico. In typical Peckinpah form this challenges the values of Dundee when he is without his army, without his pride, without even his physical power as a man. Heston does deliver in breaking down his presence to powerfully reveal a more vulnerable man as he struggles to stand and is even caught in caring for the results of his actions for a moment. Heston gives these scenes the impact they need, however I don't think he quite lets them influence the rest of his work enough. He tones the egotism a bit, but the last act should have brought a far more changed Dundee. We get a little change, but there was a greater potential there that perhaps a William Holden in the role could have brought out as he did in his own collaboration with Peckinpah. This stands as a good performance still from Heston which does subvert his work to an extent, but perhaps not enough.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1965: Zbigniew Cybulski in The Saragossa Manuscript

Zbigniew Cybulski did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Alfonso van Worden in The Saragossa Manuscript.

The Saragossa Manuscript is not a film that one can easily describe what it is about, it's no surprise to learn that David Lynch holds the film in high esteem, other than there are many stories, stories within stories, and the reality of each isn't always exactly the most understandable. I would say the film is fascinating, the first part of I suppose I could more easily say is quite great, I would probably recommend taking a break though before heading on to the second half which can become quite dizzying.

Well about seven years after his breakout role in Ashes and Diamonds, we find Zbigniew Cybulski once again. In that earlier film Zbigniew Cybulski's performance was fashioned over James Dean, which sadly came to be came prophetic with Cybulski's early death. Cybulski though didn't die as young as James Dean so he continued as an actor, and here we see him a very different role, as a closer to middle aged man. Cybulski in no way plays into that Dean idea here, which would likely be ill-fitting to a man living during the Spanish Inquisition. Cybulski, while not playing the role as James Dean, is actually a very modern presence given the time period still. This is not at all ill-fitting towards the film. In fact Cybulski's approach is very welcome towards the film and in a way help to ease some of the film's mind bending through his approach. Cybulski quite honestly gives a comedic performance here, even though his character goes through torture at the hands of the inquisition, seemingly demonic forces, and all sorts of far more serious subjects to be sure. There's quite a lot going on around the poor Captain of the guards Alfonso, and Cybulski's performance actually acts as a bit of balancing factor to keep it all from it all becoming perhaps too much.

Cybulski's performance, which is often to play Alfonso as the audience at any given point, has what one could call sort of a precursor to a Lynchian style of humor. In that Cybulski's performance often is within some horrifying scenes however these scenes will often become suddenly hilarious without distracting from the scene. This is from Cybulski's work which is notable in that he basically plays the part as a normal guy in this situation with no great ambitions other than for nothing bad to happen to him, and perhaps indulging with some "fair" maidens who claim he's the first man they've ever seen. Cybulski for example, in the scene of meeting these two strange princesses who live in a cavern, and want him to drink out of a skull, portrays a blend of curiosity with bit of a bashfulness of a man who believes he's hit an unexpected jackpot. The potential horror elements naturally being assuaged due to the most intriguing prospect at the center of it all. Cybulski brings the right lack of shame in this indulgence and he is rather amusing just to watch deal with this entanglement of sorts. Of course this entanglement never seems to end well when he always wakes up at the end of it among corpses.

Now one major similarity between his work here and the last time I reviewed him in Ashes and Diamonds, is the fact that despite being lead in both films, he's just barely lead in each. This film once again does devote the most time to his story however this is not saying a great deal in the scheme of the film which gets lost in its stories among stories among stories. Once it really gets going in the stories we are only granted a brief moment with him where he is just as confused as ever that is before the film's finale which seems answer a few of the questions though only with a few more questions. Cybulski's performance offers a bit stability in two ways. One being that he doesn't change within the story always portraying his role as a man just trying to figure what is going on the same way the audience really is, the other being by offer a bit respite in the humor that comes from such worldly approach within the surreal environment. This is a good performance by Zbigniew Cybulski however I must say once again that it is a limited one and the unquestionable takeaway from this film is of the vision from director Wojciech Jerzy Has. Cybulski's work though is still an important part of that vision though it is unquestionably overshadowed by it.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1965

And the Nominees Were Not:

Lou Castel in Fists in the Pocket

Charlton Heston in Major Dundee

Orson Welles in Chimes at Midnight

Jozef Kroner in The Shop on Main Street

Zbigniew Cybulski in The Saragossa Manuscript

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2010: Results

5. Liu Kai-chi in The Stool Pigeon - Kai-chi gives an over the top performance that keeps his character as mostly a ridiculous caricature.
4. Michael Lonsdale in Of Gods and Men - Lonsdale gives a quietly haunting portrayal of a modest monk willing to face his inevitable demise.

Best Scene: The last supper. 
3. Armie Hammer in The Social Network - Hammer gives two great performances where he gives both a very entertaining portrayal of privilege, but also bothers to find proper nuance within characters while finding the differences between the two twins.

Best Scene: Meeting the president of Harvard. 
2. Ben Kingsley in Shutter Island - Kingsley gives a great performance where he manages to amplify the film's stylistic tone while actually bringing a surprising degree of depth towards the film's twist through the way he builds towards the revelation.

Best Scene: The Lighthouse. 
1. Taika Waititi in Boy - Good Prediction Luke, Tahmeed, Omar, RatedRStar, John Smith, and Matt Mustin. Waititi gives my favorite supporting performance of this year with his genuinely hilarious but also rather off-putting portrayal of a petulant father. He manages to find the complexity of his character with such ease never letting a single aspect of the role override his entire performance.

Best Scene: Demanding his coat back.
Updated Overall

Next Year: 1965 Lead

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2010: Liu Kai-chi in The Stool Pigeon

Liu Kai-chi did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jabber in The Stool Pigeon.

The Stool Pigeon is a thriller that follows a police inspector Lee (Nick Cheung) and his criminal driver informant Ghost. Although it is bolstered somewhat by a charismatic lead performance by Nicholas Tse as the driver it is bogged down by some rather awkward plotting.

Liu Kai-chi plays the previous titular stool pigeon before Tse takes up the job, and we first meet him in the film's opening where a sting is bungled. That leads Jabber on the wrong end of several machetes when the gangster he was working for becomes aware of his treachery. Kai-chi kind of goes full on manic desperate fool, that you often see in a Hong Kong crime thriller, and it is perhaps a touch over the top. He becomes less sympathetic and more ridiculous in this early scene which is problematic because it is suppose to set up the guilt inspector Lee suffer. Unfortunately that is made all the more underwhelming by Nick Cheung's bland performance. This is suppose to be an underlying and important plot point however I sort of forgot Kai-chi was even in the film much of the time. He occasionally pops back up as now a deranged homeless man hiding from the criminals and constantly fearful for his life. Again Kai-chi's performance is excessive, and it actually might have been somewhat forgivable if he was a little more subtle in his opening scene. His performance instead goes from an 11 to 11 so the change really doesn't leave any impression. Instead we get more of him reacting in an outrageous fashion to everything. Now he's over the top but not completely terrible at this. There are hints of some genuine emotion in there, but that is often diminished by just how much he oversells every one of his lines as well as all his facial expressions. He leaves nowhere for his character to go, and remains almost a cartoon the entire time. The role itself I do think had potential if there had been a degree of restraint as the idea of his character trying to see his wife again could have been moving. It fails though because of just how big he goes the entire time. There are at least some minor glimpses of a decent performance but for the most part Liu Kai-chi's performance makes Jabber nothing more than a forgettable caricature.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2010: Ben Kingsley in Shutter Island

Ben Kingsley did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dr. John Cawley in Shutter Island.

Shutter Island was perhaps slightly misunderstood it seems in its initial evaluation where some seemed to view the tale of two federal marshals investigating an escape from a mental institution as far more prestigious than it is meant to be. Martin Scorsese directs the film purposefully as a much more heightened thriller with overtone closer to the exploitation wing of the horror genre than any real analysis of mental illness.

In that sense I find this film to be a smashing success all outside of a single performance, unfortunately that is Leonardo DiCaprio's leading turn as the federal marshal investigator Teddy Daniels. DiCaprio is the one actor who doesn't seem to understand the tone oddly enough with his excessively intense performance. His work is miscalculated in that it doesn't properly embrace the style but it also gives away the twist through how unhinged he is from the opening scene. A more astute turn for example should have portrayed his opening distress slightly more vague as one should have been able to interpret it as just sea sickness or something else, not obviously something else. Thankfully though DiCaprio is the only off-turn in the film, meanwhile the rest of the film has a terrific ensemble with a particularly brilliant bit of casting as you have various cinematic villains suggesting something is off on this psychiatric island, and not just the patients. There's the Zodiac killer and Buffalo Bill leading the guards, Freddie Kruger hiding in the dark, with Ming the Merciless and Don Logan leading the doctor which brings me to Ben Kingsley.

Kingsley though he originally made his name playing renowned pacifist Mahatmas Gandhi his latter career has often been as the heavy which leaves him in good company with Ted Levine, Jackie Earle Haley, Max von Sydow and John Carroll Lynch on this strange island. What is notable about all those performances, along with Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams, and Emily Mortimer as various mysterious women Teddy meets is their mastery of the tone the film is looking for. Kingsley excels best in this which is in part to bring just the right touch of flamboyance, not too much, just the right amount and natural to the character. Kingsley certainly does this in giving the right style and grace of proper psychiatric doctor. There is an emphasis on measure of class in the doctor's manner that is wonderfully realized by Kingsley that adds so well to a bit of his more stylized lines that also makes them natural to the character. I have particular affection for the way Kingsley delivers the line "It's as if she evaporated straight through the walls" when describing the possible method of escape for the missing patient. Kingsley takes that heightened style and makes it all the more vibrant without going over the top, rather amplifying it in the right way.

Of course this being a twisty thriller, and Kingsley playing a man of good nature just doesn't seem right. There is something off about Kingsley's performance but only as it relates to realizing the twist though not in the way one would initially expect. With all these villains you have to be sure that the good Dr. Cawley must be evil, and Teddy's onto something when he thinks there may be unlawful experiments going on the island. Kingsley is brilliant in the way he maneuvers this aspect of the character. On initial viewing he is rather off-putting in a low key way. Kingsley has this certain eeriness in the way he speaks of past psychiatric measures, and the way he interacts with Teddy. Kingsley portrays this keen interest the doctor has in Teddy as though he is perhaps looking for some sort of weakness, and the way he speaks to him Kingsley exerts this gentle persuasion that carries a certain menace within his genial matter. The doctor never seems phased by the lost patient and there is something seemingly quite disturbing in this and something seems to be increasingly not right about the good doctor as the film continues. 

Kingsley seems all set for the classical revelation of the attempted comforting paternal figure turning out to be evil not unlike James Cromwell in L.A. Confidential. There just seems to be something about his warmth that doesn't seem quite like it is placed correctly. As the story continues and the situation on the island seems to become more dire though Kingsley seems to tilt his hand in the revelation as Dr. Cawley almost openly threatens Teddy. Kingsley touches towards the absurd in his rather sinister ,overtly if not ridiculously even, way of speaking of his institute as something important something that he will not allow to be destroyed by anyone. That is of course because it suppose to be ridiculous the twist here is not that Kingsley's Cawley is evil, it's that Teddy is in fact delusional and in fact the "missing" patient. Re-watching the film I noticed just how outstanding Kingsley is in the way he offers all the clues yet doesn't give it away. The false give away towards the revelation Kingsley in fact portrays as a purposeful give away in the character of Cawley trying to get Teddy to see that his paranoia is false and frankly absurd. The real truth of Cawley is that he's good man, simple as that.

Kingsley never hides this either, except in his aforementioned major role play scene. The way he pays so much attention to Teddy, particularly when talking of water torture, Kingsley's reactions are off putting if he was doing it to a stranger, but make perfect sense for an observant doctor trying to help his patient. Kingsley is in fact throughout giving this portrayal of a devoted man tirelessly trying to help the man break from his delusions. His eyes are searching for a break, or some way to try to help  the man. On re-watch his speech about being a special kind of doctor who seeks to respect and understand his patents is genuinely moving as Kingsley offers it so earnestly as the true nature of Cawley. Kingsley in fact makes it all natural to the final revelation scenes which are of Cawley trying to directly confront Teddy with the truth. I love Kingsley in this scene as he brings such an incisiveness to the words. He importantly doesn't play this as a vicious attack on man, but rather infuses every word with such palatable emotion of a man striving hard to break the man from his false world as well as save his life. Kingsley offers a real warmth and tenderness in these scenes particularly in his final shot where it seems Teddy has regressed. Kingsley reaction is quite powerful as he finds the man's heartbreak at his failure to save his patient despite his tireless efforts. This is a great performance by Ben Kingsley as he not only offers an entertaining turn by realizing the film's specific tone, yet he still manages to bridge this towards a needed substance and depth required for the film's final act.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2010: Armie Hammer in The Social Network

Armie Hammer did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss in The Social Network.

The idea of playing identical twins seems to be a challenge an actor may relish. This often though is used two give two wildly different if not dramatically opposed performances. The most interesting portrayals of twins are not so extreme, just as identical twins in real life tend to not be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Armie Hammer takes this more realistic approach in his portrayal of the Winklevosses or as titled by Jesse Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg the Winklevii. On a cursory glance the two men do appear to be almost exactly the same. They are both notable physical specimens that is further emphasized with an excessively upright posture from Hammer fitting for a pair of Olympiad level rowers. Their diction seemingly stemming from a sliver spoon deep in both of their throats. Hammer, who already has a rather refined articulation, seems to go just a little broader than even his normal accent to reinforce the background of the men, but also their nature. Hammer has the twins speak as men whose voices are usually heard, but perhaps more importantly as men who expect themselves to be heard.

The two are proper representations of privilege in every sense, and there is an inherent danger in playing such a type of character, particularly in an Aaron Sorkin screenplay, to veer towards caricature if the actor is not careful. This is not due to underdevelopment of characters in Sorkin's writing rather in his dialogue which is as treacherous as it is rich given its often flamboyant nature. There is almost this idea of Sorkinese which in the wrong hands can easily sound ridiculous and overwritten if not delivered properly. Hammer has a particular challenge there then in that he's already depicting an often simplified type of character with dialogue that could potentially exacerbate this. Hammer wholly avoids this while also making Sorkin's dialogue sing like few other actors have. Hammer in both performances is a master of every little colorful flourish by so effectively realizing the style of both men as natural to these words, and just delivering the lines so well. Hammer perhaps gives the funniest performance, or performances, in the film by making the most out of every line while also by having just the right type of fun with these very particular sort of men.

Now as amusing as Hammer is when pondering between the Winklevi if Zuckerberg offended one of their girlfriends or scoff at the the Prince of Monaco he's careful not to become two caricatures walking around. This is perhaps best seen through the ways he does distinguish the two twins from one another in nuanced and pivotal ways that actually helps to take them beyond simple figures of entitlement. Hammer portrays Cameron and Tyler differently in their personal styles that attaches to their personal belief in their use of that entitlement, however that isn't to say that is all there is to them or to Hammer's performance. Hammer presents Cameron as a man who very much believes, yet deludes himself, in sort of this honor that comes from his position that requires a certain attitude beyond even the mannerisms he has inherited along with his brother. Hammer shows Cameron as a man ready for every party, every general meeting or otherwise in the future in the way he speaks with such certainty towards his beliefs. Hammer grants this a touch of naivety even foolishness however not dishonestly through the character. There is some fun to be had at this expense, but this is part of the beauty of Hammer's performance. He allows you to have fun watching their plight, but he doesn't make them some sort of villain. They are still people.

On this point you can look at the way he depicts Cameron in two contrasting scenes. The first being one of his very best scenes where the two brothers go to lob a formal complaint about Zuckerberg to the president of Harvard. Hammer is downright hilarious in portraying Cameron's genuine disbelief at the president being completely unimpressed by his candor, and part of what makes this funny is how earnestly Hammer delivers every moment as a self-expressed "gentleman of Harvard". This can be contrasted against the series of court deposition scenes where we see a similair earnest disbelief in Hammer, however he garners a real sympathy when reacting to Zuckerberg's words of extreme disregard for the brothers. Now this is interesting as he iw distinguishing that against his portrayal of Tyler who has fewer pretensions over his position that Hammer realizes in subtle yet brilliant ways. Right in the disposition scenes for example it isn't the disbelief of a proper gentleman that he portrays rather fervent anger of someone ticked off who feels he was screwed out of a billion dollars. This idea Hammer directs throughout his work as Tyler that effectively differentiates between the two twins. In every moment of Cameron's assurance of proper manners of privilege, Hammer offers a terrific contrast through the more blunt of the two men who has no shame in using his wealth but also has no delusions around it either. One of my favorite deliveries of his in the film is " I broke your 335-year old doorknob" after tearing off one of Harvard's valued furnishings, that perfectly exemplifies Tyler's attitude towards frankly sentiments of his own class. This is a great pair of performances by Armie Hammer as he excels as a combination of the two yet makes them distinct. He never falls to any pitfalls in playing twins and most importantly succeeds in crafting two entertaining characters yet still humanizes them perhaps beyond what is even their intended purpose within the story.