Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Alternate Best Actor 2010: Martin Sheen in The Way

Martin Sheen did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dr. Thomas "Tom" Avery in The Way.

The Way is fairly predictable however I ended quite liking the film in its inspirational intentions following a father following his deceased son's footsteps by taking a pilgrimage on an ancient spiritual tale that his son died on.

Martin Sheen after his period during the 70's as a leading man came to become perhaps best known mostly for often unassuming supporting roles in terms of his cinematic output. This is a notable exception naturally coming from a collaboration with his son Emilio Estevez as the film's director. Incidentally though the last time I covered a Sheen performance was also in a film about a rather different kind of trek in Apocalypse Now, however this one seems to evoke an attempt to transcend towards a certain heaven rather than a descent into hell. In a film about such a journey though we don't begin with Martin Sheen's Tom Avery as a deeply unhappy man. Instead we just see him briefly living his life, and Sheen shows him just to be an affable enough man before being devastated from hearing about the sudden death of his son Daniel (played by Estevez of course). Sheen is terrific though in portraying the sheer weight of his original sorrows from hearing about the death of his son. Sheen is moving yet he carefully approaches these scenes in showing just how lonely and cold the sadness in the scene. He internalizes very effectively by portraying directly the way all Tom can feel over this and his relationship with his son is that sorrow. Sheen establishes well this state of Tom's grief before and while he collects his son's remains in Europe.

In Europe though he discovers how his son died, and decides to help him finish the way of St. James by taking his ashes while walking it himself. On the journey I must say how much I appreciated Sheen's performance because of how he does not allow the film to veer off into excessively sentimental or corny material. Naturally there are elements to basically turn this film into that sort of thing as par for the course he comes across a few other pilgrims including an acerbic chain smoking divorcee Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), a goofy Dutchman Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), and a slightly daffy philosophical writer Jack (James Nesbitt). These three could easily lead the film astray, and not so much due to the performances, but just the nature of the characters. Sheen though offers just the right balance by carefully never becoming flamboyant in that way, and there are certainly opportunities for some over the top "seasoned old guy" lines. Sheen though stays reserved properly and plays off them well by offering such a down to earth portrayal. In turn Sheen stays true to the character by keeping alive his grief as the underlying factor in the character. Sheen rightfully keeps this as a weight right down to his very physical performance that creates the sense of that sorrow even in the lighter moments.

Sheen captures so well the spiritual and religious journey of the character. Again this is where another actor may have gone very broad but Sheen does so well to keep the journey a fairly subtle one. He creates a real sense of the pilgrimage in portraying Tom trying to come to terms with his sons death throughout the film, rather just being a simple fix at any point. In turn Sheen does well in that he grants moments where there seems joy is coming from the experience, but just as well makes his moments of exasperation as well as confusion of his state just as natural. The one broader scene by Sheen is one I actually thought he pulled off well. In that it is the scene where Tom lashes out at the other pilgrims for their inadequacies after failing to really respect his loss in a proper way. Sheen I felt earned this as in those previous moments where they bring up his son his reactions properly take in some of that distress from their somewhat accidental carelessness, and disregard for his real loss as they get so caught up in themselves. Sheen in the outrage scene instead delivers the proper outburst who has just enough of their little asides, as well as still suggests the anger is part of that same anguish from the death of his son. It is far more cathartic as it might have been as Sheen builds towards in all of the previous interactions making it feel as a natural growth in his relationship with the others.

The most powerful aspect of the film for me though is the continuing portrayal of dealing with the direct grief from Sheen, and surprisingly made the potentially ridiculous moments of Estevez randomly appearing to him throughout the journey rather poignant since he makes you understand what this really means. This is helped by a pivotal flashback scene where we see the two talking before his son originally left to Europe. The two together in that single scene is something special as they manage transport such a genuine relationship into this moment, and sense the history between the two. Although it is a tense scene there is still a sense of warmth, and love between the two even within the words of the conflict. Sheen's performance takes this further throughout the journey though as he depicts the changing state in Tom. Sheen brings such real power to every moment where he leaves some of his son's ashes at one of the landmarks or has to retrieve them from a thief and raging water. In those moments the intensity of the grief Sheen grants to his passion towards his son so beautifully. Past that though throughout he gradually loses that isolation that defined his original sadness. Sheen slowly shows in his eyes a man no longer only looking at the loss, but rather the memory and appreciation for his son as he makes it further on his trek. Sheen never loses sight of this idea and brings such a real heart to center of the film. His devoted and earnest portrayal in every moment of the film anchors it, and makes it resonate far more than it would have otherwise.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Alternate Best Actor 2010: William Shimell in Certified Copy

William Shimell did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying James Miller in Certified Copy.

Certified Copy follows a British writer as he goes along with a French woman (Juliette Binoche) through an Italian village.

Now that description of the film's plot sounds excessively simple as it does not articulate the complexity within the film, which on one hand seems like a chapter of the Before series with two people talking in a European locale however, this film lacks the context of those films on purpose. The most context we are given before the initial direct meeting between the man and the woman is that the man is a British writer who has written a popular book, in Italy, on the nature of copied art, meanwhile the woman is at his public reading with a disruptive son. That is all we know before they later meet seemingly as strangers. We are never given the name of the woman, making the man's name technically equally meaningless in this story. It is then in what they speak to one another and the performances in which we are to gather some sort of understanding of the pair's relationship. This is a notable pairing at the center as we have the seasoned actress Binoche as the woman with William Shimell. Shimell is not a seasoned cinematic actor or even a traditionally dramatic actor. His background being as a baritone opera performer with his only previous onscreen credits being in TV filmed performances of operas and oratorios. This choice may seem strange but seems pointed to the intentions of the film.

The film never informs the viewer what is going on exactly. The pair appear to be strangers, or at best minor acquaintances, at first yet the conversation gets increasingly familiar between the two of them as the film goes on.  Of course this directly relates to the title of the film as well as the novel that James has written. In that it examines that issues of authenticity in art are meaningless as all art must be copied from somewhere. This gathers doubt to the nature of this relationship that we are witnessing whether it is authentic, or is it a copy, which by the charge of the book, perhaps the film as well, is just as meaningful as the real thing. Then again of course it is a copy of real relationship if one were to also keep in mind the nature of a fictional film. This eventually brings me to Shimell's performance, which that context is needed to understand fully his work, as well as I'd say his casting across from Binoche.  Shimell's performance is not on the same level of Binoche's. Binoche's work is fascinating as she plays the part from so many angles, sometimes with the playfulness of a game, sometimes deadly seriously, and with so many in between. She allows multiple interpretations yet never seems vague in her approach. Shimell's allows for the interpretations however his work is far more direct and precise in this sense.

Where Binoche's performance is in this state of constant flow, Shimell portrays more of an exact set of phases, though with this they do carry their own ambiguity because of this. Although he's certainly subdued most of the film you could almost describe as operatic in that Shimell focuses on the overtones. Initially Shimell is quite good honestly in presenting just the straightforward intellectual writer giving his views first in the formal way at a public reading, then later when he initially encounters the woman. Shimell delivers his lines with a casual quality even within philosophy or even if it is approaching sensitive material. The man seems careless as though he is just with a stranger, even a fan of his work, but of course the conversation continues. Shimell does bring one overarching quality in his performance is there is a detachment about it, and presents everything seemingly exactly as you should see it. Although what makes this ambiguous in his own way is his transitions throughout the film. As we continue Shimell becomes more distant the more intimate the conversation becomes. Shimell actually allows you to read two ways, properly so, in that he is a man either tired of this charade, or he's tired of his situation with who is potentially his wife.

Shimell is consistent in the way his detachment defines the man relationship with the woman as really the woman's investment defines her relationship with him. She seems to be after something from the conversation, while the man avoids it. In turn Shimell only portrays a greater investment in terms of greater frustration seemingly seeking detachment. He more or less becomes less affable than anything even towards the end, when there seems to be any sort of reconciliation between the two. Even in that moment Shimell only really reduces his frustration seemingly giving in to whatever he is giving in to only a moment, but still with a detachment as he essentially says he has to leave soon no matter what. This performance honestly probably wouldn't quite work on its own yet it does as a foil to Binoche's performance. What she does works effectively in creating this strange window into this mysterious relationship, and she almost works against him as this wall of sorts. Again it comes back to the casting as Shimell's work isn't that of a seasoned veteran actor. His work isn't on the same level as Binoche's yet it works nonetheless in creating this particular dynamic. Now is it possible that an equally complex turn could have worked with Binoche's performance? Yes. Would that have been better? Maybe. Nevertheless Shimell's performance in tandem with Binoche's succeeds in creating this fascinating if enigmatic relationship that essentially is the film entire.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Alternate Best Actor 2010

And the Nominees Were Not:

Casey Affleck in The Killer Inside Me

William Shimell in Certified Copy

Martin Sheen in The Way

Mads Mikkelsen in Valhalla Rising

Riz Ahmed in Four Lions

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1988: Results

5. Eric Idle in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - Idle gives a rather amusing performance that matches the film's tone, and adds to its various delights. 

Best Actor: Split second save.
4. Pete Postlethwaite in Distant Voices, Still Lives - Postlethewaite effectively captures the various memories of a father both in moments of severe brutality and occasional warmth.

Best Scene: Unpleasant Dinner. 
3. Jacky Cheung in As Tears Go By - Cheung makes for an effective time bomb in his properly flamboyant portrayal of a wannabe gangster on a constant collision course with reality.

Best Scene: Becoming a real gangster.
2. M. Emmet Walsh in Clean and Sober - Walsh makes a striking impact in such limited screentime initially in creating the sense of a history of pain from his own life of drugs, and creating a truly empathetic figure there to help and improve another who was once like himself.

Best Scene: Waiting. 
1. John Lone in The Moderns - Lone gives a brilliant performance here creating a properly ruthless depiction of a vicious businessman, however while honestly revealing the desperation within the man which leads to his downfall. 

Best Scene: Destroying the art.
Updated Overall

Next Year: 2010 Lead

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1988: Jacky Cheung in As Tears Go By

Jacky Cheung did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Fly in As Tears Go By.

As Tears Go By is fairly remarkable debut Wong Kar-Wai, that is sort of his Mean Streets. 

Now I write that it is like his Mean Streets, in part because you can see the beginnings of him fashioning his personal unique style, but also the stories are very similair. Both films focus on small time street toughs. In both films we have the lead as the more stable of the two, here Wah played by Andy Lau, who while dealing with underworld tries to find romance while also dealing with his hotheaded friend, in this film younger brother, played here by Jacky Cheung. As with Robert De Niro's Jacky Boy from that film, Fly is a wildcard hotshot with a desire to make name without having any sense. Now I'll admit making this direct comparison won't do Cheung any great favors against prime form De Niro. Cheung to his own credit though finds his own way with the role of Fly from his first scene where he struggles to procure a debt from another denizen of the underworld. Cheung brings the right overt bluster to the role, as in these confrontational moments everything is heightened in his body language and every delivery. Cheung's approach though fits this wholly in creating he sense of the miserable effort Fly puts in trying to be more than he is. Cheung properly doesn't make it look easy rather showing Fly's attempt to be tough while never evoking that needed confidence to truly be dangerous, setting up so well Fly's reliance on Wah to actually ever get anything done.

Throughout he film Fly essentially acts as Wah's anchor towards the bad things in life as he continues to fumble his way as a wannabe gangster, usually leaving Wah to get involved to save him. Cheung is effective in all of his scene in realizing the particularly pathetic state of the man whether he is putting on such a ridiculous act of trying to be the "man of the streets" or just revealing the nothing of the man that Fly is whenever he is a physical wreck after once again failing to live up to his "name". There is only a brief respite when he placed into a normal job only slightly outside of the underworld as a street vendor, where Cheung is quite good in showing the sheer ambivalence of Fly towards the whole thing, and the severe disdain whenever he is called upon his position. Cheung finds that right type of uncontrolled spark in his performance that makes every foolish action and overreaction of Fly natural to his constant state of inadequacy to be more than he is, yet always having that intense need to be so. Now importantly Cheung creates the right underlying connection in his scenes with Lau to suggest their history in their interactions to give an understanding to Wah's continued support of him. As is proper thug Cheung essentially makes Fly this ticking time bomb of emotion that eventually leads to an real outburst of true violence by the end. This is the natural progression as realized by Cheung's performance and there is a definite power to the final minutes of the film where the wannabe tries to be the real gangster. This performance doesn't quite reach the heights of say a De Niro in Mean Streets, however it still stands as a strong portrayal of the wannabe set on a terrible crash course.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1988: John Lone in The Moderns

John Lone did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, for portraying Bertram Stone in The Moderns.

The Moderns, like Choose Me the other film from Alan Rudolph that I have seen, takes a very atypical, though rather intriguing I found, approach in quietly examining its characters, their relationships and the environment they live in. This time the focus being on a group of people in Paris art scene during the mid 1920's.

John Lone's career is a particularly frustrating one to examine with his brief skirting with stardom after his early work in the eighties that culminated in his performance in the best picture winning The Last Emperor. His career continued though oddly quickly faded to smaller supporting roles to the point that he has now not appeared in any film in ten years. Where is John Lone? Does anyone know? I wish he'd come back. Anyway Lone's career loss is a true shame given his talent and notably is one of the few Asian actors to achieve a real notoriety outside of martial arts based films. With this role he even makes the important transition to playing a role without even an element related to his ethnicity, as the role of Bertram Stone was not written for an Asian actor. It just required a talented one given that it is the traditionally difficult role of the other man. This other man role is a little bit different though as though Lone's Stone's wife is Rachel (Linda Fiorentino), she is also married to our lead the artist Nick (Keith Carradine), this is unbeknownst to Stone obviously. This leads to a different type of dynamic in general since Nick isn't trying to win over the man's wife, rather he just trying to decipher if his wife is coming back to him.

Nonetheless this is a challenging role as it is easy to make this character very ridiculous very quickly, and the caricature within the characters. Thankfully that is not the case due to Lone's considerable talent. Now from the start Lone makes a notable impact through his mere presence, as Stone is initially described as a friend of Houdini's, a businessman, and possibly a murderer, I love the way Stone carries this sense of danger with him. In his eyes and his exact manner he stands out against everyone else in the French cafe. He's not of the artistic bent instead there is this innate harshness that Lone exudes, a definite almost maniacal edge needed for a ruthless businessman. There is a bit of an extra flair that only an actor like Lone would bring. He takes it a bit further by creating this sense of knowing towards Stone's knowledge that people see him in dangerous. In turn there is just this certain degree of cheekiness that it particularly effective in creating the sense of Stone's position in this role. Lone shows a man who knows he isn't like those around him, and part of him does enjoy this simply in terms of enjoying the fear they have for him. In his initial confrontations with Nick, I love the way that Lone portrays Stone as loving the way he pushes around Nick, particularly in their one sided boxing match, as a man who is aware of his power without any shame in using it.

Now that would be kind of enough, as Lone is already great as the other man as the villain, but there is more to his performance than that. Stone in the film is trying to use his acquired wealth to buy himself into the art scene. This idea is key to Lone's performance, and his motivation for this is only truly explained through Lone's performance. What we see in Lone is a man who has gotten just about everything he wants although with the wish to keep his wife. Lone in this regard creates a very subtle desperation that he attaches to Stones's attempts to join the artistic movement by buying it out. In turn Lone's performance makes this part of the man's wish to retain his wife through becoming a proper part of the world. Lone's terrific in the way he does this wholly in his own work, and in such a quiet way that slowly builds throughout the film which culminates when Stone buys some masterpieces from Nick and his art dealer friend. This is denied from him when they are said to be fakes by the art crowd, to which leads Stone to destroy the paintings. This is downright amazing scene for Lone. On when end he reveals the ruthless businessman as he goes about stabbing and burning the paintings.

There is also to the sheer venom towards the art crowd that has rejected him. Lone's outstanding as he doesn't even raise his voice yet there is such a palatable intensity in his hatred towards them. This is only part of it though as that straight hatred is important as Lone shows that he doesn't care about the art crowd, but he does care about the rejection since it also means his wife will reject him. This is found that in the viciousness of his intensity there is there is a more vulnerable desperation as Lone plays it as though the only thing holding Stone together is the hate. It's incredible as I found Lone actually rather affecting by reveal such a genuine pain within the man violent demeanor. Lone naturally leads to the final confrontation where he finally loses his front to reveal the wretched man beneath of it. Lone makes it genuine, and even offers a bit of sympathy for the fiend in his final moments mastering one of the trickiest types of roles. Now before I can end this review I do have to mention Lone's final scene that while has no relevance to his arc it is a bit of mad brilliance in Lone's physical performance. The moment consists of performing an escape trick in a strange circumstance and Lone captures through the insane glee he brings in the moment as man who is on some other plain of existence. This is a great performance by John Lone and yet another reminder why he needs to come back to us.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1988: Pete Postlethwaite in Distant Voices, Still Lives

Pete Postlethwaite did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Tommy Davies in Distant Voices, Still Lives.

Distant Voices, Still Lives is a contemplative film following the lives of a working class family during the 40's and the 50's.

Pete Postlethewaite's performance is essentially one of memory within the film. We open the film as the family is essentially moving on from their father, and we granted glimpses into their past with their domineering father. Postlethewaite's performance in turn is fashioned towards specific glimpses into what will be held by memory. There is not a slight moment in what we witness of Postlethewaite's father to the family, they are all extremes, though logically so within the context of his purpose within the film. Postlethewaite's performance is there to quickly grant truth to these memories though as memories which can be a rather curious thing. In this way we don't see the whole picture of the man but rather just the facets. Postlethwaite's does excel in his portrayal of every one of these facets. The most overwhelming memory seems to be those of his abuse towards the family. These scenes carry a cold brutality to them because of how effective Postlethwaite is in portraying the vicious behavior of the man.

Postlethwaite delivers the same intensity whether he is verbally assaulting his family or physically assaulting them. These moments are particularly difficult to watch as Postlethwaite makes them feel so natural to the man, and just the way he simply was. We are granted other glimpses of the man though in ill health in moments but others as a more loving father. Postlethwaite's performance delivers in these glimpses and even makes sense to them. The moments of warmth are of the same man who beats his wife, as even in the moments of warmth there is this a sense of the nature of the man. The nature being of a quick temper, though there are times where he can be charming when not currently in his most hateful state. These again though are only glimpses we see we don't  see the transition though Postlethwaite makes it always seem the same man despite the different extremes. It is an effective turn that leaves the strongest impression on the film even though all the performances are limited within the style of the film. Postlethwaite gives an understanding to the father's influence within the family's collective mind even though we are granted a limited portrait of the man.