Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Alternate Best Actor 2010: Mads Mikkelsen in Valhalla Rising

Mads Mikkelsen did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying One-Eye in Valhalla Rising.

Valhalla Rising follows a silent warrior who follows with a group of soldiers in a crusade that leads them to an unknown land.

Valhalla Rising is film that seems to encourage polarizing reactions from those who watch with its minimalist, contemplative style. The only point of any agreement should come from the film's striking technical elements particularly its cinematography, although these are perhaps just a little diminished by the bizarre choice to use terrible and very distracting Photoshop blood splatter effects, especially given the amount of practical effects already utilized. The rest though will be how one takes to the stark story, and storytelling methods that features intense yet cold emotions. This is perhaps best personified through the central character of One-Eye played by Mads Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen has not a single line in the entire film, as his One-Eye is a man of actions only. This is from the outset of the film where we see him used by a chieftain for fights to the death in between being locked in a cage. Now often a silent performance does not mean unemotional however even here One-Eye is purposefully made to be an enigmatic character, and somewhat distant in his rather mystical presence within the film. That is right down to his moniker and physical attribute that alludes to Odin the Norse god, which extends as far as One-Eye having the power to foresee the future.

This performance is not exactly the usual type of challenge these performances are since part of the intention of the character is to be a bit impenetrable particularly against the other characters who wear their emotions far more openly and broadly. Mikkelsen's One-Eye is suppose to be set as a stone in a way, a man above and beyond those around him in someway. Mikkelsen's work is not particularly emotional, and really his character is rather static once again acting in contrast to those around him. Mikkelsen's portrayal falls largely upon his own presence which is remarkable in its own right. There is something naturally compelling about Mikkelsen to the point that even when he's not saying anything verbally or non-verbally for that matter, there is something striking in Mikkelsen's very being. Mikkelsen becomes an impressive conduit of interest throughout the film, as he does compel one to watch One-Eye even though he gives very little to explain the man. What truly defines Mikkelsen's performance is what is it that he brings within this almost set condition of One-Eye that defines the character throughout the film.

Mikkelsen's presence is worthy of the demi-god, or just simply god within the story. Mikkelsen brings that natural intensity of his, particularly through that incisive single eye of his here that indeed seems to see beyond all those around him. There is a mercilessness about this, yet not exactly an evil that Mikkelsen portrays. Mikkelsen for much of the film doesn't depict One-Eye as good or as evil, but something that simply is. Mikkelsen is able to capture a being who acts upon some will greater than the normal man even in the way he kills Mikkelsen portrays with this exactness not of a skilled warrior rather as a deity dispensing his judgment. Mikkelsen nor the film desires more from the character than this exact state which continues as he joins a crusade to the unknown. Mikkelsen acts as the only point of stability in the journey although even then this is in a purposefully cold and distant fashion. One-Eye even as he has visions of a certain doom does not wither from this, rather treats this as his inevitable fate. The only slight break we are granted is in his final moments where he awaits this fate with a boy who gave him food in captivity, and he acted as protector to on their journey to the unknown. Mikkelsen still portrays this true to the state of One-Eye as in simple comforting pat there is the only warmth to be found anywhere within the film. Mikkelsen even depicts this though as part of the otherworldly nature still even in the human act, it is still seemingly a pardon towards the boy from a god. This performance is exactly as it should be in this specific realization of the omnipotent One-Eye, to be more emotional, would be dishonest to the role. Mikkelsen delivers all that he is able within the confines, and is far more compelling than most actors would be in the role. He is however still subservient towards the overarching vision which leaves him in that exact distant state that is still only as absorbing as the film allows him to be.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Alternate Best Actor 2010: Riz Ahmed in Four Lions

Riz Ahmed did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Omar in Four Lions.

Four Lions surprisingly somehow works as a comedy about a group of rather westernized jihadists in England.

Riz Ahmed who seems to be slowly breaking out, most notably with his very dramatic role in the mini-series The Night Of,  despite being a terrorist leader this is not dramatically minded role...for the most part. Ahmed instead plays essentially Moe Howard of the Three Stooges as the "brains" of a group of the dimwitted fanatics. Ahmed's performance is therefore to be the wrangler among the group more or less. Ahmed's performance is interesting in turn, like Moe Howard actually, he has to be sort of the straight man but also comedic in his own way as well. There is much of it as purely the Moe of the group in terms of dealing with the overt stupidity of the rest of the group particularly the constantly angry convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay) with a varied amount of dumb ideas on how they should go about being a terrorist cell. Ahmed brings the right type of exasperation in every little reaction to this, but also the more direct vicious anger proper for a Moe Howard type. He's especially hilarious when he breaks down Barry's idea of bombing a mosque to the moderates to become radical, as Ahmed brings nothing but the most extreme disbelief and derision in every breath as he explains how stupid the idea is.

He's also the straight man to the other idiots in the group though Ahmed brings as much of a certain confusion towards their incompetence he handles it a bit differently particularly towards the simpleton Waj (Kayvan Novak). It is here though he is again the Moe as he has to wrangle them towards the cause though again Ahmed portrays a certain way. This is very important in terms of maintaining the tone of the film as Ahmed never portrays Omar, the most competent of the men, still realistically as a jihadist. When Omar goes about encouraging, or really manipulating, the other men Ahmed doesn't bring the passion of a true fanatic, as that really wouldn't be funny. Ahmed instead approaches it basically as a guy trying to almost form kind of a band, a band he takes seriously yet can't quite get his guys to work properly together. He doesn't deliver his words to them as these passionate views of a mad man, but rather of a fairly stressed out guy just trying to make what they're doing work. This is right down to an early scene where he sees his men's terrorist videos, where Ahmed reacts again less as a man looking at horrifying propaganda, but rather a front man being very disappointed in his band members' music videos.

Now in proper Moe Howard form Ahmed, though the most intelligent of the men, is also a bit of an idiot he's just better at hiding it from himself. This is right down to their motivation where they are group yet couldn't be more westernized themselves. This is actually especially true to Ahmed's portrayal of Omar, which is again never exactly true to his intention. Again what makes this work in a comedic sense is that Ahmed stays pure to this throughout the film, and plays it as being perhaps somewhat oblivious to this contradiction. In turn Ahmed is consistently funny in portraying just how comfortable technically Omar in this such as his full embracing of a jogging neighbor while he and the men are transferring their explosions. Ahmed carefully shows not a hint of actually hating anyone, other than his own men, which I feel is key to making the film's tone work. The whole time Ahmed portrays this as less something he truly deeply believes in a dogmatic sense, but rather because it is something that has been decided for him. Even when he announces his intention to go about suicide bombing to his wife, Ahmed delivers his veiled statement as though he's decided to finally go on vacation or something.

A pivotal element in Ahmed's performance actually though is that he doesn't wink at any point and stays true to his character of Omar, which makes both the character and the tone of the film cohesive. This is as Ahmed portrays Omar most at ease at essentially not be a fundamentalist terrorist or even a fundamentalist in any way. This is particularly important to the few scenes Ahmed shares with a more religiously observant Muslim, who is not a potential terrorist, where Ahmed brings such a petulance in his treatment of the man. Again this should almost seem nonsensical however Ahmed makes it entertaining yet somehow natural to the character, and his skewed views towards his own religion. In every moment where he's actually trying to be terrorist Ahmed's great by showing Omar frankly at his most idiotic, such as his classical prat fall when firing a bazooka, or the whole final sequence where the men go to blow themselves up wearing ridiculous costumes. Ahmed makes for the right type of physical embodiment of awkwardness, however he goes even further to slowly throughout the sequence portraying the realization in Omar over his mistake. He ends up creating a bridge the film to a more dramatic intention as he attempts to talk Waj out of it. Ahmed manages to make this transition work, without somehow going too heavy, despite the film ending the way it does. Ahmed's performance, much like the film, is this incredible balancing act that manages to be quite entertaining while somehow making light of the dark material, yet somehow also create some depth to it. It shouldn't work, but it does, and Riz Ahmed's astute performance is one of the greatest contributions in making it so. 

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.