Friday, 2 December 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2005: Cillian Murphy in Red Eye

Cillian Murphy did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jackson "Jack" Rippner in Red Eye.

Red Eye is a pretty effective thriller, until it gets off the plane, about a hotel manager Lisa (Rachel McAdams) being blackmailed by a strange man, while on a plane ride, to help with a political assassination.

The first half of the original trailer for Red Eye actually plays as a romantic comedy, this is made possible by the first act of the film where we get a meet cute between Lisa and a stranger well waiting in the airport. Unfortunately for her the stranger is named Jack Rippner a name almost as ridiculous as KILLian Murphy. Seriously though Murphy actually gets a bit of chance to show his range beyond the expected as Jack attempts to befriend Lisa. Murphy actually is quite the capable charmer. Murphy proves that he could have been in the airplane set romance instead, as he does have the requisite charisma needed. He makes it absolutely convincing that Jack could get into Lisa's good graces, even though Murphy does have just enough fun when alluding to the character's true nature such as his devious glance when claiming he killed his parents for naming him Jack, all in jest of course. Murphy successfully builds the relationship even as he slowly creates a growing sense of warmth and concern in Jack as he continues to speak to Lisa, and even attempts to comfort her to help her through her fear of flying. Of course this all to set up the turn as Jack suddenly reveals his true intention, and Murphy calls upon his side he also showed in his other villainous turn in 05 as Jonathan Crane aka the Scarecrow in Batman Begins.

Jack initiates his plan which involves forcing Lisa, by threatening to have her father killed, to change a VIP's hotel room in order to position him for an assassination. Murphy is great in the turn as he switches so effortlessly from calmly charming to an incisive menace. Murphy in this role is not merely giving the same performance as in Batman Begins. As Crane in Batman Begins, Murphy emphasized a more outward creepiness portraying him as essentially a psychopath just  holding it together enough to be psychiatrist. Murphy's approach here is different, though he certainly makes Jack creepy, he presents a man who does not necessarily take that much pleasure in what he does, but rather has a job to do and knows how to do it. Murphy though instead is rather chilling by showing the directness of the man as part of his plan is to make sure that Lisa complies due to fear of what he might do. Murphy creates the tension so well by bringing this off putting conviction in Jack as he goes about his plan. Murphy commands the scenes so effectively as he shows Jack switching to accommodate the situation. This includes going back to the charmer when interacting with the other passengers, but there's more to it. In his interactions with McAdams Murphy is terrific the way he manipulates every moment.

When it seems like he's getting Lisa going along, Murphy becomes almost soothing, as Jack essentially tells her it will all be over soon enough, however when she attempts to thwart him Murphy brings the real viciousness in Jack with such ease to get her to be complacent once again. Murphy is careful, in these scenes anyways, to never make Jack one note. He emphasizes the professionalism, so to speak, and never makes him just simply evil. There is just the slightest hint of humanity, perhaps a trick to make things easier, that Murphy brings in a few reactionary moments suggesting Jack has no real ill will towards her, her father or even the target, he just is doing his job. Unfortunately the film kind of falls apart once the plane lands and Lisa stabs Jack in the throat to stop his plan. The film explodes with a whole bunch of goofy moments and a general ridiculousness, and any nuance Murphy brought to Jack is lost. I don't believe this is Murphy fault mind you, in terms of what he's given to do, it basically is run after McAdams with weapon while getting into more slapstick than one of the Three Stooges. Murphy is not even allowed to speak normally, needing to speak with cracked voice of man with throat injury. The character becomes what he might have been if a weaker actor had been in the role which just a straightforward violent killer. Murphy is more than fine in terms of going through these motions, but seems a bit of waste of the better villain he had established beforehand. Of course this is out of Murphy's hands, and he deserves credit for his very compelling work up until that point. Murphy gives a strong performance that elevates the film, the film unfortunately ends up falling a bit too far for him to be able to prop it up.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2005: Keanu Reeves in Thumbsucker

Keanu Reeves did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dr. Perry Lyman in Thumbsucker.

Thumbsucker tells the coming age story of teenager Justin Cobb (Lou Pucci) who compulsively sucks his thumb.

Keanu Reeves is  an actor that I will admit I've come to appreciate to the point that even in his objectively bad performances there's something worth noting in the way only he could give that very terrible performance, in that way. Reeves has a one of a kind presence, which is worth something all on its own. Now that might not be the best for every role, but with the right role it can do wonders. The latter is the case here in Thumbsucker where he plays the orthodontist Perry to our main character, who attempts to help Justin with his thumb related dilemma. Reeves plays the part of the orthodontist as though he is some sort of zen master. Reeves delivers every line as though it is an essential part of his sage philosophy, as he attempts to help Justin get to the root of his problem. Reeves's approach is downright hilarious as he keeps this air of greater importance about him, with his otherworldly detachment as though he knows all the secrets that the universe may contain. In this though Reeves offers just the slight sense of desperation about it, as though it just might be an attempt to act like he knows everything rather than that he actually knows everything. I particularly like the subtle anxiousness he brings when Perry refuses to tell Justin his "power animal", despite having pictures of wolves all around his room.

After Justin rejects Perry's teaching rather forwardly, by running him off the rode in a bike race, Reeves is absent for awhile. Perry though returns unexpectedly, which a good thing because Reeves continues to be pretty amazing. Reeves drops the whole act completely only leaving just the slight leftover traces of that hippie guru personality of before. Perry is now a changed man, who has dropped his old philosophy for something new. Although what Perry is saying seems positive enough, as he even thanks Justin for incurring this change and seems to ask him about his family as though a friend or a mentor would, Reeves brings this brilliant absurdly palatable passive aggression throughout the scene. In every technical pleasantry, there is such a powerful undercurrent of venom through Reeves eyes and expression, that suggests maybe Perry isn't so happy in his new state of mind. Reeves is great as he serves the character, while being so effortlessly amusing at the same time. We unfortunately don't see Reeves again until the end of the film, but once again the wait is worth it due to Reeves's performance. Justin, after apparently "coming of age" goes to visit Perry for one more check up and "pep" talk. Perry once again offers his advice though this time the advice being that there's no real correct answer in the end. Again the way it is worded seems positive enough. Reeves once again is wonderful by creating the subtext within it. Reeves provides this overwhelming despair in Perry throughout the scene, presenting almost a husk of a man as he despondently looks off, and the only possible hope is the broken smile of a man who has given up on life. This is fantastic work by Reeves as he gives a consistently entertaining performance that also so effectively transforms Perry from a man who thinks he knows all the answers to a man who is all too aware that he knows nothing.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2005: Jeffrey Wright in Broken Flowers

Jeffrey Wright did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Winston in Broken Flowers.

Broken Flowers is an enjoyable and moving film about the an old womanizer aptly named Don Johnston (Bill Murray) trying to discover which of his old flames sent him a letter indicating that they had a son together.

Jeffrey Wright is one of those actors who is always already giving very interesting performances, yet always flies under the radar for one reason or another, though that may be changing at least at the TV level due to his outstanding work Westworld, but I digress. Wright here plays the neighbor and friend to Bill Murray's Don. His character is a very amateur detective who loves crime fiction, and who takes a particular interest in the letter sent to Murray's character. The character is technically here to serve the purpose of sending Murray on his mission of sorts, and he in turns bookends the film with his "investigation". In perhaps the style of director Jim Jarmusch no one can simply serve just a purpose there always has to be more than that, there is certainly more than that to be had with Winston particularly with Wright in the role. Wright is a delight, and hey that rhymes but don't pay too much attention that statement. The point is though that Wright certainly makes Winston quite a character to say the least, which is not saying enough in this case.

Wright plays the part with a somewhat overt, though I wouldn't quite say broad accent, that already fills Winston with an abundance of color from the outset. Wright absolutely makes this accent his own and just adds to the very idea of Winston is this somewhat kooky neighbor. Wright plays the part as one almost completely comedic side of this dramatic comedy, most of the other major characters are filled with more than a little pathos in one way or another, offers the right presence with that in mind. There's a real sense of fun that Wright brings as he shows so much honest enthusiasm in Winston going about the task of investigating the letter and cracking the case. I love just how brightly optimistic Wright is throughout his performance that plays off Murray's dour style so well. Wright is quite amusing because of just how earnest he makes Winston in every moment as he dissects the case for Don, as though he really is in the middle of a truly important situation. This is all with this unabashed sweetness to Wright's work that presents Winston as a friend who only wants to help his friend, even if he perhaps gets too much joy out of the investigation itself. He's especially effective in realizing that in a moment near the end of the film, as Wright infuses such genuine concern as he apologizes for the problems he inadvertently causes. Wright isn't in the film all that much, though I enjoyed every minute he appeared and missed him when we left him. This is a role that could have been easily overblown but Wright finds just the right approach to make Winston only ever one endearing screwball.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2005

And the Nominees Were Not:

Jeffrey Wright in Broken Flowers

Keanu Reeves in Thumbsucker

Min-sik Choi in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Cillian Murphy in Red Eye

Ghassan Massoud in Kingdom of Heaven

Edward Norton in Kingdom of Heaven

For Prediction Purposes:

Massoud From Kingdom of Heaven

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Alternate Best Actor 2005: Results

5. Cillian Murphy in Breakfast on Pluto - Murphy is convincing in his challenging role managing to be both humorous and heartwarming though the film doesn't seem to use his work to its fullest potential.

Best Scene: Kitty visits his mother.
4. Romain Duris in The Beat That My Heart Skipped - Duris gives moving portrayal of man wavering from a life of violence to a life of something more.

Best Scene: The final scene. 
3. Daniel Auteuil in Caché - Auteuil gives a compelling performance that effortlessly brings the needed complexity to his character's terrible situation.

Best Scene: Georges is confronted by the son. 
2. Damian Lewis in Keane - Lewis gives a harrowing and emotional resonate portrayal of  a mentally disturbed man.

Best Scene: Keane tries to find the kidnapper. 
1. Byung-hun Lee in A Bittersweet Life - Lee gives a downright brilliant performance. He is the badass lead you'd expect in such a role but goes even deeper to give a surprisingly heartbreaking and humane portrait of a man granted just a glimpse of a better life. 

Best Scene: The final scene. 
Updated Overall

Next Year: 2005 Supporting

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Alternate Best Actor 2005: Romain Duris in The Beat That My Heart Skipped

Romain Duris did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Thomas Seyr in The Beat That My Heart Skipped.

The Beat That My Heart Skipped is an intriguing film about a young man torn between a life of crime or life as a pianist.

Well this film, and performance mine some similair thematic material as the last performance and film I covered, Byung-hun Lee in A Bittersweet Life. Both films follow essentially "thugs" who see potentially a different kind of life, while undergoing particularly difficult circumstances as a criminal. The story of Thomas differs from Sun-woo, though in that Thomas's life of crime is more innately intertwined with his life in general since a great deal of it stems from his father (Niels Arestrup), who encourages a life of violence and crime. The early scenes of the film are where we see Thomas in essentially his learned life as he consorts with corrupt men of a similair ilk, and deals with whatever tasks his father might have set for him. Duris wears this life well within his performance conveying the inner tension right in his body language. Duris Thomas this constrained manner, reflecting essentially the ability for violence, even when he is technically just sitting still, there seems to be a possibility for an outburst.

Of course what is notable about Duris's portrayal of Thomas's intensity is very particular. He doesn't quite make it something that is of his very nature of a person as though he was born that way, rather it was something embedded into him. A strange dichotomy but Duris pulls this off with his performance. Duris finds the moments in which that taught violence is forced to come out, Duris portrays the way this rears its head very specifically, which relates directly to who the character really is. Now this is of course whenever there is any sense danger to begin with but it is more than that even in Duris's performance. There is brilliant way he adjusts almost the sort energy that comes from in the moments, as he becomes off putting in a way that he was not just a second before. This is particularly well shown in an early scene with his father, where the moment his father turns to his own questionable nature, Duris conveys Thomas's reaction as a reflection of his father. Again he never suggests a specific intention, but rather makes it a genuine automatic reaction at this point.

There is another side to Thomas that Duris shows to be most obvious when Thomas is investing in his time as a pianist. Thomas is reintroduced to the idea accidentally as he comes across his mother's former manager, as she was also a pianist, who asks Thomas to audition for him. Duris brings a real earnestness to these scenes, though he does not overplay them. What he does is suggest a comfort in these moments which are not readily apparent in the world of his father. Duris makes this something rather unassuming, though quite poignant, as he shows Thomas's interest as straight forward  with a real enthusiasm within it. Duris is careful to bring nuance in this enthusiasm though as he so nicely conveys the certain hesitations that are normal to someone unsure of their musical skill. The film proceeds forward as Thomas continues to practice piano in order to be ready for his audition, while dealing with his corrupt business partners as well as his father's downward spiral which only becomes worse due to his own shady connections.

Duris portrays Thomas essentially a man in an emotional limbo of sorts where he is pulled to one side or another depending on the situation. Throughout the film when the situation becomes stressful in almost anyway, even during his time with the piano, Duris portrays the needed visceral reaction in Thomas to this. Duris shows the man falling right upon basically what his father taught him, and Duris does not hold back in revealing just how vicious the man becomes. Duris takes this further than just physical assault, also bringing such venom in his verbal attacks when the situation calls for it. In all this Duris suggests almost a mindlessness about it, in that Thomas never chooses this exactly, instead the way he has been raised often brings him to this point. In contrast when he is allowed to find a bit of solace, whether it is through the piano or just not dealing with the worst side of people for a moment, Duris reveals a better man seeking what appears to be a better life. Duris keeps at the heart of his arc for Thomas, a subtle change. Not in the man entirely, but rather in terms of conveying the self-reflection the character slowly achieves.  Duris is careful to show that this technically does not change his actions through the film yet gives sense to this. There's a scene late involving Thomas's father, and Duris brings the very understandable attachment, as Thomas loves his father despite what his lessons have done to him. Duris never brushes off the history of the character, and is rather affecting as he brings the very real conflict in Thomas to life. This is best represented perhaps by his final scene where the two sides of his life are in the same moment, as he must violently resolve a situation just before a piano concert. Duris is powerful by giving the intensity within the violence, yet revealing the devastation in Thomas is now all to aware of what he does, and what he is. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Alternate Best Actor 2005: Byung-hun Lee in A Bittersweet Life

Byung-hun Lee did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Sun-woo Kim  in A Bittersweet Life.

A Bittersweet Life is a terrific film that follows a mob enforcer.

Byung-hun Lee in his English language films has been used primarily for his skills with martial arts, often the case with Asian actors, but even then his work in The Magnificent Seven shows that with just a bit of material he can make an impact beyond that. That is only a small glimpse of what he's capable of still since Lee is not a martial artist who acts, he's an actor who knows martial arts. This is Lee's first collaboration with director Jee-Woon Kim, whom he would later work with in The Good, The Bad, The Weird (a film I ought to watch for the title alone), and the excellent I Saw The Devil. After re-watching the latter film, a film I already greatly appreciated, I came to see just what Lee accomplishes in his role which is substantial though in an atypical sort of fashion. That is Lee, and Kim almost spring an emotional trap on you after a purposefully constrained character and performance up until that point. Lee and Kim utilize a similar technique here in their first film together.

This time Lee plays an enforcer for a Korean mob boss Mr. Kang (Yeong-cheol Kim), who deals with any threats of Mr. Kang in an overtly physical manner. In his first scene we see him beat down the crew of a rival gang, and Lee technically gets to show off a bit of his skills as a fighter. This is not what defines his performance for even a moment. In these introductory scenes Lee gives a proper enforcer, who technically might merely be a henchmen in a different film. He's menacing of course and he what one might describe as a cool badass. Lee's work is not so simple at all though. There is something very important that he brings to the character and that is in the depiction of this early take down as well as simply when he is listening to orders from Kang. There is not a hint of sadism in his portrayal nor is he a cold calculated killer like say an Anton Chigurh. Lee instead presents the passion and indifference in Sun-woo of a man doing his job, a job he doesn't relish yet still is good at, no more no less.

Mr. Kang gives Sun-woo the task of following his girlfriend Hee-soo (Min-a Shin) around to ensure that she is not seeing someone else. Sun-woo takes on the job, and continues as the good employee. Now this is very important though in that Lee gives us a man who goes about being enforcer not as someone who doesn't care, but as a man who has been doing it for many years. Lee reveals the idea of the routine in Sun-woo as there is little excitement and no true satisfaction as he does what he is bid, however Lee is careful not to reveal any disdain either. He's essentially a man whose found his position in life as Lee portrays the contentment in a lack of contentment. This is taken to task though through his time with Hee-soo where he interacts with someone who is not full of bluster and false bravado of the men in the underworld. What Lee does in these scenes though is remarkable as he does not easily enforce a change in his performance of Sun-woo just from a few moments spent with an innocent.

The overarching brilliance throughout Lee's work is the nuance he brings to his depiction of the calm mob enforcer type. Lee technically stays very reserved, staying true to his character, yet does so much within this theoretical limitation. In Sun-woo scenes with Hee-soo, Lee is marvelous as he subverts expectations in regards to the character. Lee does not reveal an immediate change, nor does a reflect a romantic interest. He instead subtly reveals just the smallest indication of perhaps a different path for Sun-woo. When Hee-soo questions if he's an enforcer, the shyness that Lee brings as he attempts to explain that he just works at a hotel feels absolutely genuine as he shows Sun-woo trying to explain himself even to himself. These interactions are very light, and technically never amount to more than an acquaintanceship, yet Lee's only through small reactions portrays so effectively Sun-woo realizing his state of indifference by being no longer in the comfort zone of his world and its people.

Eventually Lee does find out that Hee-soo is not loyal to Kang, and initially follows his orders as he physically accosts the man and is about to call Kang to get the kill order. Lee even in this moment still stays reserved yet conveys the internal conflict in just a silent moment. Lee earns the moment in just a glance as he sees what he has done, and chooses to avoid violence for once. This unfortunately leads Kang to allow the rival gang to enact retribution against Sun-woo for his earlier actions, even though he was following Kang's orders with those actions. This sequence, where it could be a case where the actor is forgotten, but Lee does not allow that. In the action and the torture scenes Lee does not make Sun-woo some superhuman. The intensity of the scene is made truly palatable as Lee brings such real desperation to every action. My favorite moment from the scene though is when Kang, over the phone, questions Sun-woo's action. Lee suggests the real betrayal in Sun-woo as he emphasizes a confusion as he tries comprehend his years of loyalty being forgotten for not killing an innocent.

The humanity Lee manages in this performance is truly remarkable, but does even more than what I already have mentioned. It also brings even some very natural humor to his performance, by offering such an honest presence. There is one particularly hilarious scene where Sun-woo goes about purchasing a gun from a dealer, and Lee's reactions are priceless. He never goes broad or plays the moment up, yet earns the levity through how effortlessly he inhabits the character. Now leading up to the final sequence of the film I would already consider this a great performance, yet as later with his final scene in I Saw the Devil, Lee has a surprise waiting for us, two surprises this time. The first being when Sun-woo confronts Mr. Kang, and Lee is incredibly moving by finally breaking down revealing the real heartbreak in Sun-woo from being treated so horribly by a man he served with such loyalty. Then there is one more moment as the film flashback briefly to show as Sun-woo watched Hee-soo play in a string ensemble. Lee loses that contentment in his lack of contentment to Sun-woo, to instead finally reveal a moment of real joy. There is such catharsis and poignancy that comes from Lee in this scene. I love this performance as Lee delivers as the lone anti-hero, yet he goes even deeper to offer a downright beautiful portrait of a man seeing a better life if only for the briefest of time.