Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1968: Burt Lancaster and Ossie Davis in The Scalphunters

Burt Lancaster and Ossie Davis did not receive Oscar nominations for portraying Joe Bass and Joseph Lee respectively in The Scalphunters.

The Scalphunters is a very entertaining western about a fur trapper and a former slave attempting to take on a group of vicious scalp hunters.

The Scalphunters fits into that apparently too rare sub-genre of the unlikely pair western, the western equivalent to the buddy cop movie. Like Red Sun and much later Shanghai Noon it takes the enjoyable formula of mixing two types that normally wouldn't go on a western adventure together. In this one we get technically the more typical western hero with Burt Lancaster's Bass who is just trying to make his living trapping yet gets cheated by an Native American chief who forces him to trade his furs for the slave Joseph played by Ossie Davis. Of course Joseph goes around claiming to be a Comanche Indian rather than a slave. There we have our set up but what needs to make this truly work is our two leads. First we have Lancaster who nicely is actually giving a bit of a mix of what are his two usual starting points of either the stoic man or the crazy one. Lancaster nicely plays this one in that Lancaster begins physically looking as though he may be a your more usual typical western hero but the moment he opens his mouth Lancaster strongly suggests otherwise. Then we get Ossie Davis who is usually quite the welcome presence in any film that he appears, this film is no different in that regard.

What sets any film of this sort apart, and what often determines its success is the chemistry between the leads. This is established well to begin with, through the very differing styles of the characters which are properly realized by both Davis and Lancaster. Davis brings this consistent energy as Joseph Lee portraying him as a man with often a smile on his face, but this is not a simple sort that Davis makes. There is always this certain glint that Davis brings to his eye, though more on that later. Lancaster on the other hand is entertaining by his method of portraying Joe Bass as this "hard man". Although technically speaking Bass does have the requisite skills of a western hero Lancaster skews this to begin with by having this comedic element with the character perceived toughness. Lancaster is terrific in the way he portrays the character's constant fussy state that cleverly undercuts the usual western type. After all Lancaster does indeed stand tall, he's technically the right type to begin with yet Lancaster purposefully subverts that by showing those frustrations, that Bass has over losing his furs and most things for that matter, in this sort of childish manner.

The two of them are great fun together in their clashing styles of essentially comedy. Lancaster so intensely portraying Bass while Davis carrying such an easy going approach to Lee. The two of them strike up that right type of antagonist friendship through that conflicting approaches. Davis delivering his long eloquent statements by Lee showing off his considerable skill as a orator, while Lancaster depicts such pained reactions at being unable to compete at the same verbal level is a particular delight. The two though importantly, even initially as the two try to get up on the other in some way, portray this underlying warmth between the interactions even when they fight. This is something just small in their interactions though it properly plants the seeds of a real camaraderie once the plot gets started.The plot being when the group of scalp hunters, lead by Telly Savalas's Jim Howie, not only steal Bass's furs themselves but also capture Joseph Lee. Although this might seem a somewhat swift separation of our co-leads, they thankfully have many more moments together throughout, but also get their chances to shine on their own as well.

Davis fittingly for Joseph Lee gets the most to say as he tries his usual routine with the scalp hunters in order to gain some favor, even though they plan to sell him when given the chance. Davis though again gives such a charismatic portrayal that he makes it wholly believable he would sort of win his captors over. Again though Davis even as he charms with his elegant ability with words, which Davis grants such an innately pleasant quality to, there is that glint in his eye still. That glint though revealed to be a definite cunning by Davis in Joseph Lee who is never quite as carefree as he makes him out to be. Davis does this even when technically Joseph is playing the part of the likable companion, as he brings this certain incisiveness in even his kind words, and always that knowing quality beneath his delivery. Lancaster's scenes are technically a tad more limited given that all he can interact with is his loyal horse yet he still makes the most of these moments. Again Lancaster sort of charges his performance the right way as he is quite humorous while convincing in portraying the perhaps misplaced intensity in Bass as he strives to get his furs back no matter what in a sort of vengeance more fitting to familial loss than monetary loss.

Thankfully though we still get the two occasionally meet whenever they have the chance which generally results in some marvelous comedic moments as Lancaster and Davis know exactly how to play off each other to make their friendship just so endearing. They successfully earn the weight that is granted as the situation becomes more severe and they both start to get into life or death fights. Lancaster and Davis give such an honesty to portraying the concern the two have for each other in the end, though they do this so well by playing these moments so quietly, almost as though the men are hiding their concern yet absolutely earnest in it. The two naturally come together as a real duo even though their final act really is a extended fight scene between the two, but they even manage to create this sense of good nature within that despite their frequency of going for the dirty blows. The two of them capture that remarkable ease in creating the right dynamic that makes all their fighting almost a show of affection, though it just be a most curious show. Lancaster and Davis just exude that fun right in their performances which is infectious to watch as well. The two  are a classic entertaining mismatched pair throughout the film, and really if the film chose to continue on their final quest I could have gone right along with them.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1968: Jean-Louis Trintignant in The Great Silence

Jean-Louis Trintignant did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Gordon aka "Silence" in The Great Silence.

The Great Silence is a fairly effective spaghetti western, though its ending is more than a little questionable, about a bounty hunter who will only ever shoot in self-defense.

A common factor in any spaghetti western is the issue of dubbing and the various languages of those involved particularly the star who often was of a different nationality than the majority of the supporting cast. The Great Silence found a way away from any complications of this by having the lead character played by Jean-Louis Trintignant a mute. This is an interesting choice and makes the man named Silence a rather stoic hero even as stoic western heroes go. This forces many characters around Silence to describe Silence leaving himself mostly there for the most intense action. This actually goes to such a degree that one could argue that Klaus Kinski as the chief villain Loco, also a bounty hunter but without a code, is even co-lead with Trintignant since the film focuses almost as much on him as it does Silence. The casting itself also does seem to be an odd thing though with Trintignant certainly not the first man you'd expect to see in any type of western.

Trintignant though certainly offers quite the unique face for a western which obviously comes in handy for this part and it works in creating a certain atypical skew for the character. In that Trintignant carries a steely stare but not quite in the intense way you may expect. There is instead a certain detachment in his stare that actually does work effectively in creating both a menace in regards to the character but also suggests the state of Silence. This is as Trintignant does convey a certain damage right in the man as he portrays almost an underlying pain in Silence not as a man who is fine with his Silence but is rather pained by it. Trintignant handles this sort of detachment rather well as there is something innately broken within his performance while this also never seems to compromise his stance as sort of the hero to the western. In fact Trintignant makes something seem all the deadlier by that detachment as he guns down, not that he is wholly unfeeling, yet rather a no voice to speak any possible distress.

Although for much of the film Silence has the upper hand since he easily kills all who oppose him but this ends when he comes in contact with Kinski's Loco, who rather ironically is just a little too cool headed to get set off by Silence's attempt to pester him into a fight. This finally puts Silence off his course and Trintignant does successfully explore past the strictures of the type as the tides turn against Silence. Trintignant in these moments captures the more emotional rawness of his state through his eyes particularly in the scene where Silence thinks back to when his family was massacred. The film though again messes with its perspective a bit too much perhaps as it almost seems to become Loco's story and it is only in that view where the film's excessively bleak ending makes any sense. An ending where its silver lining is a bluntly stated message that reveals how the villains actions eventually led to good reforms down the road, which offers little solace. This does reduce Tritntignant's performance's impact a bit by the end of the film. He's still good particularly in revealing the final anguish in Silence in the final duel, yet rather strangely in the end Silence ends up being overshadowed in his own film by his rival Loco, and Tritnignant ends up being a bit overshadowed by Kinski.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1968: Vincent Price in Witchfinder General

Vincent Price did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General.

Witchfinder General is a flimsy pseudo-exploitation film about an inquisitor during the reign of Oliver Cromwell.

Vincent Price had perhaps a somewhat curious career progression as an actor. In that he started out in very much the prestige picture such as Laura and The Song of Bernadette, but eventually began to appear in a long series of b-movies often as a campy villain. There was more than a slight indication of this in his early work in that he would play often shady characters, but they were not quite the overt villains he came known for. This brings him to this film which itself seems a curious clash of the two phases of his career quite honestly. In that the movie is not quite sure what it wants to be in that it may wish to be a grim realization of the cruel witch hunters of the time, yet its approach very much focuses on the violence, and very little on the characters suggesting the tone more of a violent exploitative horror film. The characters for the most part are incredibly simple, there seems an attempt at further complexity at times yet this usually is forgotten in favor of more bloodshed.

Vincent Price stands in the center of the film as the man who wishes to become the Witchfinder General by uncovering witches all throughout England. Price seems set on his own performance at the very least, even though the film doesn't quite seem set on its own tone. Price goes for the more nuanced approach to the material, very much away from his usual campy type of villainy to portray the witchhunter Hopkins in a very quiet manner. Price is consistent in this in very much trying to impress some sort of reality on the film in his dark somber approach. Price's approach is actually a tad surprising since even in his earlier prestige picture work he usually would be a more flamboyant figure. Here though Price very much seeks to be the puritan really his character should be. Price whole physical manner is that of a hard and cold man. He is effective in this approach as everything about him has this coldness to him in his dark eyes always peering for some sort of weakness, and his straight forward delivery fitting to an official who is going about his task with proper precision.

The character is not quite so straight forward though as revealed early on by the first scene where he goes about interrogating a catholic priest, which involves having his men randomly stabbing the man's back supposedly looking for the mark of Satan. The priest though is granted a respite when the priest's niece offers to prostitute herself in exchange for saving her uncle. This offer is immediately accepted by Hopkins and Price does not depict any sort of conflict in the man over this. Price approach actually instead very much sets up the character as a man who is more than willing to abuse his position to get what he wants and there is never a second thought in his depiction. This again is effective though as Price is appropriately creeping in showing the complete lack of hesitation in the man as he goes from his violent interrogation of doing "God's work" at one moment then giving into lust with the woman the next. The film never really goes anywhere with this idea in terms of revealing the hypocrisy of the character instead he ends up just being basically a monster who needs to be defeated by the end of the film. Price stays consistent within his character throughout even in its more bombastic conclusion, more fitting to a traditional monster picture. Price isn't quite just the monster and is a chilling presence throughout the film. His performance though seems a bit misused in the end as it suggests a greater complexity but it never is allowed to explore this in any real detail. This is a good low key performance by Vincent Price, but the film prevents him from giving a great one.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1968

And the Nominees Were Not:

Lee Marvin in Hell in the Pacific

Burt Lancaster in The Scalphunters

Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West

Malcolm McDowell in If....

Vincent Price in Witchfinder General

Predict Those Five or These Five.

Toshiro Mifune in Hell in the Pacific

Ossie Davis in The Scalphunters

Jean-Louis Trintignant in The Great Silence

Max von Sydow in Shame 

Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer

Or Both. 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2012: Results

5. Ronald Cheng in Vulgaria - Cheng is easily his film's highlight in his hilarious and appropriately ridiculous portrayal of an over the top gangster.

Best Scene: Dinner time.
4. Cillian Murphy in Broken - Murphy gives a funny, moving and above all very honest portrayal of just unassuming teacher accidentally getting involved in some rather difficult situations. 

Best Scene: Apology
3. Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Gangs of Wasseypur - Although the film mutes his impact Siddiqui gives an effective and affecting portrayal of a man forced to become a gangster when you do see him.

Best Scene: Somber victory. 
2. Bradley Whitford in The Cabin in the Woods - Whitford gives a very funny portrayal of a white collar worker who just happens to run a murder factory.

Best Scene: The merman. 
1. Thomas Bo Larsen in The Hunt - Bo Larsen gives a terrific performance that is essential to the film as he finds the complexity of the man who condemns but eventually forgives his best friend for a horrible, though false, crime.

Best Scene: The Church.
Updated Overall

Next Year: 1968 Lead

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2012: Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Gangs of Wasseypur Part 2

Nawazuddin Siddiqui did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Faizal Khan iin Gangs of Wasseypur Part 2.

Gangs of Wasseypur Part 2 I'm going to assume, I have not seen part one, continues the story of a gangster family in India.

The film opens with the murder of the original patriarch then soon after the murder of the heir apparent of the Khan family in a series of reprisals. It is therefore left to Nawazuddin Siddiqui's Faizal to continue the family's criminal organization, which also involves holding political office, as well as to get revenge for the deaths of his family as viciously commanded by his own mother. Siddiqui should be the lead it seems but he's not due to the wavering focus of the film that actually seems like it's setting up another part as this film is going on. The film itself suffers from its pacing due that wavering perspective, the musical sequences of course, and just slowing down at the wrong moments. That unfortunately dilutes what is the most compelling aspect of the film, that being Siddiqui's performance. As early on Siddiqui is quite moving in reacting to both of the deaths that compel his motivation but also in these moments sets up Faizal as far more an observer of the crimes than a true criminal himself.

In the context of his mother's orders Siddiqui is rather effective in portraying that sort of desperate pride in the son attempting to satisfy his mother. It is less taking over as the gangster but rather just attempting to satisfy his apparent duty as a son. That idea is set up brilliantly at first though I wish the film really let him explore this in more detail. Instead it jumps around focusing on the other players and Faizal's story too often gets lost within the proceedings. We do of course jump back to him attempting to be the master gangster and from scene to scene. Siddiqui's quite good in portraying this growth in the confidence of that side of the man. This goes beyond just normal confidence though as Siddiqui starts to slowly develop even the style fitting to a "proper" gangster. In that he actually naturally begins to develop almost a Scarface esque swagger to his performance as his power seems to grow and he seems to becoming the gang boss his family "needs" him to be. Again what we see of Siddiqui, even when these glimpses are brief, is pretty fascinating I only wish the film did not so often mute this transformation through his focus and pacing. Every moment that you really feel as though the film is going to become more insightful into Faizal's story it cuts away, despite Siddiqui alluding to greater potential when we do see him. The only time the film seems to give him the proper time is in its finale where he and his gang finally fully exact revenge. At the end as they are successful in their revenge but arrested by the police though not is all at it seems. This moment the film finally lingers on Faizal and Siddiqui is rather heartbreaking as he projects all of the emotion that Faizal has kept way leaps to the surface though not in joy rather in sorrow of the man realizing the hollowness of his accomplishment. That moment is great and I wish we had gotten the full arc of this reluctant gangster leading up to that point though Siddiqui gives us the proper pieces through his performance the film doesn't know how to place them. This is a strong performance when it's there, but the film doesn't seem to be aware of what it has.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2012: Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins in The Cabin in the Woods

Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford did not receive Oscar nominations for portraying Gary Sitterson and Steve Hadley respectively in The Cabin in the Woods.

The Cabin in the Woods is an entertaining enough slasher movie satire, though I did rather hate its high school nihilist ending.

The title suggests a standard trope in a horror film as a group of stereotyped teenagers or young adults go into a spooky cabin in the woods for the weekend. That set up though is pre-subverted from just about the outset as the dark credits fitting for a horror film are stopped in favor of two white collar workers at seemingly a government facility talking about their domestic problems. The workers being Sitterson and Hadley played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford who perhaps seem a bit out of place to open a slasher film or to even be in one. Richard Jenkins being the always reliable character actor often cast as some sort of official, and Bradley Whitford being perhaps the replacement for William Atherton as often the guy for obnoxious entitlement. The two represent the alternative factor that purposefully sets the film apart as the two men are there to essentially construct the typical horror movie unbeknownst to the five setting off towards the cabin. They are not there merely to set up the story though as the film focuses on their operation of the cabin horrors as much as it does on the denizens of the cabin.

Whitford and Jenkins don't reinvent themselves here the fun actually is in the fact that they play their parts that would be typical to a film that just takes place in some random office building. Both meet their roles so well with Jenkins being sort of the slightly more exasperated sort emphasizing just sort of getting the job done though still with the precision of a consummate professional. Jenkins though is good in just playing it as though setting up the murders is just more or less an average day for Sitterson. Whitford nicely does not duplicate Jenkins though they both very much are the office workers, but Whitford goes for a slightly different angle. In the back and forth with Jenkins particularly early on when they are not even talking about the mission they are nicely on the same wave length of two long time workers who are just shooting the breeze offering equal parts ridicule and support to one another. Their work history is a known factor in this. Now Whitford's performance though differs from Jenkins in that in the work Whitford portrays a more overt investment for Hadley towards the the mission not terms of it being a success, but rather in terms of the fun that can be had from it.

Now the humor of the satire most often comes from these two playing their parts in this way with Jenkins's reaction of often complete disinterest at the various events, while Whitford is often very funny his rather skewed interests particularly in his sorrowful face at seeing once again that the cabin will not be attacked by mermen. Of course even that Whitford does not portray as a major heartbreak just sort of the disappointment like if his boss had cancelled free pretzel day. The only time they break this darkly humorous state of pseudo-contentment is when something goes wrong that requires an immediate fix such as when they have to prevent the survivors from escaping through tunnel. Jenkins is particularly effective in these moments though as he portrays Sitterson wake up and get into gear as the absolute best professional he can be if the situation calls for it. Whitford though is equally good though showing the general, less helpful, frustrations of guy whose jobs has become a lot harder. The two of them consistently enliven the film with their presence of offering such a different type of performer in the slasher film, that I found to be easily the most enjoyable part of the film. Any moment they try not to waste. The highlight for me is probably in Whitford's performance late in the film, as all hell is breaking through almost literally, when finally a merman appears though not quite at the right time for Hadley. Whitford's reaction though is perfection as he captures awe at perhaps the fortune of finally seeing it then the sheer disbelief of having the misfortune of being in its line of sight. The two of them terrific as the "villains" because they don't play them as villains, even with their blase attitude towards death. They're just guys doing a job, in fact Hadley briefly shows just a bit of sympathy though Whitford plays this as a very distant sort of admiration rather than true sympathy. That lack of exact villainy is partially because they are enjoyable to watch but they also find the right tone. That tone which not only makes their characters work but is also pivotal in creating the right type of satirical bent for the film.