Saturday, 27 May 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1968: Toshiro Mifune and Lee Marvin in Hell in the Pacific

Toshiro Mifune and Lee Marvin did not receive Oscar nominations for portraying the Japanese Captain and the American pilot respectively in Hell in the Pacific.

Hell in the Pacific is an effective film, other than its needlessly bleak ending, about an American and a Japanese soldier during World War II being stuck on a desert island together.

The film features quite the starring pair with Mifune and Marvin, both real life veterans of World War II themselves, and thrusts them into a somewhat atypical film at least for the period. The film begins with both men already on the island, and with each man lacking the ability to speak the other man's language. The film opens with the two basically discovering each other where a battle of sorts takes place, though mostly for the collected fresh water on the island. The film though it was made by an English language production company and crew it technically isn't really an English language film per se. Both men speak and only really speak in their language. There is no preference made within the film, and there is no preference made in terms of who is the true lead so to speak. It is a very interesting set up since in a way it sets us with sort of two one man shows at once, though they do interact even that is very much internalized within the performances of each man for much of the film.

We have Lee Marvin perhaps one of the most "man's man" of the sixties as the American pilot and Marvin is sort of known for his particularly easygoing performance style even when playing technically intense characters. Marvin though is sort of the guy who just wears any hard edges so well within himself that it seems often like he does not need to try too much in that regard. That seems to free him up in a way to give perhaps a performance not always expected of the standard soldier which works very well here as the marooned man. Marvin establishes his role well in terms of the time that has likely been spent even before we meet the two men on the island. In that Marvin realizes the idea that the American has been here awhile right in his performance which lacks that outward intensity at times though he instead replaces that with this bit of insanity. Now this is not true insanity that Marvin shows but rather just the sort of partial madness inflicted on a guy who has been alone talking to himself for some time. In Marvin's delivery when he talks to himself there is a casual quality as though he's been doing for a while now to the point he doesn't give it even a second thought since he's been on the island for so long.

Then there is Toshiro Mifune, who despite being my favorite actor is not an actor who I have actively looked for his English language work. This mainly because, despite learning all the lines, he was often overdubbed poorly though since Mifune's voice is very distinct hearing anything else coming out of his mouth just seems wrong. Thankfully there is none of that nonsense here since Mifune speaks mostly in Japanese with just a few scant words in English in his real voice still. Mifune offers to begin with a more intense performance than Marvin, which is obviously something Mifune thrives with. Mifune's approach though is very much fitting to the Japanese man though given the different codes offered by their military with Mifune's character technically instructed to kill Marvin's character by the soldier's code. Mifune's approach fits that idea offering that killer instruction within his performance though he carefully mutes it ever so slightly. Mifune also portrays importantly the wear of the island in his performance as well. Mifune handles it as perhaps the second man to come though by depicting this underlying uncertainty in his physical portrayal of the Japanese Captain's manner. He has a certain fear in his intensity, as he shows the man looking for any surprises while trying to figure out his situation on the island.

The initial "battle" is very well played by both actors in that neither depict this as this cunning scheme by either man in order to get an advantage over the other. There is something more about it in both show there to be this desperation in every strike they take, and both portray that the men are as confused as when they attack as when they defend. Neither portray any hatred really in these early scenes but rather a defensive suspicion of sorts as they each make their moves against the other though usually only getting the upper hand for a moment. The two are great in the way they portray this seeking for connection even in these early stage such as in there technically most intense confrontation when they come for a duel of sorts the Japanese with a makeshift wooden samurai sword and the American with a knife. Marvin and Mifune both do well to depict a nervousness and confusion in their eyes as they reveal the men not wanting to fight to the death, while also showing that they don't know exactly what else to do either. They continue on the fighting even past this point but in the right awkward fashion. Mifune showing it as the Japanese soldier never really having an exact passion in capturing the American, just doing his perceived duty, while Marvin shows the American making a literal game out of it times almost joking around fitting to the somewhat aloof state he established that the American is in.

They eventually stop trying to best each other and begin attempting to deal with their situation of being on the desert island. The two though begin separated in this task and we are granted a bit more of each actor giving their own rendition of Castaway, just Wilson happens to be an actual person. Now in this rendition the two both thrive since they are both incredibly magnetic performers though in different ways. Marvin again continues to excel as the man who has kind of lost his mind as he brings such natural humor to the man pondering over his situation, and trying to decipher and work with his other "friend". Marvin does some talking, but often as mumbling though which wholly suits the role of the man who is more than a little lost both mentally and physically. Mifune on the other hand though conveys a greater resolve in the Japanese soldier, though is also comical in his own way as juxtaposed against Marvin's performance. Mifune though captures almost this rigorous devotion as the Japanese man attempts to prepare for his situation through this quietude of a man almost in meditation, only occasionally broken in his often amusing befuddled reactions towards whatever Marvin might be doing at a given moment. I have particular affection for Mifune's studious and calm re-raking of some sand after Marvin steps in it.

The two do begin to work together in order to make a raft to escape together and the actors work in creating the right type of chemistry with one another. The right type because there is always a certain disconnect in the verbal aspect which Marvin and Mifune portray fitting to two people who can't quite even say hello with each other to begin with, and their vocabulary doesn't improve all that much as the story progresses either. They work well in creating the physical interactions, that do actual create a chemistry there. The two begin to slowly have in through the subtle physical gestures and facial ques to create a convincing connection between the two. What is most notable though in this is how Marvin and Mifune reveal this growing ease in each other presence, as the two pull back on some of the aspects of their performances that defined the men alone, Mifune losing his intensity, and Marvin actually becoming less aloof.  Both actors are remarkable though since they do end up saying so much without really saying much of anything just by making this friendship all in the unsaid, and mutual devotion that each show is focused upon helping each other get off the island. When they manage to escape the island it i inspiring not only in the accomplishment but through how believable Mifune and Marvin make the two enemies become allies. The film though reaches its unfortunate ending where the men come to another apparently deserted island. Although their good feelings continue at first they get reminders of the war, by finding an abandoned army base, and the conflict begins again. Both actors make this a painfully believable transition as well with Marvin showing the American falling back into his own world again, and Mifune is rather heart wrenching depiction of the Japanese soldiers anguish as he looks upon various images of destruction against the Japanese in a LIFE magazine. The connection is gone as Mifune shows the Japanese man falling into his own sorrows  and anger related to the war, while Marvin shows the American unable to find any useful words to bridge the gap. I'd say the film could have ended with the two at the moment and would have been fitting to both characters and the terrific performances of the lead. The film though throws in an arbitrary final moment that unfortunately undercuts rather than amplifies the rest of the film. Thankfully there is the rest of the film though which contains to very impressive performances by Mifune and Marvin who both give intriguing one man shows yet manage to transition naturally into a unique two man show that results in a powerful portrait of two enemies finding common ground.

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.