Friday, 9 December 2016

Alternate Best Actor 1951: Oskar Werner in Decision Before Dawn

Oskar Werner did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Corporal Karl Maurer aka Happy in Decision Before Dawn.

Decision Before Dawn about a German being made a spy for the allies takes a little too long on its setup but is a decent thriller once it focuses on that character.

Oskar Werner plays the eventual lead of the film as Happy, who we first see as a German medic and POW but later becomes a spy for the Allies. The film takes a bit of time as it illustrates the plot by spending time with the Americans, planning the mission and setting up another German spy, who has the most predictable character arc one could imagine. The film eventually finds its way to focusing on Happy, who happens to also be played by the best actor in the film. Werner even kind of steals the film before he even gains the stronger focus as he proves his ability onscreen, just through his eyes as he is able to express the quiet outrage in Happy as he decides to work against his home country, in part due to seeing his fellow soldiers despicable behavior even while detained. Thankfully the film restricts its focus upon Happy sooner than later, and we are given one of Werner's first English language performances. Now he might not be as assured as his work in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, but that's a tall order to fulfill.

Werner once again has this real low key charm about him, and he immediately endearing in his portrayal of Happy. He importantly doesn't even need to try, there is just an innate honesty Werner brings to his performance, which is interesting given that he technically playing a traitor. Werner though brings basically home the message of the good traitor in his performance by bringing this effortless goodness that he exudes as Happy. This is also essential in that it makes it particularly easy to invest in Werner as Happy is sent back into his home country in order to discover an important bit of information. Werner actually has a particularly difficult challenge in that he really doesn't have anyone to work against in terms of portraying the man's on the mission, since Happy does not meet up with his liasons until near the film's ending. The rest of the time it is solely upon Werner to realize the struggle in Happy as he goes about his mission. Werner succeeds in this as he creates the sense of the underlying fear in Happy throughout the scenes, but does even more than that.

Werner gives further understanding of Happy through very nuanced indirect reactions within other interactions. For example there is great moment where Happy learns that his father is nearby, and Werner is able to express the concern in Happy for him while still keeping the shell of a soldier just going about his duty. There is so much dependent on Werner to capture so much of the emotional weight of the story. Werner never is lacking in this though and adds so much substance to the side relationships Happy strikes up while on his mission. This includes two "lowly" sorts one a woman few others care about and an affable fellow soldier. In both Werner presents such a palatable empathy in Happy and in turn makes those character more meaningful than they would have been otherwise. Werner is especially moving in a scene where he tries to passionate save someone from death. This all while Werner never loses the struggle of the mission in his very being. He keeps that pivotal central tension but finds the right amount of substance that benefits the film greatly. Eventually the film ends on a straight escape scene where technically some of that substance found earlier seems lost. Werner though proves his worth one last time though in the escape when Happy sacrifices himself for the sake of the mission. Werner has made Happy such a likable character that when this happens it is rather heartbreaking, even if the film itself still doesn't seem like it quite is appreciating what Werner is doing for it. It's performance which elevates the film, and though it might not be as assured as his later work, it is a strong early indication of Werner's talent.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Alternate Best Actor 1951: Richard Basehart in Fourteen Hours

Richard Basehart did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning NBR, for portraying Robert Cosick in Fourteen Hours.

Fourteen Hours is rather compelling hidden gem, despite a few lets slowly explain the psychology of the situation it to the audience moments, about a man standing on a ledge of a tall building threatening to commit suicide.

Richard Basehart plays the man who we first meet as he's already on the ledge apparently waiting to jump off. The film's star I suppose is Henry Hathaway's direction which presents the sort of communal experience in related to the event with almost as much importance as the even itself. The film often wavers from the men though it always come back to him, and the one person he agrees to negotiate with. The man being a random beat cop Charlie Dunnigan (Paul Douglas), who just happens to be one of the first ones to speak to the man. Might as well get the negative out of the way first. Basehart is an actor I've found okay at best in the other films I've seen him in, as the fact that he got his start on stage is immediately apparent. He does have a tendency, in this film as well, to oversell even the most basic lines with the expression of someone making sure those seated in the back rows will hear. It is not that all his line deliveries are bad, but they tend to feel off because of this broad approach which is not necessary on film.

There is much dependent on Basehart's performance, even with the film's wavering focus, particularly in terms of keeping the central tension alive. It must be believed that the man on the ledge, Robert, could jump at any time. Basehart is convincing in this regard as he makes the man's distress absolutely palatable. Basehart importantly never lets up in this, as even in his calmer moments, he still keeps the tense manner in his physical manner, showing the way Robert is almost seized in the anguish that has brought him to this point. Basehart effectively utilizes this throughout the film to maintain the question of whether or not Robert will jump. Basehart, despite this underlying quality always, manages to find nuance with this, and it easy to see how the role could easily been overplayed the whole time. Basehart carefully defines Robert when he can through the moments we are given throughout the story depending on whoever Robert might be interacting with at any given point.

Basehart works very well with Paul Douglas, as the two gradually strike up the right sort of chemistry. There is always a certain gap between them, yet the slow warmth that is created, in moments where Basehart relaxes just over so much are rather affecting. In order to try to get Robert off though they allow others to see him including his parents. Basehart is excellent when his overbearing mother appears as he shows Robert only become even more constrictive and emotional, suggesting he is even more likely to jump than before. When he meets his father, who attempts to reconcile with his son, Basehart conveys the way the initial fierce reaction of fear slowly assuages to a certain understanding. Through these interactions though Basehart is able to allude to the confused state of the man, who is mentally unstable from his upbringing, and is creates the sense of his past that has lead him to this point. It is unfortunate that film decides to have a doctor explain this all this to us, a la Psycho, since Basehart's performance fulfills that need to begin with. Obviously the part is limited in a certain regard, Basehart only moves a few feet throughout the film, yet he makes use of this. I find again his physical performance to be the most remarkable aspect in not only revealing the man's anguish, but as well creating the pressure of certain sequences. Basehart keeps essentially this suspicion in his body language, making that even passing a glass of water a tense moment. Again the center of it are his scenes with Douglas, and through them Basehart believably shows the gradual shift in Robert as he slowly comes back from literally the edge. It's a strong performance by Basehart, even with his overly enthusiastic of line deliveries, that might not carry the film but instead offers its honest emotional center.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Alternate Best Actor 1951

And the Nominees Were Not:

Raj Kapoor in Awaara

Oskar Werner in Decision Before Dawn

Trevor Howard in Outcast of the Islands

Michael Redgrave in The Browning Version

Richard Basehart in Fourteen Hours

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2005: Results

5. Jeffrey Wright in Broken Flowers - Wright gives a relatively brief yet enjoyable turn bringing such endearing enthusiasm to his role as a kooky wannabe detective.

Best Scene:Winston lays out the case. 
4. Min-sik Choi in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance - Choi has a limited role yet still gives a captivating portrayal of diabolical sleaze.

Best Scene: "Nobody's perfect"
3. Cillian Murphy in Red Eye - Murphy gives first a charming than rather chilling villainous turn that creates the needed sense of tension in the thriller, even if the third act of the film lets him down a bit.

Best Scene: Rippner reveals his true intentions. 
2. Ghassan Massoud in Kingdom of Heaven - Massoud gives a striking depiction of Saladin capturing the needed low key charisma and power of the wisdom of the man.

Best Scene: The parlay. 
1. Keanu Reeves in Thumbsucker - Reeves gives a hilarious performance in his portrayal of the destruction of a man's personal philosophy.

Best Scene: The final appointment. 
Updated Overall

Next Year: 1951 Lead (make any supporting suggestions as well)

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2005: Min-sik Choi in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Min-sik Choi did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Mr. Baek in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.

Sympathy For Lady Vengeance is stylistic and oddly upbeat, well at compared to its predecessors Oldboy and especially Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, about a woman Geum-ja (Young-ae Lee) seeking revenge against the man who caused her to be wrongly imprisoned for a murder she did not commit.

Old Min-Sik Choi plays the man responsible for Lady Vengeance's sorrows, but he's not actually in the film all that much. In fact I'd say Choi's casting is part of director's Chan-wook Park's way to reference the previous two films in the thematic trilogy, as the leads of Mr. Vengeance Kang-ho Song, and Ha-kyun Shin play mere cameo roles as a pair of hitmen. Choi, the former lead of Oldboy, gets a slightly more substantial role as Mr. Baek the target for revenge. We only get glimpses of Baek for much of the film, pieces of Geum-ja's mind essentially, whether it is of Mr. Baek threatening her daughter, a fantasy of killing him as a dog, or a brief moment where we see him teaching a class through song. I'll admit that last scene does work quite well in creating a disturbing image, as there just seems something off when Min-sik Choi does it. In fact to his credit Choi is such a compelling actor that he manages to at least standout despite the extreme limitations of his role. There just something so innately magnetic about the way Choi works the screen that is always so impressive.

Unlike the targets of the previous two films, who also were motivated by revenge in some way, Mr. Baek is much more a disposable baddie, who we only learn is a child murderer and a rapist in addition to framing Geum-ja. We get again just few glimpses as he attempts to mount his defense, and to be fair Choi exudes menace with such as per usual. He is quickly caught though, and we finally get a bit of that Choi goodness, though not a lot of it. There's a particularly effective scenes where Choi isn't onscreen, yet does add a great deal to the scene as a kidnapped Mr. Baek translates messages into English for Geum-ja. Choi finds nuance within this such as his initial scoff when she threatens him, and his eventual fearful sigh as he begins to understand the severity of his situation. Baek has no hidden plans or tricks up his sleeve though, all his has left are a few words. Choi does his best to make the most of them. I especially love Choi's sleazy, "haven't seen you in awhile", reaction when he first see Geum-ja, as though Baek is attempting to try to not take her seriously.

This changes to fear when it is clear she is very serious, and again Choi probably far more compelling than any other actor in the role could be in portraying the physical fear and eventual pain throughout the scenes. Baek only get one more moment to himself, before his disposal, when one of the parents of his victims asks him why he did it. Choi does his absolute best with this being so beautifully despicable by so casually playing the moment as Baek shrugs off with "nobody's perfect". I'll admit I was a little disappointed with the allowance for Choi here, you can never have enough Min-sik Choi, but he's good with what has. The thing is though the film is more a revenge procedural than a thriller, in that everything basically works for the lady, rather than the terrible back and forth found in the other films in the trilogy. Again this is a good performance by Min-sik Choi despite the limitations, but in the end it feels like a warm up act for his turn in I Saw the Devil.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2005: Ghassan Massoud and Edward Norton in Kingdom of Heaven

Ghassan Massoud did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Saladin in Kingdom of Heaven.

Kingdom of Heaven is a fairly impressive epic about a Knight Balian (Orland Bloom) who travels to Jerusalem during the crusades, eventually becoming the defender of the city.

Now a weaker aspect of the film technically is Orlando Bloom's lead performance, though this in no way means Bloom is at his worst. In fact it is probably his best performance, well outside his guest appearance on Extras of course, but it is easy to see someone probably could have done more with the part, perhaps Niolaj Coster-Waldau who is featured in a bit role already. Luckily Bloom is surrounded by a strong supporting cast, well other than chronic over actor Marton Csokas as the chief villain whose physical appearance in this film kept making me think "come on Angus Macfadyen I know you can do better than this". Csokas is an exception though, and just about everyone else delivers whether it is David Thewlis as an otherworldly mentor, Liam Neeson as Balian's passionate father, Jeremy Irons and Alexander Siddig as two calm advisors on both sides. Then there are the leaders of the respective armies. The Muslims being lead by Saladin played by Ghassan Massoud.

Massoud's performance realizes the stature of a certain type of leader in Saladin. He's not a man known for his grand speeches or dramatic charges into battle, rather he is known for his wisdom. Massoud exudes this sort of unassuming confidence. Massoud plays the part without ego yet still conveys a definite charisma in Saladin. He portrays an assurance in himself as a reasonable man, and creates the sense that his greatest concern is always what is best for his people. Saladin's early appearances in the film are rather brief, as he tries to avoid war with the Christians. In these scenes though Massoud does well to establish the man as a calm leader, yet with an underlying incisiveness about him. The calmness about him never is that of a fool or a fiend, rather Massoud finds the certain sense of contemplation in Saladin that defines the man. Massoud presents him as a man who is always thinking, never acting rashly, properly showing the leader who waits to only ever make the right move.

Eventually Saladin's hand is forced by the villainous forces among the Christians causing him to finally attack. Massoud never portrays a viciousness even as he has his enemies massacred, instead portraying just this certainty of righteousness in his anger as he executes men for their wrongdoing. Saladin though to finish the reign of his enemies goes to conquer Jerusalem from the Christians. Massoud's performance is technically limited during the siege, though when we do see him he is effective in internalizing essentially the loss in the battle. He subtly, yet poignantly reveals the way this weighs on Saladin as he sees so many die in the attempt to take the city. Eventually Saladin instead tries to parlay for a peaceful truce and this is Massoud's strongest scene. Massoud uses the moment essentially to show Saladin at the height of his ability as he reasons a solution rather than forcing one. Massoud adds so much just in his gaze as he gauges Balian while they attempt to reach some sort of solution. He finds the way Saladin reaches his conclusion to spare the Christians, despite being reminded of pass transgressions. Massoud brings such palatable yet understated passion in Saladin response as reaffirms his refusal to be the barbarian. After the surrender I love the almost humorous quality Massoud brings as he portrays Saladin almost laughing at himself for perpetuating the madness by keeping the city intact. Massoud gives a very strong performance as Saladin, though I must admit I don't think he gives the very best performance in the film.
Edward Norton did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying King Baldwin IV in Kingdom of Heaven.

Edward Norton portrays the initial leader of the Christian factions in the holy land as the king of Jerusalem. Norton is unrecognizable in the film given he wears a mask through almost the entirety of the film, and the one scene we see him without his mask, it hardly matters. That is because Norton is portraying Baldwin who we meet as he is already ravaged from leprosy, though still the King. Edward Norton is not an actor that makes one immediately think of historical epic, however he seems the actor most comfortable with the material out of anyone in the cast. Norton doesn't do an overt accent per se, it is technically more of some akin to what say Harvey Keitel did in the Duellists, yet it still never seems like Norton behind the mask. In the end he seems unrecognizable even in voice, as he merely is Baldwin. Norton's there if you try to find him yet there is no reason for such distractions whenever Norton is onscreen. This is despite the technical limitations against him in this performance as the only part of his face that he is able to make use of are his eyes with the rest of his face being covered up by the lifeless mask, however that is not nearly as debilitating as one might assume.

Norton establishes Baldwin effortlessly from his first scene where Balian is introduced to him. Now Norton does not rely on anything to overt in terms of his body language. He brings the right grace of King, well still conveying the degradation caused by his condition, and effectively gradually showing the worsening of the condition every time we see him throughout the film. That is not what makes this such a remarkable performance though as Norton is absolutely as magnetic when he is standing or  when he sitting or laying down here. His first scene where he meets Balian Norton is utterly captivating in realizing the power of the figure. This is essential as Norton must make it convincing that Baldwin is still the respected King despite the ravages of his disease. Norton makes that wholly believable as he conducts himself with such assurance still, and his voice commands attention despite never seeking it precisely. There is simply this wonderful quality about Norton's voice as there is something contemplative about it yet with a profound assurance of a man who firmly understands the world he lives in. There is a humanity Norton brings yet the cunning is all the same, as Norton depicts a benevolent King yet a King who will do what is required to secure his Kingdom.

Norton though also utilizes well the only part of his face that he is allowed to use. Norton's eyes are truly expressive here as he gives them this piercing quality fitting for a leader, yet within them there is the sense of the constant suffering Baldwin must endure. Norton with only seemingly the most minor of resources is utterly fascinating to watch here. Baldwin through the film offers the most sage advice as he attempts to maintain civility with the Muslims, even while dealing with a form of insurrection in the ranks. Norton gives us this struggle, but also makes every success convincing through that eloquent sway in the man he realizes so beautifully. Norton though as keeps the idea of the man alive particularly near the end of his time in the film as he begins to finally die from his disease. There is one especially heartbreaking scene where Baldwin's sister finally goes to see him on his deathbed, after ignoring him in his terrible state for some time. Although we got very little to establish this relationship beforehand, Norton makes us understand it in an instance. The love that Norton expresses in his eyes as he sees her brings such poignancy to the moment suggesting how much she had meant to him. Norton is incredibly moving as he captures the pure joy of the moment as Baldwin has one moment of happiness before his death. Every single scene in which Baldwin appears is a highlight in the film a Norton so effortlessly gives the life to the King and the man, and is never overshadowed by the mere idea behind him. It is an excellent performance which, like John Hurt in the Elephant Man and Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs, never seems limited in emotional impact despite the nature of the role.

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 a 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.