Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Alternate Best Actor 2004: Bruno Ganz in Downfall

Bruno Ganz did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Adolf Hitler in Downfall.

Downfall is an effective film that depicts the final days of the third Reich, even if it perhaps loses some of its momentum once Hitler exits the film.

The last time I reviewed Bruno Ganz was for his heart warming portrayal of an angel in Wings of Desire well Ganz is portraying a less positive figure this time in fact he playing one of the most monstrous men of history in Adolf Hitler. Hitler is a difficult role in that he is so often parodied that it is easy to be just a laughable caricature even if the intent is to be a serious portrayal. His mannerisms are just so well known and so often parodied that it is particularly easy to remind one of those parodies. Ganz from his first scene though shows that this is not going to be any typical portrayal of Adolf Hitler. The film opens with the arrival of some women to Hitler's compound in order for Hitler to find a new secretary. When he first arrives you almost expect a monster to emerge from the chambers, knowing exactly who Hitler, is, but that's not who comes out. No rather Ganz walks out as a man with some very poor posture, and probably some physical ailment that would eventually Parkinson's disease as well evidenced by the very natural shake Ganz gives to Hitler's forefingers on one hand in later scenes.

Ganz's physical manner as Hitler, is utterly convincing, and he makes us believe him as Hitler in at least the base sense, but that does not stop there with his introduction as he greets the candidates including his future secretary Traudl Junge (Alexandra Lara). Ganz does not portray him as the screaming lunatic we know, but actually as a fairly gentle older man as he greets each of the secretaries while asking them where they are from. After hearing that Traudl is from Munich Hitler invites her into his office to see how she types. Well dictating she suddenly stops leaving Hitler to tell her to do it again. Ganz does not yell, he does not sneer, not he gives the warmest of gestures like a loving father would ask her daughter just to simple try something again. It is a chilling scene because there is technically nothing chilling about it. Ganz portrays one of histories greatest monster's with such a genuine kindness in this scene that is actually disturbing. Ganz does not show this to be a psychopath hiding his true nature, or anything like that, no. Ganz shows that simply in certain company, just a normal technically unimportant situation, that Hitler could be a nice guy.

This is not some sort of false portrayal of Hitler, Hitler was an evil man, and the film does show him as such. The film, and Ganz simply never make it as simple as Hitler being a man without absolutely any humanity. We meet the Hitler were more use to soon enough when the film suddenly jumps in time near the end of the way as Hitler along with his personal staff have moved to his personal in Berlin as the Soviet army slowly begins to close in. Ganz is effective in just a single scene switch that he know shows that Hitler is a much more spent man both physically and mentally as the defeats have piled up over the few years. One of the earliest scenes is when Hitler is being told that Berlin is being bombed and all Hitler's reaction is that the bomb is merely convenient way to rebuild Berlin in his new vision. Ganz's madness that he exhibits in the role is a most unique sort in the role as Hitler is not just any mad man, he is a mad man who is a ruler of a country. Even when he is stating something so absurd, and horrible as this Ganz carries himself with a certain presence, and command. There is not hesitation, or even intensity in Ganz's voice, rather Ganz shows Hitler not as mad so to speak, but as a man with no barriers on his vision.

Ganz's performance is particularly interesting because even though he is portraying someone who almost seems to start rotting from the inside out as the it proceeds, there is something so magnetic about his performance as Hitler. This is absolutely needed for a portrayal of Hitler, because although he is obviously despicable, much of Hitler's power did come from his ability to persuade the populace of Germany to his vision. Ganz though does have a command in his performance and he conveys the needed power of personality in the man to be convincing that Hitler could have made it to the level of power that he achieved. It's there, and even though Ganz does disappear often during the film you never forgot about his existence not even after he's permanently gone. Ganz is able to make Hitler larger than life through his performance still, even though this film is all about technically revealing Hitler to be actually just a very small man in all reality, Ganz is able to strike the right balance giving a convincing illusion while revealing the truth.

As they are obviously losing Hitler becomes very much delusion about the whole affair thinking that the only reason they are not winning is because his men are not trying hard enough or they are simply are not following his orders. Ganz is very effective as he plays Hitler's reactions to every set back as though Hitler purposefully devolves to his persona as the dictator. Ganz is terrific in these scenes as he frankly goes full on Hitler in his vicious outbursts against every one and everything. Ganz gives them the right heated intensity as in the same way Hitler's speeches were, as he shows the most brutal side of Hitler in exact detail. Ganz is great as he shows the prejudices in Hitler quite cleverly as his performance becomes most violent whenever Hitler goes on about the background on one of his subordinates who are either failing to follow his orders, or simply failing to do the impossible. It is not just their current action he decries but as well whatever their lives are and in this hatred Ganz's rather artfully suggests exactly where the most extreme form of hatred comes from.

The progression of Hitler's story in the film is actually him is actually slowly losing his delusion that he will still win the war. Ganz is incredibly good at portraying a transition that is painfully naturally in its course. Throughout the film Ganz slowly reveals that the whole dictator side of the man is something that he just can't keep up as one set back after another forces him to face reality rather than his imagination of what should be happening. Ganz is surprisingly powerful, even though he is portraying Hitler, by revealing the man behind the vile creature. Ganz is exceptional in the scenes where some of his advisers admit to having lying to him, and there's no leader there just a small sad man who is quietly realizing exactly what he has sewn with his life. Ganz handles wonderfully well as Hitler does everything he can to keep his delusion, but you see the emotion slow reveal itself past his attempted manner of shielding it. One particularly strong moment is when he watches the Goebbels family sing for him (who are the only ones more delusion than Hitler) and Ganz portrays perfectly the feigning happiness of a doomed man.

The role of Hitler, as I said before, is a great challenge not to be a caricature, which Ganz avoid completely with his performance. The thing is though Ganz does not simply give us the Hitler you would know from watching the archival footage of the man either though. He goes about turning Hitler into a three dimensional individual. It is not that he makes Hitler sympathetic, that would be wholly impossible, and frankly a bit wrong to do. No, what Ganz achieves is something quite special in the role, since he never once holds back in any scene showing the evil in Hitler. We see that and we know what he is with Ganz's performance, what Ganz does so well though is that obviously with twenty four hours in a day it is unlikely that someone would be that way every second of the day. Ganz makes Hitler the genocidal murderer of millions in his fervent portrayal of the man's horrendous visions, but Ganz gives us a portrait of a man that is honest sadness of a man mistreated by his father, and of a husband genuinely capable of love. It is a fascinating and disturbing portrayal of the existence of humanity in one that was truly inhumane.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Alternate Best Actor 2004: Paul Giamatti in Sideways

Paul Giamatti did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, Sag, well receiving many critical citations and winning The Independent Spirit Award and NYFCC, for portraying Miles in Sideways.

Paul Giamatti's snub seems to be one of those extremely confusing Oscar omissions due to his precursor love as well as the fact that the film itself was quite well liked by the Academy as a whole. Giamatti likely failed to get due to his assumed position in the lineup with voters liking putting their passionate vote, Clint Eastwood, over him who they thought was assured a spot already. Giamatti snub only seems to add to injury since the film is so closely focused on his character and his performance throughout. The supporting players are allowed their moments, but the film never once leaves Miles's perspective for more than a second or two. Sideways also gets to stand out as the only Alexander Payne film since about Schmidt where a lead performance was not nominated. Giamatti like George Clooney in The Descendants, and Jack Nicholson also plays a rather exasperated man going through some sort of personal crisis which is the focus of the film, while of course having various comedic moments also sprinkled lightly throughout.

Giamatti certainly seems well cast in the part, and delivers in quickly establishing Miles as a very certain type of man. Giamatti rightly portrays Miles as basically always at least semi-depressed in most every scene of the film. Giamatti does not show the depression to be something overwhelming that would necessarily even raise any concerns though. Giamatti is very effective in portraying it as a very much lived in depression that resides in Miles. He always seems at least somewhat down in his whole manner, and his semi down beat manner speaking. Giamatti hits just the right note with it because it properly denotes the recent history of Miles's life, but he handles it in a way that although noticeable it would never really ever cause worry. Giamatti makes seem as though a character trait simply due to the time in which Miles has had it. He also does quite well though to make it truly something dynamic in Miles in that the intensity of Miles's general malaise properly changes depending on the situation.

Normally Giamatti's shows Miles's distress being there but quiet, some circumstances make it almost disappear, and of course being reminded of his wife Giamatti shows it as something quite explosive. The only times where it really seems to almost go away are whenever Miles talks about his love and knowledge of various wines. Giamatti handles these moments very well by showing Miles when in his element and in his passion that he almost forgets his personal plight for a moment. Giamatti actually  technically treads the line of being unlikable here as he definitely brings a certain smugness to Miles when he is offering his sage advice on proper wine making and drinking. Giamatti avoid being unlikable though because he is able to gain sympathy through every situation by making Miles genuine as the type of guy he is. Miles is far from perfect, and he probably is the cause of much of his suffering, but Giamatti only ever shows this as the type of flaws someone simply has.

One of the highlights of the film is the unique chemistry between Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church as Miles's friend Jack. Although they are friends the two do not create their relationship as some truly great friendship between the two men. It's a friendship but a very particular and realistic one between the two. They are not alike in many ways with the often upbeat Jack contrasting a great deal from the very much downbeat Miles. It is not the similarities that bring them together but rather the one sorta allows the other one to be. On the one hand Jack is a philanderer and Miles acts as almost a non-moral compass as Giamatti plays these scenes with only ever suggesting that Miles never really stops Jack allowing Jack to be. On the other hand Jack does take Miles's depression in stride while offering constant support to his friend the best he can. It is an unusual friendship to be sure but it is a wholly believable one through the honest chemistry the two share.

Miles personal journey is extreme in moments but rather modest on a whole. As I said before Miles's depression of sorts never leaves him wholly or at least never permanently, not even in the final moments when perhaps there is hope for him. Giamatti though weaves kinda a tapestry of the highs and lows of his personal journey. Giamatti is exceptionally natural about as he allows there to be a flow and not be a flow at the same time. There are moments of happiness inter spliced with sadness that seems always honest for his character. For example when he finds a potential love in a woman Maya (Virginia Madsen) there is the sense of things becoming better for Miles yet Giamatti shows that his general sadness in a way drives him to her to begin with. This is a very good performance by Giamatti simply by making Miles seem like just someone you could meet. Even in the more comedic moments Giamatti plays his reactions in a funny yet down to earth fashion.  It's a strong leading work that works well in bringing the whole film together.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Alternate Best Actor 2004: Will Ferrell in Anchorman

Will Ferrell did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ron Burgundy in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

Anchorman is a very funny comedy about the life and times of one local news anchor.

I will start right off in saying I'm no fan of Will Ferrell as a comedian. I find his usual shtick of the man child who gets loud and noisy gets very tiresome very quickly. I just don't find it particularly funny and I find he too often just devolves into repetition in his performances. I was not even looking forward too much to watching this film, but I was very encouraged by other non-Will Farrell fans who claimed this was the Will Farrell film that they did enjoy. Well watching the film proved their claim to be true, and I actually don't dislike Farrell in this film. The main reason being that he does not exactly do his usual thing exactly. Well Ron Burgundy is not exactly a normal functioning adult by any means, and Farrell is in no way avoiding his usual style of comedy there's a certain factor that makes his performance here far more enjoyable than usual for me. That factor being that he is playing a 70's local news anchor who at least seems to suffer the delusion of being somewhat intelligent.

Ferrell is very enjoyable in the fact that he plays the role to actually be at least marginally convincing as a news anchor. Obviously its still entirely comedic in nature, but Ferrell's proper newsman man voice and whole physical manner are quite good. Ferrell is convincing just enough with his semi refined manner here that it makes his stupidity all the funnier. His completely moronic statements such as first believing San Diego's name is something that it definitely does not stand for then proceeds to retract that statement claiming scientists are still trying to determine what the name means exactly would not be nearly as funny if it were not for the semi-intellectual manner in which Ferrell speaks. That pretty much goes throughout his whole performance as he makes something rather endearing out of the foolishness expressed by Burgundy because Burgundy always states the foolishness in such way in which you feel as though Burgundy is really trying.

This is not a terribly complex comedic role as Ferrell technically keeps up with this same style throughout the film and Burgundy does not really change all that much by the end of it. Of course that does not matter since this is a comedy that is particularly goofy after all it has various news teams duke it out in a particularly hilarious and absurd brawl. The biggest change that occurs is when Burgundy gets fired from the news leaving him a broken man. The best parts of the brief set of scenes is when Ferrell really goes extremely dramatic in portraying Burgundy as haunted beyond belief by his failure as a newsman. When Ferrell plays rather "seriously" it is when he is at his most hilarious actually. Of course this scene does not last long and as soon he is hired Burgundy is back to his old self again. There's no big character arc past that, but there does not have to be. Ferrell is rather funny, certainly the most I've liked him, and although I would not put this as an all-time great comic performance it is a good one.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Alternate Best Actor 2004

And the Nominees Were Not:

Bruno Ganz in Downfall

Javier Bardem in The Sea Inside

Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Paul Giamatti in Sideways

Kevin Bacon in The Woodsman

And Bonus Review:
Will Ferrell in Anchorman

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Alternate Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor 1933: Results

5. Paul Robeson in The Emperor Jones- Robeson has some good moments throughout but his performance is always a little too stagy. He also can never quite make up for the rushed nature of the film.

Best Scene: Jones pretends to be invincible.
4. Warner Baxter in 42nd Street -Baxter's role is somewhat limited for most of the film but once he gets going he gives quite a compelling portrayal of the various tricks of the director to make his show a success.

Best Scene: Marsh teaches Ann how to act.
3. Groucho Marx in Duck Soup- Marx does his usual shtick here, which is just fine since his usual shtick is quite amusing.

Best Scene: Firefly cross examines the spy.
2. John Barrymore in Counsellor At Law- Barrymore is in absolute command of his film giving a charming and compelling portrayal of a driven lawyer.

Best Scene: The counsellor finds out the truth about his wife.
1. Claude Rains in The Invisible Man- Good Predictions Luke and Anonymous. Rains might just be a voice for some of the film but what a voice he is. He carries the right menace as the villainous invisible man, but he also is supremely entertaining with just a dash of pathos for good measure.

Best Scene:  The Invisible Man tells about his plans.
Overall Rank:
  1. Charles Laughton in The Private Life of Henry VIII
  2. Claude Rains in The Invisible Man 
  3. John Barrymore in Counsellor At Law
  4. Oliver Hardy in Sons of the Desert
  5. Stan Laurel in Sons of the Desert
  6. Groucho Marx in Duck Soup
  7. Warner Baxter in 42nd Street
  8. William Powell in The Kennel Murder Case
  9. Robert Armstrong in King Kong
  10. Paul Robeson in The Emperor Jones
  11. Cedric Hardwicke in The Ghoul
  12. Warren William in Lady For a Day
  13. Bruce Cabot in King Kong 
  14. Robert Armstrong in The Son of Kong 
  15. Leslie Howard in Berkeley Square
  16. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in Morning Glory
  17. Clive Brook in Cavalcade
Supporting Top Ten:
  1. Robert Donat in The Private Life of Henry VIII 
  2. John Barrymore in Dinner At Eight 
  3. Rudolf Klein-Rogge in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
  4. Lionel Barrymore in Dinner At Eight
  5. Boris Karloff in The Ghoul
  6. Ralph Morgan in The Kennel Murder Case
  7. Melvyn Douglas in Counsellor At Law 
  8. Eugene Palette in The Kennel Murder Case
  9. Henry Travers in The Invisible Man
  10. Ralph Richardson in The Ghoul
Next Year: 2004 lead

Alternate Best Actor 1933: Groucho Marx in Duck Soup

Groucho Marx did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Rufus T. Firefly in Duck Soup.

Duck Soup is a very enjoyable film about the hijinks involving a ruler of a free country who butts heads with a dictator.

Groucho Marx plays Rufus T. Firefly who is elected to be the new leader of Freedonia even if it takes a while for him to realize it. Who Groucho plays does not really matter as even though his name may be different this Groucho Marx doing his routine as Groucho. Marx's routine is not really to play a character, and his whole thing is to almost be separate from the story at hand. Now it is true of many of the early comics like Chaplin, and Laurel & Hardy in that they would play the same characters in their films, but those characters could still become emotionally involved with the plot of the film. This is not the case of Groucho Marx whose whole bit is to be kinda disassociated with everything to the point that he will often comment toward the camera to voice his insult or general disinterest at anything that is going on around him. That is perfectly fine though as the film is almost wholly built around Groucho's comedic manner to the outrageous situation he finds himself in.

Well Marx certainly is entertaining in his constant cracking of wise throughout the film as he basically never stops making insults of one form or another at anything and all things. Marx's whole method is to be as rapid fire as possible really, and rarely does he stop except for a slightly absurdest reaction to something. Therefore not every single joke he makes is going to perfectly land perhaps but a whole bunch of them certainly do. My favorite instance of his wordplay insults is when Firefly is interrogating a spy (Chico Marx) for the other nation and says everything as positive while twisting it quickly into actually something quite negative. Marx is very purposefully extremely one note in his performance as Marx never changes from his rather disingenuous attitude. Even in a scene where Firefly accidentally gets angry at the dictator of the other nation causing a war, Marx still plays it all the same, which is the whole point of his comedic character, which is just fine since Marx is consistently funny here.

Well what's a comic performance from the period if one does not count the physical aspect of the comedy? Well Marx actually takes a similair approach to the physical comedy as he does his verbal comedy with again being purposefully withdrawn from the whole thing. Marx often has just a big grin on his face, quite enjoying the hijinks himself, while walking around in a purposefully casually goofy sort of way. Marx actually has quite a bit of energy in the big musical numbers, or the scenes of great physical comedy in his manner of not caring. Marx's timing is excellent even though it all seems to lack a technical purpose, it's an odd trick, but one that Marx pulls off quite brilliantly. Now reading just the synopsis of the film you may be tricked into thinking this performance, and film has some greater purpose like Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator. That's not the case as the whole idea about the countries is merely just a springboard for some various comedic situations for the Marx brothers to participate in. Marx's performance does not strive to be anything more than it is which is a very enjoyable example of his usual shtick.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1933: Claude Rains in The Invisible Man

Claude Rains did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dr. Jack Griffin also known as the titular character in The Invisible Man.

The Invisible Man is a very enjoyable film about a scientist who has undergone a most peculiar sort of experiment.

Claude Rains one of the greatest character actors of all time had a rather peculiar breakout role to be sure. The Invisible Man was only the second film Rains was in, only having a supporting role in a silent beforehand, and despite being in the starring role of the film we only witness his actual face at the very end of the film for a brief moment. For the rest of the film Rains is either fully covered by clothing, or well rather hard to see. Nevertheless the film did give Rains the start to quite his long lasting cinematic career, and the main reason for that must have been his voice. This is actually somewhat similair to John Hurt in The Elephant Man in that both actors are physically onscreen during their performance, but technically speaking their work is almost vocal work in nature. This is even more true for Rains than it was for Hurt, as the disability involving Rains character simply only makes it so he can never be seen. Technically speaking Rains's physical performance is pretty straight forward which makes since in that Griffin is not suffering from his ailment at least no in a normal way.

Rains's voice is perfection for this role though as his voice does exude a certain class and intelligence just naturally. We don't need to know Griffin is a brilliant man because Rains sounds like such a brilliant man anyways. Rains in his earliest scenes, when he is all covered up, is actually quite good in portraying a more introverted quality in his voice in these scenes. He suggests a certain desperation in these moments as Griffin actually is trying to save himself from his invisibility, and Rains very nicely gives us the tragic side of the character before the villain side of Griffin comes out. This happens when, instead of being left alone to try and find a cure, Griffin is hassled by all of the town people leaving no choice for Griffin to reveal himself which reveals that there isn't much of him. Rains quickly becomes the monster who laughs his way through as he terrorizes the people who dare get in his way. Rains's is extremely entertaining in these scenes as there is such a relish of his evil acts through Rains's voice, and really Rains let's you basically in on the fun of all the acts random annoyance that Griffin is committing.

Where James Whale's earlier foray into monsters, that being the Frankenstein Monster, there was a great deal of woe in the monster. The Invisible Man on the other hand becomes a bit more directly evil even if there is a slight tragedy stated in that his evil is suppose to be a side effect of the chemicals that turned him invisible. For most of the film except for the beginning, and brief moments where Griffin interacts with his former love interest, The Invisible Man is evil and loves being so. There is extra degree of enjoyment of it as Rains's performance rather slyly makes a lot of what the Invisible Man is doing is the rather crude and cruel ego stroking of a once cultured and brilliant man. My favorite moments of Rains's performance are easily when he is terrorizing a former colleague of his who foolishly decides to call the cops on the invisible man. My favorite moment of these scenes is when Griffin discusses his plans which naturally include a few murders just for good measure. Rains is hilarious in the way he so matter factually states these things, and portrays the insanity Griffin in such an enjoyably proper sort of fashion. 

Rains's performance here oddly enough is most comedic and Rains is actually quite funny in his portrayal of The Invisible Man's personal enjoyment of his random acts of evil. Rains though, even while being funny, does always carry himself with the right sort of menace at the same time, and manages to really make the fun of Griffin's behavior really a great deal of the basis of his evil. It's kind of a weird way for a performance as a monster to be, but everything that Rains does here does work for the film. This might not ever be the same type of challenge as some of his later, more physical, roles later in his long career, but it is its own challenge all the same. The fact that he is only a voice for most of the film never feels like a problem for Rains as a realizes Griffin as a compelling character all the same, and you have to think there is not even an animation of the character or something to help him the rest of the way. It's on Rains voice, and with his great voice Rains completely delivers in giving quite a marvelous performance of a marvelous character.