Friday, 22 May 2015

Alternate Best Actor 2007: Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn

Christian Bale did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dieter Dengler in Rescue Dawn.

Rescue Dawn is an effective film depicting the attempt to escape from pow camp during the Vietnam war.

I might as well get the negative out of the way first. Bale plays Dieter Dengler as German born American citizen who has joined the air force. Bale plays the role with an American accent, which he does well, but the real Dengler still had a German accent. Now I try not to be overly punitive towards accents, as they shouldn't make or break a performance all on their own. Here it just happens to be a bit more noticeable since his German background is frequently mentioned and they even go so far as to call him the Kraut in the prison camp. It's somewhat distracting that he does not at all seem German given how it is mentioned, and an good German accent would helped to further distinguish Dieter from the other prisoners. With that out of the way, let's take a look at the real meat of his performance. The film opens with Dieter being briefed for his secretive combat mission in Laos along with his comrades. Although I do like the film a great deal there is something odd about these early scenes, and the final scenes, in that director Werner Herzog handles them in such a vastly different tone than the main section of the film.

These scenes seem from a different film, a very different kind of war movie, which is kinda lighthearted. It is hard to tell if Herzog is just uncomfortable out of the discomfort of the jungle, or this was purposefully done to show just how different the world can be depending on your situation. Either way Bale's performance is also fairly light here. Bale is not an actor with a natural charm, but in these scenes he makes Dieter just a likable enough guy as he jokes around and prepares for his mission along with his friends. The fun does not last very long though as Dieter is shot down during the mission and left to try to find his way back in the wilderness. This is where Bale excels as he portrays Dieter's trying to survive while attempting to avoid being captured by roaming patrols. Bale is terrific here in realizing the moment in his performance in terms of reflecting the way the crash shatters the certain confidence he had in the lighthearted scenes as he becomes a man bent on survival above else. Bale does very well to make every moment as he recovers from the crash, and attempts to find something feel genuine. He gives the needed truth to environment through his reactions to what is around him.

Dieter is quickly captured though leaving him at the hands of some cruel men, who almost use him as a prop for awhile. Bale's very good here as he brings a certain manic intensity to Dieter, and shows the fear of the man being unable to know what his captors are saying while being unable to communicate with them himself. There is one especially powerful moment where the guards casually take a pot shot at him, and Bale delivers the extreme terror that grips Dieter as he screams at them never to do that again. Eventually Dieter is asked to sign a propaganda statement against the United States. It's a relatively short scene, but one that Bale uses to further Dieter's character. As Dieter explains he was in no way looking for war Bale delivers this statement with certain exasperation. Not towards the present condition, but rather towards his past acknowledging the war torn country he was born in at the time. When he is pressed to sign though Dieter refuses and its a great moment for Bale. Bale does not make it an overly passionate statement against his captor, but rather quietly states his reasons and turns him down. Bale though in this matter of fact delivery though does reflect an earnest pride that Dieter has for his adopted country.

Eventually Dengler is brought to a camp with other prisoners, and Bale is rather affecting in just a short moment where he portrays such excitement at finally seeing a friendly face in another prisoner. After being in solitary briefly he is allowed to interact with the others, and I suppose I should not complain too much about the accent to distinguish Dieter from the others, since Bale does that so well with the rest of his performance. While the other men are all at one level or another of suffering, and some developing a bit of madness, Bale stands out by showing how Dieter is different. Dieter firstly is not nearly as beat up, although Bale does gradually develop his own wear as well. Bale though keeps an enthusiasm in Dieter as he plays it as Dieter never becomes oppressed by the camp, rather taking the condition of the other men as a motivation for his escape. Interestingly though Bale though kinda brings his own madness, but that of a different kind. His madness is that of the dreamer, as Bale shows Dieter's head still seems in the skies a bit, where he most wants to be out of anywhere, which seems to help inspire him to always be working towards his plan.  

Bale sets Dieter aside from the others, finding well kinda the excitement of the escape as he figures one new idea to help initiate the plan. Bale though does not keep Dengler at a distance though and does naturally create a camaraderie with the other men particularly Duane (Steve Zahn). There's a warmth Bale realizes with him, and even a little with almost all of the other men, even one guard, in low key but poignant manner. The escape is a success, in terms of getting out of the camp, but it in many ways goes wrong as only Dieter and Duane go off together in the jungle. Bale is outstanding in these scenes as he also begins to lose heart and Bale plays it as though it starts to become harder for him to try to encourage Duane to go on. Bale is especially good whenever Dieter fails to flag down American helicopters as he shows just how devastated Dieter is every time they ignore him, and in one case even try to kill him. Both men are brought to the point that they take the risk and try to find help from villagers which costs Duane his life. In the final scenes until his rescue Bale is outstanding as he shows Dieter at his end. Although, as usual for Bale, he depicts Dieter physically at his end about as realistically as one probably can, more pivotal is his depiction of Dieter final mental state. Bale's stare is that of a man almost lost in his mind now as he goes through the motions of survival, having lost the enthusiasm of the escape, and is heartbreaking by realizing how the loss of Duane has left him. When he is rescued the film returns to that other tone, but I would not say Bale does. Bale does his best to sell the almost excessively inspirational ending. He certainly presents the overpowering relief and happiness fitting for a man who has gone through Dieter's ordeal, but the real power comes from Bale having brought Dieter through all of it from his crash, through every horror of the camp and the jungle, to his final deliverance.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Alternate Best Actor 2007: Chris Cooper in Breach

Chris Cooper did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Robert Hanssen in Breach.

Breach is a film bolstered by the interesting nature of the true story it is based on, although it perhaps relies on a bit too many cliches in its dramatization, as well as suffers from an inadequate lead performance by Ryan Phillippe as Eric O'Neill. The man trying to find the evidence needed to convict an F.B.I. agent who has been spying for Russia.

Chris Cooper plays the man Robert Hanssen who were are first introduced to after Eric has been assigned to monitor him while initially only being told that Hanssen is a sexual deviant. Hanssen first makes his entrance as essentially the ultimate ball buster, he even literally threatens Eric with such an act when Eric fails to covertly exit Hanssen's office. Cooper makes everything you'd want Hanssen in this regard as in the office scenes he carries a constant intensity, as though he hates everything about the job, and seems to hate most everything. Cooper is particularly successful in realizes the unabashed nature of Hanssen's attitude towards people. There is not a hint of respect in Cooper's eyes dresses down Eric on their first meeting, and it seems as though he might be ready to start beating the man at any moment. Although Hanssen never does physically accost Eric during the film, that initial threat is made authentic through Cooper's performance.

What Cooper does is carry a realistic menace through the man, because he so effectively gets across the style of a man who is best described as a hard ass. It should be noted that Cooper makes much of the film simply through his performance. Cooper is indeed quite entertaining here in portraying just how crude and cruel Hanssen personal manner can be. Cooper though enjoyable does not overplay his hand in this regard to the point of making Hanssen a caricature of this sort of man. That's not the case as Cooper always manages to attach this behavior with something deeper within Hanssen. In his most overt behavior Cooper does seem to allude a certain effort in Hanssen's behavior. This is not that it is false, the rage towards certain things in life and at work are all too real, but it is more than would be natural for a man. Cooper portrays it partially an specific act of Hanssen attempting to hold some sort of dominance as he sees himself in a lower position, but just as much a instinctual behavior brought upon by the same sort of treatment from his father.

Cooper's performance simply as the ultimate hard ass is quite fascinating as even in this he creates a certain duplicity as he shows the man's behavior as both authentic and artificial. Cooper splices in a third facet into Hanssen's anger which is oddly enough fear. Cooper brings an undercurrent of vulnerability even within his very commanding presence. Cooper alludes with this a subtle paranoia into Hanssen's personality suggesting that he is partially aware of the forces closing in around him, but not fully to the point that he can be sure of it. Cooper builds upon this especially well through the progress of the film as the investigation closes closer in on Hanssen, and his falls seems almost inevitible. Although I'd say the film overplays this a tad in giving a little too explosive of a scene, where Hanssen interrogates Eric at gunpoint about his suspicions. Even if the scene is perhaps slightly excessive Cooper is on mark in portraying Hanssen near the end of his breaking point, as he presents that the paranoia finally overwhelms the rest of his personality.

That is not all there is to Cooper's performance though and one of the most remarkable elements of his work here is that he manages to make Hanssen likable to a certain extent. There is a charisma Cooper realizes through the personality of this man who seems to have such strong convictions. When Hanssen speaks of his religion there is a genuine enthusiasm Cooper brings to the subject, even if there is a certain pompousness at times towards it as well, Cooper manages to make Hanssen a virtuous man, even though he is not in reality one. Cooper even exudes just a bit of warmth in the moments where Hanssen attempts to encourage Eric's own faith, earning it to the point that he does portray Hanssen's faith real though horribly hypocritical. His less appealing beliefs are not sugar coated after all, and Hanssen's double life is all too real. Cooper manages to make Eric's initial respect for him completely believable thought by creating the appeal of this man who appears to do things his own way without exception, the problem being that this is too true.

Hanssen is of course the spy as well as even the sexual deviant who makes his own sex tapes without his wife's knowledge. The film never quite gives us the worst side of Hanssen because it rarely leaves Eric's perspective, and the most we get is a flashback montage of Hanssen's illicit activities. Cooper does not seem limited by this, as his performance allows one to see the evil within the man's public personality. There is always a certain darkness that Cooper suggests is in the man, so whenever something is revealed it does not seem odd at all. What Cooper does so well is suggest Hanssen to basically be a mess of a man who happens to carry himself in a precise way. Much of his life is illogical, but that's merely because it's his way always his way, which is what Cooper always suggests is Hanssen's greatest passion. Even in capture Cooper effectively keeps Hanssen as the same sort of man. He portrays his surrender as a quiet resignation, but still carries a certain pride in himself as he attempts to try to boast about having it his way. Cooper though is particularly moving in his final short moment where he shows a despondent Hanssen who has finally suffered from the weight of reality. It's a strong performance that manages to elevate the material and Cooper always remains compelling even when the film falters.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Alternate Best Actor 2007: James McAvoy in Atonement

James McAvoy did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe and a Bafta, for portraying Robbie Turner in Atonement.

Atonement is about a pair of star crossed lovers separated by a lie told by one of their sisters just before and then during World War II.

James McAvoy plays the character quite fitting for a romance novel of apparently almost any quality. That of course being the poor son of a housekeeper who works for the rich family the Tallises at whose estate the first act of the film takes place in. McAvoy kinda goes about playing this up in his interactions with the youngest Tallis, Briony (Saoirse Ronan). McAvoy attempts to project the charm of the easy going lad who does not hold perhaps the pretensions of the wealthier people. I can't say McAvoy wholly succeeds in this regard having a skeevy quality in Robbie, that perhaps could have been intentional, but I don't think quite works with the films intentions. If it only came across this way in the scenes from Briony's perspective I think that could have perhaps worked quite well in terms of creating her delusion, but the problem is McAvoy plays the part in the same exact way when we are given the "true" perspective during his interactions with Briony's older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley).

McAvoy plays the role the same way as he does not strike up a particularly sizzling chemistry with Knightley in their scenes together, even though that's very much the point in the scenes set in the mansion. The actions take place to show that they have this repressed desire for one another, but it is not effectively shown by either actor. It more of occurs and that's all there is to it. It's suppose to be even more than lust as well, even though the lust is already missing. There is something unusually distant about them in their scenes together and they never bring the power the romance needs to sustain the film frankly. Now it could be the point that remains very proper and very British, but I won't allow that point as the affections can be known even in a reserved way for example the affair in Brief Encounter, which I believe was the sort of film Atonement was attempting to be like. I will be fair I don't think they are terrible together, or anything close to that, but they fail to realize the crux of the film which is quite problematic.

The film eventually moves away from the mansion as Robbie must go into the military due to having been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. The film proceeds to show Robbie's time in occupied France as he witnesses a few horrors while making his way to Dunkirk for evacuation. The film keeps the dialogue very to the point focusing mainly on McAvoy's reactions to the various things that he encounters before it seems he's going to be rescued and reunited with Cecilia. Well I can't say that there is anything that notable about what McAvoy does in these scenes. He's there, he's not bad, but he does not make any scene come to life by making that human connection within it. He's mainly just there in the scene, and really much of the time he could just as likely be an extra in the scenes since he does not create any emotional journey for Robbie even if it seems there should be one. Like the film McAvoy's work never seems obviously wrong, but fails to make the story truly vivid.

Much of the film Robbie is perhaps used to much as the sort of image of character in a British prestige picture, but not a real character. The most emotionally volatile moments we get from the character are when he directly must speak about his wrongful imprisonment. In these scenes McAvoy breaks down as one would expect Robbie should and portrays his intense anger and despair of his predicament, but it feels like the Macbethian sound and fury which signifies nothing. There is an oddly lifeless quality to the emotions as again there is an odd distance and disconnect in McAvoy's performance left Robbie's story something I did not care about in the least, which I doubt was the film's intention. When his fate is revealed it should be a devastating moment, but instead feels just like a matter of fact revelation. I don't hate this performance but as a romantic lead there's a distinct lack of charm or warmth you'd imagine from this sort, and as a portrait of a man's suffering it stays oddly cold.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Alternate Best Actor 2007

And the Nominees Were Not:

Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

Joaquin Phoenix in We Own the Night

Chris Cooper in Breach

Cillian Murphy in Sunshine

Lau Ching Wan in Mad Detective

Predict Those Five or These Five:

Casey Affleck in Gone Baby Gone

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn

James McAvoy in Atonement

John C. Reilly in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Or both. 

Friday, 15 May 2015

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1936: Results

5. Frank Morgan in The Great Ziegfeld - Morgan strikes up an entertaining and eventually moving dynamic with William Powell as a similarly sarcastic showman.

Best Scene: The final scene. 
4. James Stewart in After the Thin Man - Stewart is charming in his usual way, which makes it all the more effective when he subverts that in the film's final revelation.

Best Scene: All the suspects meet.
3. Louis Jouvet in The Lower Depths - Jouvet gives an endearing portrayal of a rich man's transition into becoming one of the poor.

Best Scene: The baron meets the thief.
2. Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest - Bogart gives a strong performance that creates the menace needed for his big time bank robber, but also carries a palatable anguish reflecting the man's view of life.

Best Scene: His entrance into the diner.
1. Peter Lorre in Secret Agent - Lorre easily gives the most memorable supporting performance of this year giving a fittingly absurd portrayal of an absurd assassin. Bringing to life the flamboyant nature of the part in an entertaining way, while still realizing the chilling nature of the character in a most effective fashion.

Best Scene: The General finds out he killed the wrong man. 
Overall Rank:
  1. Peter Lorre in Secret Agent
  2. Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest
  3. Louis Jouvet in The Lower Depths
  4. James Stewart in After the Thin Man
  5. Frank Morgan in The Great Ziegfeld
  6. Walter Brennan in Come and Get It
  7. Eugene Pallette in My Man Godfrey 
  8. John Carradine in The Prisoner of Shark Island
  9. Robert Young in Secret Agent
  10. Claude Rains in Anthony Adverse
  11. Roger Livesey in Rembrandt
  12. William Frawley in The General Died At Dawn
  13. Nigel Bruce in The Charge of the Light Brigade
  14. Robert Le Vigan in The Lower Depths
  15. Henry Stephenson Little Lord Fauntleroy
  16. Joel McCrea in Come and Get It
  17. Donald Crisp in The Charge of the Light Brigade
  18. Vladimir Sokoloff in The Lower Depths
  19. George Zucco in After the Thin Man
  20. Bela Lugosi in The Invisible Ray
  21. Sam Levene in After the Thin Man
  22. Spencer Tracy in San Francisco
  23. Elisha Cook Jr. in Pigskin Parade
  24. Harry Carey in The Prisoner of Shark Island
  25. Basil Rathbone in Romeo and Juliet
  26. Joseph Calleia in After The Thin Man
  27. David Niven in The Charge of the Light Brigade
  28. Paul Lukas in After The Thin Man
  29. James Burke in Great Guy
  30. Henry Daniell in Camille
  31. David Niven in Dodsworth
  32. J. Carrol Naish in The Charge of the Light Brigade
  33. Ralph Richardson in The Man Who Could Work Miracles
  34. Guy Kibbee in Little Ford Fauntleroy
  35. Rex O'Malley in Camille
  36. Nigel Bruce in The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
  37. Randolph Scott in Follow the Fleet
  38. Charles Carson in Secret Agent
  39. Ernest Thesiger in The Man Who Could Work Miracles
  40. George Bancroft in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  41. Victor Moore in Swing Time
  42. Mickey Rooney in Little Lord Fauntleroy
  43. Desmond Tester in Sabotage
  44. Percy Marmont in Secret Agent
  45. Walter Brennan in Fury
  46. Lionel Barrymore in Camille
  47. Lionel Stander in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  48. Walter Abel in Fury
  49. Akim Tamiroff in The General Died At Dawn
  50. Edward Ellis in Fury
  51. Fred Stone in The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
  52. Akim Tamiroff in Anthony Adverse 
  53. Herbert Lomas in Rembrandt
  54. John Barrymore in Romeo and Juliet 
  55. Dick Foran in The Petrified Forest
  56. Stuart Erwin in Pigskin Parade
  57. Mischa Auer in My Man Godfrey
  58. Frank Albertson in Fury 
  59. Frank Lawton in The Invisible Ray
  60. Patric Knowles in The Charge of Light Brigade
  61. Andy Divine in Romeo and Juliet 
  62. George Walcott in Fury
  63. Robert Barrat in The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
  64. Dudley Digges in The General Died At Dawn
  65. Dave O'Brien in Reefer Madness
  66. Josef Forte in Reefer Madness
Next Year: 2007 Lead

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1936: Frank Morgan in The Great Ziegfeld

Frank Morgan did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jack Billings in The Great Ziegfeld.

The Great Ziegfeld is an overblown biographical film about Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell) the producer of various stage shows.

The first third of The Great Ziegfeld works considerably better than much of the film as it tightens its focus on the actual character of Florenz Ziegfield, mostly through rivalry with Jack Billings played by Morgan. The film opens with the two of them hosting rival shows at the World's Fair, and acting directly against each other as they each try to hype their shows to the public, with Billings being the more successful initially. Morgan works well as an opponent for Powell here. Firstly he, like Powell, is certainly good at being the showman trying to get his crowd to watch his show over the other. He works with Powell well because they have a similar style in terms of their screen presence. Both often carry this certain jovial quality about themselves yet with a certain acerbic twinge, although Powell's is perhaps a bit stronger in that regard. Morgan though stands his own with Powell and the two are rather enjoyable together in creating the rivalry between the two. Their similar manner actually works particularly well in creating the friendly rivalry as they both project a certain charm whenever they interact though at the same time they do carry a certain deviousness.

As the film progresses it is often Ziegfeld getting the better of Billings one way or another, and eventually he kinda defeats Billings so to speak when Billings has to settle for a lower position than the Great Ziegfeld. Morgan though still makes his appearances as for whatever reason Ziegfeld is always running by a new idea with Billings in the room. Morgan continues to be entertaining in portraying basically the exasperation of Billings with every defeat, but does well to eventually transform it to more of a bemusement as he just knows what Ziegfeld is up to even when it does not even concern him personally. Now the film's problems come in the form of its endless musical numbers which loses too often the story of Ziegfeld himself. A good comparison is Yankee Doodle Dandy, which is isn't a perfect itself, but it did not stretch the numbers out to three hours, and more importantly central character was actually part of it. Here Ziegfeld is lost in his own movie oddly, forgetting his rivalry with Billings almost entirely and does not really regain his footing until he's about to die. The film reverts back to Billings and Ziegfeld in the final scene of the film. Morgan and Powell are both rather moving in the last scene as they look upon the rivalry with nostalgia. Morgan is especially heartwarming as he tries to cheer Ziegfeld up by saying they should do one more show. It works because Morgan manages to create the friendship with Powell, even if the film did its best to diminish it by losing the personal touch. Morgan's gives a good performance which frankly helps to illustrate what was wrong with the movie.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1936: Peter Lorre in Secret Agent

Peter Lorre did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying General Pompellio Montezuma De La Vilia De Conde De La Rue in Secret Agent.

Secret Agent is considerable step below from some of Hitchcock's other work from the 30's such as the 39 Steps or The Lady Vanishes, but it is a decent enough thriller about three British agents looking to assassinate a German spy.

Lorre plays one of the agents who calls himself  General Pompellio Montezuma De La Vilia De Conde De La Rue a ridiculously long name leaving him to be known mostly as the General but he's also known by the "Hairless Mexican". His lack of hair, and the fact that he does not seem to actually be a general, or probably even Mexican leaves the General as the most peculiar of characters in the film. Although if you want a character's eccentricity to stand out all the more I suppose one would cast Peter Lorre in the part, as he's certainly no stranger for that sort. Lorre might as well be the film as he's very much needed for the film to come to life as he plays the sidekick, of sorts, to John Gielgud's more straitlaced Captain Edgar Brodie. It is abundantly clear that this will be a particularly expressive performance by Lorre to say the least, which is all the better. His well rather assuming performance is rather necessary because one simply could not look like his character in this film, or behave like the character does without it seeming quite a bit off. Lorre embraces the idea with his work here and the film is all the better for it, since any scene with Lorre in it belongs to Lorre.

Lorre is terrific in playing into essentially an extravagance of the character as though the General is aware of his own absurdity and plays into to perhaps hide his actual intention. It does not make a great deal of sense for a spy to be so obvious yet Lorre gives sense to by making the General such a weird creature that perhaps he is a harmless one. Lorre does this well in that in interactions with most he brings this courteous quality as well as pride though as he announces his ridiculous name, which probably is not even real, to anyone he might meet. Lorre effectively builds a front of making the General this weird foreigner from wherever he might be from, but he's amusing in his own way so one would not need to suspect him of anything. Well other than attempting to be a devil with the ladies and again Lorre plays this up in an interesting fashion as though the General is perhaps fulfilling the role of the latin lover. Lorre is very entertaining as he shows the General strange way of trying to woo any pretty woman he might come in contact with. There seems to be an insanity to his enthusiasm, but it would appear as though it is all in good fun, or is it?

Well there are two members of the team with the leader of the group Edgar, Elsa (Madeleine Carroll) who's there to provide Edgar with a stronger cover by pretending to be his wife, but the General is there for one reason, which is killing the target as selected by Edgar. Lorre plays this side of the General equally well and is especially efficient in the way he reveals this to be behind the rest of his whole routine. Lorre's enjoyably grim though in the moments where he speaks about an eventual murder, often by indicating a throat slitting, or when he admires an assassination well done. Lorre is terrific in making the General so callous in the discussions involving death as though for him it is merely a profession and that a job well done should be recognized as such. Even when the General finds out that a man he killed was not the target, Lorre presents the reaction as a crazed laughter, as though it's merely one of those things that can happen on the job. Now when the General is actually killing though, Lorre brings the professional quality of the kill as most important, as in the moment he brings a particularly chilling determination, although not without perhaps a hint of joy as well. 

Lorre is easily the best part of this film, with Robert Young being the second best as another duplicitous individual, as the two of them are allowed to embrace the murky waters involved in the world of the film. This is actually a film where the leads get a bit too bogged down with being overly moral leaving them to unfortunately become somewhat boring characters. Where the fun is to be had is found in Lorre's depiction of the government endorsed murderer who has no qualms with his duties. Lorre even manages to give any sense to the ridiculous fate of his character. This is where the General decides to offer a drink to the dying German spy they were after, and Lorre actually makes some sense of this by stressing the General's professionalism and he's merely giving curtsey to another man in the same profession. It's still a bit much that the General would put his gun in reach of the man allowing the man to fatally shoot the General. Again Lorre does his absolute best to save the scene though as the General one last time announces his name, and Lorre is surprisingly moving as he seems to resign himself to his fate, finally dropping the facade as though there was no longer a point. Lorre does some very good work here that really manages to elevate the film which without him would be a bit forgettable.