Sunday, 20 August 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1992: Russell Crowe in Romper Stomper

Russell Crowe did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Hando in Romper Stomper.

Romper Stomper follows a neo-nazi gang who launches their own personal war against a group of Vietnamese Australians.

I have previously covered two other actors having played neo-nazis those being Ryan Gosling in The Believer and Edward Norton in American History X. Both films dealt with treacherous subject matter with both actors taking on the role of such morally reprehensible men. In both instances though there was perhaps a safety net of sorts for the films, for the actors and really for the audience watching the film. In American History X, after the opening sequence we cross cut between Norton playing a full blown neo-nazi, a man seeking redemption and showing remorse for his previous actions. In The Believer we know from the outset that that Ryan Gosling's character is more complicated since we immediately learn of his Jewish heritage and upbringing. There is no such "safety net" for Romper Stomper or Crowe in the role Hando, perhaps that has helped keep this film fairly obscure outside of Australia, and likely it would be even more forgotten if not for Crowe's later career being of such notoriety. There are no truly sympathetic character within the film, the closest the film comes is one of neo-nazis showing some minor regrets yet not doing anything about it, and the young woman Gabrielle who joins the group, who is broken from years of abuse, yet still participates in the gang's horrible acts.

The film in no way hides the brutality of the group as we open with them beating a few teenagers, we see that the worst of them is their leader played by Crowe. The character of Hando is a wholly despicable sort, and perhaps made all the terrible because he's played by Russell Crowe. Crowe's considerable presence as an actor is wholly evident this early in his career as he does command the screen as Hando. Crowe realizes the charisma of Hando quite effectively, and even though this won't really work on any sensible viewer since we know what he is from the start, Crowe makes it absolutely convincing that Hando would command the men as he does. Crowe carries himself with such swagger as though Hando firmly believes himself to be this leader of men for a greater cause, and is so determined in this that he easily convinces his followers of this as well. When he speaks of his philosophy, which is complete garbage, Crowe though does infuse every word with such a palatable passion that again would be most effective in rallying his men to his demented cause.

Again this film is not easily digested, and part of this is how many scenes it has of Hando and his men being the horrible people they are. Crowe perhaps makes them even harder to watch then they are in conception because of how good he is in the role. Crowe brings such a intensity in every hateful word and act that makes every moment of it utterly chilling to watch. Crowe does not hold back for a moment in making the hate truly so venomous as it seems to exist in every pour. Every part of his performance in his eyes, his physical manner that always carries an aggressiveness, asserts Hando as this hate filled man. There is no goodness underlying the man, or some hidden pain to try to alleviate the motivation some way. He's a hateful man, and that's all there is to it. Crowe does not ever make this seem simplistic though and again this is what makes the film all the more difficult. He's not a cartoon of a neo-nazi, rather Crowe's method of fully embodying the vileness grants it a terrible honesty, the honesty that this man is just a rotten man to his core.

Crowe's portrayal works within technically the one note as he does show that Hando is always defined by his hate at every point. He avoids caricature though by always showing that this evil man is still a man who does these things. Crowe does not try to make us sympathize with Hando in these moments, but rather just shows that Hando has a depth though only in terms that he isn't just a detached personification of cruelty. Crowe shows there is more to him, but that more isn't any better than the man at his most violent. We follow his relationship with Gabrielle. Crowe in these moments shows Hando a little quieter as he romances, well more of has sex with her, yet the nature of the man isn't any different. Crowe still depicts this always as self-centered act, as he speaks only still as things concern himself, and when he randomly lashes out against her it seems to make sure attention is directed back to himself. There is a moment late in the film where Hando finds Davey has slept with Gabrielle. Crowe's great in this scene where he has Hando not lash out, only because he's concerned with his own safety as the police are looking for him. Crowe though in that moment reveals all the desperation of a man with not only his freedom on his late, but also the sense of personal betrayal. It's a terrific moment though as it does not create any sympathy for the man, but it humanizes him just in terms of showing he's human. One needs to remember though this is as the worst of humanity but still humanity. This performance isn't about making a good man, just a horrible one, but still a man. Crowe's performance throughout the film lends nuance and complexity but only in terms of emotions we see in Hando. He's not a complex person in any way, he's Neo-nazi who does what he does because he's a barbaric monster, but since he's a person there is at least some complexity in his emotional state at any given point, Crowe realizes that. Although this isn't an appealing performance in any way, it is a very good one, and an early indication of Crowe's considerable talent.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1992: Willem Dafoe in Light Sleeper

Willem Dafoe did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying John LeTour in Light Sleeper.

Light Sleeper, despite some questionable choices by the director, is an often effective thriller though more of a character study about a "high class" drug dealer.

Now I will admit before watching the film I expected a rather different film and performance for that matter with Willem Dafoe playing a drug dealer in a film written and directed by the Taxi Driver's scribe. The name of Light Sleeper even seems to evoke the idea of perhaps a similair insomniac to Travis Bickle slowing going insane in the underbelly of Manhattan. Well that's not the case, the film and Willem Dafoe's performance are far more low key than that. Dafoe here portrays actually a man who is sort of past that phase that probably would have been similair to Travis Bickle. In that we meet his John LeTour after he's no longer a drug addict, and is wanting to escape his life, only staying in it through his by appointment only drug dealing through his supplier Ann (Susan Sarandon) who isn't your typical drug kingpin. John goes on specific assignments to wealthy clients creating a different sort of man of the night. Dafoe's work keeps this in mind and establishes this history of another life in his presentation of who John LeTour is as well when we follow him from one appointment to the next.

Willem Dafoe gives a very quiet performance to the point I will admit to being a bit taken aback by it for a bit as I was watching it. However Dafoe's approach is with purpose. There's a wear in his portrayal of John's demeanor, a wear of the past more even so than his current occupation. When he visits to make some of the deals, there's a certain exasperation not over the act of dealing the drugs entirely, but rather this disengagement with the behavior he once took part in. The idea of the history as a junkie himself is shown in that basically straight resistance to interaction, and even lack of patience with the more aggressive customers. He does not stare them down as just a man who hates, there is a self-loathing within his eyes in these moments, and a forcefulness to be as detached from that as he can. Of course he is technically stuck due to the easy money associated with his life even though this is often a detached life, where again Dafoe portrays that distance. That distance that is not only the suggestion of the past, but also a certain professionalism as the drug dealer.

In his scenes of dealing Dafoe portrays an efficiency and precision in his straight and direct delivery. Dafoe portrays the right awareness as he is not doing it as a junkie anymore, and always carries himself with that certain watchfulness, making his ability to spot when being trailed by an undercover cop convincing. Of course this is not the story of the successful drug dealer, as this isn't the life John wants still. I actually love the scene where we see how this really isn't John, despite his success, in the scene where he confronts the cop. Dafoe begins as the one in charge, seemingly this master of the streets as he prods the badge from the cop. The cop though turns this around pointing out that he's well aware of John's activities which he blackmails him with for information on a murder. Dafoe's terrific as he reveals such a vulnerability and the real guy that John as in the moment, who really isn't any sort of professional criminal. Dafoe crumbles so effectively by losing any confidence, and just revealing the desperation of a man in place he really should never have been in.

We naturally see John trying to escape the life a bit through his old girlfriend, Marianne (Dana Delany), though this is corrupted since they met each other originally as junkies. Now I will admit there is a bit of a problem here because of Delany's performance, who is a better voice actress than actress. This is oddly enough shown here as her line deliveries are very good, but her physical performance is very stilted. Luckily there is Dafoe to pick up the slack. Dafoe is surprisingly affecting in these scenes because he portrays so earnestly. He shows only genuine care in every moment for Marianne and her family. Every moment he depicts only wanting a healthy relationship, and Dafoe finds such a poignancy in the purity of these scenes. This even extend to John purely platonic relationship with Marianne sister Randi (Jane Adams). Those moments I particular love as Dafoe portrays such a palatable warmth realizing John as almost this caring older brother as he offers his support to both sisters as their mother is dying.

Nothing is forgotten easily though for John, as Marianne continues to reject him due to their past, and Dafoe's great in portraying so simply the considerable yet subtle anguish within John as he keeps being kept in his place in the drug world. Of course the drug world is not entirely bleak through his relationship with Sarandon's Ann. The two actually share a splendid chemistry which is basically established just through the way they interact with each other early on. You can sense the attraction and love for one another, in just their silent language towards one another, though they remain employer employee for much of the film. Eventually a tragedy happens that forces all hands in a way, and Dafoe is excellent in the last act of the film. This begins with his two heartbreaking reactions to seeing the tragedy, its initial beginnings, then its end, again Dafoe remains pretty internalized yet so powerfully so. This continues as he seeks a sort of revenge, and again Dafoe stays quiet. He does so effectively though as he conveys just the passion, and pain in this through his eyes. His final act, which is Travis Bickle like in action is not Bickle like in the emotion behind it. Defore portrays not a psychotic reaction, but rather again presents that same earnestness warmth actually in the act of violence. I found this to be a rather wonderful performance by Willem Dafoe, in granting a humane and moving depiction of a drug dealer.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1992: Peter Coyote in Bitter Moon

Peter Coyote did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Oscar Benton in Bitter Moon.

Bitter Moon, if perhaps it was a bit more violent, would seem Roman Polanski making a Brian De Palma erotic thriller as it similarly embraces its trashiness in its story about a man, Hugh Grant, on a cruise being pulled into the story regaled by a crippled man about his relationship with his wife.

Peter Coyote, who somehow I never noticed before sounds just like Henry Fonda, is most often an authority figure character actor not unlike Scott Glenn, or more recently Richard Jenkins. Coyote's role is a strict departure from that as we first meet him as a shady figure, lurching around in his wheelchair all too eager to reveal his long history with his seductive wife Mimi (Emmanuelle Seigner). This film as a trashy erotic thriller again very much embraces the trashiness, and really the success of such a film depends on how entertaining it manages to be within that, as well as if it attempts to perhaps just a bit more than that. Well this film really falls almost entirely upon Coyote's shoulders to make the film work as the hot mess it is, given that Hugh Grant, and Kristin Scott Thomas, are only fairly bland diversions while Seigner seems mostly there to strip nude. That leaves Coyote to make something of it all, and I suppose I would not reviewing him here if he didn't. There is already a bit of fun to be had just from seeing Coyote in such a role, but Coyote plays into the film's style in the right way. He's certainly having fun right from his first devilish glare, as he invites Grant's Nigel to listen to his story, but he allows us on it as well.

Coyote in the present set scenes is pretty great in embracing that style of the film in the fashion to the point of amplifying it. His work matches the nature material as even in Coyote's slimy lecherous manner he seems to embody the film. He's sweaty, he's perhaps unappealing in many ways, yet there is something most intriguing about him. Now much of the film though takes away from the crippled Oscar as he tells Nigel his past with his wife Mimi that left him in this state. We see Oscar as a wannabe writer who meets, and falls for the waitress Mimi. Now in what are a series, of somewhat repetitive scenes that seem often made just to get Polanski's wife in new sex position, Coyote does make something of them. His performance in these scenes actually attempts to derive a bit of substance past being entertaining trash, even if the focus perhaps is most closely upon it. Coyote's performance bothers to find any depth in this as in the early scenes, he's quite good at being perhaps a more typical role for himself as just the ambitious yet romantic writer who finds this most intriguing woman. Coyote finds an earnestness, not overt, as he keeps the overt style away here enough creating a more sensible frankly portrayal of this man as he enters what at first seems an ideal relationship.

Their relationship ends up being anything but ideal though as they seem to try to trump one another as it constantly goes back and forth from seeming genuine affection, to hatred, to any sex act you can name, to intense manipulation. Now Seigner's performance really only has two settings and is more of an idea, really more a fantasy, than a character, but Coyote's work does bother to connect the strands. In his work he has the starting point be that genuine love he seems to hold for her, and on that he only portrays such a genuine intrigue at whatever she may have next for him. In that there is a direct hook he creates, as Coyote shows the way in every interaction how he holds onto her for so long. As it continues though Coyote gradually reveals a greater frustration as an innate growing element in Oscar that only worsen, which he attaches to this attempt to find any thrill with his wife.  Coyote combines both in portraying this tightrope of intensity in his performance of one of such lust and irritation. Every act has some of both in his delivery and whole manner that creates this horrible dynamic that makes the collapse of the relationship merely an inevitability. Of course as soon as it ends, being such a film as this is, Oscar finds himself crippled due to a road accident.

Mimi returns to him, and again Coyote is excellent by showing the cycle as essentially starting again. As he once again portrays such genuine affection, yet that subsides to this time a seeking for a thrill, which Coyote now shows to be unsatisfying as Mimi essentially tortures him. This cycle is given a soft reset as the two finally get married, and go on that cruise that is the framing device. Now what Coyote has down I suppose foremost is deliver the tale in a most entertaining way with his narration being filled with such a vivid texture representative of the lascivious story. He also though brings us to Oscar's current state which is as this bitter man. Coyote again is entertaining but also fascinating in that he again makes sense of the central relationship. Now his work exudes such palatable and striking bitterness in every word, that is compelling in itself.  He again though connects to the idea of this thrill seeking between Oscar and his wife, as now they attempt to ensnare this new couple into their web. Coyote's great as he shows Oscar loving it as the two seem to fall, I have particular affection myself for his devious reaction when Nigel comes across Oscar in what he expects to be Mimi's bed. Both Oscar and Mimi laugh at that man, and there you see the shared joy once again though in a most unusual endeavor. This continues until they succeed in pulling them in and we have one last scene with Coyote. It is a brief scene yet a fantastic one for Coyote, as he grants an understanding to the whole character and relationship. His reaction is swift yet effective as any joy stemming from the bitterness that leads to the misery of others falls from him and Coyote portrays Oscar falling to the initial affection again. This time though it is through a powerful despair at what the two have done and what they have become. Coyote's performance stands as a turn that makes schlock work by being properly enjoyable, but he does go further to add a bit substance perhaps a little nuance to this trash.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1992: Benoît Poelvoorde in Man Bites Dog

Benoît Poelvoorde did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ben in Man Bites Dog.

Man Bites Dog is a faux documentary that goes along with a camera crew as they follow a serial killer go about his life. Benoît Poelvoorde's performance is not one that attempts to find any sort of reality within the idea of the serial killer, this is not Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. In fact his performance seems more akin to say Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless, and not simply due to his appearance and the fact he speaks French. The reason rather is Poelvoorde playing the character named merely Ben seems as though he is in some way above it all, even though that involves killing people, and unlike in Breathless this involves many many people. Poelvoorde's performance is of course this style through that which seems necessary given the tone of the film, that is at least slightly absurd given the concept at its core. Poelvoorde's approach technically matches this in that this must be an almost unrealistic, though then again The Jinx does exist, portrait of a psychotic. As it is about a man willing to go around showing his methods, and just doing his murders from place to place. Fitting to this Poelvoorde has that casual quality of any comfortable documentary subject who is ready just to give the filmmakers some insight into his day to day life. 

Poelvoorde in this approach does end up being extremely chilling even with this random set up that one would imagine would be more of a dark comedy which is only truly so with this film in terms of the contexts that it places our murderer in. Even with that potential comfort this is an unnerving performance to watch since Poelvoorde is so natural in any given scene whether he is randomly beating down a mail man to death, shooting person upon person, committing home invasions, coming up with new tricks of the trade such as killing a heart patient merely through fear. Poelvoorde's performance is consistently unnerving because of how at home he plays the whole thing, and even though he's not creating a normal reality of this serial killer he does realize the reality within the film. That creates this most unpleasant, yet effective realization of the killer as Poelvoorde makes the character so at home with this life of a specific violent crimes. There is never a real wink to comfort us even with the core setup of the black comedy. Poelvoorde makes the man rotten to his core within the film as he plays with the concept and gives it a life, a peculiar one, but one that is most unsettling to witness. 

Although much of the time is spent killing not all of the film is as we do get to see the man's life past his brutal murders. We spend some time as he visits his girlfriend or sees his parents. Now in these scenes Poelvoorde actually gives a consistent performance to the rest of his work, in that he really is not a different man as he presents the same comfort with a normal life then he does going around murdering. His delivery, his approach, establishes that it is very much all the same time him. To the point Poelvoorde does not even portray much concern just a knowing smile when Ben's mother comments that she would prefer that a murderer, not knowing it is Ben, would suffer the most severe punishment. Poelvoorde's work emphasizes a man who loves his life, and portrays not a hint of true empathy just a man above it all in his sinister amorality. Again though the amorality is not something that sets him back, or slow him down. Throughout the film there are little asides on one subject or another for Ben to philosophize on a bit. What Poelvoorde does is remain once again true to the man he has always established which is to show someone who portrays such joy in whatever it is he is doing whether it is just talking or committing one violent murder after another. There is no separation yet this is effectively so. Poelvoorde's work is this specific to the intention of the film which is to be this documentary subject, and Poelvoorde makes Ben a great one. A man you just get to know and learn about with his unique insights and way of life. Those insight and way of life just happen to be terrifying. Poelvoorde's performance realizes the concept in a vivid and oh so horrible way, yet that is the only way for the film.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1992

And the Nominees Were Not:

Benoît Poelvoorde in Man Bites Dog

Peter Coyote in Bitter Moon

Russell Crowe in Romper Stomper

Willem Dafoe in Light Sleeper

Eric Stoltz in The Waterdance

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1954: Results

5. George Sanders in Journey to Italy - Sanders gives a somewhat interesting alternate take on his usual persona, though the film's limitations limit his work as well. 

Best Scene: Breaking it off.
4. Fredric March in Executive Suite - March gives a terrific performance that refuses to ever make his character a straw man as he gives credence to his character and his views in every one of his scenes.

Best Scene: His philosophy.
3. Anthony Quinn in La Strada - Quinn, despite being dubbed, makes quite the impact in his depiction of a real man of the earth in his blunt physical performance though with the nuance of a man rather than just a symbol.

Best Scene: The Beach
2. Jean Gabin in Touchez Pas Au Grisbi - Gabin sets the standard for the old badass back for one more job trope, by delivering a compelling, charming and always confident performance.

Best Scene: The Exchange
1. Alec Guinness in The Detective - Guinness gives a brilliant portrayal of Father Brown managing to cohere both the detective and the priest in a single incredibly entertaining performance.

Best Scene: Final meeting with Flambeau.
Updated Lead Overall

Update Supporting Overall

Next Year: 1992 Lead

Monday, 31 July 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1954: Alec Guinness in The Detective

Alec Guinness did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Father Brown in The Detective.

The Detective is a rather enjoyable about a priest who is also an amateur sleuth attempting to stop a notorious thief.

The film itself lives and dies on the shoulders of Alec Guinness, and a bit on Peter Finch, as Father Brown. This is again Guinness, very notable within the time, going for a sort of chameleon style of performance. Not through overt makeup or anything, just through his performance. Now Guinness previously played a priest in Kind Hearts and Coronets, also directed by Robert Hamer, again in a bit of a disappearing act. Guinness though finds yet another unique characterization in his creation of Father Brown. Guinness begins with his alteration of his accent just ever so slightly, that just seems so fitting to a beloved sort of local priest. Guinness though continues in his physical manner that is all his own here, as even specific behavior, such as a moment of imagination, Guinness fashions something unique to his Father Brown. As typical for Guinness though he's both incredibly consistent in the mannerisms he grants to his character, and perhaps more importantly he makes this feel wholly natural to the role. It not only feels natural to the role, but it succeeds in amplifying it as you just feel you're with Father Brown after a few scenes with Guinness.

Guinness is especially important to making this character work as there are several elements that need to be made sense of. Guinness on the first aspect must be the sleuth of course for any good mystery, or crime film of this sort. Well, as he showed to an even further extent in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Guinness is a master of the incisive stare. Guinness though does this in a rather fascinating way here as there is a softness within this in a strange way that seems just right for the character. Guinness though provides sort of that detectives spark of intuition in his work so well through he sheer energy he brings as Brown goes about trying to solve case. Of course none of this is at the expense of his portrayal of Brown as a priest either though. Guinness in the moments where Brown must fulfill his role in a sermon or in providing guidance to a parishioner, Guinness offers that grace and dignity within his performance which does not at all seem at odds with the rest of his performance. Guinness rather shows very directly though that Brown is one man, but even he is technically aware that he is a professional priest, but not quite a professional detective.

Now the priest being a detective may seem a touch far out, but Guinness even makes this absolutely work through his approach. The idea is quite mad after all as shown in the opening scene where he arrested after returning stolen goods for one of his flock, and Guinness plays into this so effectively. Guinness does this by bringing a bit of madness into his performance, now not that he is psychotic or anything like that but Guinness brings the right eccentric kookiness to the role. Guinness makes this an essential motivation for his performance actually. In that he makes that sort of insanity a part of who Brown is and this is needed to partially make sense of the man. He is a bit off his rocker and Guinness uses this without compromising the character in the slightest. Again Guinness uses this to amplify him so well by creating an understanding in his viewpoint even if it is more than a little atypical to say the least. Guinness makes the whole central concept work by playing into that it is somewhat ridiculous but never making fun of it either. He instead makes Brown a man capable of being what he is which includes being not quite the most normal priest.

A major difference between Brown and most amateur sleuths though is his intentions. He intends to stop criminals, but that is not his primary intention as he first and foremost desires to save their souls. The central plot follows Brown as he wishes to stop the thief Flambeau (Finch) by not having him arrested, rather by trying to convince him to move towards a more righteous path. This is an element that Guinness properly offers a great deal gravity to and properly takes the most seriously. Guinness as he describes his purpose offers the strongest passion within his work, by creating such an honesty to Brown's words to help who he sees as a man lost. I would be remiss though not to also mention Finch who also gives a very effective performance and makes for a great scene partner with Guinness here. In that both together help to grant a certain reality to the idea of stopping the thief by convincing him that his life path is wrong, rather than sending him to prison. The two are great because both actually provide such an earnest conviction to their points of view. Finch bringing a proper cynicism which is so well counted by Guinness who manages to deliver Brown's speeches with grounded idealism. The certainty that Guinness brings not only is powerful but almost rather profound. Guinness makes an especially strong impact in their final confrontation as he delicately explains the way Flambeau has set up his own private prison. Guinness refuses any smugness yet rather brings this tender concern and warmth, showing Brown's attack on the man's life as an act of unconditional love.

Of course as much as Guinness excels in every facet of the character and making Father Brown a cohesive whole, it must also be said that this is just an incredibly entertaining performance to watch. Guinness is prime Guinness here which means it is just fun to watch him work, and he enlivens every scene with his mere presence. Whether it is trying out his various wrestling holds, or coming up with his own new plot to catch Flambeau Guinness is effortlessly engaging. Guinness is just an enjoyable detective and tha kind of would have been enough for this to be a very good performance, but he does go more than a few steps beyond that. As this is a brilliant realization of what is really a tricky character. It would have been easy to make him feel too sanctimonious, too bland or even annoying. Guinness not only avoids any such pitfalls he instead merges the threads of the character to make a single compelling figure for us to follow through his story. He is indeed the efficient detective, he is indeed the devoted priest, he even is just barmy enough to connect those two things, yet only makes the task of the man an absolutely endearing ideal. This is wonderful work from the always exceptional Guinness, and it's a bit of a shame that he never once returned to the role.