Monday, 18 September 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1949: Toshiro Mifune in Stray Dog

Toshiro Mifune did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Detective Murakami in Stray Dog.

Well given that I've reviewed every other leading turn by Toshiro Mifune under the guidance of Akira Kurosawa I thought I might as well complete the only one I missed. Of course I previously reviewed him for this year for his work as a doctor who accidentally contracts syphilis in The Quiet Duel, where Mifune revealed his skill in a particularly internalized role, Stray Dog however is in some ways an encapsulation of so many of the elements that makes him my favorite actor. On the first is the very idea of his collaboration with Kurosawa which simply is the greatest between any actor and director in cinematic history. Their achievement together surpasses all others without question. This is abundantly obvious within this film particularly in the earliest scenes that are almost silent in a way as we follow Mifune's Detective Murakami as he goes undercover in order to find the black market operators who have his pistol that was stolen from him. Kurosawa features much of the detail of the environment of the city, however Mifune is never lost within this technique. Mifune's presence of course helps to prevent this yet in every moment we see him he effectively conveying what Murakami is going through as he either wanders the streets or tails a potential suspect. Mifune captures obviously the determination of the detective, yet also conveys the frustrations of the chase, and even a bit humor in the degree of awkwardness he portrays when finding a perpetrator. Mifune and Kurosawa amplify the scenes together, as Kurosawa grants the us the imagery, and Mifune offers that focal point that amplifies it so well.

Mifune of course is almost always kind of the individualist within even the communal society in  every Kurosawa film, which he's here too, but more on that later. This though is the pioneer of the buddy cop duo specifically the veteran detective, here Sato played by Takashi Shimura, and the rookie Mifune's Murakami. The film follows them as they work together to find the "stray dog" aka the man who has Murakami's gun that he's using to violently rob people. Again as much as Mifune stands out as a performer he is not a showboat in all reality and does not stand in the way of his co-stars. Mifune here has, once again, terrific chemistry with Takashi Shimura, this perhaps being their best collaboration in terms of their direct interactions. Mifune knows how to share a scene as does Shimura and the two of them develop naturally the relationship between the detective. They find the right dynamic in every regard with Shimura always emphasizing the wisdom of the old mentor, while Mifune emphases the youth and inexperience of Murakami. The two only amplify this further through the striking way they interact in every scene. I love the way they contrast with Shimura always so calm, yet with certain type of potential energy in the right way in portraying the way Sato deals with a crime, against Mifune who depicts that pent up urgency of a man who both has never solved a case before but has a desperate need to do so.

Now in that desperate need is where we get the really the crux of the character and as expected Mifune uses it to realize Murakami as a distinct man. In the opening scene we get just brief moment of the a cocky young man seemingly quite happy in his job as he does target practice. Mifune in that brief moment doesn't reveal him as this huge ego, but rather seemingly someone on the rise in his life. The loss of the gun causes that shift though and Mifune is terrific in revealing that shattered confidence that stems the early desperation in Murakami as he attempts to recover the weapon. When the gun gets into the wrong hands though, and his loss inadvertently causes death due to the violent man who bought it, Mifune naturally shifts the character again. Mifune brings such a powerful emotion within the case by keeping this underlying and so palatable shame within Murakami. Every time they hear news of an injury or death caused by the gun, Mifune is terrific in the way his reactions convey the immediate deep despair in Murakami as that shame rises to the surface once again. Mifune makes this facet of the character but does not allow it to overwhelm the role entirely as he delves deeper into Murakami all the while the investigation continues on. Within that there is a key facet to the character which is Murakami's relationship to the man they are trying to catch.

Murakami's association to the stray dog is not of any real association, but rather a connection in theoretical mutual experience as both were former soldiers from the war who came back to their normal lives with nothing to show for it. The experience of the war, something that Mifune had experienced in real life as well, is something innately in his performances as it can be found within his personal intensity as a performer even when he's not directly emotional. This provides such a depth within his work here as Murakami as within his approach there is an undeniable sense within his performance of technically a harsher life that was behind him though still haunts him to a certain extent. When Murakami speaks of the stray dog, and how he could have potentially gone his way of life given his similair circumstances, Mifune is outstanding in the way his eyes seem to look within to convey the way Murakami is examining his own pains from the past. This is a consistent factor that Mifune brilliantly realizes though is naturally eased within the story as Sato always counters that Murakami is indeed a better man. Mifune beautifully realizes within his work they idea of that thought that perpetuates throughout. Again Mifune even when not front and center never wastes a moment. In his moments with Shimura, when he presents an overt comfort towards the younger man, Mifune effectively portrays the slight ease yet not removal of these thoughts that are a burden to the man. One of the best moments within Mifune's performance though is almost silent when he listens to the stray dog's girlfriend defend his actions by essentially explaining his plight, which is no different than what Murakami went through. Mifune's reaction hold such power as he depicts Murakami's understanding that his choices made him a different man. Mifune when finally speaks is incredible because he does reveal sanctimony in verbalizing the different path, as there still is the sense of the shared suffering, yet now with the conviction that he was in the right. Again as much as this is accomplished portrayal of this man dealing with his shame from his current failure, and the demons of the past, he is also simply a  a great lead in this police procedural. Mifune is captivating to watch as he works the case in every respect in creating again that urgency, but also in every moment with Shimura the learning process as he sees the seasoned officer work. Mifune naturally builds towards the climax of the film which is amazing scene for him as he represents the strength of Murakami coming into his own as a detective yet also the direct underlying fear of the danger in the moment, but with emotional intensity of man knowing he is truly fighting for a just cause.  I've said before, but it's always worth saying, and I hope to have the pleasure of saying it again, which is this is a great performance by Toshiro Mifune. It's a turn that reveals just how effortless yet remarkable his collaboration with Kurosawa was as well as his ability to not only giving a mesmerizing performance to watch, but also one that wholly captures the complexities of his character.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1949: Anton Walbrook in The Queen of Spades

Anton Walbrook did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Captain Herman Suvorin in The Queen of Spades.

The Queen of Spades has decent atmosphere and some great moments, though it perhaps has too much time between each of them, following the story of a Russian soldier going about a most unusual plan to win at cards.

The Austrian actor Anton Walbrook who perhaps made his international name through the films of Powell and Pressburger, here stars in perhaps less complex role as a Gothic villain. I must say the plan of Captain Herman Suvorin in this film is not exactly the most sensible even for a greedy louse. He goes about by first slowly seducing a Countess's ward in order to just get access to the Countess to demand to know basically how to supernaturally cheat at cards, because he read that she should know in a book, then use that knowledge against the rich officers he refuses to usually play cards with. Captain Suvorin has a serious not being able to see the forest for the trees problem, but I digress. As little as Suvorin's plan makes a whole lot of sense we get Walbrook here acting in as a highly unsympathetic rouge, there is more than a little entertainment to be found from this. In the first half of the film Walbrook is rather successful at being a slimy creep in his method of seduction, that involves very little passion just some random threats. Walbrook to his credit somehow makes it sort of work in his own style to this as he has this persuasive quality within his essentially pretty pathetic words. Walbrook never hides that the Captain is this terrible man yet he still fashions a convincing Lothario through his unique presence as actor. 

After making his way into the ward's mind though he gets to come in and threaten the Countess in order to learn her secrets. It is in this scene where we see Walbrook working up towards something in creating the vicious greed of Suvorin. This is but a warmup though when Suvorin using what he gained from the confrontation finally plays cards. Now this scene is where really is all that matters in regards to Walbrook's performance. Now to be sure Walbrook is pretty over the top here in his darting eyes, and the sheer almost drooling joy in his delivery every time he says "My win" or bets again. He's goes pretty hammy here to be sure, but I would be lying if I did not say I did not find him to be wildly entertaining in his portrayal of the mad greed of the Captain. Walbrook is a hoot throughout the scene in just going all in both literally and metaphorically as they play with Captain seemingly having supernatural help. Eventually though, given that this is a Gothic morality tale, the helps runs out leading to Suvorin losing everything. This thankfully gives us all some more of that very rare rather glorious, delicious, ham from Walbrook in his realization of the Captin's insane ramblings as he loses his mind after he loses the game. Anton Walbrook's performance is not this realization of this complex character it is rather creating essentially a straw man to be burned by the moral of the story basically. In this perhaps somewhat simplistic way Walbrook's work here is a success, it is not a great performance by any margin, however it is rather fun to watch.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1949: Robert Ryan in The Set-Up

Robert Ryan did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Bill "Stoker" Thompson in The Set-Up.

The Set-Up is a terrific film noir/boxing film that follows a boxing match where everyone is on the fix except for the man who's suppose to take the fall.

Robert Ryan is best known for playing heavies in supporting roles so it is interesting to see him here playing not only the lead but also one of the few characters who is not corrupt in the film. Early on we learn of the setup then we are introduced to Ryan's Stoker as he speaks to his wife Julie (Audrey Totter) before he goes off to fight. One only needs to look at Ryan to see that Stoker is an over the hill boxer as Ryan carries this certain underlying despair in his eyes. Stoker though wishes to fight and even speaks about the fight as a chance to potential greatness in the ring. Ryan is very moving as he carries that despair yet is convincing as Stoker makes such statements. Ryan does not depict this as lying to his wife, but rather unintentionally lying to himself. In his delivery Ryan doesn't invoke really a hope but rather this desperate need for a hope in every statement. Ryan reveals this man just trying to put himself in this optimistic mindset despite always reinforcing that underneath Stoker's feelings of doubt are probably as stronger if not stronger than his wife's. Ryan setups so effectively the state of Stoker before he goes to the arena to prepare, portraying just this man dangling on a thread trying so hard not to fall.

Now Robert Ryan is the lead in the film yet in a very specific manner as he acts as the focal point for what is Robert Wise's rather brilliant portrait of the whole atmosphere around the boxing ring. The film takes a great deal of time with Stoker as he awaits his own matches and watches the other boxers prepare to fight. Ryan makes the most out of every second in this largely reactionary performance. Ryan amplifies every other little snippet of a boxer's story through his performance, and in each of these we get a little more insight into Stoker's own life. In the womanizer coming off a victory, Ryan infuses Stoker with an intense distaste not exactly for the behavior rather reflecting his sorrow over his tense relationship with his wife. In the face of the few boxers who are up and comers Ryan finds this incredibly poignant moments as in his eyes you can see a bit of happiness for the men, as well as in the idea of success at all, but also again that sadness still underlines it as he seems to look at himself in the past when he still had an overt hope. This despair only becomes all the stronger though in watching another washed up boxer being beaten within his life. In every single one of these moments there is such a power to them because of how honestly realizes Stoker's investment in their stories since in some way they are like his own.

Eventually it becomes Stoker's turn for the match where we get one of the most powerfully realized boxing matches ever depicted in a fictional film. It is not quite typical though as we focus on almost everyone in the stadium in addition to having the drama right within the ring with Stoker taking on the younger smug boxer who is in on the fix. Ryan is terrific in this sequence, now Ryan a former amateur boxer is believable in terms of fighting, but he goes far further than that with his performance. Ryan portrays physically a certain type of fight as in every moment there is such an intensity in really the heart he brings in every punch, and every moment of facing his opponent straight on. Ryan in every strikes shows a man fighting for his life in a way finding this strength within still an emotional desperation. I love the fierceness in Ryan's his work suggesting Stoker lashing out against everyone and everything doubting him. When Stoker is told of the fix late in the round Ryan only goes further with this idea revealing such a disdain for the idea, and showing a man doing something for himself. When Stoker achieves knockout it is a great moment though as Ryan depicts physically the sheer exasperation of the fight, but also the instance of pride in a man who has had so few of them. Robert Ryan proves his measure in a leading role, technically against type, by delivering this marvelous bittersweet portrait of this boxer. He does not hesitate in revealing the severity of the desperation and vulnerability of the man, which in turn makes his few moments of happiness and hope deeply affecting.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1949

And the Nominees Were Not:

Anton Walbrook in The Queen of Spades

David Farrar in The Small Back Room

Robert Ryan in The Set-Up

Howard Vernon in Le Silence de La Mer

Chishū Ryū in Late Spring

And a Special Review of:
Toshiro Mifune in Stray Dog

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1935: Edward G. Robinson in The Whole Town's Talking and Results

Edward G. Robinson did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Arthur Ferguson Jones and "Killer" Mannion in The Whole Town's Talking.

The Whole Town's Talking is a rather enjoyable screwball comedy about a mild mannered clerk being mistaken for a hard edged gangster.

The Whole Town's Talking offers Edward G. Robinson the chance to go far out of his type, but also play right into it. The out of it type is in the role of the clerk Arthur Ferguson Jones whose main worry at the beginning of the film is just getting to work on time. As usual Robinson proves his measure in yet another type of role here. I've covered him in somewhat meek roles before in his film noirs with Fritz Lang, but this is step away from those roles even. Robinson isn't just meek here he's hilariously meek. Robinson's great though in that he's not playing a guy who is pained in any way due to his modest nature, it's just the way he is. Robinson is delightful in throwing himself fully into playing the role to a tee with every little mannerisms, from his slight smile, to his unassuming physical posture, that just emphasize how much of a harmless man Jones is. There's even a particularly enjoyable scene early on where Jones attempts to fashion a more normalized Edward G. Robinson look, and Robinson is great in portraying Jones awkwardly attempting to contort his face into his normal gangster expression. Robinson though is wonderful though by just how endearing he makes everything about Jones, in just how earnest his depiction of every one of those mannerisms are. There's nothing difficult about them in Robinson's approach, they just are the normal behavior of this sweet clerk.

Unfortunately for Jones he happens to look just like the gangster "Killer" Mannion, which leads him to be arrested early on though eventually released when the mix up discovered. Now after some rather amusing moments from Robinson depicting first an abject terror then an abject joy due to first the mix up then random boons due to the mix up we run into Robinson's second performance. The evil Killer Mannion first appearing deep in shadow there at Jones's apartment to exploit the mix up for himself in order to commit crimes more easily. Now Robinson obviously should be more comfortable as Mannion given this sort of role is how he became a star to begin with, and to be sure he's very comfortable in the role, however this isn't just a copy of Little Caesar here. Robinson actually purposefully overplays the role a tad, in a good way, in that he sort of does a Edward G. Robinson parody type of gangster performance as Mannion. This could be a bit much, but it's just right for the tone of the film. You of course have to still take him seriously as Robinson is always menacing whenever he wishes to be, yet he keeps Mannion from being a downer on the fun by accentuating his typical mannerisms a tad. Robinson finds the right balance as he does make Mannion a genuine threat, yet he's still funny as well by being such an obvious gangster even when he's pretending to be Jones.

Many of the highlight scenes of the film are of Robinson acting against Robinson, this being a fairly early example of the single actor sharing chemistry with himself. He has a real way of acting terrifying while acting terrified at the same time, or acting vicious and gentle at the same time. Robinson has a great deal of fun in every one of these scenes developing a rather amusing dynamic with himself as Mannion misuses the poor clerk. Eventually though the best Robinson scene though does come alone when the meek Jones must pretend to be the tough gangster in order to save himself and his friends. Robinson is sort of outstanding in this sequence as he effectively portrays a struggle just to play his usual part in a most entertaining fashion. The best part being without a doubt when Jones has to brandish a Tommy gun himself and fires at Mannion's henchmen. Robinson is downright hilarious in portraying Jones almost crying as he shoots the gun, and wrenching in fear as he attempts to be menacing even for a moment. This is yet another terrific performance from Edward G. Robinson as he excels at not just one but two types of roles in this screwball comedy.
Updated Lead Overall
Updated Supporting Overall

Next Year: 1949 Lead

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1992: Results

5. Tony Todd in Candyman - Todd begins his performance in creating a unique approach to a cinematic boogeyman unfortunately the film finds its way into making it a standard one.

Best Scene: The Candyman appears.
4. Graham Greene in Thunderheart - Greene manages to find the right humor while still making an emotional impact as his cop who acts as more than one type of guide.

Best Scene: Finding the murder victims.
3. David Bowie in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me -  Bowie in literally a couple of minutes creates a fascinating enigma that leaves quite the impression.

Best Scene: "We're not gonna talk about Judy"
2. Wesley Snipes in The Waterdance -  Snipes gives a terrific performance here creating the right charismatic bluster that hides the sad man beneath it all.

Best Scene: Raymond wins the bet.
1. Ray Wise in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me - Wise gives an outstanding reprise of his all-time great television turn, this time effectively realizing the extremes of the man and granting insight into Leland Palmer's mind.

Best Scene: Leland apologizes. 
Updated Overall

Next Year: 1935, Won't necessarily do a lineup. 

Monday, 4 September 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1992: Tony Todd in Candyman

Tony Todd did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the titular role in Candyman.

Candyman begins as a rather atmospheric horror film following the investigation of an urban legend, but it loses its way to a more overt slasher film once the titular character fully appears.

This is not a knock against Tony Todd in the role as the ghostly monster who you summon by repeating his name in the mirror so many times. Now I should clarify there can be some entertainment to be had from the second half of this film, it is just the first half suggests the sort of horror film that really gets under your skin rather than the more routine one that follows after. Tony Todd's initial appearance though actually suggests the better path as he appears from a distance in what is a rather chilling scene. Although Todd at 6'5'' is a rather menacing figure to begin with, and that bloody hook does not exactly hurt things in this regard, Todd's performance does take this even further. In this scene he carries an eerie presence that is far more off-putting than if he was just playing it as some overt psychotic. Todd instead plays it as though he this higher being of some sort, though this higher being that desires a death sacrifice. His gaze has a murderous glint in his eyes, yet it seems to look even beyond that as a force beyond the earth. Todd's voice, which needs to be said is an amazing voice to begin with, though takes it even further. Again he does not just go for an overt evil routine instead there is almost a certain allure he brings within his delivery that makes the Candyman a tempter, even while he does not hide the terrible result that would be at the end of that temptation.

After that initial scene though the film becomes far less creative in its use of the titular character. He mostly shows up, says something cryptic, kills someone, then leaves. Now to be fair though Todd's approach in itself is never the problem. His performance remains compelling to at the very least a certain extent as he does so effectively realizes the enigmatic nature of the being. The film though overuses and misuses his performance. It slowly peels away what made him so effective in the first scene till the end where he just has basically lost all his mystery. Unfortunately the trick Todd pulls itself loses its luster and he cannot adjust to something that maintains the sort of horror wonder of the character when he starts flailing around like just any other horror villain. In the end it is the film that is frustrating one not Todd however a part of that frustration comes in how it ends up wasting this performance. From that opening scene one can see the potential for a truly remarkable creation of a different type of terror by Todd, unfortunately the film settles just for a tall guy with a pointy weapon.