martedì 27 giugno 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1975

And the nominees are...

Ronee Blakley - Nashville
Lee Grant - Shampoo
Sylvia Miles - Farewell, My Lovely
Lily Tomlin - Nashville
Brenda Vaccaro - Once is Not Enough

What are your predictions for my ranking? How would you personally rank the nominees?

giovedì 22 giugno 2017

Best Actor 2016: Ranking

5. Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge
Garfield is perhaps a bit cloying in the movie's early scenes and he's a bit limited by the fairly one-dimensional nature of the role, but there's no denying that he still gives a compelling and harrowing portrayal of his character's faith, nailing every single reactionary moment in the battlefield scenes.
Best scene: "Help me get one more"

4. Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea
Despite being in an extremely problematic movie, Affleck delivers a magnificent portrayal of his character's grief. It's a subtle, intelligent portrayal of an extremely difficult role that could have come off as dull in the hands of someone else. Plus, he shares a terrific chemistry with Lucas Hedges.
Best scene: Lee accidentally bumps into Randi.

3. Ryan Gosling in La La Land
Ryan Gosling delivers an underrated and wonderful performance that is every bit as effective as Emma Stone's. It's a charming, entertaining turn, he sings and dance with energy and passion and he shares a terrific chemistry with his on-screen partner, but he also brings significant depth and nuance to the role. It's a quietly powerful portrayal from a great actor.
Best scene: Argument at dinner.

2. Denzel Washington in Fences
Washington is not usually a favorite of mine, but this performance of his is nothing short of astonishing. It's dynamite work that is absolutely captivating from beginning to end: as usual, Washington is not afraid to go big but, unlike other times, he also brings aching complexity to the character. It's a brilliant, layered performance.
Best scene: Troy's outburst after his lover's death.

1. Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic
Viggo Mortensen delivers an absolutely unforgettable performance in Captain Fantastic, adding realism and believability to a potentially absurd story. He brings the needed passion, determination and convinction to the character and then he's heartbreaking as he is forced to second-guess his ideals. A truly wonderful performance.
Best scene: Ben interrupts Leslie's funeral.

Honorable Omissions: Andrew Garfield delivers an absolutely astonishing performance in Silence, realizing perfectly his character's complex arc as well as effectively bringing to life his moral dilemma. It's a truly fantastic achievement - I don't even think the movie is flawless, but his portrayal certainly is. The two leads of The Nice Guys are absolutely terrific: Russell Crowe gives a great deadpan performance while bringing a certain depth to the material as well; but I was even more impressed by Ryan Gosling, who delivers one of the funniest performances I've seen in recent years with such a terrific timing both verbally and physically, while he too gives pathos and real emotions to the part; of course, neither performance would work as well if it weren't for the other: they share a fantastic chemistry which truly makes the movie work. Shahab Hosseini gives a marvelous performance in The Salesman, conveying excellently his character's painful state and leading up wonderfully to the movie's unforgettable closure. Adrian Titieni is brilliant in Graduation: it's an extremely difficult role that he pulls off wonderfully, never trying to making us sympathize with him but giving nonetheless an understanding to his questionable actions and bringing real honesty to his love for his daughter. Joel Edgerton gives a beautifully subdued performance in Loving, sharing a tender chemistry with Ruth Negga and conveying every single emotion in such a powerfully restrained manner. Adam Driver gives a realistic and genuine performance in the lovely Paterson, while Chris Pine delivers a terrific and underrated turn in Hell or High Water, being almost as impressive as Bridges and Foster in the same movie. Gaspard Ulliel is the quiet centerpiece of It's Only the End of the World - with very little dialogue, he's heartbreaking in his portrayal of his character's aching, lonely soul. Michael Fassbender is very good in The Light Between Oceans - he delivers a subtly effective portrayal of his character's emotional turmoil and he shares a wonderful chemistry with Vikander. Sunny Pawar gives a wonderfully naturalistic performance in Lion and Eddie Redmayne delivers his most effortlessly charming and entertaining performance in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Dev Patel (Lion) and Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) were nominated in the supporting category, but really they belong to this category. 
The next year: Best Supporting Actress 1976.

My Best Actor Ballot:
  1. Andrew Garfield, Silence - 5/5
  2. Ryan Gosling, The Nice Guys - 5/5
  3. Shahab Hosseini, The Salesman - 5/5
  4. Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water 
  5. Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
  6. Denzel Washington, Fences 
  7. Adrian Titieni, Graduation - 5/5
  8. Ryan Gosling, La La Land
  9. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
  10. Joel Edgerton, Loving - 5/5

lunedì 19 giugno 2017

Best Actor in a Leading Role 2016: Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge

Andrew Garfield received his first Oscar nomination for his performance as Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge.

Hacksaw Ridge depicts the true story of Desmond Doss, a WWII American Army Medic who served during the Battle of Okinawa without using any kind of weapons due to his pacifist beliefs. Personally, I think the movie is more than decent with uniformly solid performances from the whole cast but I still think it is severely flawed: I found the early scenes to be a little bit too corny for my taste and I felt the war scenes, despite having a certain effectiveness, were needlessly graphic and occasionally overdone. I was not a fan of the screenplay either, as I thought most of the character were one-dimensional or clichéd and I felt the way it conveyed its message was a bit too heavy-handed. There's very little subtlety to be found in the movie, but that said I still felt it was okay and I won't deny that some scenes leave a strong impact. 

The character of Desmond Doss is an incredibly challenging one actually as it could have easily been unbelievable and unrealistic. Right from the beginning, he is shown as an almost impossibly kind, optimistic and good-natured person, without any single flaw to his personality: Desmond Doss was obviously a great person, but the thin screenplay of the movie depicts him as so pure that it might have taken away any credibility from the character. Andrew Garfield's acting in the early scenes is not quite perfect: as I mentioned above, the screenplay especially in the beginning is both clichéd and cheesy, and Garfield can't quite escape them. There are a few moments in which I perceived his performance as slightly forced, as if I could see his efforts in trying to channel James Stewart's performance from the 1940s, and he crosses the line that divides charming and cloying a little bit too often. But even if I'm not fully supportive of his performance in the first scenes, there are definitely certain aspects he does get right: he adopts a thick Virginian accent that, despite a couple of iffy line deliveries, is fairly consistent and resembles quite well Doss' actual accent; he shares a lovely chemistry with Teresa Palmer that manages to make their romantic scenes work in spite of the extremely old-fashioned dialogue; and he does capture the good-hearted nature of the character as well as his deep faith that he portrays with honesty and sincerity. Also, I should give credit to him for trying to find some nuance in his character in spite of the paper-thin screenplay, such as in his scenes with Hugo Weaving, who portrays Doss' alcoholic father: Garfield does a good job at showing both his sorrow regarding his father's condition but also his affection towards him. Sadly, the movie doesn't give much space to his relationship with his father (who disappears midway through the movie), but Garfield and Weaving certainly make the most out of their limited screen-time together. 

I found myself more invested in Garfield's performance once Doss enlists in the Army and his pacifist beliefs get him the disdain of his fellow soldiers. I found Garfield's performance to be rather moving in those scenes as he portrays extremely well both the physical and emotional pain in Doss due to the harassment of the other soldiers while conveying the right sort of resilience and inner strength the character requires. There's an underlying energy, a quiet fire in his portrayal that makes it engaging and compelling and Garfield brings such a great deal of passion and honesty to the role that you never doubt the sincerity of his faith. Garfield certainly has a great understanding of the character's mindset - even in the few moments in which I think he's not totally convincing, it's impossible to deny his commitment and dedication to the role. I found him to be particularly impressive in the trial scene, in which he brings the needed power and sincerity to his speech. 

As I mentioned early on, I'm not particularly fond of the battle scenes and actually I think I would have completely hated them if it wasn't for Garfield, who carries them beautifully and bringing them a certain pathos that would not have been there otherwise. First off, his physical acting is nothing short of outstanding as he delivers such a realistic and impressive depiction of his character's growing exhaustion: but he's especially good at portraying his restlessness and determination to help others - even in the moments in which he's at his weakest physically, Garfield still brings a certain life and energy to Doss, conveying perfectly his drive to complete his mission. In the hands of a lesser actor those scenes might have felt a little repetitive but Garfield avoids that by giving such a compelling performance, and he also deserves a lot of credit for managing not to be overshadowed by the overblown special effects and editing, keeping the character as the emotional crux of the events. He makes every single reaction count and he's excellent at portraying both the severe impact that the violence he witnesses leave on him as well as his happiness whenever he manages to save one of his fellow soldiers. He brings the needed power to the one moment in which Doss seems to lose hope for a second, powerfully portraying his desperation and confusion in that moment and then his regained faith after he pulls himself back together. And I was also impressed by his chemistry with Luke Bracey, as a soldier who initially despises Doss but grows to admire him: the scene in which the latter apologizes to Doss is a very welcome moment of quietness and the two actors bring an aching tenderness to it. 

In the end, I think this is a very good performance from Andrew Garfield. It's not a perfect performance, there are a few moments that don't really work and the paper-thin nature of the screenplay does limit his performance quite a bit: but the performance keeps getting better and better and there's no denying that he carries the movie entirely on his shoulders from start to finish. It's not his best performance from 2016, but it's nonetheless an extremely strong achievement that certainly succeeds in being the inspiring performance the movie requires.


lunedì 22 maggio 2017

Best Actor in a Leading Role 2016: Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic

Viggo Mortensen received his second Oscar nomination for his performance as Ben Cash in Captain Fantastic.

Captain Fantastic is an effective movie about a man who, after the suicide of his wife, is forced to take his six children outside of their sheltered and isolated life in a forest and into the real world, challenging his views on parenthood and education. It's an extremely intelligent and thought-provoking movie thanks to a terrific screenplay that never becomes either judgemental nor indulgent but gives a honest depiction of both sides of the central argument instead. I remember being very surprised by ther SAG nomination for Best Ensemble back then, but I'd say it was actually very deserved: even if outside Mortensen - and, to a lesser extent, George MacKay - there are no real standouts but every actor do a very good job at avoiding the potential clichés of their roles and finding real people behind their character's quirks. 

The role of Ben Cash in an extremely tricky one that could have gone wrong in a million different ways: it requires the kind of actor that is able to make you sympathize with the character in spite of his flaws and one that can portray those flaws realistically without justifying nor condemning them. And most of all it requires an actor that have the skills to bring humanity and believability to what could have been an overdone caricature. Thankfully Viggo Mortensen is one of the most talented actors working today and he completely succeeds in the role delivering one of the most powerful, unique and memorable performances of last year. In the early scenes Mortensen mostly has two tasks: believably portray his character's deep convinction in his own beliefs and show Ben's love for his children. Mortensen is terrific in both aspects of his performance: in each of the "training" scenes, Mortensen brings the right sort of passion they require, showing how deeply Ben believes in the things he teaches them and how sincerely he thinks he is raising his kids in the best way possible. And there is never a single moment in the movie in which Mortensen makes you doubt of his character's love for his kids: he shares a terrific chemistry with all the six actors playing them and he exudes a lovely sense of warmth and tenderness in the few scenes depicting their lifestyle. Even in the moments in which it's easy to blame Ben for putting his kids in dangerous situations, Mortensen gives the viewer a clear understanding of his character's mindset.

In the early stages of the movie, whenever he gets the chance Mortensen does a terrific job at hinting at the man that Ben was before choosing that kind of lifestyle for himself and his family. There is never a moment in which Ben's past is directly addressed, shown or explained but there's really no need: Mortensen has such a great understanding of his character that he manages to get Ben's history across just through some facial reactions or small lines. In Mortensen's face you can read Ben's whole life and you don't need to know any further because right from the first few scenes you feel like you already know the character completely, and that's thanks to Mortensen' incredible ability to convey so much with so little. He's also incredibly moving in the few scenes in which Ben talks a bit about his wife Leslie, who stays in a hospital due to her mental illness: Mortensen is heartbreaking as he conveys so well both the love and the pain of his relationship with her. He handles his reaction at her suicide with such painful restraint it's absolutely devastating and he's also extremely moving in the following scene in which he breaks the news to his kids: his sad expression as he witnesses their pain and anger, unable to do anything, is just brilliant.

When the family decides to leave the forest in order to prevent Leslie's body from being buried (she was a Buddhist and wished to be cremated), Mortensen' performance is excellent as he combines so well both the comedy and the drama in his portrayal: on one hand, he's an effortlessly engaging presence on-screen and he's rather funny in the more light-hearted scenes ("Mission: free the food") but he's also quietly affecting in his portrayal of his inner pain. I particularly love the few scenes between him and Kathryn Hahn as his sister Harper, who raised her children in a more traditional manner: their exchanges about education are excellently acted on both ends, with both actors honestly portraying each character's point of view - I love how Mortensen is not afraid to portray his character as quite arrogant regarding his ideas, which is completely fitting considering that right from the beginning he did a fantastic job at portraying his utter dedication to his methods. The scene in which he interrupts Leslie's funeral is also hilarious thanks to how brilliantly measured Mortensen is - he delivers his speech in a way that is flamboyant enough but never even slightly over-the-top - and then he is heartbreaking in the following scene, in which he decides to let Leslie's purents bury her because, if they'll have him arrested as Leslie's father (Frank Langella) previously said, his kids would be left without parents. His reactions to his son's plea "We can't lose you too" is devastating.

My favorite aspect of his performance is his portrayal of Ben's gradual realization that his parenting methods might not be perfect as he thought: in his many confrontations with his resentful son Rellian, Mortensen is extremely moving at portraying his shock and pain due to his accusations, the ones regarding his education and the ones regarding his inability to save their mother. He's also incredible in the scene with George MacKay in which his son Bo tells him that "they're freaks" because of him: it's such a hard-hitting, powerful moment and in Mortensen's eyes you can see Ben's heart breaking. And he absolutely delivers in his main confrontation with Frank Langella: I love how Mortensen starts off as rather confident in the scene before becoming increasingly upset as he learns of his father-in-law's decision of taking the children away from him. Ben eventually reaches his breaking point after a mission he set out for his kids ends up with one of them being severely injured: Mortensen is absolutely devastating at portraying his character's guilt over his actions and he makes his eventual decision of letting the kids go extremely affecting. Mortensen keeps the tone of his performance extremely quiet and subdued, which makes his desperation even more heartbreaking: he conveys his inner turmoil and grief with such expressiveness in his eyes it's just astonishing - the sequence of him driving away alone is absolutely oustanding. His performance is what makes the final scenes of the movie so heartwarming, moving and powerful: that "Me too" in his reconciliation with Rellian and his final goodbye to Leslie are two unforgettable moments of stunning delicacy and poignancy. 

Overall, this is an incredible performance from Viggo Mortensen, who takes what could have been a horribly overdone character and delivers a subtle, complex, heartfelt performance. He carries the film thanks to his charming, engaging screen-presence, nailing the comedic moments and thriving in the dramatic ones. He gives a compelling characterization, showing both Bob's good qualities and his flaws and making him a character we truly care about. Absolutely amazing work that I'm extremely glad the Academy decided to recognize.


giovedì 20 aprile 2017

Big Little Lies (2017): Review

I'm really sorry I'm writing my reviews for Best Actor in a Leading Role 2016 in such a slow pace, but unfortunately I've been really busy lately and I didn't have the chance the movies I needed to. I will soon be able to write as often as I used to, but not quite yet. In the meantime, though, I decided to review HBO's new miniseries, "Big Little Lies", which, with its critical and commercial success and its all-star cast is pretty much bound to get quite a few nominations at the next Emmys. Let's see what I think about it.

Before watching the series, I actually had not idea what to expect. I really liked Jean-Marc Vallée's Dallas Buyers Club, but I found Wild to be an uneven mess and despite my best intentions I never managed to find the will to finish Demolition (as good as Jake Gyllenhaal was, it was really poor); but the cast was filled with actors/actresses I tend to like and admire, so I decided to give it a shot: and right from the first episode, I was absolutely hooked.

The plot revolves around three women who live in Monteray, California: Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) is a strong-willed, sassy, tart-tongued woman dealing with two daughters, her marriage with the kind-hearted but not particularly exciting Ed (Adam Scott) and her jealousy for her ex-husband's (James Tupper) new wife, Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), who seems to have a close bond with Madeline's elder daughter; Celeste (Nicole Kidman) is a retired lawyer who lives a seemingly perfect life but is actually a victim of domestic abuse; Jane (Shailene Woodley) is a young, single mom who has moved Monteray for mysterious reasons and whose little son Ziggy (Iain Armitage) is accused of bullying Amabella, the daughter of Renata (Laura Dern), a fellow mother at the primary school who often clashes with Madeline. The miniseries follows their events in their lives leading up to the Trivia Night, a charity event at which a murder occurs, though the viewer does not know either who is the victim or who is the killer. 

I get that the plot itself might sound a little too much like a soap opera but, surprisingly enough, the series never indulges in needless melodrama: it's a surprisingly compelling and intimate portrayal of these women's life, dealing with topics like domestic abuse, rape and bullying in a thoughtful manner that is both delicate and raw and most importantly never shallow, and exploring themes like parenthood and the influence that parents have on their children in a very interesting and original fashion. Apparently one of the most divisive points about the series is the screenplay, written by David E. Kelley, and I perfectly get the criticism: not all of the dialogues work (in the first few episodes there are a couple of monologue thrown at Witherspoon' character that verge on cringe-worthy) but ultimately I think its strengths override its flaws rather easily. The writing in the first few episodes feels often a bit artificial and overly stylized, but I think it's intentional considering how much these women tend to cover up their true selves - Madeline hides her insecurities behind her shades and one-liners, Celeste cover up her physical bruises with make-up and the emotional ones with a graceful, poised façade, Jane tries to bury her past trauma inside her and Renata's self-confidence actually hides a woundrous vulnerability. As the series progresses and these women's lives unravel, the dialogue grows realer and rawer, with the scenes between Celeste and her therapist being an absolute masterclass in writing (and acting, but more about that later on). 

Jean-Marc Vallée's directing is also terrific as he manages to blend so well many different genres into ones: he handles the dark comedy of the series impeccably as he gives them a slightly more light-hearted tone without ever compromising the darkness of the remaining scenes and he makes the mystery side of the show extremely compelling and interesting to watch (I was literally on the edge of my seat throughout the whole final episode). But most importantly he treats his characters with profound respect - what I love is that Vallée gives every actor his time to shine and never allows any character to feel underwritten or underused. He treates the series' important topics in a delicate, intimate way that never feels heavy-handed. And, also thanks to the terrific cinematography, he manages to capture the beauty of the landscape in a truly impressive fashion - Madeline's monologue about the sea's symbolism is totally unneded because the camera says it all. The frequent shots of the ocean add a feeling of wild unpredictability until the end, when it just gives you a welcome sensation of peace. The scattershot editing, full of flashbacks and flashfowards, gives the series a thrilling, chaotic feeling that makes it all the more absorbing from start to finish.

But of course the series wouldn't work as well if it wasn't for its cast. Reese Witherspoon is an actress I usually enjoy but that I find only occasionally truly terrific - and this is definitely one of those times. The role is tailor-made for her and she does an absolutely riveting job with the character - she is the one who gets the juiciest dialogue and she is fully aware of it. She brings the needed sass, confidence and wit to the role and each of her one-liners couldn't be more hilarious - we already knew she had an excellent comedic timing, but it rarely has been used better. But she also digs deep into the role, and behind every shade thrown there is a painful hint of bitterness and sadness. Witherspoon is extremely moving at portraying Madeline's fears of losing her daughters as they grow up and her feelings for her husband Ed, whom she loves even if she thinks that the passion between them has somewhat waned. It's an interesting character study and Witherspoon really makes the most out of this scene-stealing role.

The MVP though is without a question Nicole Kidman: she has always been a fearless, brave actress but this performance is seriously on par with Dogville as her best performance ever. She never shies away from the ugly truth of domestic abuse: instead, she does not hold back anything and she dares you to keep looking. Kidman delivers an absolutely devastating performance as Celeste, communicating a lot with her eyes alone - she is a graceful, quiet, elegant presence whenever she shows up but in her gaze you can see the history of the character. It's a very subtle, internalized performance in which every small detail count: her physical acting is something astonishing, as she always carries herself in an uncomfortable fashion as if every single part of her body was aching; but she's even more effective at portraying the psychological effects that the abuses have on her: Kidman is absolutely phenomenal as she explores Celeste's psyche, portraying her as someone who is constantly rewriting the story in her head, trying to find excuses for her husband's behavior and placing on herself non-existent blame. Her conversations with her therapist (Robin Weigert in a compassionate, intelligent performance) are absolutely brilliant and Kidman's acting is painfully and brutally honest. She handles her character's arc, as Celeste slowly drifts away from her husband's influence, impeccably and gives a thoroughly heartbreaking performance that should win the Emmy hands down.  

As Jane, Shailene Woodley also delivers a great performance that should not be ignored: she might get a couple of awkward line-deliveries that feel a little too rehearsed, but otherwise she delivers a top notch portrayal of her character's own plight. She is subtly devastating at portraying Jane's inner turmoil due to her past trauma but she also does an amazing job at showing how Jane actually manages to find herself in Monteray: she grows progressively more confident and more comfortable - Woodley portrays this transition in such a subtle manner that you almost don't notice but when you see her in the last episode, dressed like Audrey Hepburn and smiling radiantly, you finally see how much she has changed since the first episode. And she also shares an amazing chamistry with the terrific Iain Armitrage, who plays her son Ziggy: together they find some of the series' most touching and heartrending moments. 

Laura Dern is absolutely fantastic as Renata, who is probably one of the show's most complicated characters. She is a character you are supposed to hate but also to be entertained by, and Dern solves this task brilliantly: she is hilarious at portraying Renata's phony, fake attitude towards everyone while also being properly vicious as Renata tries to ostracize Jane and Ziggy. But as the series progresses, Dern manages to make you see the humanity in Renata, even creating a certain understanding for her actions: she does some extremely subtle, intelligent acting in the final two episodes revealing an unexpectedly honorable side of the character that we would not have imagined in the first few episodes. It's quite an amazing performance because she makes so much out of what could have been a grating caricature and she would be a very worthy winner in the supporting category.

Out of the female characters in Big Little Lies, Bonnie might look like the least interesting and least complicated one but thanks to Zoe Kravitz she manages to be one of the show's most fascinating. Next to the other characters, the genuinely good-hearted, altruistic Bonnie could have been extremely boring but Kravitz delivers such a beautiful performance that she manages not to be overshadowed: she brings such a welcome sincerity and peacefulness to the character of Bonnie it's just wonderful to have her on-screen and she makes every single second of her performance count due to how lived in her portrayal is. The mini-series does not explore Bonnie's backstory like the book did, but it is not needed as Kravitz' performance works perfectly the way it is and does not feel incomplete in the slightest.

As Celeste's abusive husband Perry, Alexander Skarsgard delivers an absolutely excellent performance: Perry could have easily been a one-note monster, but Skarsgard makes him a very fascinating and complicated figure. Skarsgard brings a painful sincerity  to the few moments in which his character reflects on his actions and genuinely feels guilty for them, but then he is absolutely terrifying in the scenes depicting the abuses - he is such a frightening presence that I found myself feeling uncomfortable every time he showed up. He's that good. Skarsgard is an actor who is very charismatic, which works perfectly for the role - his charm makes you understand why Celeste would not want to leave him, even if his depiction of his character's behavior is totally uncompromising and brutal. Skarsgard never shies away from the fact that Perry is indeed a monster, but he makes him an incredibly human one as well, which is even more frightening and disturbing. 

As Madeline's husband Ed, Adam Scott is extremely good as he makes for such a genuinely sweet, heartwarming presence on-screen, sincerely portraying his character love for his wife, but also being very touching at portraying his growing fear that she might not love him as much as he does love her. It's a very moving performance and his chemistry with Witherspoon is absolutely top notch, with the two actors realizing so well their characters' relationship. James Tupper as Nathan, Madeline's ex-husband and Bonnie's husband, is entertainingly smug and Jeffrey Nordling brings the needed sort of arrogance and superficiality to the role of Gordon, Renata's husband. 

I could see why the mystery's resolution could be disappointing to some: the identity of the victim might be a little predictable to some, and the motivations of the murderer might feel a little too weak. I personally don't think so, but even if I did, I don't think I would mind that much because ultimately the murder is not really what the show is about. The show is about the vulnerabilities but especially the strength of its female characters, about compassion, allegiance and solidarity, and the ending proves it. I get why not everyone would like this show, but personally I loved it: by the end of it, not only I cared about all of the characters, but I felt like I really got to know them.

domenica 9 aprile 2017

Best Actor in a Leading Role 2016: Denzel Washington in Fences

Denzel Washington received his seventh Oscar nomination for his performance as Troy Maxson in Fences.

Denzel Washington is not an actor I am particularly fond of. I obviously don't think he is a bad actor as he clearly possesses a great deal of talent, but I feel he often wastes his abilities by just going way too far with many of his performances. He is not afraid of going big, and too often he comes across as a bit hammy, at least to me. When I first watched Fences, I was curious about his performance because of the critics' enthusiasm towards it but also my impression, based on the movie's trailer, that it was going to be another disappointment for me. But, much to my surprise, in the span of a few minutes he completely managed to won me over and I was completely stunned and captivated by his performance. The first scenes of the movie are actually the ones I like the least, mainly because it's where the stagey nature of the screenplay shines the most: the dialogue is extremely thick and it can occasionally become a little overbearing, but Washington manages to pull it off completely and makes the viewer invested in the character of Troy right from the very beginning. To say that this performance is not subtle would be an understatement, but his loud approach is, in this case, completely justified as Troy himself is a person who likes to show off and be at the center of the attention: Washington does a brilliant job at portraying his character's big ego but at the same time he never makes you doubt that all the people around him would enjoy listening to his stories - he just owns the screen, making his character incredibly captivating, charismatic and entertaining and bringing a great deal of passion, grit and humor to the man's telling of various tales, whether they are true or not. Washington does not uses this scenes only to establish Troy as a man who likes to talk and to be listened: he uses this moments to add a great deal of depth to the character and uncover new layers about him. For example, I really like the moments in which Troy talks about his past, talking about how he never managed to become a great baseball player due to the discrimination of the separate leagues back in his days: in these moments, Washington is extremely effective at conveying his bitterness and anger behind his voice - here, Washington is terrific as he shows the embittered soul behind the showboating, larger-than-life persona that Troy created for himself. He is also amazing in a later scene in which he opens up about his rough childood: it's a particularly great moment because, for once, Troy doesn't seem to be talking just for the sake of putting on a show - Washington manages to be rather moving in his portrayal of Troy's reflection over his past and in this moment he manages to give us a little more of an understanding for Troy's often despicable actions. 

One of Fences' strongest assests is its ensemble: not only because each member is very good, but because all of them work with each other with such a perfect armony. This applies also to Denzel Washington, who works brilliantly with all of his co-stars. I love his scenes with Stephen Henderson (who plays Troy's best friend, Bono): together they share a deep and poignant chemistry, making the friendship between the two characters feel sincere and meaningful. Bono is probably the only character who is not mistreated in some way by Troy, and Washington does a very strong job at showing Troy's sincere affection towards his friend. He also works impeccably with the two actors portraying Troy's sons, especially Jovan Adepo as his younger son Cory, who too wishes to become a baseball star: Washington is amazing in his interactions with Adepo as he gives such a realistic depiction of his character's cruelty towards his son - he never becomes one-note in his portrayal of his mistreatment and never oversimplifies his behavior, but instead is incredibly frightening and disconcerting by delivering such an uncomprising portrayal of an unloving father. His "What law says I've got to like you?" speech to his son is a truly chilling moment due to Washington's brutal and ferocious delivery - there is real venom in his eyes and voice, and Washington does a truly terrific job at showing Troy's pathetic jealousy and insecurity as he does not want to have his son succeed where he failed. Washington is also terrific in his scenes with Mykelti Williamson, who portrays Gabriel, Troy's brother who is handicapped due to a war injury: Washington is a bit more subtle in his scenes with him and he thrives at showing his sincere love for his brother but also his guilt for using the money that the state gave Gabriel for the injury for buying his own. 

But Washington is at his best in his scenes with Viola Davis (whom I'm seriously considering bumping up to a five since she is dynamite in this), who plays Rose, Troy's loyal wife: the two actors are terrific in their scenes together as they convey so well the history between the two characters, and Washington on his own is great at showing his genuine love for his wife but also bringing the needed selfishness to Troy, who often gives Rose too much for granted and ignores her plea to listen to Cory's needs. One of the best moments of his performance is the scene in which Troy reveals to Rose that he has been carrying an affair with another woman and that she is pregnant: although I feel this scene belongs to Davis, who is absolutely heartbreaking, Washington is amazing as well at portraying his character's attempts to justify his behavior and I particularly like the moment in which Troy admits he won't stop seeing his mistress - he is so good in that moment because in his eyes he shows his awareness of being disrespectful towards Rose but also his unwillingness to change the situation. And all of his later scenes with her are absolute brilliance on both ends: when Rose confronts Troy about him getting Gabriel transferred to a psychiatric facility, Washington is phenomenal at showing Troy's guilt for his actions just with his own eyes; and then he is groundbreaking in the scene in which he finds out his mistress died in childbirth - he does an excellent job at portraying Troy's fury and rage upon this discovery, and his challenge to the Grim Reaper (whom he claimed to have fought against once) is one of the most powerful moments of his performance. His last few scenes in the movie are terrific as Washington does such a fantastic job at portraying Troy as a man who doesn't have the strength to pretend anymore: he is not charismatic or showman-like as he used to be - he's just a pathetic, lonely man that is simply nothing without his delusions of grandeur. 

This is a truly terrific performance from Denzel Washington who delivers a truly compelling depiction of the great character that Troy Maxson is. He's truly a force to be reckoned with, but behind his loud theatrics, which are entirely justified, he manages to find the complexity of Troy, delivering a very human and realistic portrayal of a deeply flawed person. It's an amazing, powerful turn and, out of what I've seen, it's by far his best work. 


venerdì 31 marzo 2017

Best Actor in a Leading Role 2016: Ryan Gosling in La La Land

La La Land received his second Oscar nomination for his performance as Sebastian Wilder in La La Land.

Ryan Gosling, despite getting a lot of nominations for his performance in this movie and winning the Golden Globe, was never really considered as a true contender for the actual win but rather as one of those cases in which the nomination is pretty much a given but the win itself is not very likely. Emma Stone was the one who got most of the attention among the movie's two leads, and she went on to win a richly deserved Oscar for dazzling, stunning performance, but in my opinion Ryan Gosling is just as good as she is with a far less showy role. He does not have any truly big scene (unlike Stone's "Audition") and Sebastian as a character is more subdued than Mia is, but Ryan Gosling delivers nonetheless a truly wonderful performance that is one of the main reasons why La La Land is such a magical and unforgettable experience. 

Gosling's early scenes are actually far more challenging than it seems at first sight because in the hands of a less talented actor Sebastian could have been an unbearable character: he is technically a bit arrogant and obnoxious and the only reason why he results so endearing is because Ryan Gosling is such an effortlessly charming and charismatic actor. He carries every scene in a very quiet, unshowy manner but he manages to be extremely charming in an effectively low-key way and he manages to hold his own against the always luminous Stone: this does not mean he ever sugarcoates the less likeable qualities of Sebastian - he just manages to portray them in an endearing, sort of comical fashion that makes the character rather enjoyable in his occasional smugness. Especially in the beginning, Gosling actually has some incredibly funny moments due to his impeccable timing and delivery (the "It's not what you mean" is absolutely priceless) or his hilarious facial expressions when Mia requests "I Ran" at a party, much to his dismay. As I mentioned in my review of Stone's performance, I think the two of them share an absolutely amazing chemistry and they balance each other perfectly - Gosling's charmingly subdued performance works wonders opposite Stone's marvelously explosive one and they are just a delight to watch in every single scene. Their chemistry is on fire even when they are bickering and they make for such a perfect match, making you root for them even when the circumstances suggest the contrary. 

Gosling's singing voice is not necessarily amazing but he can carry a tune more than decently and most importantly he acts well during the numbers - in particular, I like his rendition of "City of Stars". And his dancing is actually great, particularly in "A Lovely Night", and he has such an infectious and contagious energy in those scenes. And he does an absolutely amazing job at conveying Sebastian's passion for jazz: not only he brings the right sort of dedication to the scene in which he plays the piano but in each of his speeches about jazz he just brings so much convincion and sincere passion that you just can't help but root for him and wish for his success. An interesting turn arrives when Sebastian joins a band that plays music that is nothing like the one he loves, achieving success but somewhat betraying his ideals: Gosling is amazing at portraying his conflicting emotions in this segment of the movie as he conveys so well both the satisfaction that comes with success but also a certain lack of joy as he feels he is not making the sort of music he intended to. His relationship with Mia also becomes increasingly strained due to the distance, and Gosling and Stone are absolutely amazing in the dinner scene: they are wonderful as they show their happiness for being together again for a moment and then they are terrific as their conversation slowly becomes a heated argument. It's an impeccably written scene and both actors brings an aching ferocity to it. 

I feel that in the last section of the movie the screenplay puts Gosling aside a little bit, but Gosling does such a brilliant job that he manages not to be overshadowed by Stone: he's great in each attempts to convince Mia to try again to become an actress and even if Stone is again the one with the far more emotional role Gosling is great at portraying his faith in her talent and ability to become a star. He brings great support to her while leaving a huge impression himself. And he is terrific in his final conversation with her after her audition: he is terrific at showing his uncertainties regarding their future together but also his sincere love for her. It's a very quiet, subtle scene that ends up being quite heartbreaking because of the beautiful work from the two actors. The ending of the film is absolutely astonishing and this is also because of Gosling's and Stone's work: Gosling's final reaction and smile is just such a beautiful ending note to his performance.

This is a fantastic performance from Ryan Gosling who delivers a wonderfully entertaining and incredibly moving performance that works wonders with Emma Stone's portrayal. He acts on a very quiet register but leaves an absolutely unforgettable impression. It's a performance that is very charming and engaging but also far more than depth, and he finds a depth in Sebastian that many others actors would have missed. It's a great, underrated turn from an actor I really admire.