Month: May 2015

Ruth Gordon in Rosemary’s Baby

Ruth Gordon won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Minnie Castevet in Rosemary’s Baby.

Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite horror films – it’s probably right up there with The Exorcist for me, even though both films are completely different in style and tone. Rosemary’s Baby is sightly campier and comical, but what I truly appreciated about it is how it relies entirely on suspense and paranoia to bring out the horror of its story. The movie never relies on scary makeup and gore to scare its viewers. It makes you fear almost everything in the story, from that “ordinary” chocolate mousse, to the “lucky” charm and the “eccentric” neigbours. Seriously, this is probably the only movie I’ve seen that can make an anagram so scary. You can say whatever you want about Roman Polanski, but when it comes to movies, the guy is a master. Mia Farrow would also have deserved a best actress nod for her portrayal of the frail and vulnerable Rosemary, who ends up being a victim of an evil scheme.

Ruth Gordon plays Minnie, the extremely nosy neighbour. This performance is probably one of the most popular best supporting actress winners ever, and while I don’t share that love, I can understand it. The performance is extremely unique and original – Gordon never goes for the “creepy” neighbour cliche. She plays Minnie as an “ordinary”, charming old lady who cannot mind her own business but also gradually reveals herself to be a part of an evil plan. What I find brilliant about the performance is how you constantly feel this sense of unease whenever you see Minnie. Unlike Minnie’s husband Roman (played by Sidney Blackmer, who also should have been nominated) and his creepy stares and vibe, Gordon never explicitly reveals Minnie’s true nature, and yet it is always implied in her annoying mannerisms. I also read a comment about how Minnie never makes direct eye contact with Rosemary. It was something which I initial overlooked, and I think it’s brilliant that Gordon adds all these tiny details to imply what’s wrong with Minnie. They all build up brilliantly to her chilling final scene, where she finally looked Rosemary in the eye and told her the truth. It’s a performance with many hidden gems that can be easily overlooked at first, but when you spot them, you’ll really appreciate how tricky and clever Gordon is in creating that “ordinary” image for Minnie.

Ruth Gordon’s performance is a classic case of a supporting one – the material is limited, the character isn’t the most complex, and yet I think she does a whole lot with it. She’s charming, funny, extremely manipulative and creepy. It’s easy to see why Rosemary fell for her traps initially, because of how “ordinary” she appears. Like I said, it’s hard to put a finger on what’s so off about her, and it’s all thanks to Gordon’s brilliant performance.

Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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Ralph Fiennes was nominated for a golden globe and bafta for his performance as Monsieur Gustave H., the legendary concierge in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is currently my pick for best picture – it’s a wonderful and beautifully crafted film that one can watch over and over again without getting tired of. I loved everything about the film, from the set and costume design, to the quirky characters, the art direction and the acting. The story is funny, weird yet heartwarming, and Wes Anderson is my pick for best director. It never goes overboard with its quirky humour and the story is filled with heart.

I’m not too familiar with Ralph Fiennes’ performances, but I think he’s a great actor based on the few films I’ve seen him in. I thought he was great in The Constant Gardener and Red Dragon, and I also liked him a lot as Lord Voldemort.

This role isn’t the kind of character I’d imagine Fiennes playing –  an eccentric concierge with numerous lovers and an unsual love for poetry.  I imagine such a role would straightaway go to Johnny Depp in the past, but thankfully, the decision was to go with the (imo) better actor. Fiennes finds a fine balance between the eccentric mannerisms and realism. The comical moments are all pitch perfect, and I found Gustave to be a very funny presence throughout the whole film. Even though he’s pretty, for the lack of a better word, immoral, I found his snobbishness strangely likable and charming. Fiennes nails the over-the-top dialogue of the film perfectly, but more importantly, he gives the character a heart. I especially liked how the relationship between Gustave and Zero was developed. You can sense how they grew to really like each other as friends even though it was never explicitly stated, and the whole thing becomes very moving towards the end.

Fiennes performance is also deceptively simple as Gustave may come across as a one-note character, but I always felt that he was more manipulative than what his appearance suggests. He always seem to have a way with things, and his actions always seem to have a reason behind them, even if they might seem random at first. I particularly enjoyed one scene where a menacing inmate helps him escape after being offered mush – like how he is perceived by all the characters (other than the ones who want him dead), I find Gustave a very likable character whom one just cannot dislike.

While I wouldn’t call in amazing, I still loved Ralph Fiennes performance in The Grand Budapest Hotel. He is perfectly in sync with his movie’s brilliance, and he gives an extremely charming and heartwarming performance. 5/5 for both film and performance.

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler (2014)

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We’re all too familiar with that “it” moment where you know that a performer is giving the performance of his/her career – Vivien Leign in GWTW and ASND, Charlize Theron in Monster, Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice, Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, Judy Garland in A Star is Born etc etc etc. The main similarity of these performances is that they’re Oscar-winning (well, I like to think Garland won) but more impressively, they made these characters uniquely their own, so much so that we cannot imagine anyone else touching them. And that’s why they’re often regarded as the best in film history.

Unfortunately, Jake Gyllenhaal was overlooked for the “it” performance of his career as Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler. First of all, I have to clarify that I’m no fan of Gyllenhaal as an actor – I usually find him on the bland side. Still, having watched Nightcrawler, I’m going to say that he probably gave the best male performance of 2014. Of course, I have yet to watch a couple of other critically acclaimed works but Gyllenhaal’s performance here is one of those that’s so incredible, you know that it’d take a lot for another performance to top it.

Nightcrawler is another erroneously overlooked film of 2014. While I agree that the story may seem rather far-fetched at times, I found it a fascinating way to explore the coldness of human nature. It’s making a rather harsh statement on capitalism and the media, but I enjoyed how it went all out to portray people as ruthless assholes. Rene Russo gives a very good performance and should have been nominated for her work as the cold-bitch of a news director. In weaker years, I would have given Riz Ahmed a supporting actor nom too.

Still, Nightcrawler is the Jake Gyllenhaal show. It takes a lot to evoke such strong hatred in me towards a particular character, and Gyllenhaal does it without coming off as trying too hard. Right from the beginning, I knew that Lou Bloom was going to be a character I was going to hate, and yet I felt so drawn into his world and perspectives of things. I hated the way he smugly recites what he learned on the internet, the way he “lectures” others on how to be a successful and the overall “creepy” vibe that he gives off. What is so amazing about Gyllenhaal’s performance is how much detail he invests into his characterization of Lou Bloom. I’m not lying when I saw I loved every scene of his performance as it always revealed something about the character to me – the watering of the plants, his weird laughter when watching TV, his cold vacant stares, his arrogant way of talking to others.

The guy is simply a creepy, sociopathic asshole who capitalizes on deaths and crimes for his own business, but Gyllenhaal never becomes one dimensional in his portrayal of the character’s mental state. Even though many of his actions just spoke “crazy” to me, I always felt this creepiness and disgust at him. I wouldn’t use the word charismatic, but there’s this strange magnetism about him that I wanted from Steve Carell’s performance in Foxcatcher. The guy doesn’t kill anyone (directly) in the film, and yet you can feel he’s just evil. The noticeable lack of empathy and disregard for others is something that i scarier than all the crimes that he filmed. There’s a lot more about the character’s state of mind that is never revealed, but Gyllenhaal uses his creepy eyes to show flashes of them here and there. What is even more amazing is how subtle the performance is – other than the mirror scene, Gyllenhaal never had to rely on any loud mannerisms and screaming to convey the character’s madness.

As I’ve said already, it’s hard for me to pick a best scene from this performance as every one is gold. It could be when he’s threatening Nina in the restaurant, or when he told Rick that he simply dislikes people – all in all, this overlook on the Oscar’s part is definitely going to be considered one of it’s worst snubs in history. 5/5.

Jessica Lange in Country (1984)

Jessica Lange received her third Oscar nomination for playing Jewell Ivy in Country (1984).

I wanted to watch Country for a while because I’m a huge Jessica Lange fan, but it was not my list of performances I intend to review as I thought the film was impossible to find. Naturally, when I came across it I knew I had to watch it immediately, not so much for the film but for Lange’s performance.

Jessica Lange is one of my favourite actresses ever since I watched her amazing performances in American Horror Story, and I’ve always been eager to find out more about her earlier works. Unfortunately, I don’t think her Oscar-nominated films are the most popular (other than Tootsie) so they’re usually quite hard to access. From what I’ve seen, she’s usually the best part of them which makes me respect her choices even more – she’s a performer who clearly goes for roles she feels strongly for, even if the film doesn’t have box office potential.

I found Country to be a mediocre film that I didn’t really care for. The story is interesting and it definitely has a political statement, but the whole setup and direction is basic. I also found the score rather annoying. Seriously, there were times where I felt they were using the music to drive the film towards Hallmark territory and it just grated on my nerves. The actors, however, were fine overall.

Unsurprisingly, Jessica Lange gives the best performance out of the whole film. There are several factors working against her, such as the cheesy tone of the film and the limited development of the character. She isn’t able to give a mindblowing performance like how she did in Frances, Blue Sky and American Horror Story. Jewell Ivy is the matriarch of the farm, and to be honest, she isn’t a very interesting character. In fact, the film portrays her in such a way that she’s almost flawless, a complete opposite of her annoying husband (played by Sam Shepard). You also wouldn’t see any huge breakdowns and monologues that Lange usually nails – the role is a subtle and quiet one and it is clearly a project that she felt very passionately for.

Having said all that, the fact that Lange clearly doesn’t give a shit about how many awards she’s going to win for this performance makes it all the more admirable. She’s committed to the integrity of the story, which is to portray the effects of the agricultural policies on ordinary farmers. While Jewell is a bit of a one-note character, Lange still manages to give a moving and beautiful performance. She is essentially the core of the whole movie – the caring and firm mother, the loving wife, the concerned neighbour, and the pillar of strength for the whole family. What makes the performance impressive is how Lange handles these characteristics effortlessly and realistically. There’s that famous scene where she talks a friend out of a suicide that was really well-handled, but to me, the best part is when she tries to explain her husband’s violent behaviour to her children. I could really see the character struggling to hold it together in front of her children, and throughout the film, we get to see the shades of vulnerability and fear within Jewell.

The first half of the performance is a bit slow because it focuses on how ordinary Jewell is. It’s all realistically performed and Lange exudes a kind of motherly warmth that is very welcoming, but the main excitement comes when Jewell starts to fight for her family’s right. I liked the scene where she screamed at the government officials, even though the music was stupid as hell and the lines were incredibly corny. It really allowed Lange to display Jewell’s fighting spirit and strength as a character.

I don’t want to come off as too critical as Jessica Lange is always good, and to be honest, I don’t have anything to fault with her performance here. A lesser actress would have turned this performance into TV movie material, but she always keeps it realistic and moving. I just wished there was more to it, and I’m sure Lange would have been up for the challenge. A solid 3.5/5.

Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar (2014)

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I feel like being a part of Chris Nolan movie is any actor’s dream, just don’t expect to be too lucky with awards. I always thought Leonardo DiCarprio, Marion Cotillard and Guy Pearce should have been recognised for their performances too, but I guess the Academy just really isn’t into Nolan-style performances, unless you’re Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

Matthew McConaughey has proven himself to be a more than capable leading man over the past few years. I used to have a bad impression of him because I have pretty horrific memories of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, but I think it’s pretty clear nowadays that the guy has talent. I’m glad that he finally carved a niche for himself playing the “deep/eccentric/pretentious” guy, and that he varies his performances without becoming too repetitive.

I also happen to love Interstellar. People seem to complain about it being hard to understand, but I never thought the science was an integral part of the story. It’s a fairly simple concept about love being able to transcend time and space, and I thought it was creatively explored. That being said, like all Nolan films, I felt like he was trying to juggle too many things together at times. I couldn’t really buy the motivations and “love story” behind Anne Hathaway’s character, and the segment involving Dr Mann (Matt Damon) felt tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film. It’s not as heavy-handed as his Dark Knight series, where he tried to gel sentimentality, action, side-characters etc all into one product, but I felt like he was trying to cram his message down our throats sometime. Still, I’ll be damned if I said I wasn’t blown away by the mere scope and ambition of the film.

Matthew McConaughey has a way of making his characters enigmatic presences in his movies, and I always find myself intrigued by them. I was impressed by how he handled Cooper’s determination to go through with the mission, and how he never makes it cheesy with all that “saving mankind” stuff. He portrays Cooper as an intelligent man, who may be reckless and a bit annoying, but nonetheless an admirable figure whose quick-thinking has gotten the team out of more than one sticky situation. I found Cooper to be a likable character throughout the whole film, and I was always impressed by his tenacity and wit.

Still, the best part of the performance comes from the portrayal of Cooper’s relationship with his daughter. It’s always apparent that she’s the main force that’s driving him. In my opinion, the father-daughter bond between Cooper and Murph was more than sufficient to make up the emotional core of this movie. Jessica Chastain also has some very strong scenes despite her limited screentime, but it’s really McConaughey who supplies the emotional power of this movie. Just the scene where he’s watching the messages from his children can really break your heart (the guy’s a fantastic crier), and I really felt Cooper’s intense guilt for leaving his children behind. Thanks to McConaughey’s performance, we get to see many shades of vulnerability and strength behind this character.

All in all, Matthew McConaughey may not be my personal favourite actor, but I thought his performance in Interstellar was absolutely fantastic. He makes Cooper a fascinating figure that’s uniquely his own creation. 5/5.

The film: 4.5/5

Bradley Cooper in American Sniper (2014)

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Bradley Cooper received his third consecutive Oscar nomination for his performance as Chris Kyle in American Sniper.

I just realised that 4 out of 5 of the best actor nominees are portrayals of real life people. Yes, I know I’m super slow, and this just proves how disinterested I am in this lineup. I couldn’t help but wonder whether Michael Keaton had this against him, since the Academy clearly loves these kind of performances. Pity.

I happen to like American Sniper, despite the whole controversy surrounding it. War films are bound to be divisive because of the subject matter and its relevance. I try to be as objective as I can, even when it is apparent to me that the film is one-sided. I agree that the screenplay is standard, and some of the lines can really make your eyes roll, but Clint Eastwood’s direction really elevates it to another level (plastic baby and all). He’s not my favourite director but I’ve always liked his movies and his style. He can turn the corniest screenplay into watchable entertainment (*coughs* Million Dollar Baby *coughs*) and I think he really handled the story very well. In fact, some moments were so chilling and disturbing that I felt my skin crawl – I guess you can say I was successfully “manipulated”, but still, I thought it was a good effort overall.

I used to find Bradley Cooper a bit overrated, but I think in recent years he has proven himself to be more than capable as an actor. I disliked his American Hustle performance, and sometimes I think he can go way overboard with the neurotic guy shtick, but over here it’s different. We get to see a quieter side of Cooper, and it strangely enough, it works.

The way Chris Kyle is written in this movie is a rather stereotypical, but one thing that is apparent to me is how passionate Cooper is for this story. The thing could have been really one note – cowboy signs up for army, is an excellent shooter and subsequently suffers from PTSD. Cooper really analyzed every detail of Chris Kyle’s life, and in turn, he went above the screenplay by giving a pretty fascinating portrayal of a flawed man who is viewed as a legend.

I liked how Cooper went to portray Kyle’s gradual mental deterioration – it was realistically handled, and I could see a man who was ravaged with guilt over the lives he couldn’t save. Like I said, the whole thing could have come off as cliche, especially with the handling of Kyle’s patriotism, but Cooper never fell into that trap. I found myself emotionally invested in the character – there were a lot of times where I found myself a bit disturbed by how Kyle was so nonchalant about what he does. There was a scene where Kyle was accused of having a savior complex, and I liked how Cooper introduced this bit of mystery inside his performance. There were times I felt as though Kyle actually enjoyed killing, and it was not just patriotism as he always claimed.

Cooper also effectively portrays his relationship struggles with his families. There were some very sad scenes where he couldn’t reconnect with his wife that I thought Cooper really nailed. I also thought the interactions with his children were really sweet and tender, displaying another side of Kyle you wouldn’t expect.

Overall, I think this is a commendable effort by Bradley Cooper. I think he went above the limits of American Sniper’s screenplay to give a complex and haunting portrayal. A great performance! 4.5/5

The film: 4/5.

Selma (2014)

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I’m just going to make this post a quick one as I’m feeling sleepy. I finally got about to watching Selma, one of the more controversial entries to this year’s best picture lineup. Having watched it at last, I can say that it’s a very good film, but I didn’t think it was as amazing or great as people say. My main issue was with the drab pacing in the first half – I get that Ava DuVernay wanted to be as detailed as she could in portraying the story, but I felt disengaged. However, things improved significantly in the second half, and it becomes a powerful and moving portrayal of a significant part of America’s history.

Onto the Oscar snubs – I thought DuVernay did a fine job, but like I said, I had issues with the pacing of the film. I’m not gonna deny that I was feeling irritable the past few days, and this probably hindered my appreciation of the it. Still, I do think it could have been more succinct. I read that Lee Daniels was supposed to be the one directing it – thank goodness, cause I HATED The Butler. DuVernay’s passion for this story can be felt throughout the film, and I really appreciated the fact that she didn’t try to manipulate the audience like how Daniels would have done. Had she been nominated for best director, I would have been fine with it, but I wouldn’t have given her the win over Iñárritu anyway. I still think that Jean-Marc Vallée should have been nominated for Wild, but that’s just me 🙂

The real snub is David Oyelowo’s performance as Martin Luther King Jr.  I thought his performance was MILES better than Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar winning turn. He gave a really powerful and moving portrayal of a flawed but iconic figure, and I would even say that his performance was the essence of this movie. He was better than Steve Carell (whose performance I still liked) and Redmayne (I can’t with this win) and I would have nominated him over them.

Still, I liked for Selma for what it is, and it is probably the better film out of what seems like an EXTREMELY underwhelming best picture line-up. I’m not blown away, but I’m impressed. 4/5.