Oscars

Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic (2016)

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*some minor spoilers at end

It always baffles me that Viggo Mortensen has only received 2 Oscar nominations throughout his entire career. I have always thought he was a real talent who deserved deserved more recognition for his work in films like The Road and A History of Violence. I guess a large part of it stems from the fact that Mortensen has always been pretty low-key, and never really bothered in playing the game as some of his counterparts do. Still, I’m glad that he received his second nomination for his role in Captain Fantastic, cause oh boy, this is a fantastic performance.

And what a fantastic movie as well. I’m truly surprised that Captain Fantasic didn’t receive more recognition, cause it’s probably one of my favourite films of 2016. It is beautifully shot, well-written, and I daresay well-acted overall. I daresay I might like it more than La La Land even, which is saying something. It could have been easily a really pretentious and annoying film, but I thought it was well-grounded and believable.

In Captain Fantastic, Mortensen plays Ben, a father of 6 who raises his family in the forests of the pacific northwest. Right from the start, Mortensen captures your attention in a ritualistic moment where he declares his eldest son “a man” for successfully hunting and killing a deer. I think what makes Mortensen’s performance work is how natural he always is, despite the eccentric nature of the character. You believe that this man truly buys the bullshit he is selling to his kid – that most of corporate America is fascist, that you have to defend yourself and no one will or should be there for you, and all the philosophical theories that he drills into his children.

I think what Mortensen truly excels in here is the way he shows how Ben begins to doubt himself and his method of raising his children over the course of the film. Sometimes, he manages to do so merely through his eyes, which to me is an amazing feat in subtle acting. He also excellently portrays Ben’s increasing helplessness as his children begin to challenge his ideologies and methods.

I like how Mortensen is never afraid to make Ben an unlikeable character. Like I said, you can truly sense the conviction he has in his beliefs, and it is easy to understand why he is generally disliked by his family. His final realisation at the danger he poses towards his children is also truly heartbreaking. He manages to effectively portray the guilt he has, as well as his devastation when he decides to give up custody of his children.

Another aspect of his performance is his chemistry with his 6 children. Although his unorthodox methods can be considered child abuse, I never doubted his love for them. This, to me, adds another layer of complexity to his performance.

Overall, I think Mortensen succeeded in making his portrayal of a difficult and eccentric character seem easy. There is not one false note in his performance, and the overall transformation of his character is believable and never forced. His strong screen presence really helps too, and he becomes a strong anchor to an already strong film. 5/5.

p.s. a little busy these days, so I’m keeping these posts short and sweet, but I’ll try to write more frequently.

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Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird (2017)

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I’m still all about Saoirse Ronan being my personal pick for her absolutely beautiful performance in Brooklyn, and that kinda made me root for her winning this year despite the fact that I haven’t even watched her film. I’m not going to say that I am a huge fan of hers, but at the same time, there’s no denying that she’s a luminous talent who can elevate her films, even in small parts in films like The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Which makes me feel a little sore about that fact that I found Lady Bird slightly disappointing. Frankly, I couldn’t really get into this film and I found it rather sluggish despite the short screen time. Its strengths, however, lies in the way it captures the complicated relationship between Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) and her mom Marion (played beautifully by Laurie Metcalf). The scenes with Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), however, were the weakest imo. I get that they are trying to portray the pretentious, “bad-ass wannabe” phase that all teenagers go through, but I’m not going to lie, I found those scenes really boring. I know there were only a few of them, and yet I felt 1 scene alone would have been enough to capture the true nature of that relationship. There were a lot of scenes I really liked; the scenes with her father, and her best friend were truly terrific, but as a whole the movie doesn’t really stay with me.

Having said all that, Ronan’s performance as Lady Bird is excellent. To be honest, I can’t find anything wrong about her performance, and to her credit, I am actually amazed at how she manages to make Lady Bird interesting to watch although she’s frankly a rather annoying character. Her luminous presence works wonders again, and I just cannot take my eyes off her, even during the scenes where she’s unbelievably rude to her mother. She captures the character’s growing up arc perfectly too, from her naive pretentiousness to her realisation about what truly matters in life.

It’s a coming of age story that has been explored many times, but to Ronan’s credit, she never makes it cliche or stereotypical. I think her attention to detail as a performer is what makes this performance work; she captures the conflict between hating and loving her mom, and that’s what makes their scenes so dynamic and moving. Actually, every interaction in this movie is well explored by Ronan, even her brief relationships with the pretentious Kyle and the shallow Jenna. She uses them to build up Lady Bird’s growth as a character, and I think that’s what works terrifically.

As a whole, there isn’t a false note in this performance, which is something I really appreciated. It could have been such a stereotypical performance with eye-rolling moments, but I think Ronan grounds it and plays it with total truth. The problem, which probably in part lies with me, is that this performance just doesn’t get me totally excited. Like, I have nothing against it, and I truly respect it, but I’m not going to lie when I say that I don’t think it is going to stay with me for too long. A large part of it has got to do with the the writing and the film though – it’s a character that I’ve seen too many times, and the film isn’t one I’m crazy about. Still, I do wholeheartedly support her Golden Globe win, as I think it is truly deserved. It is also an extremely deserved Oscar nomination, but I won’t go beyond that. 4/5, though leaning towards 4.5.

Film – 3/5

Laurie Metcalf – 4.5/5

Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name (2017)

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Timothée Chalamet had a pretty good year in 2017, if you ask me. Besides appearing in 2 films nominated for Best Picture, he also received his first Best Actor nod for playing Elio in Call Me By Your Name, making him the youngest best actor nominee.

This is a performance that has gotten rave reviews throughout the awards season, with several people listing it as their personal winner in the Best Actor category. Having said all that, I have to confess something – I don’t exactly get the hype over this performance, or even the film in general. While I think CMBYN is truly a beautiful movie (both visually and emotionally), it didn’t hit me as hard as it did for some others. It’s certainly a film that I wouldn’t mind watching over and over again. It’s relaxing, it’s moving, and as mentioned earlier, it’s certainly beautiful. However, while I couldn’t find any glaring flaws with it, it didn’t get me feeling all excited over it either. Overall, I would say it very much deserved its nominations, but that’s about it.

Essentially, what I said above is pretty much my sentiments about Chamelet’s performance. I think what drew people to the role is Chamalet’s highly relatable portrayal of growing up. Chamelet gives a very tender and beautiful performance that never rings false. For me, the strength of his performances comes in the first half of the movie; he excellently portrays Elio’s insecurities and his fear of how Oliver thinks of him, and I really loved how he showed Elio tried to mask these feelings. I especially loved the piano scene, where he played variations of Bach (I think) in an attempt to impress Oliver, but came off looking pretentious and aloof instead. Haven’t we all gone through such a phase growing up, thinking that we are smarter than we actually are? I really admired how Chamelet portrayed the way Elio became surer and surer of his feelings towards Oliver. Chamalet depicts the confusion of falling in love excellently, especially in contrast with his purely sexual relationship with the other girl Marzia.

The chemistry between Chamalet and Armie Hammer is actually terrific, if you ask me. Admittedly, I found this an odd pairing choice, casting wise, but both actors sold the romance of the characters extremely well. The latter half of this performance involves Elio’s romance with Oliver. While this part isn’t as layered as the first half, it is still extremely heartwarming to see these 2 characters fall in love. I really liked how Chamalet still manages to slip in Elio’s insecurities occasionally.

While I also find the final crying scene heartbreaking, I have to admit that I was too affected by the positive reviews of this performance to be affected by it personally. I am in no way suggesting that this is a mediocre or bad performance – and objectively, as seen by what I’ve written above, I do think it is an excellent performance. However, there’s something that’s holding me back from embracing it completely. It could be the quiet nature of the performance, but a part of me also ended up wanting something more. Like I said, I think the reason why so many loved this performance is because of how they personally identified and related to it. While I didn’t relate to it to that extent, I still highly admire it. 4.5/5.

Margot Robbie in I, Tonya (2017)

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I knew it was only a matter of time that Margot Robbie would receive her first Oscar nomination since her breakthrough in The Wolf of Wall Street (of which she would have deserved a nom in my books). While I haven’t seen much of her movies, I always find her the standout of her films, such as Suicide Squad and Wolf. She’s certainly a talented performer, with a surprisingly strong film presence that I find rare, even in some of the young stars today like JLaw and Emma Stone, both whom I like too.

In I, Tonya, Robbie plays disgraced Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding. If I were to sum up Robbie’s performance in one line, it would be this: she acted her butt off for this film. Tonya Harding, to put it simply, is a mess of a character/person. This is a character which requires a great deal of energy from the actor portraying her: Her abusive childhood, her lack of education, her “trashiness”, her agressive competitive spirit all translates into a performance that isn’t exactly subtle, but not over-the-top either. Essentially, what Robbie succeeded in is taking such an unlikeable character and making her so damn fun to watch. In a way, it’s almost like how Vivien Leigh made the bitchy Scarlett O’hara such a delight to watch. While I’m not saying that both performances are of equal calibre, what I loved about Robbie here is that she is not afraid to make Harding unlikeable. She tends to have a mean streak and is unbelievably nasty to her coach, but Robbie justifies these acting choices, allowing us to see why Harding behaves this way. Figure skating is essentially her life, and I loved how Robbie showed the “all-or-nothing” spirit in Harding.

The downwards spiral of Harding is also excellently played, even though the focus isn’t that much on Harding but rather on her husband (played excellently by Sebastian Stan). As always, there are a few crying scenes here and there, but it comes extremely naturally and never feels forced or tacked on. I mean, who can forget that moment as she forces herself to smile while putting on makeup? I wouldn’t say it’s heartbreaking because I find Tonya a difficult character to feel sorry for but I found myself completely understanding how she was feeling. However, her final plea to the judge where she describes skating as her entire life was extremely saddening thanks to the desperation portrayed by Robbie.

Personally, her relationships with the other characters aren’t too complex as they are essentially abusive and violent, but the energy brought out by the actors made them extremely intense and electrifying to watch.

Overall, this is a terrific performance by a talented actress which, in my opinion, would have made a worthy win (I still love Frances McDormand’s performance of course). I think what made it work was the way Robbie actually had fun with the character while at the same time respecting her and portraying her motivations to perfection. The resulting effect is a performance that is chaotic, messy, crazy, and yet highly entertaining and saddening to watch. 5/5.

p.s. Allison Janney was great, but I found her performance a bit limited, both in screentime and layers. I’ll give her credit though – she does manage to find some depth in certain scenes, such as when she describes her abuse of Tonya as a “sacrifice” a mother makes. It is a very good performance, and Janney is such a terrific actress that I cannot begrudge her Oscar win. That being said, I’m still more in the Lesley Manville camp though.

Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread (2017)

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Daniel Day-Lewis received his sixth Oscar nomination for playing Reynolds Woodcock in Phantom Thread.

Phantom Thread, in true Paul Thomas Anderson fashion, is not a movie for everyone. To say it is twisted is putting it pretty mildly. Personally, I am still trying to sort out my feelings for it though I can say at the very least that I really like it (…love it?). My sister didn’t like it though LOL. One thing I can safely declare my love for is its impeccable cinematography, score, sets/costume design, and of course, performances. Lesley Manville is deliciously complex as Cyril, Reynolds’ bitchy, cold, yet caring and firm sister. Her relationship with Reynolds is one of the most fascinating aspects of this story actually, along with Reynolds’ twisted romance with his muse Alma (played by Vicky Krieps, who also deserved a nod in my book).

And then there’s DDL in his final film performance. My thoughts about him as an actor are pretty much on par with everybody else. One can arguably claim that he was the one who pioneered the “full physical transformation”approach in acting which eventually became the infallible solution to winning an Oscar (See McConaughey, Redmayne, and even Oldman this year). Yet, unlike others, I’ve always felt that DDL masterfully crafts complex and layered human beings beneath the physical transformation, aligning the physical attributes with the characters’ personalities. Ok, I did think his Lincoln was rather shallow, though technically brilliant, show baiting, but his Daniel Plainview and Christy Brown are some of my favourite onscreen characterisations ever. And I guess that’s what makes him a true actor in the sense of the word.

Funnily enough, Reynolds Woodcock is one of DDL’s least transformative performance. He speaks in his natural accent, and he pretty much looks like himself normally. What he brings here, however, is a truly brilliant portrayal of a fastidious and difficult artist who is enigmatic, charming and yet repulsive at the same time. It’s difficult to describe this character in one sentence within a few words because DDL, like Woodcock’s meticulousness to his dresses, portrays him in such fine detail.

On one hand, we see a brilliant perfectionist who is so dedicated to his craft that it consumes him entirely and leaves the people around him in edge. DDL is brilliant in portraying the “difficult artist” persona. Having worked with fantastic artists and theatre directors myself, I can assure you that, yes, I totally recognise that feeling of being reduced to tears for just walking too loudly across the rehearsal space. I must say though, Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction and attention to the details of Woodcock’s dressmaking also brings out this point highly effectively.

Beneath this brilliant and tortured artist persona, however, is a lonely and insecure man. Despite having multiple muses, DDL doesn’t portray Woodcock as a non-committal playboy but rather a man who just cannot fall in love because of his work. He is almost a machine whose daily routine cannot be disturbed, and once something as radical as romance comes in, he malfunctions. I know it sounds kinda melodramatic, and yet it is all so captivating and crazy to watch on screen. Alma is like a destructive drug in Woodcocks’ life. DDL shows how much Woodcock yearns for this twisted codependent relationship with Alma in which he willingly lets her manipulate him so that he can fall in love with her again. The details are pretty fucked up, so I’ll just leave it at this.

His relationship with his sister Cyril is also fascinating. They’re cold, professional and terse on the surface and yet deep down, I could feel Woodcock’s strong dependence on her, not just as his manager (I think?) but his sibling. I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of love between them, and yet I do think they care deeply for each other. Or at least I think she cares a lot for him, while he just goes to her to whine incessantly when things don’t go well. Having said this, I especially love Manville’s no-bullshit approach in handling him; she knows his every eccentric facet, and she chooses to let him be as long as he doesn’t push her wrongly.

All in all, this is a fantastic swansong for one of the greatest actors ever. I’m glad that he went for a more restrained and quiet performance that allows him to showcase his range beyond the scenery chewing we typically know of. Makes me want to watch In The Name of The Father now. 5/5.

Leslie Manville: 5/5.

Frances McDormand in Fargo (1996), Helen Mirren in The Queen (2006), Nicole Kidman in Lion (2016)

I’ve been insanely busy for the past few months due to school, which is why I haven’t been able to catch as many films as I would like to (I’ve seen none of the films that are receiving Oscar buzz). Thankfully, I finally managed to revisit a few films on the plane last week when I flew off to Japan with my family for a short trip. These were highly popular performances that I’ve been wanting to review again for the longest time, mainly because they didn’t make much of an impact on me during the initial viewing. Generally, I really enjoyed all of them because I’m a huge fan of the actresses, but none really made me go gaga. Still, it was definitely worth rewatching all of them.

Frances McDormand in Fargo (1996)

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Frances McDormand won her only Oscar to date for playing Marge Gunderson in Fargo, the classic black comedy crime by the Coen brothers. I would like to begin by saying that Fargo is a masterpiece, and I really think it should have won best picture and director at the very least. The way each character’s arch was pieced together in the main narrative is simply amazing, and I was thoroughly hooked from beginning to end, even though I knew what the ending was. The film is also a perfect mix of comedy, drama and thriller, and the dialogue can truly be hilarious at times.

Frances McDormand’s performance as Marge Gunderson isn’t the most difficult one technically. Marge essentially represents the “good” in the film, and the best way to describe McDormand’s performance would be warm. She makes Marge such a kind, lovable presence in the evil world of Fargo that her appearance (which is surprisingly late into the film for a best actress winner) makes you feel reassured and happy. I mean, even her mundane interactions with her husband feels so nice to watch, even though they were just going on and on about…paintings, I think? The fact that the Coen brothers made Marge a pregnant character is also a brilliant choice as it allows McDormand to portray Marge’s maternal warmth and kindness, even when she is interacting the sleazy characters in the story.

That is not to say that Marge is a one-dimensional character. We can also see that she is a brilliant policewoman/detective with sharp instincts, and I really enjoyed the way she pieced together the clues with her partner in this matter-of-fact manner.  Another excellent aspect of this performance is the subtle humour that McDormand injects into the character. I especially loved the way she subtly throws shade at some of the characters in the story, like the two dumb hookers (“So you were having sex with the little fella then?”).

I think of this performance as one where the performer goes beyond what is written in the script and gives the character so much more personality and quirks. On paper, Marge is probably the simplest character in the story, and she could have been the most boring too, and yet McDormand makes her so much more. 4.5/5.

Helen Mirren in The Queen (2006)

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Helen Mirren won her only Oscar to date for playing Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, which I actually thought was an overall well-made film that I liked a lot more this time round. I have always been fascinated by the UK Royal Family for the wrong reasons (I find them excellent gossip material), and even though I was very young when she passed away, I actually have a fairly strong impression of Princess Diana’s legacy throughout the world.

Helen Mirren is one of my favourite actresses, and I always felt that she is a real force on screen. Granted, yes, she can be theatrical and campy (Man, I would love to watch her perform on stage one day), but to me she is always one of the highlights of her movies.

Mirren performance as Queen Elizabeth II is simply a technical achievement. She is actually a lot more restraint here than usual, but it just fits the Queen’s reserved and highly controlled persona perfectly. She is also very calculated in her acting choices, from her line deliveries to her every action (such as when she arranges the pens on the table), but to me, it is all done in a manner that is truthful to the character’s highly controlled and private personality. As mentioned in the movie, the Queen is someone who prefers to keep her feelings to herself, and Mirren perfectly captures this spirit. There is so much dignity and grace in the way Mirren carries herself as the monarch, and one can really see how she has successfully inhabited the role.

The main highlight of the performance is how Mirren manages to illustrate the Queen’s struggle between appeasing the public and the deeply rooted tradition that she is born into. Without saying much, we can see her deep concerns over her waning popularity, and also her frustrations over Tony Blair’s concern pestering. Her brief outburst at him where she lectures him about “doing things quietly and with dignity” was perfectly delivered, and I really loved how she almost mechanically puts the phone down. It’s really the small actions like this that gives the Queen so much more personality beyond the old, stuffy monarch image.

Honestly, the brief crying scene felt like it written for the sake of giving Mirren a crying scene, and yet Mirren manages to do it with such dignity and grace while still showcasing the Queen’s vulnerable side. I really loved that closeup which showed her appreciating the beautiful stag that she came across, as it really showcased her human side without any words.

I feel that this performance isn’t really that popular nowadays due to its highly quiet nature, but I think what Mirren does here is truly admirable work on a technical level. 4.5/5.

Nicole Kidman in Lion (2016)

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Nicole Kidman received her fourth Oscar nomination for playing Sue Brierly in Lion. Lion is a well-made film that dragged a little, but I thought it was a moving story about mothers and love. Dev Patel actually gives a really good performance, although I feel like he is the lead of the film (I guess best actor was too crowded to slot him in there).

Nicole Kidman’s graceful acting style has always impressed me, and she utilises it very well here. Although the role is very limited in terms of range and screentime, there is so much warmth, love and heartbreak here that she instantly captures your attention from the moment she appears. Her big monologue scene about choosing not have children is heartbreaking and brilliant, but I actually loved her first appearance where she interacts with Saroo in the airport. She really captures Sue’s nervousness and excitement at being a mother, and I loved her little interactions with Saroo. A little OT, but I wonder if she poured in her own personal experiences with her (allegedly) estranged adopted children for this movie, because man, the way she depicted her pain as her children drifted away from her felt really real.

Overall, this is a warm and nice performance by a truly talented actress (she was truly great in Big Little Lies too by the way), and it was a nice nomination to add on to her list of accolades. 4/5.

Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment (1983)

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Shirley MacLaine

Shirley MacLaine won her oscar for playing Aurora Greenway in James L. Brooks’ best picture winner Terms of Endearment. This is her fifth acting nomination and I don’t think her win is considered a surprise – she’s a veteran actress who is widely respected and I’m pretty sure she was considered overdue. The fact that she is in the best picture is also to her advantage, I guess.

Terms of Endearment is a good movie, but I’m not that sure whether it is deserving of its best picture Oscar. I am also not entirely sure if James L. Brooks deserved his directing award. I can’t really judge cause I haven’t seen the competition, though I can say I prefer this film slightly more than Tender Mercies. Jack Nicholson won his Oscar for, well, playing himself. I personally felt his character was the weak link of the story (such contrived writing urgh) and I also felt like Nicholson wasn’t really putting that much effort in his performance either. I’d rather he had won for his role in Reds 2 years earlier.

Out of the 2 leading ladies, MacLaine has the lighter storyline and, I suspect, lesser screentime. That being said, I always found her the more interesting character as compared to Winger’s Emma. Aurora is one wacky and eccentric lady who is full of insecurities and neurotic tics, but MacLaine is always truthful in her portrayal, making Aurora entertaining and sympathetic at the same time. She’s scenery chewing a lot here (as she always does) but it just works – I mean, when she screams “GIVE MY DAUGHTER THE SHOT!!!” at the Nurses it could have failed so badly but MacLaine nailed it, making it one of the most memorable scenes in the film.

Beneath all the weirdness of the character, MacLaine allows us to see a vulnerable side of Aurora, mainly through her love for her daughter Emma. Despite her abrasive and straightforward personality, she deeply cares for Emma and I love the scenes where she advises her, and when they share their troubles together. MacLaine is so motherly here in her nagging and chiding, and the excellent chemistry between the 2 actresses is also one of the best aspects of the film.

The Nicolson scenes are my least favourite parts of the film, but I’d admit that Nicolson and MacLaine have great chemistry. I also like how she used the opportunity to create an arc for Aurora, transforming her from a neurotic, insecure widow to a woman who learns to fall in love again, all while learning to be a new grandmother at the same time.

She doesn’t have the melodramatic storyline like Winger but MacLaine’s portrayal of Aurora is colourful, entertaining and moving, making her the best aspect of the film. 4.5/5.

Debra Winger

Although I prefer MacLaine’s performance because of how unique it is, I think Winger holds her own as Aurora’s free spirited, cheerful daughter who is forced to grow up due to her rocky marriage. Winger excels in portraying Emma’s transformation from an immature and naive young lady to a hardened Mother struggling to deal with her cheating husband and troubled children.

Emma is a highly sympathetic character that is typically played for tears, especially since she gets the cancer storyline. I liked how Winger gives her a spunky edge to flavour things up a little, and some of her wisecracks are pretty funny.

Her farewell scene is also fantastically played and I loved how she managed to convey so much emotions within a few seconds without saying a word. But, as mentioned earlier, I have always felt that the best parts of the performance come from her excellent chemistry with MacLaine – it is truly heartwarming to see the 2 women confide in each other during their ups and downs.

Somehow I was less interested in Emma than Aurora – she’s certainly very sympathetic, especially when watching her deal with her struggling marriage and illness. But at the same time, I felt like Aurora had a bit more mystery to her, especially when one tries to understand her eccentricity and insecurities beneath that loud and colourful facade. Emma’s storyline is a bit more straightforward, but I think Winger does a great job nonetheless. 4.5/5.