Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Supporting Actor Project: 2010

I had you lovely folks  weigh in last week on which year to begin my Supporting Actor project, and if you did you might be confused as to why the title refers to a year that wasn’t featured. I’d already planned to begin with 2010 when two weeks ago my sister and I had a mini 2010 party and watched The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone, and with the battle almost half way down I decided I’d just follow up with The King’s Speech, The Fighter and The Town in that order. For, as much as 2010 seemed to emerge as a good but not great year for me, it was a terrific year for performances and Oscar chose, for the most part, across the board – particularly here and in the Actress race. So, behold my first critique on the category.
Winner: Christian Bale in The Fighter
Nominees: John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone
                 Jeremy Renner in Winter’s Bone
                 Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right
                Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech

Evaluating the Race: Looking at Oscar’s track record and considering how simple it could have been to supplant one or two of the actual nominees for a more stereotypical choice like a Bill Murray in Get Low or Sam Rockwell in Conviction I can’t really be mad at the AMPAS disregard of Andrew Garfield . Curiously, though, none of the precursors really took the bait on the more typical “Oscar-y” choices, essentially making this a race of six and the inevitability of Garfield’s novice (in the game, not necessarily in performance) is understandable. Not that the field in itself isn’t something to talk about. It’s not just the curiousness of four of the nominated men being from Best Picture nominees, but each of the performances is a veritable necessity in the film not only in terms of length but it in terms of quality. And, with an ostensible tendency the Academy seems to have in citing some oddball choices in this category I’m quite content with the lot.

The Field: B+

How I’d Rank Them (Links take you to movie reviews)

Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Even if you, like many seem to, feel that Choledenko’s ostensibly withdrawn directing style and ambling screenplay are crutches to a fairly rote film I think it’d be difficult to not appreciate the work the quintet of lead actors turn in. For all the love I have for it, I’m not unwilling to admit that The Kids Are All Right is a bit of anomaly, difficult to pin down if only because it parades itself as being so easy to read. And, even though Paul is not the protagonist, it’s the same way I feel about the character. In the same way that Choledenko avoids making a theoretical perspective of a “hip” film, Ruffalo avoids making Paul a glorified hipster. Jules is the one he immediately hits it off with, but Ruffalo’s performance is more of the Annette Bening School. Her introspection is mistaken for being steely, his for being stoned. Bearing in mind how the film expels Paul form the narrative towards the end I suspect that a lesser actor might have done one two things – a) play Paul as a straight interloper making it easier for all parties, and the movie, when he disappears or b) played up Paul’s insecurities so that when he leaves we’re left thinking of him as an antihero. Ruffalo, though, is comfortable existing in neither register. Paul is childish and uncaring enough to disregard the implications of his tryst with Jules, but still sweet enough to take a paternal pleasure in something as basic as putting a hat on Joni’s head. Because his character is the most vaguely drawn he’s free to decide where Paul places emotion so that his misguided plea for Jules to run away with him is both comically played, without being condescending to the character, and affecting enough to point to the broken man that he must have been before “the kids” evn entered his stratosphere. And, all the while playing it with enough restraint because he’s never truly the star of the show – the movie, or the children’s lives.

Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech  ★ ★ ★ ★
Even if you’re not a cinephile acturely aware of Rush’s tendency to gloriously ham it up, there’s a striking amount of reticence in Rush’s delivery of Logue that even before the film’s requisite tiff between the King and his speech therapist we’re inclined to consider that this is a man with ghosts in his closets. And, even though that opening suggests an overwhelmingly clichéd character it’s to Rush’s credit (buoyed by Seiber and Hooper) that the role never descends into triteness – not from where I’m sitting at least. Using the clips from the award ceremonies Logue comes off as a deliciously quotable and sardonic know-it-all and it’s the tendencies of producers to zero in on the showiest portions of the actors. But, even using only these clips as a paradigm it’s important to note how even the most showy moments of Logue aren’t really that showy. This time around I’m ready to say that that scene where the Queen drags Bertie to his house and Logue’s wife appears is all wrong for all parties (except for Bonham Carter who triumphs in that scene against all odds). And, the fact that Logue’s inclinations to keep the therapies a secret are never quite established does make things problematic for Rush. But, Rush is already one, maybe two steps ahead of us. The screenplay is plainly presented and that audition scene is painful in its obviousness (in a good way). I like to view it as the thesis for Rush’s entire performance, because even though it’s decidedly less hammy I see shades of Philip Henslowe in Lionel Logue, for better and for worse. Viewing it not as a romantic comedy with two men, but as a speech-therapist as a stand-in for the teacher who can’t but wants to makes it a more beneficial, for me. That scene where the Queen first meets him jumps out for how glossily sweet it is, but I zero in on Logue’s steadfastness to rules. It’s probably easy for Rush to play it as one who can’t do teaching, and Logue does form a robust with Bertie but he’s constantly so deliberate in the reticence forcing the audience to extrapolate reasons for that air of sadness. It works for me.

Christian Bale in The Fighter  ★ ★ ★ ★
If you’re reading this, you already know my idiosyncrasies well enough. So, it’s probably not a surprise for me to say that I wanted to dislike this performance before I saw it. Other than a generally winsome, if ill-intentioned, performance in Little Women I’ve always appreciated Christian Bale as a performer because of the detachment he seems to create in his characters. So, the prospect of watching him play a potentially lampoonist drug addict didn’t thrill me. I’d underestimated O. Russell’s directing technique, and intentions for the film. Be warned, Dicky is every bit of a hammy character (theoretically, at the very least) hogging the spotlight with all his foibles but Bale solicits that same inclination for contemplation which I’m a sucker for and which gives the film all of its more tender moments. Just look at Melissa Leo, a performance I liked but not very much, as against Bale. They’re both tasked with the larger than life characters that seem written simply as precipitants for showy scenes, but Bale goes further. I will readily admit that Bale has easier because the film is more interested in his inclinations giving him strident moments for us to observe the man behind the skeleton but Bale wilily averts the chance of making it to showy, even if I don’t know how sometimes. That singing scene with Alice in the car should be much more exaggerated than it’s played and it’s the best moment for Alice AND Dicky and corny as it sounds – Bale stepping back and allowing Dicky to realise how low he’s fallen makes for good acting. There’s a deliberate sadness in all his bombastic manoeuvrings and, true, it does come off as just a bit inflated occasionally. But, he saves it all in that final showdown in the boxing ring and that moment where he shows up at Charlene’s house impressively played with sincerity, and not the faux-kind. That not quite dejected walk past his old buddies on the sidewalk convey more than bits of dialogue, and convince me of his dedication to the character.

John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone  ★ ★ ★
Some time around the SAG, and the overwhelming goodwill towards Winter’s Bone resulting in its Best Picture nomination Hawkes just sort of popped up as a bona fide contender for a nomination. And, considering the type of film that Winter’s Bone is it is unsurprising that appreciation for the performance ended up being so protracted, and that the appreciation when it came was so effusive. It’s not a precise criticism of the film, because I did like it, but the story is Ree’s no matter how much effort Granik puts into fleshing out her supporting characters and as everything unfolds so sombrely and even stolidly, on occasion, there’s a striking sense of near claustrophobia which Hawkes’ potential sinister uncle does not help. I’ll confess that the very first time around I was so caught up in everything else that I didn’t even take not of the work he put in, and whether that’s proof of just how organically the performance unfolds from the narrative, a crutch on his part or just a general inclination to zero on the actresses and not the actors – I can’t be certain. If there’s one thing that could sum up any issues the film has, it’s the overwhelming lack of levity and Hawkes exasperates sometimes with how he teases us with a menacing mien that’s just barely flippant. To his credit, that characterisation does end up working because there’s no doubt that this is the Teardrop Dolly that Granik wants when taking into account the film she wants to make. It seems a bit ridiculous, then to kvetch about how he doesn’t rise above the narrative’s concept of him and give a more definable performance especially when I’m intimated that that would make for an entirely different (and perhaps not a better) movie. Last time around I couldn’t deny to be taken with his performance every time he shows up, even if I’m still wholly won over. Nearly, but not quite.

Jeremy Renner in The Town  ★★
Even more than Hawkes, Renner crutch is the narrative in which he exists. It’s ironic, then, that his performance for me is the obvious highlight of the film. I kept flip-flopping between two and three stars ultimately deciding on two, even if I sort of regret it because it seems unfair to indict Renner for the issues of his film. Jem never comes off as truly rounded character to be, and it’s never Renner’s fault even though his performance seems disinterested in carving out a fully rounded character. Not that Jem is a plot-point, but it’s the way that The Town comes off to me as a film about types and not a film about people. So, Jem comes off less a player in a continuing arc and more of a character popping up to advance the plot and offer up random (albeit well-acted) scenes. It’s easy to see why the performance was a staple in the race last year, though. Renner manages to achieve a fearless determination for the wrong things while still managing to ensure that Jem isn’t a cardboard villain and he does that all while refusing to imbue him with those obvious “misunderstood gangster” moments. So, considering all those praises why is he at the bottom of the pool with only two stars? Renner saves the character, and the movie, from descending into something too archetypical and cartoonish but it still is archetypical – just not overly so. There are moments in The Town, like Jem’s appearance on that first date of Doug and Claire popping up almost sinisterly and there’s a strong sense that Renner is trying to give the appearance more dramatic context than it actually has. But, he’s so bogged down by having to work against a film that doesn’t really care for him he doesn’t get to create that threadbare character which should be in theory, but only a ghost of a scruffy realistic persona and it’s worthy of praise how he valiantly attempts to emerge from it unscathed, but I can’t endorse it fully.
So, ummm, there it is. I'm ridiculously nervous about this which makes little sense because I've been pretending my assertions are golden for years on this blog. But, la de da. I'm nervous, so be gentle. How does this format for the Supporting Actor Project seem? Too much writing, too little (as if). We wrapped up the 2010 season only recently, what did you think of the field and my thoughts on them?


Fritz said...

I've seen Ruffolo, Rush and Bale and kinda liked all of them. And I really love your presentation! Your reviews are intelligent and great to read and the length is just right! Keep going! :-)

Alex in Movieland said...

why nervous? You can play with it until you settle for the structure you like. :) You'll know you're doing the right thing when you start feeling like you enjoy the experience and mostly enjoy redescovering the performances/films for your own pleasure.

as for the year itself... well, of course I don't agree. :D Ruffalo is no. 5/5 on my list, I just don't like the guy and find him reallly overrated. He was just ok in Kids, and plain awful in Shutter Island.

From the nominees, I'd go with Bale, with Rush as a really close 2nd. Renner is 3rd for me, because I found his performance very entertaining to watch and it brought something everytime he was on screen. Hawkes 4th and Ruffalo 5th.

Of course, if Garfield would've been nommed for Social Network (not for Never), he would've been my no. 1 choice.

Continue!! :D how do you plan on choosing next years. Alternating new/old might be a solution at one point.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

fritz thank you. do you have a favourite of trio you've seen?

alex i remember your disinterest in ruffalo. i love the performance, obviously. and, it's a bit problematic having the first year i do (and such a recent) have a five star performance but ah well. i actually have no idea how i'll decide, i still have to decide. and why am i nervous, probably because i'm crazy. :)

Paolo said...

I like the naturalistic tics within Ruffalo's performance but for some reason I never thought he ever found the sympathetic side of his character, especially in the crucial scenes in the end.

My first choice that year would have been Hawkes. Maybe it's because I was looking at him through a clean slate but he also co-starred in Winter's Bone, one of that year's least loathsome films.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

paolo that paragraph on hawkes was the most difficult to write just because i had such a hard time quantifying the performance. it's one i wanted to be impressed with more than i was, all the time seeing why it would be impressive but not quite getting there.