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Monday, 4 May 2015

The Underdog Awards 2015: Part 6

The Underdog Awards

Special Category

(Best Ensemble Cast, Best Breakthrough Actor, Best Breakthrough Director) 



Unlike last year, I've added one more category to this year's special awards.

This year we can see five candidates for Breakthrough Director.

As well as the original Best Breakthrough Performer and Best Ensemble cast. It's a rich collection of the finest performances of the year.


Underdog Award for Best Breakthrough Performer

Young stars taking their first step towards great roles and more glory or older one's bursting into the A-List, then there's some who just couldn't be ignored.

This years breakthrough actors are an eclectic bunch of such performers and performances. As is with last year, this year all their performances are bound in contention e.g. Chris Pratt is a nominee for both his works in Lego Movie and The Guardians of The Galaxy.

Big thing to note, I tried my best and succeeded in making sure none of the breakthrough's are nominated in the other sections for acting or even direction.

A few notable exceptions;

David Oyelowo (Selma): He's made a big splash from his theater work with this film, but despite missing on an Oscar it's still a straight shoot role like with Chiwetel Ejiofor last year, that it doesn't count.

Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl): She's been on the big screens for quite a while, but this one was her Golden ticket. Still she's already an Oscar nominee, that's huge.

Essie Davis (The Babadook): She's a tad bit older and her performance was so good, it's in the Lead Actor nominees rather than Breakthrough.

Antoine Olivier Pilon (Mommy): Oh, he was so terrific but I wasn't sure I wanted to give a foreign film that many outside nominees. But still so terrific.

Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night): Same as above

Gary Poulter (Joe): Picked off the streets, Poulter gives a chilling performance in his debut. Sadly age was a factor for him and he didn't cut the top ten of the supporting list, but then he also passed away. So RIP Mr. Poulter, you've left your mark in this world.

Honorable Mentions: Dan Stevens-The Guest, Tony Revolori-The Grand Budapest Hotel, Jillian Bell-22 Jump Street, Maika Monroe-The Guest, Gina Persanti-It Felt Like Love, Dave Bautista-The Guardians of The Galaxy, Josh Wiggins-Hellion, Evan Bird-Maps To The Stars, Noah Wiseman-The Babadook, Jaeden Liberhaer-St. Vincent, Pitobash Tripathy-Million Dollar Arm, Rohan Chand-Bad Words and Lone Survivor, Jerrod Carmichael-Neighbors

And the Nominees are...

Katherine Waterston as Shasta Fay Hepworth for Inherent Vice

Being in some form a romantic film, Inherent Vice relies on the shoulders of Waterston to make Doc's (Phoenix) threadbare quest of saving her seem worth investing in. Waterston straddles the line between a suspect femme fatale type and a victim perfectly.

Her at times simple expressions of joy and eventual manipulation are enthralling and give reason to why Doc is so obsessed with her. It's the little things that she does add flavor to a very important crux of the narrative.

Waterston was so brilliant, that at one point she was in top contention for a supporting nomination at major awards. Sadly that didn't come to fruition but she did make big waves with this marvelous performance.

Tessa Thompson as Samantha 'Sam' White for Dear White People

Littered with a cast of ready and hungry young actors, Tessa Thompson stands out. Not only because she has the best character, but because Thompson proves to have refined one hell of an arsenal in able to construct the multiple emotional transitions of her character.

There's a sense of duality to Sam which allows Tessa to be as charismatic and as likeable as she is, while also push forward certain moments of mixed character choices with her body language. She straddles lines between a loss of confidence, pain (that is vaguely explained to the audience) and hesitation towards certain actions.

Thompson proves to be one hell of a shining diamond in the rough. Don't be shocked if two-three years from now, she'll be on that Oscar podium.

Ellar Coltrane as Mason for Boyhood

What can one say about Coltrane that hasn't been said. Sure it's hard for him to be natural at first in front of the camera, but the early stages of a nervous and cautious Mason add to an arc that sees the child move from broken home to broken home.

Like the film itself, it's the little things that make his 12 year effort a wonder. His simple expressions capturing a sense of innocence and world wonder. As the years move onwards, Coltrane gains a sense of perspective just like a teenager would and begins to reflect onto Mason.  

Boyhood makes Ellar Coltrane natural and he does the same. The performance is thus a cherish able cherry on top of the sundae that is Boyhood.

Jack O'Connell as Eric Love for Starred Up, Louis 'Louie' Zamperini for Unbroken, Gary Hook for '71 

At the cusp of greatness, O'Connell knocks it out of the park with three sensational performances. As Eric Love in Starred Up, he is a hardened shell with a tender heart. The performance comes off in some moving emotional spectrum he presents, his chemistry with Ben Mendelsohn touching.

In Unbroken, he plays Zamperini perfectly. There's a sense of honor in his work that he brings to this role, the passion O'Connell must have had to pick this one is exuded on screen. His performance is essentially what makes Unbroken, despite the tide of mediocre scripting he fights back with one hell of a showing.

But it's '71 that is the true underdog, a performance so riveting you'll be taken in. There's not much time to catch your breath in this thriller, despite how smooth and smartly it is executed. Once again at the forefront is Jack O'Connell. His turn is enriched by the presence of a larger pace and sequences that push him to the limit. It's a wonderful cap off to an exhilarating year for the young man, who is going places.

Macon Blair as Dwight Evans for Blue Ruin 

There's major reasons why Blue Ruin is such a spectacular film. One such is Macon Blair, one half of a childhood friends director-actor duo, Macon is fantastic as Dwight. For its concept, Macon could have faltered badly, making the film a comedy and losing the emotional resonance the picture has.

Macon Blair however is a beacon of light. He balances the sides perfectly, with his wide eyed expressions wringing out equal parts shock, horror and even black comedy.

It's a performance told through the actors eyes and what eyes the are. Echoing a descent into the abyss, Macon is staunch through out and a brilliant emotional vessel for the audience to attach itself onto.   

Jenny Slate as Donna Stern for Obvious Child

It's been some great years for female comedians, each one allowed the space to knock it out of the park in cinema; from Kristen Wigg to this year's Trainwreck star Amy Schumer. Last year was the hilarious Jenny Slate's chance and she hit all the right notes.

With impeccable comic timing and some seriously wonderful dramatic chops, she resonates a reality (with the aid of her director) in her character that is far too many times lost in abortion comedy movies.

Slate is at best when on the stage, dolling out the jokes but her sensitive side holds great potential while still allowing her to hit the right dark and witty comedic beats.

Chris Pratt as Emmet Brickowski for Lego Movie and Peter 'Star-Lord' Quill for The Guardians of The Galaxy

Whether he wins this one or not, Chris Pratt has it made. Despite having actually made his breakthrough as the lovable goof Andy Dwyer on Parks and Rec, he hit the A-List last year with a double bonanza of big projects.

The first is the hilarious Lego Movie, where he provided some sensational vocals for protagonist Emmet. His voice lending such a sweet heart to the character at the center of all the conflict. His innocence hiding a sense of heroic closure and resonance that Finn (the boy) required in his own life and played out through the Lego, all in the voice.

The second as Marvel hero Star-Lord. It's a game changing role that has made him the Han Solo of our generation. Pratt's work as Quill is funny and slick but it also utilizes his underrated emotional chops. One's he showed a glimpse of in films like Moneyball. The emotional arc of the character is always boiling close to the surface and Pratt exudes it towards the end with aplomb.

His delivery top notch and his acting on par, Chris Pratt is the third in line of Chris's that have been made by Marvel. His future roles prove this, with franchise lead roles in Jurassic World and most likely Indiana Jones. Let's hope that he however does some other greater work on the side as well.

Ansel Elgort as Augustus Waters for The Fault in Our Stars and Caleb Prior for Divergent

Not much to say about Divergent, just that in the time he gets Elgort is quite good enough. Par excellence compared to the film.

It's not easy however to steal the show from someone like Shailene Woodley, but at most times Elgort pulls this off in this year's sleeper romantic hit. As Augustus, Ansel Elgort is like a bundle of joys hiding behind deep sorrows.

He is at his charismatic best, pulling your eyes towards him. In the darkest, a small moment, as a car crashed drunk Augustus rues his fate; Elgort is mind blowing, he moves you intensely. Elgort simply becomes Augustus and it is a wonder to behold.

Gugu Mbatha Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle for Belle and Noni Jean for Beyond The Lights

Any of Gugu's performances last year could have been a great launching pad, the fact that she has two great ones is a statement of her abilities.

As the historical painted figure Belle, Gugu is profoundly effective. Playing a black woman of royalty in a white dominated period, Gugu is at once a demure and somewhat reserved and fearful woman stretched by two sides unwilling to accept her or let her go psychologically (in her mind). It's an identity crisis that the arc runs through and one peppered with large conflicts. Raw is simply fascinating in the moments when asked to step up, he silences allowing her body language to speak a thousand words.

As Noni she is equally magnificent, bearing the arc of a slowly drowning musician and a non-private romance, Raw is natural in moments of simplicity between her and Kaz (Nate Parker) while vivacious as the somewhat conflicted and beaten down pop star. It's another notch on the belt for her.

Both performances giving us the emotional range of what Gugu Mbatha Raw can handle and another top class young actor just inches away from really breaking through the stratosphere.

Stacy Martin as Young Joe for Nymphomaniac

It might not seem so, but off the two (her and Gainsbourg), Stacy Martin has the harder role. Playing a younger Joe, one whose descent into sexual addiction seem like games, she is at times wonderfully charming and sensuous but also peels greater layers back.

There's a sense that Martin hides a buried sexual hunger as well as a pain, which she masterfully keeps on crafting under the surface until the final blow out when she realizes she can not feel anything sexually.

Her subtlety in expressions and her language balancing between trying to entice while alienate provides a perfect foundation from which to constantly unsettle the viewer.

And the Winner is...

Jack O'Connell for Starred Up, Unbroken and '71!

Underdog Award for Best Breakthrough Director

This year's new addition!

There's been quite a few directors this year who have left a big splash, a splash that made waves across cinema. There passion for the art, pushing forward into the next half of the decade and more.

Some have been on the cusp of greatness the others lending a fresh voice and vision through their works. So here's to them.

Honorable Mentions: Anthony and Joe Russo-Captain America: Winter Soldier, Justin Simien-Dear White People, Yaan Demange-'71, Ned Benson-Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Jeremy Saulnier-Blue Ruin, Gia Coppola-Palo Alto

And the Nominees are...

Anna Lily Amirpour for A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night 

Taking on the desolation of an old western and framing it into a harrowed Iranian city, while bringing in some other flavors; Amirpour makes a twistedly delicious genre bender.

An existential surface on Iran and an out worldly tale of romance and vampires makes her freshmen effort a genuine work of art. Her eye for aesthetic is marvelous, as she gorgeously displays the film in black and white. She crafts a haunting atmosphere with the way the narrative plods on.

Amirpour spoke in an interview about the use of music in her film, an amalgam of tunes that add to the spice of the feature. There's a sense of horror and outlaw justice to each moment with The Girl (Vand). It's in a sense a  frenzy motion dance that plays out on the backdrop of something much more sinister and subdued.

Jennifer Kent for The Babadook

Jennifer Kent will really mess with your mind.

Mixing a psychological insight into the horrors of single parenting with regular horror jump scares, Kent visualizes probably the most fearsome horror film in around two decades.

There's always an under the layer tone of what's happening and how far our protagonists are from reality or are they dreaming. Each point Kent utilizes certain horror clichés to paint a terrifying picture that drags the audience one way, until she can pull the ground of their feet.

It's a masterful psychologically manipulation that makes Kent simply more than just a director but a crafty puppeteer.

Xavier Dolan for Mommy

For a man of 26 and five films old, Xavier Dolan has already had a couple of breakthroughs but this one is something else. Mommy sees Dolan in a similar headspace from his first feature (I Killed My Mother), tackling the complexities of a relationship between a mother and son.

It's a feature that never gets emotionally soppy or vacant, in fact it straddles a line very realistic at the same time very emotionally true without resorting to cheap tricks. It's hard to describe but in some way Dolan's Mommy needs to be felt to be understood. There's rich characters but also rich understanding of how to visually portray it.

Dolan once again proves that age is no barrier, experience is a great tool for a filmmaker and he utilizes his very well in making this heart wrenching beauty.

Damien Chazelle for Whiplash

There's one man the Oscars sadly forgot to give credit to, for the riveting Whiplash. That is the man that started it all, Damien Chazelle. Taking cues from his own life, Chazelle constructs a film that clearly reflects a certain understanding of a talented individual and their equally motivated teacher.

He crafts poetry in motion in between Andrew (Teller) and Fletcher (Simmons), imbuing in them conflicting ideologies, sense of connected character and a thrusting ambition for success and throbbing heart for jazz.

Like Fletcher, Chazelle is teacher (maybe not such a harsh one). Conducting the piece with a musical ear and a smooth efficiency. Like Andrew, he is grounded to the dramatic content and stakes constantly revealing his characters without being tied by complexities rather just pushing forward (for Andrew even amidst a harrowing accident).  

He might not have made it as a musician, but Chazelle proves he know how to create a musical masterpiece.

Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler

Having written quite a few films, Dan Gilroy's ascension to director's chair was a forgone conclusion after his brother's own debut with Bourne Legacy. He blew the floodgates open.

Gilroy's efforts in Nightcrawler, reveal a smart visual sensibility. His construction of scenes providing the film with an essence of magic that make the thrills and chills come alive. From opening scene he has you hooked. His utilization of his actors quite brilliant. With Gyllenhaal he crafts a chemistry that brings Lou Bloom alive and with his own wife (Rene Russo) he shows strength in knowing her comfort zones and pushing towards a performance we haven't seen from her in ages.

It's his visual aesthetic couple with his smart and crafty writing that makes Gilroy's vision another terrifically underrated film of the year.

And the Winner is...

Damien Chazelle for Whiplash!

Underdog Award for Best Ensemble Cast

When a cast full of actors performs in sync on a level beyond good, great or even magnificent, there's one reason; simple chemistry.

That is what makes an ensemble cast, award worthy.

Honorable Mentions: Fury, Palo Alto, Maps To The Stars, Kill The Messenger, Dawn of The Planet of The Apes, Starred Up, A Most Violent Year, 22 Jump Street, Lego Movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Frank, Get on Up, The Double, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Lone Survivor, A Most Wanted Man, Begin Again, Joe, Neighbors, Cold In July

And the Nominees are...

Best Performance: Ralph Fiennes as Monsieur Gustave H.

The latest Anderson film is another little sweet collection of some of the finest actors you will find working today, all huddled together to create another wondrous film in the Wes Anderson repertoire. 

Leads Tony Revolori and Ralph Fiennes providing much of the emotional connect and hearty witty laughs of the feature. Backing them up an array of brilliant character actors such as William Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Edward Norton and the sprightly Saoirse Ronan. Cameos by the like of Tilda Swinton to Harvey Keitel to Jude Law providing fits full of fun. Even Anderson regulars getting fitting face time; Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray.

But at the top it all of; a magnificent transformation by the elder Fiennes, proving that he has some genuine comedic chops.

Best Performance: Rosamund Pike as Amy Elliot Dunne

With Ben Affleck and Tyler Perry working top notch like never before, then Gone Girl's ensemble are in good hands. Include the breakthrough wonder of Carrie Coon and the brilliance of the understated Rosamund Pike.

Gone Girl features an eclectic cast of actors, that constantly knock it out of the park. Pike is chilling and sensational as the woman at the center of the film, Affleck has never fit better shuffling between honest and sincere to suspect. Coon carries large portions of the film and Tyler Perry is a wonder to behold, that makes you wonder what the hell he is doing with those pesky Madea films.

Rounding it out are a bunch of great smaller roles played by Neil Patrick Harris to Kim Dickens.

Best Performance: Tessa Thompson as Samantha 'Sam' White

Featuring a young cast of great talents, Dear White People's team chemistry is one fire.

Thompson at the top of it, at her A-Game, proving to be a young actor who will definitely go places. Tyler James acts as a great contrast to her, playing the soft spoken but determined and somewhat naïve/impressionable gay student Lionel.

Rounding out the leads are Brandon Bell and Brittany Curran whose arcs intertwine and allow the duo some amazing moments to show their potential dramatic chops. The likes of Dennis Haysbert and another young super talent Kyle Gallner give some superb support with their performances providing great conflict.

Overall all the performers in Dear White People are crafty with their performances, being natural and linking some great chemistry together.

Best Performance: James McAvoy as Charles Xavier/Professor X

To be honest, I tried, I tried real hard to keep James McAvoy in the leading category contention. Yet despite his inability to top the ten, there's no denying McAvoy gives one of the finest leading performances in a comic book movie.

Like with Fassbender in the previous film, he steals the show with his emotional resonance and great nuance in portraying a broken and near tragic figure. He I perfectly supported by an array of talented individuals.

At the fore is Hugh Jackman, racking up another notch with his performance as Wolverine coming off some harrowing character changes and the burden of age and immortality allowing him to kill it. Fassbender is genuinely delectable as the devilish Magneto. Jennifer Lawrence keeps a good pace this time round and it's enough considering her actual distaste for the franchise. Hoult hits the right notes.

The cast finally rounded out by all the old and the new melding with standouts in particular being Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart's chemistry as well as new entrants Fan Bing-Bing and Evan Peters.

Best Performance: Tilda Swinton as Mason

I'll discuss about Swinton and Chris Evans later, there performances being real stand outs.

The cast however is littered with a far greater dearth of talents. Soong Kang Ho shines as the addicted supporting player, fighting to destroy the train and free the people. A questionable quest he shares with his sweet and equally addicted daughter, played surprisingly well by Go Ah-Sung. Jamie Bell is fantastic and imbues Edgar with a great zest and innocence, defining Evans character arc well.

John Hurt being another equally worthy nominee, with the subtext he mystifies with his intonations. Ed Harris being a real genuine surprise and a standout as the villainous and manipulative silver tounged Wilford.

There's a lot more with Alison Pill as the vicious pre-school teacher, Octavia Spencer as the determine d and tough as nails mother and the chilling Luke Pusqualino and Emma Levie.

Best Performance: Imelda Staunton as Hefina Headon

Don't blink, yes the nice and accepting as well as feisty Hefina Headon (who is the first to accept the Lesbian and Gay Support the Miners group at the village of Onllywyn, for help) is played by Imelda Staunton, famous for being the annoyingly viciously cruel Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter).

It's difficult to stand out in a cast of well talented stand outs, but Staunton pulls it off with aplomb. Not to say the others are bad, but she's just to damn great. However, speaking of the other actors they get their moments.

Paddy Considine is another terrific performer as the townsman who first meets the LGSM. Dominic West steals some of the best moments, Andrew Scott providing some fun support to him. Ben Schnetzer proving to be equally show stealing and providing some real heart warming instances.

Leading man George McKay equally fun to watch as the audience surrogate.

That's just the tip of the iceberg that includes the always entertaining Bill Nighy.

Best Performance: Sheila Vand as The Girl/Marshall Manesh as Hossein

With a set of some wonderful unknowns, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night becomes a naturally flavored film thanks to the subtle performances.

At the center is the silent predator The Girl, Vand playing her with equal parts sexy smoldering charm and an uncanny ability to be fearsome even when simply silent. Her eyes expresses quite a lot. In contradiction Arash Marandi, being quite the delivery man and expressive with his flexible body language.

Marshall Manesh (Ranjit from HIMYM) in a show stealing cameo, as his drug addled father. His scenes depicting a desperation but also a shocking hostility. A few other actors rounding out the cast with their small but impactful roles.

Who says an ensemble need be huge to leave a great impression?

Best Performance: Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin as Joe

It was hard to decide which of the two Joe's was the best. Yet I talk about both of them elsewhere (Stacy Martin is above).

Off the other actors, there's not actually much to say. Multiple actors pop up and pop out giving some sensational performances of varying styles and magnitudes. A showstopping Uma Thurman steals a whole section, thanks to the level of brilliance she brings to her betrayed wife when facing off against her home breaker Joe (Stacy Martin).

Another particularly terrific performance comes from Stellan Skarsgard who plays wonderfully with the dialogue and expressions, warming the viewer up for his dark, detached and fuck you (to the audience) turn that Lars Von Trier relishes.

Shia LeBeouf and Jamie Bell playing against type are some worthy additions to the cast as well.

Best Performance: Hard to decide among the heroic five

Did any cast have a better chemistry with each other than the Guardians this year?

Hard to say, cause these guys were so damn enjoyable. Each of the made stars of the film, bringing their A-Game.

Off the supporting cast, James Gunn staple Michael Rooker proved wonders with his role as Yondu and hopefully gets an expanded time in the sequel. Karen Gillan and Lee Pace do their best with some mediocre characterization. John C Reily and Josh Brolin round it out with some entertaining expanded cameos.

The first hit of the main cast is the super surprise Dave Batista as Drax, he has some sensational comic timing. Both Cooper and Diesel imbue great heart into their characters, making them feel flesh and blood. Saldana matches them with a feisty passion and while she doesn't get a complete arc, she does make one bad ass Gamora.

At the front of this, is a star making turn from Chris Pratt. But the standout of it all, is their indescribable team chemistry that at times puts the Avengers to shame. GoTG works because of the constant game of parcel they play with one another. Their one hell of an ensemble cause their the 'Guardians of the Galaxy, bitch!'

Best Performance: Josh Brolin as Det. Christian F. 'Bigfoot' Bjornsen

Inherent Vice, the darkly comic and trippy feature from Paul Thomas Anderson features some of the weirdest cast members in a PTA film and that counts those in Boogie Nights. Owen Wilson, (wife) Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Jean Malone, Eric Roberts and Reese Witherspoon are great in small roles.

The bigger roles go to the trio of leads in this sense, Brolin is hilarious (more on that later). Katherine Waterston is a breath of fresh air and while Joquain Phoenix never beats his recent performances, he's still on a role with a wacky turn that endears you to the character while keeping you detached. He juxtaposes PTA's style wonderfully.

Plus the chemistry he shares with Brolin and Waterston is infectious.

And the Winner is...

The Cast of Snowpiercer!

And that's that. Took longer than usual. 

Up Next: The men and women behind the great leading men and women, Underdog Award for Best Supporting Actor (Male and Female)

'Nuff Said

Aneesh Raikundalia

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