Tag Archives: Mark Strong

The Times Like Those Alternative Oscars!

Every year, the same movies snatch up a big portion  of the Oscar nominations. Then, we hear about these movies for months as we lead up to Oscar night. And while this year has been a pretty exciting race (I’d say the winners for both lead acting categories are up in the air), and there were a few surprise nominees that snuck in at the last moment (what’s up, Demian Birchir?), it  can get a little bit repetitive to hear about the same movies over and over again, even if you enjoyed them.

In hopes of offering a change of pace, I’ve compiled my own “Oscar”  list of sorts. For my categories, I ignored all of the existing Oscar nominees and focussed on films and performances that didn’t receive as much awards attention this year. I also omitted people like Shailene Woodley, who did not receive an Oscar nomination but still got lots of attention from critics, bloggers, and awards groups leading up to the nominations.

Also, keep in mind that there are still lots of films from this year that I need to see. Shame, Take Shelter, Melancholia, and Martha Marcy May Marlene are just a few on that list.

Enjoy, and feel free to post your own “alternative Oscars” in the comments.

Best Picture

Drive

The Ides of March

Meek’s Cutoff

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Win Win

It may be a small, unassuming film, but Meek’s Cutoff stuck with me in a big way this year. The film is unconventional in almost every way (the pacing, the mumbled dialogue, the refusal to punch up the story with high drama), and it’s a true achievement in cinema.

Best Director

Tomas Alfredson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

George Clooney, The Ides of March

Carey Fukanaga, Jane Eyre

Nicholas Winding Refn, Drive

Kelly Reichardt, Meek’s Cutoff

Again, I have to give this one to Meek’s Cutoff. While Nicholas Winding Refn offered a masterclass in cool and Tomas Alfredson built insane tension around old guys sitting around talking in a room, Kelly Reichardt created something truly unique. I didn’t care for her last project, Wendy and Lucy, but her deliberate pace and sparse, terse tone worked wonders in Meek’s.

Best Actor

Dominic Cooper, The Devil’s Double

Ryan Gosling, Drive

Tom Hardy, Warrior

Ewan McGregor, Beginners

Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris

Cooper masters not one but two challenging roles in this messy film. He’s chilling and downright crazy as Sadam Hussein’s son, Uday, and also deeply sympathetic as Latif, the man hired as Uday’s double. It’s a towering pair of performances, and Cooper finally realizes the potential he showed in small roles in films such as Starter for 10 and An Education.

Best Actress

Felicity Jones, Like Crazy

Keira Knightley, Last Night

Mia Wasikowska, Jane Eyre

Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids

Robin Wright, The Conspirator

Wiig gives a downright brilliant comedic performance in Bridesmaids, and sometimes that is enough for me. She throws herself into every gag headfirst, and she comes out in the end with a highly charming, perfectly executed performance. McCarthy is also great, but for me, Wiig is the reason to watch Bridesmaids.

Best Supporting Actor

Michael Fassbender, Jane Eyre

Colin Ford, We Bought a Zoo

Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Ides of March

Simon Pegg, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Mark Strong, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I thought Fassbender was a tad overrated in X-Men (sorry), but he reminded me why I loved him so much in Fish Tank with a similarly physical and subtly threatening performance in the gorgeous Jane Eyre. He oozes charisma here, and makes for a completely magnetic screen presence. Kudos to Mark Strong, too, for fantastic scene-stealing work in Tinker Tailor, and for converting me into a Mark Strong fan.

Best Supporting Actress

Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life

Anna Kendrick, 50/50

Carey Mulligan, Drive

Amy Ryan, Win Win

Michelle Williams, Meek’s Cutoff

It was the year of Chastain, and my favourite performance of hers (though I haven’t seen them all) was as the ethereal wife in The Tree of Life. It’s a beautiful, moving performance, and she slips seamlessly into the languid tone of the film.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)


I have a confession. I’m someone who tends to struggle to follow even moderately complicated movie plots. I have a bad habit of zoning out at the exact moments when I should be paying attention. You probably know which moments I’m talking about. It’s the ones where one character spends five minutes carefully laying out detailed plot exposition to another character, and to the audience. This is usually done in really unrealistic, heavy-handed ways that grind the movie to a halt. And while I’m definitely to blame for this shortcoming (I really should just listen more closely), I also like to pass the buck to the filmmakers. Maybe if they set out their exposition in more interesting, subtle ways, I would be compelled to pay attention, no?

This is where I give Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a lot of credit. This is a complicated film. I imagine that even people more perceptive than I will struggle to follow every intricacy of the plot. However, it lays out its spiderweb of a narrative in compelling, unique ways. By switching between time periods, countries, and about a dozen different characters, things could easily get muddled. And while I wasn’t always 100% following every detail, director Tomas Alfredson did a great job of keeping things coherent and interesting.

At its core, Tinker Tailor is a who-done-it film. Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, a retired British Intelligence agent who must help his old crew figure out who among their group is actually a Soviet mole. That’s literally it. Of course, there is much more to the story than that, but I’ll let you sort out the finer details on your own.

The story is complex, and it gives you a lot to think about while watching. But the film can also be enjoyed on many different levels. Most notably (to me), it’s just gorgeous to look at. Alfredson’s visual style is right up my alley, full of damp tones, and sparse cinematography. Some of his shots of the London streets are absolutely breathtaking. His style seems very well-suited to the Cold War era, and he evokes such atmosphere. The tension and paranoia is almost palpable through the camera, and that is arguably the film’s strongest suit.

Of course, you also have to talk about the performances. Gary Oldman is magnificent, as always. George Smiley is such a repressed character, and Oldman nails it. Smiley plays his cards close to his chest, yet Oldman brilliantly gives away tiny hints in his expressions and body language to let the audience in on his emotions. These hairline cracks in the facade are far more telling than any over-the-top “freak out” scene that most movie character inevitably experience. I give Oldman huge kudos for having the steely, commanding screen presence to pull of what could have been a completely bland character.

The most surprising performance for me was from Mark Strong, though. It seems like Strong has made a career out of playing villains in blockbusters like Kick-Ass and Sherlock Holmes. I’ve seen him in at least half a dozen films, and while he’s always fine, he’s never made much of an impression on me. But he is brilliant in this movie. From the first 10 seconds of his performance, I knew that this was a different Mark Strong. He plays a British intelligence agent sent on a mission to Hungary, and he shows such a range of emotions and a great amount of soulfulness. This could easily have been a throwaway character, but Strong inhabits every inch of this role. I wouldn’t have thought that Strong would suit this type of movie, but he actually gives my favourite performance in the film, and one of my favourite Supporting Actor performances of the year.

Tom Hardy is also very charismatic as Ricki Tarr, a British agent accused of betrayal. It’s nice to see his character get a personal story arc, since much of the rest of the film is centered around the characters’ professional endeavours.

That’s actually one issue that I had with the film. It would have been nice to bring a little more warmth to the story and some of the characters. Of course, this film is all about the mystery, rather than the character study, but a little back story would help it feel less dry.

However, that’s not to say that it’s a boring movie. Quite the opposite, even if the pace is a bit slow. Alfredson is an expert at building tension, and the screenplay is taught enough to prevent Tinker Tailor from dragging. This movie would be worth seeing for the performances alone, so the fact that it’s also a beautifully shot, well-constructed thriller is just a bonus.

8/10