2010 Lists to Come…


Hello everyone! Sorry it’s been empty here lately. I’ve been trying to catch up on 2010 films. When the new year starts and I get settled in at grad school, I’ll get back on a normal schedule which will include at least one weekly review. The next several posts in upcoming weeks will be focused on 2010 film lists. I’m a list maker by heart and subjective list making is a hobby of mine. It’ll also give readers a chance to see what I thought of a lot of the films I saw this year. None of these eventual lists are meant to be taken as purely objective. They are merely the opinions of one dedicated cinephile. I’ve never been a fan of lists being stated as factual and purely objective.  There are still many films that I probably won’t get to see this year that I REALLY want to (Rare Exports, Poetry, Secret Sunshine, Certified Copy, Get Low, I Killed My Mother, The Tillman Story, Lebanon, Lourdes, White Material, The Illusionist, Boxing Gym, Kings of Pastry, Waiting for Superman, Made in Dagenham, etc) and a few that I expect to see in upcoming weeks (Another Year, Blue Valentine, The King’s Speech, etc.) So my film lists won’t be as complete as I’d like to them to be but at the same time I’ve seen 103 films from 2010 thus far which is the best I’ve done in any year. Here are some of the lists I’ll be making in upcoming weeks:

Top Trailers
Top Song Usages
Top Performances
Top Disappointments/Overrated
Top Scenes
Least Favorite Films
Top 30 Films

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SAG Nominations and the LAFCA


The SAG Nominations were announced this morning. There were certainly a few surprises in the mix, most of them omissions. The most exciting thing was certainly the nomination for John Hawkes for his magnificent work as Teardrop in Winter’s Bone. He is picking up a lot of steam lately even without a Globe nomination. I don’t think he’ll be nominated for an Oscar but the fact that he’s officially in the race is more than I expected. Hilary Swank picked up a surprise nod for Conviction beating out other actresses such as Lesley Manville, Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore. I don’t think this puts her in the race. All it did was prevent the Actress category from being further solidified. Other notable shutouts were Ryan Gosling, Andrew Garfield and Jacki Weaver. It’s going to be hard to tell where Gosling and Williams stand until the film actually comes out at which point we can see what kind of steam it may pick up.

The LAFCA announced their awards this past week which apparently was subject to some backlash from bloggers and awards pundits. I don’t mean to generalize here as I’m sure there were plenty who follow all of this who were either indifferent or supported the choices made. Either way, there was backlash. Despite giving The Social Network the top prize as well as Fincher (in a tie with Olivier Assayas), Firth for actor, Weaver for Supporting Actress and Aaron Sorkin for Screenplay, there were those who were upset at the deviations made from the norm. These include giving Kim Hye-ja Best Actress for her exceptional work in Mother and Niels Arestrup for his equally impressice turn in A Prophet. Normally I just stay out of the bickering that comes with awards season. Between the people who can’t find any worth in films that don’t have Oscar written all over them to those who think they are better than everyone for not caring about these awards at all, this time of year brings out the snobbery in cinephiles (more than normal). Honestly though, if you have a problem with the LAFCA then I’m truly baffled as to why you watch films. This time of year has always been great at picking a handful of performances and films that the American critics associations and the  political driven awards deem worthy of their approval. Everything else becomes essentially worthless to them at that point. There are so many films all around the world that come out in a year and most of the great ones get thrown under the rug when it comes to the Oscars. It’s to be expected and it comes with the territory. It’s the same way many bloggers put together their Top Ten lists with the attitude (although I’m sure it isn’t meant) that anything not making the Top Ten is worthless. We take the small victories where we can. Jacki Weaver is one of them this year. The films that do get recognized are of a varied quality but always includes at least several great films. This year I still have several of the big contenders to see but both The Social Network and Black Swan are thankfully worthy of the praise and recognition they have recieved thus far. The Academy Awards has a hell of a lot more gumption and worth than, say, the Grammys.

So when people get upset when one critics association decides to recognize performances that are at the very least equally worthy of the praise thrown onto the handful of performances that consistently dominate, it becomes as I said, baffling. In Contention posted a defense of the LAFCA mainly letting Variety critic and LAFCA voter Justin Chang’s words speak for themselves. It wonderfully sums up the hypocrisy at work here and I end this rant with his words:

“Your earlier use of the word “snobbish” to describe some of LAFCA’s selections is quite telling. I don’t know what it is about these performances that inspires such knee-jerk contempt, but I’d argue that our willingness to look beyond the awards-season boundaries dictated by the studios is exactly the opposite of snobbery. There’s something refreshingly egalitarian about recognizing that the best performance may have been given by an actor from South Korea, or Romania, or France, and inviting a wider audience to experience the rewards of that achievement. (Or, to quote Anton Ego, “Not everyone can be a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”)

It’s far snobbier, in my view, to expect an organization of critics to stick with standard notions of what’s award-worthy, or to positively revel in the idea that “This is the first and last you will hear of either of those people this awards season,” as if the marginalization of exceptional work were something to be desired.

Unless, of course, you honestly believe it should be the function of critics not to evaluate the films and performances in a given year as comprehensively as possible, but rather to act as a reliable barometer of what the Academy will pick come February. If that’s the case, I submit that you’ve somehow confused our job with yours.”

This time of year is mainly about catching up with films that came out which is where my attention is as opposed to writing reviews. Look out for several 2010 lists in the coming weeks. In January I start school so I won’t be able to write a ton of reviews but mainly I plan on getting back to seeing some older films as well as recent classics that I have not seen.
Note: I awards myself half a point if the alternate got in.

THEATRICAL MOTION PICTURES

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role: 4.5/5
JEFF BRIDGES / Rooster Cogburn – “TRUE GRIT” (Paramount Pictures)
ROBERT DUVALL / Felix Bush – “GET LOW” (Sony Pictures Classics)
JESSE EISENBERG / Mark Zuckerberg – “THE SOCIAL NETWORK” (Columbia Pictures)
COLIN FIRTH / King George VI – “THE KING’S SPEECH” (The Weinstein Company)
JAMES FRANCO / Aron Ralston – “127 HOURS” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role: 4/5
ANNETTE BENING / Nic – “THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT” (Focus Features)
NICOLE KIDMAN / Becca – “RABBIT HOLE” (Lionsgate)
JENNIFER LAWRENCE / Ree Dolly – “WINTER’S BONE” (Roadside Attractions)
NATALIE PORTMAN / Nina Sayers – “BLACK SWAN” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
HILARY SWANK / Betty Anne Waters – “CONVICTION” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role: 4/5
CHRISTIAN BALE / Dicky Eklund – “THE FIGHTER” (Paramount Pictures)
JOHN HAWKES / Teardrop – “WINTER’S BONE” (Roadside Attractions)
JEREMY RENNER / James Coughlin – “THE TOWN” (Warner Bros. Pictures)
MARK RUFFALO / Paul – “THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT” (Focus Features)
GEOFFREY RUSH / Lionel Logue – “THE KING’S SPEECH” (The Weinstein Company)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role: 2.5/5
AMY ADAMS / Charlene Fleming – “THE FIGHTER” (Paramount Pictures)
HELENA BONHAM CARTER / Queen Elizabeth – “THE KING’S SPEECH” (The Weinstein Company)
MILA KUNIS / Lily – “BLACK SWAN” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
MELISSA LEO / Alice Ward – “THE FIGHTER” (Paramount Pictures)
HAILEE STEINFELD / Mattie Ross – “TRUE GRIT” (Paramount Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture: 4/5
BLACK SWAN (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
VINCENT CASSEL / Thomas Leroy
BARBARA HERSHEY / Erica Sayers
MILA KUNIS / Lily
NATALIE PORTMAN / Nina Sayers
WINONA RYDER / Beth Macintyre

THE FIGHTER (Paramount Pictures)
AMY ADAMS / Charlene Fleming
CHRISTIAN BALE / Dicky Eklund
MELISSA LEO / Alice Ward
JACK MCGEE / George Ward
MARK WAHLBERG / Micky Ward

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (Focus Features)
ANNETTE BENING / Nic
JOSH HUTCHERSON / Laser
JULIANNE MOORE / Jules
MARK RUFFALO / Paul
MIA WASIKOWSKA / Joni

THE KING’S SPEECH (The Weinstein Company)
ANTHONY ANDREWS / Stanley Baldwin
HELENA BONHAM CARTER / Queen Elizabeth
JENNIFER EHLE / Myrtle Logue
COLIN FIRTH / King George VI
MICHAEL GAMBON / King George V
DEREK JACOBI / Archbishop Cosmo Lang
GUY PEARCE / King Edward VIII
GEOFFREY RUSH / Lionel Logue
TIMOTHY SPALL / Winston Churchill

THE SOCIAL NETWORK (Columbia Pictures)
JESSE EISENBERG / Mark Zuckerberg
ANDREW GARFIELD / Eduardo Saverin
ARMIE HAMMER / Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss
MAX MINGHELLA / Divya Narendra
JOSH PENCE / Tyler Winklevoss
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE / Sean Parker

PRIMETIME TELEVISION

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries: 2.5/5
JOHN GOODMAN / Neal Nicol – “YOU DON’T KNOW JACK” (HBO)
AL PACINO / Jack Kevorkian – “YOU DON’T KNOW JACK” (HBO)
DENNIS QUAID / Bill Clinton – “THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP” (HBO)
ÉDGAR RAMÍREZ / Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, aka ‘Carlos’ – “CARLOS” (Sundance Channel)
PATRICK STEWART / Macbeth – “MACBETH (GREAT PERFORMANCES)” (Thirteen/PBS)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries: 2/5
CLAIRE DANES / Temple Grandin – “TEMPLE GRANDIN” (HBO)
CATHERINE O’HARA / Aunt Ann – “TEMPLE GRANDIN” (HBO)
JULIA ORMOND / Eustacia Grandin – “TEMPLE GRANDIN” (HBO)
WINONA RYDER / Lois Wilson – “WHEN LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH: THE LOIS WILSON STORY” (CBS)
SUSAN SARANDON / Janet Good – “YOU DON’T KNOW JACK” (HBO)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series: 5/5
STEVE BUSCEMI / Nucky Thompson – “BOARDWALK EMPIRE” (HBO)
BRYAN CRANSTON / Walter White – “BREAKING BAD” (AMC)
MICHAEL C. HALL / Dexter Morgan – “DEXTER” (SHOWTIME)
JON HAMM / Don Draper – “MAD MEN” (AMC)
HUGH LAURIE / Dr. Gregory House – “HOUSE” (FOX)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series: 4/5
GLENN CLOSE / Patty Hewes – “DAMAGES” (FX)
MARISKA HARGITAY / Det. Olivia Benson – “LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT” (NBC)
JULIANNA MARGULIES / Alicia Florrick – “THE GOOD WIFE” (CBS)
ELISABETH MOSS / Peggy Olson – “MAD MEN” (AMC)
KYRA SEDGWICK / Dep. Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson – “THE CLOSER” (TNT)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series: 2.5/5
ALEC BALDWIN / Jack Donaghy – “30 ROCK” (NBC)
TY BURRELL / Phil Dunphy – “MODERN FAMILY” (ABC)
STEVE CARELL / Michael Scott – “THE OFFICE” (NBC)
CHRIS COLFER / Kurt Hummel – “GLEE” (FOX)
ED O’NEILL / Jay Pritchett – “MODERN FAMILY” (ABC)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series: 3.5/5
EDIE FALCO / Jackie Peyton – “NURSE JACKIE” (Showtime)
TINA FEY / Liz Lemon – “30 ROCK” (NBC)
JANE LYNCH / Sue Sylvester – “GLEE” (FOX)
SOFIA VERGARA / Gloria Delgado-Pritchett – “MODERN FAMILY” (ABC)
BETTY WHITE / Elka Ostrovsky – “HOT IN CLEVELAND” (TV Land)

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series: 5/5
BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO)
STEVE BUSCEMI / Nucky Thompson
DABNEY COLEMAN / Commodore Louis Kaestner
PAZ DE LA HUERTA / Lucy Danzinger
STEPHEN GRAHAM / Al Capone
ANTHONY LACIURA / Eddie Kessler
KELLY MACDONALD / Margaret Schroeder
GRETCHEN MOL / Gillian Darmody
ALESKA PALLADINO / Angela Darmody
VINCENT PIAZZA / Lucky Luciano
MICHAEL PITT / Jimmy Darmody
MICHAEL SHANNON / Agent Nelson Van Alden
PAUL SPARKS / Mickey Doyle
MICHAEL STUHLBARG / Arnold Rothstein
SHEA WHIGHAM / Sheriff Elias Thompson

THE CLOSER (TNT)
G.W. BAILEY / Det. Lt. Provenza
MICHAEL PAUL CHAN / Lt. Mike Tao
RAYMOND CRUZ / Det. Julio Sanchez
JONATHAN DEL ARCO / Dr. Morales
TONY DENISON / Lt. Andy Flynn
ROBERT GOSSETT / Commander Taylor
PHILLIP P. KEENE / Buzz
COREY REYNOLDS / Sgt. David Gabriel
KYRA SEDGWICK / Dep. Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson
J.K. SIMMONS / Asst. Police Chief Will Pope
JON TENNEY / FBI Special Agent Fritz Howard

DEXTER (Showtime)
JENNIFER CARPENTER / Debra Morgan
APRIL HERNANDEZ CASTILLO / Cira
MICHAEL C. HALL / Dexter Morgan
DESMOND HARRINGTON / Joey Quinn
MARIA DOYLE KENNEDY / Sonya
C.S. LEE / Vince Masuka
JONNY LEE MILLER / Jordan Chase
JAMES REMAR / Harry Morgan
JULIA STILES / Lumen Pierce
LAUREN VELEZ / Lt. Maria Laguerta
PETER WELLER / Liddy
DAVID ZAYAS / Sgt. Angel Batista

THE GOOD WIFE (CBS)
CHRISTINE BARANSKI / Diane Lockhart
JOSH CHARLES / Will Gardner
ALAN CUMMING / Eli Gold
MATT CZUCHRY / Cary Agos
JULIANNA MARGULIES / Alicia Florrick
ARCHIE PANJABI / Kalinda Sharma
GRAHAM PHILLIPS / Zach Florrick
MAKENZIE VEGA / Grace Florrick

MAD MEN (AMC)
CARA BUONO / Faye Miller
JON HAMM / Don Draper
JARED HARRIS / Lane Pryce
CHRISTINA HENDRICKS / Joan Harris
JANUARY JONES / Betty Francis (Draper)
VINCENT KARTHEISER / Pete Campbell
MATT LONG / Joey Baird
ROBERT MORSE / Bert Cooper
ELISABETH MOSS / Peggy Olson
JESSICA PARÉ / Megan Calvet
KIERNAN SHIPKA / Sally Draper
JOHN SLATTERY / Roger Sterling
RICH SOMMER / Harry Crane
CHRISTOPHER STANLEY / Henry Francis
AARON STATON / Ken Cosgrove

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series: 4/5
30 ROCK (NBC)
SCOTT ADSIT / Pete Hornberger
ALEC BALDWIN / Jack Donaghy
KATRINA BOWDEN / Cerie
KEVIN BROWN / Dotcom
GRIZZ CHAPMAN / Grizz
TINA FEY / Liz Lemon
JUDAH FRIEDLANDER / Frank Rossitano
JANE KRAKOWSKI / Jenna Maroney
JOHN LUTZ / Lutz
JACK MCBRAYER / Kenneth Parcell
TRACY MORGAN / Tracy Jordan
MAULIK PANCHOLY / Jonathan
KEITH POWELL / Toofer

GLEE (FOX)
MAX ADLER / Dave Karofsky
DIANNA AGRON / Quinn Fabray
CHRIS COLFER / Kurt Hummel
JANE LYNCH / Sue Sylvester
JAYMA MAYS / Emma Pillsbury
KEVIN MCHALE / Arty Abrams
LEA MICHELE / Rachel Berry
CORY MONTEITH / Finn Hudson
HEATHER MORRIS / Brittany Pierce
MATTHEW MORRISON / Will Schuester
MIKE O’MALLEY / Burt Hummel
AMBER RILEY / Mercedes
NAYA RIVERA / Santana Lopez
MARK SALLING / Noah ‘Puck’ Puckerman
HARRY SHUM JR. / Mike Chang
IQBAL THEBA / Principal Figgins
JENNA USHKOWITZ / Tina

HOT IN CLEVELAND (TV Land)
VALERIE BERTINELLI / Melanie Moretti
JANE LEEVES / Joy Scroggs
WENDIE MALICK / Victoria Chase
BETTY WHITE / Elka Ostrovsky

MODERN FAMILY (ABC)
JULIE BOWEN / Claire Dunphy
TY BURRELL / Phil Dunphy
JESSE TYLER FERGUSON / Mitchell Pritchett
NOLAN GOULD / Luke Dunphy
SARAH HYLAND / Haley Dunphy
ED O’NEILL / Jay Pritchett
RICO RODRIGUEZ / Manny Delgado
ERIC STONESTREET / Cameron Tucker
SOFIA VERGARA / Gloria Delgado-Pritchett
ARIEL WINTER / Alex Dunphy

THE OFFICE (NBC)
LESLIE DAVID BAKER / Stanley Hudson
BRIAN BAUMGARTNER / Kevin Malone
CREED BRATTON / Creed Bratton
STEVE CARELL / Michael Scott
JENNA FISCHER / Pam Beesly Halpert
KATE FLANNERY / Meredith Palmer
ED HELMS / Andy Bernard
MINDY KALING / Kelly Kapoor
ELLIE KEMPER / Erin Hannon
ANGELA KINSEY / Angela Martin
JOHN KRASINSKI / Jim Halpert
PAUL LIEBERSTEIN / Toby Flenderson
B.J. NOVAK / Ryan Howard
OSCAR NUÑEZ / Oscar Martinez
CRAIG ROBINSON / Daryll Philbin
PHYLLIS SMITH / Phyllis Lapin-Vance
RAINN WILSON / Dwight Schrute
ZACH WOODS / Gabe Lewis

SAG HONORS FOR STUNT ENSEMBLES
Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture
GREEN ZONE (Universal Pictures)
INCEPTION (Warner Bros. Pictures)
ROBIN HOOD (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Television Series
BURN NOTICE (USA)
CSI: NY (CBS)
DEXTER (SHOWTIME)
SOUTHLAND (TNT)
TRUE BLOOD (HBO)

LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Screen Actors Guild Awards 47th Annual Life Achievement Award
Ernest Borgnine.

SAG 2011 Predictions


That time of year again folks. Awards season. A time of year I both love and hate. As long as you don’t put too much stock into the degree of truth behind the nominations and awards given out, it’s a really fun time in a masochistic sort of way. Part of the fun is complaining about how political, unfair and problematic it ultimately is. At the same time, it incites worthy discussions and light-hearted bickering as well as a wealth of excitement about film in general which is always a good thing. The Golden Globe nominations were announced on Tuesday which were…interesting. I’m not someone who expects much from the HFPA. A few extreme mishaps, a few exciting choices, many ‘stars’ and a lot of predictability is about what I expect. Instead, it seemed to be all predictability, ‘stars’ and extreme mishaps. Last year, the SAG nominations were 19 for 20 in terms of what was nominated at the Academy Awards that year. A year like 2007 though, was all over the place with interesting choices including 3:10 to Yuma for ensemble as well as Ryan Gosling for Lars and the Real Girl. Here’s hoping tomorrow morning represents more of the 2007 spirit then the 2009 spirit. For the most part, I went with safe choices as well as putting one alternate for each category. What are your predictions?

Best Ensemble:
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
The Town

Alternate: Inception

Best Actor:
Colin Firth – The King’s Speech
James Franco – 127 Hours
Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network
Ryan Gosling – Blue Valentine
Robert Duvall – Get Low

Alternate: Jeff Bridges – True Grit

Best Actress:
Natalie Portman – Black Swan
Annette Bening – The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman – Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone
Michelle Williams – Blue Valentine

Alternate: Julianne Moore – The Kids Are All Right

Best Supporting Actor:
Christian Bale – The Fighter
Jeremy Renner – The Town
Geoffrey Rush – The King’s Speech
Mark Ruffalo – The Kids Are All Right
Andrew Garfield – The Social Network

Alternate: Sam Rockwell – Conviction
Supporting Actress:
Melissa Leo – The Fighter
Amy Adams – The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter – The King’s Speech
Jacki Weaver – Animal Kingdom
Dianne Weist – Rabbit Hole

Alternate: Hailee Steinfeld – True Grit

TV Predictions:

Best Ensemble Drama:
Boardwalk Empire
The Closer
Dexter
The Good Wife
Mad Men

Alternate: Lost

Best Ensemble Comedy:

30 Rock
Community
Glee
Modern Family
The Office

Alternate: Big Bang Theory

Best Actor Drama:

Steve Buscemi – Boardwalk Empire
Bryan Cranston – Breaking Bad
Michael C Hall – Dexter
Jon Hamm – Mad Men
Hugh Laurie – House

Alternate: Gabriel Bryne – In Treatment

Best Actress Drama:

Glenn Close – Damages
Julianna Margulies – The Good Wife
Elizabeth Moss – Mad Men
Katey Sagal – Sons of Anarchy
Kyra Sedgwick – The Closer

Alternate: January Jones – Mad Men

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Alec Baldwin – 30 Rock
Steve Carell – The Office
Joel McHale – Community
Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory
Eric Stonestreet – Modern Family

Alternate: Ty Burrell – Modern Family

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series:

Toni Collette – United States of Tara
Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie
Tina Fey – 30 Rock
Laura Linney – The Big C
Jane Lynch – Glee

Alternate: Sophie Vergara – Modern Family

Actor in a Movie/Mini-series

Kenneth Branagh – Wallander
Dennis Quaid – The Special Relationship
Al Pacino – You Don’t Know Jack
Michael Sheen – The Special Relationship
David Straitharn – Temple Grandin

Alternate: Edgar Ramirez – Carlos

Best Actress in a Mini-series/TV Movie

Claire Danes – Temple Grandin
Hope Davis – The Special Relationship
Judi Dench – Return to Cranford
Romola Garai – Emma
Susan Sarandon – You Don’t Know Jack

Alternate: Julia Ormond – Temple Grandin

 

 

Review: Black Swan (Aronofsky, 2010)


Black Swan (Aronofsky, 2010)
9.7/10

Depicting a character’s descent into madness is always a juicy subject for filmmakers and screenwriters to tackle. The possibilities are endless and the execution is a wild card. Black Swan is a deeply intense and anxiety ridden tale. It takes the repetition, routine, impending doom and gradual intensity of Requiem for a Dream and the character study, bodily sacrifice and ambition of The Wrestler. His films all deal with what his characters want and what they will do to get it. Desperation and sacrifice are pretty strong themes running throughout. Usually pointing out a director’s auteur traits (however literally one takes the auteur theory) is risky only five films into a career but it is hard not to notice the kinds of stories Darren Aronofsky is drawn to. Black Swan is an astonishing combination of elements from his other films, in this story of ballet dancer Nina Sayers, who is driven to insanity through her relentless desire to be perfect.

Darren Aronofsky’s audacity is truly something to behold and admire. This is a man so confident in his skills and his ability to tell a story that he throws caution to the wind and never stops to consider if his methods might be too much for an audience. Too much in his use of overt symbolism, repetition, intensity, dips into absurdity and self-aware melodramatic execution are some examples of what ‘too much ‘means here. Black Swan is a film that requires the audience to be along for the ride. It is easy to say that this film is obvious in a lot of ways. It is also easy to overlook that this is all completely intentional on the director’s part. He wants to hit us over the head with the various elements. He is not interested in hiding his intentions. His courage to stick to this, combined with the enormity of his skill set and his impeccable ability to construct a complete vision makes Black Swan more than just a success; it is a revelation and another outstanding effort by director Darren Aronofsky.

Screenwriters Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin have put together a wonderful balancing act between all the different pressures and influences in Nina’s (Natalie Portman) life as well as making the overall story greatly mirror Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Nina is a member of a New York City ballet company. Dancing means everything to her. Nina auditions for company director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) and receives the lead as the Swan Queen in the upcoming production of Swan Lake. If successful, this has the potential to launch Nina’s career as the next big star in ballet. She is very emotionally fragile and lives with her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey). Erica is more than a little overbearing, coddling Nina like a child. She also has an edgy side to her which shows itself throughout the film. A former ballerina herself, Erica is living vicariously through Nina and pushes her for the ultimate success.

Each of the characters represents some kind of pressure Nina deals with in relation to her ballet, which all show in various specific ways relating to her mental collapse. While her mother relentlessly pressures her to be the best and assures her she is the best, Thomas pressures her to lose herself in dancing. He believes her technical skill is impeccable but there is no passion in her dance; all he sees are her attempts to get every move right resulting in stiffness. Thomas keeps insisting that he see the Black Swan within her. He uses extremely inappropriate ways to get her to loosen up and it is clear he has other things on his mind in addition to getting the performance he needs out of her. Nina has limited sexual experience and fulfillment is very low on her priority list. A conversation with Thomas begins another thread running through the film; Nina’s confusion and subsequent discovery of the passion within her.

There is another figure that enters Nina’s life; Lilly (Mila Kunis). Lilly most importantly represents the embodiment of the Black Swan and the looseness and carefree attitude Nina has to take on in her dancing. Her embodiment of the Black Swan also revolves around her duplicitous intentions concerning Nina. Throughout the film, Nina keeps seeing her own face wherever she goes. It is one of the many visual repetitions used to represent Nina’s gradual mental collapse. Lilly is most often where her own face turns up. Nina is drawn in by Lilly because she knows this is what Thomas wants her to become.  The most interesting aspect between Nina and Lilly is that Nina seems aware of her intentions and continues to reluctantly spend time with her in an effort to first observe Lilly and then to explore her own dark side.

Yet another major player (in significance, not screen time) comes with Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder). Beth was once the Nina Sayers of her time. She was a star and an icon but is now something of a drunk who has little respect from the current members of the company. The story between Thomas and Beth remains an enigma but it is clear they have a sexual history at the very least. Nina, for reasons not entirely known to her, is drawn to Beth. She is determined not to become Beth, even before her career as a ballet star begins. Near the beginning of the film, she steals Beth’s makeup. Far from being a malicious move, it shows her sympathy and intrigue towards Beth. It is a juvenile act that shows her innocence and the desire to almost romanticize and align herself with Beth for reasons unknown even to herself.

The last and most important figure of pressure in Nina’s life is Nina herself. So far there is Erica’s pressure to live vicariously through her daughter’s success, Thomas’ sexual demands and his insistence on seeing Nina capture the Black Swan’s traits and Lilly’s pressure through her known duplicity and her representation of what Nina needs to be. Then there is the struggle of, in one sense, how to become Beth Macintyre, and in another sense, how not to become Beth Macintyre. Even with all of this, Nina‘s biggest source of stress has become herself. She is unable to deal with the different expectations everyone has of her. She cannot be everything that everyone wants her to be. All Nina wants to be is ‘perfect’ but what others want of her complicates this simple goal. Almost immediately after the film starts, marks begin to show on her back. Fingernails and toenails begin to look damaged. Her body seems to be changing in a new way. She keeps seeing herself everywhere. She isn’t emotionally capable of handling what is being thrown at her. Her constant emotional breakdowns begins to be taken over by something much stronger; the breakdown of her mental state.

As I said earlier, Aronofsky’s goal seems to be making a film every bit as theatrical as the ballet, and theater in general, can be. Subtlety is his last concern. Black and white production design is everywhere.  Nina’s room is covered in white, pink and stuffed animals (including among a sea of white, a black swan) showing her childlike innocence. She wears white for the first half of the film, before giving way to grey as she begins to lose herself. Lilly conveniently wears black. Mirrors are everywhere. Thomas repeatedly states that he cannot see Nina’s “Black Swan”. She sees her double in almost every other scene. Her metamorphosis is taken to a clear metaphorical extreme. The film builds to a crescendo of pure melodrama and theatricality complete with a fusion between film and ballet as well as a twist that becomes self-aware tragedy.

It is easy to see why some viewers may be put off by Black Swan. For me, Aronofsky’s relentless approach with repetition works in every sense. Through being direct to the visual and thematic motifs, he has created another immediate experience. Being up front allows him to indulge and make a film with a very specific feel to it. He has a fantastic ability of slowly building up tension which eventually becomes an explosion of visceral feeling for the audience. The entire film is from Nina’s perspective. The goal here is essentially to capture Nina’s experience and to transfer it to the audience. All Nina knows are the elements that we see. Ballet consumes her and these visual themes show what she experiences. Anything unnecessary that does not contribute to depicting Nina’s unraveling mental state is absent. The mirrors, black and white, etc. all represent an aspect of Nina’s downfall. They essentially are what she is experiencing and it is used to put together a full and pure vision of her perspective.

The camera always stays close to Nina, even in the ballet sequences. There are countless scenes of her training and rehearsal for Swan Lake. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique captures the movement of ballet through his movement of the camera. He weaves in and out, moves up and down and circles Nina without ever taking away from the beauty of the movement. Natalie Portman impressively does most of the dancing in the film which allows Aronofsky and Libatique to have long takes and seldom cutting around a ballet double. The ballet scenes are truly something to behold, especially the dream sequence that kicks off the film and everything in the last act as Swan Lake has its debut performance.

Natalie Portman’s delicacy grounds the film by making Nina every bit as sympathetic and brittle as she is meant to be. It is a performance that is certainly a career best and ranks along with Ellen Burstyn and Mickey Rourke’s contributions in films made by Darren Aronofsky. She solidifies Black Swan as a character study amidst the theatrics which could have easily overpowered a less capable actress. It is some of the best film acting of 2010 without a doubt. Vincent Cassel sufficiently embodies Thomas as the slimy, brilliant and darkly humorous company director. Barbara Hershey’s Erica made me more nervous than anything else going on in this film. Whether threatening to throw a cake out or sitting creepily and silently in a room, Hershey is alternately doting and chilling as Nina’s mother. Mila Kunis is very impressive as the imposing Lilly. The way her character tests the waters with Nina by saying or asking something and then draws back immediately is wonderful. Seeing Lilly play her own motivations as well as embodying the Black Swan and serving as the metaphor the story needs her to, makes this a harder role than one would think. She brings a complex magnetism to her scenes and has some particularly fantastic line deliveries. Finally, Winona Ryder brings some real life parallel to her role as Beth. Not to say that Ryder’s career dip is as extreme as Beth but it is hard not to think about where her career once was. She does a fine job and I always love seeing her. In 4th grade, our class was instructed to write a biography on anyone we admire; I picked Winona Ryder. It is ten pages, handwritten and I still have it. As you can imagine, seeing her even in a small but important role in a film getting this kind of attention is especially exciting.

Black Swan is an intentionally theatrical and visceral character study. Clint Mansell’s Swan Lake inspired score catapults the film into passionate frenzy. The script by Heyman, Heinz and McLaughlin is carefully patterned by jumping to Nina’s various forms of pressure only to shake us up at the right moments. Aronofsky takes the script’s pattern and lends his own specific and clear visual pattern to the film, allowing for the creation of Nina Sayers’ distinct mental collapse. There are many sources the director takes from and all of them have been named in other reviews, so it is pointless to go into them. It is a joy to see how he uses these films to influence this work which is a worthy addition. It is an endlessly rewarding and exhausting experience, but an experience it is and Aronofsky continues to prove that he is one of the most vital filmmakers working today with Black Swan which is personally my favorite film from 2010 thus far.