Tag Archives: Black Swan

For what they are worth (very, very little) my Oscar predictions in the form of a digestible round-up

Phil Collins with his Oscar, yesterday

Opinions about the Oscars are like arseholes. Everybody (OK, nearly everybody) has got one. So I’ll keep this nice and brief, and then you are free to carry on with your business.

Firstly, Best Picture. I haven’t seen Winter’s Bone or The Kids Are All Right yet, but that doesn’t matter because neither have a prayer of winning the big prize. It looks like being a straight fight between The King’s Speech and The Social Network. That’s fine with me, because of the rest of the field, only Toy Story 3 really deserves to be up there and sadly, being an animated feature doesn’t appear to carry much water when the big prizes are being handed out.

I’d give it (and I think they will give it) to The King’s Speech, which is sweeping, moving and lots of other adjectives ending in -ing. To simply brand it feelgood entertainment would be to do it a disservice. I thought the composition was thrilling (I loved the way that speech therapist Lionel Logue’s gaudily shambolic office/house was used to frame the relationship between the two men), and also found an unexpected touch of the surreal embodied in the use of a number of off-kilter low-angle shots and bizarrely intimate close-ups redolent of a true British classic: Terry Gilliam’s dystopian Brazil.

In terms of the acting categories, Natalie Portman is nailed on to win Best Actress for her turn in Darren Aronofsky’s manic farce Black Swan, although Michelle Williams is a nice outside bet for Blue Valentine. If Colin Firth doesn’t win the Best Actor award for his nuanced portrayal of the repressed Bertie in The King’s Speech, I will eat my hat (which would, admittedly, taste a bit nicer if James Franco were to get some love for his bravura one-man, three-limb show in 127 Hours).

Geoffrey Rush, magnificent in The King's Speech

I’m already preparing to eat one hat (an unloved beanie dating from about 1996 that has 100% SERIOUS emblazoned across it, FYI) in resignation due to the fact that the magnificent Geoffrey Rush (as the aforementioned Logue) will lose out to Christian Bale (The Fighter) in the Best Supporting Actor category. Bale’s a fine actor, but here he chomps his way through the scenery in a conspicuously mannered fashion, taking all of his cues from a superior performance by Samuel L Jackson as an addled crackhead in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever. It’s already bad enough that he’s stolen all the limelight from his  co-star Mark Wahlberg who centres the film (solid, entertaining fare, by the way) with a steely, resourceful turn, and was summarily ignored by the panel.

As I have previously written about, one of the most ludicrous decisions from the panel was to shortlist True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld in the Best Supporting Actress category, despite the fact that she’s in almost every scene and the film is totally framed around her. So the least they can do is give her the award to make up for it, especially in the light of Melissa Leo’s (The Fighter) decision to pimp herself out in a barking mad self-promotional push. Helena Bonham-Carter does fine in The King’s Speech, but up against the titanic Firth and Rush, she isn’t really given that much to do.

I anticipate dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream-within-a-boring-movie Inception will take home a slew of technical awards, but I would tip The Social Network for Best Editing. It can’t be an easy task to harness Aaron Sorkin’s snappy 1940s-paced dialogue or the ruthlessly cross-cut momentum of the narrative, but editors Angus Walsh and Kirk Baxter have helped to produce a coherent film about THE ZEITGEST which doesn’t betray its thematic roots in the field of the terminally short-attention-spanned.

In other awards, I would love Banksy to get the Best Documentary nod for Exit Through The Gift Shop, and I would literally go crackers (although I don’t really know what that means) if Dogtooth triumphs in the Best Picture in a Foreign Language category.

Anyway, let’s see who will win!

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The Fame that Rocks the Cradle, or Black Swan: A case study in overdoing it

Laurent Blanc and Natalie Portman, yesterday.

“YOU ARE STIFF LIKE A DEAD CORPSE!”, barks high and haughty ballet instructor Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) at one point during Darren Aronofsky’s much-vaunted dance flick/horror Black Swan. Not loose and limber like a live corpse, you understand, but stiff. Like a dead one. That this line can be delivered with a straight face encapsulates all that is wrong and right with the film.

On the one hand, it presents a milieu high in self-regard and internecine strife; ripe breeding ground for portrayals of artistic tension and delicate brilliance. On the other, it is maddeningly pretentious, frequently silly, and seems to think that it has broken unchartered territory by suggesting that artists often suffer for their art, and that the best way to portray one’s duality of the soul is to chuck in an “is it real or isn’t it?” lesbian sex scene.

Many people are talking about Black Swan as though it’s an unqualified masterpiece, and while it is a million miles from achieving that status, only a fool would suggest that it’s without artistic merit. Natalie Portman is good for her Golden Globe and inevitable Oscar, while Cassel strengthens his reputation as a versatile man of general threat. Barbara Hershey, meanwhile, is convincingly distressing as a superannuated stage Mum from hell. The premise is intriguing, and the New York locations are bracing, lively and, thanks to the constantly tight framing of the characters, disorienting and impressively alien.

The big problem is that director Darren Aronofsky only has one gear: turbo-sledgehammer. While he definitely deserves credit for a bloody-minded commitment to his own vision, he directs films like he’s just been shot by ‘The Orgasmorator‘ gun from Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s equally ludicrous (for different reasons) Orgazmo. Because of this, Black Swan is all climax and no build-up; a massive shame. Instead of a more considered portrayal of one woman’s suffering which builds gradually and draws psychological horror from quieter moments and observations, Aronofsky is happy to go balls to the wall while simultaneously bringing out the big guns. The film hits a peak and simply stays there. No opportunity to make loud, stabby bangs on the soundtrack is turned down, neither does Aronofsky ever seem to tire of having things jump wildly into shot from the corner of the frame. Any potential shock value is relentlessly sanded down until a state of grimly expectant torpor, punctuated by the occasional unintentional laugh, is reached.

Black Swan is mostly good fun, and it is certainly something different – for which it should be applauded. However, it is also fundamentally silly: a farrago concocted by a master showman with almost nothing at all to say, and even less of a sense of irony. A director with a surer hand and a more finely-tuned sense of nuance could have turned this material into a genuinely unsettling masterpiece (a la Roman Polanski’s Repulsion). Instead it winds up as a weird, strangely laughable melange of Fight Club, Fame and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, not to mention his earlier “WE ARE ALL ADDICTED TO SOMETHING, DO YOU SEE!!!” brow-beater Requiem for a Dream.

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