Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan (Fox Searchlight, 12.1) is immediately admitted into the Best of 2010 club. It stands head and shoulders over every previous Aronofsky film — it’s way in front of The Wrestler and don’t even mention Requiem for a Dream. It’s also cinched a Best Picture nomination (obviously) and totally locks in Natalie Portman as a Best Actress nominee. Done, settled, no arguments.
This is Portman’s Bette Davis performance in All About Eve mixed with a little Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? twitchy goony-bird grand guignol, only younger, hotter and (bonus point) bisexual. The movie is also these things but with a little dab of Herbert Ross‘s The Turning Point (did I just say that?) and slight sprinklings of Rosemary’s Baby, Psycho and Ken Russell‘s Mahler.
I was thinking this morning (and I realize I’m being way premature) that Portman might snatch the Best Actress Oscar away from poor Annette Bening, whose Kids Are All Right performance has been looking like the front-runner. The Academy loves and wants to finally take care of Bening after all her frustrating losses (she’s holding this year’s Jeff Bridges industry-goodwill hand) but whaddaya gonna do when a performance like Portman’s comes along? You can’t vote industry-buddy purely for the sake of industry-buddy. You have to man up and give it to the actress with the best chops.
“FUCKING BRILLIANT MOVIE!,” I just wrote Aronofsky. “But Jesus…why did you use the term ‘horror movie’ with me last summer? This is manic psychological realism. All about going mad from a desperate need for creative perfection and mastery of craft, and fear of losing your edge or a competitor stepping in front of you. Each and every anxiety attack plaguing Portman’s ballet-dancer character is self-inflicted, and there’s never a moment when you say, “Okay, now we’re entering the realm of pure wackjob fuck-all horror” — you keep it real from start to finish.
“Blair Witch and The Last Exorcism and that little paranormal thing aside, the horror genre has become so cheap and chewed up, so sullied with a gore-and-blood-bath mentality, so given over to excess and grotesque wallows for the sake of grotesque wallows…whereas your movie is absolutely reality-based — pure psychological metaphor, and always thoroughly tethered to Portman’s mental state. It’s a movie about the inside of an ambitious woman’s head all the way, and yet operatic and schizo and just a gradual tumble of anxiety and panic and finally madness. And yet fascinating all the way through with all the subtle CG and rashes and bleeding cuticles and cracked toenails.
“And wonderful CG! Which is to say the kind of CG that doesn’t call attention to itself 90% of the time. I lost count after a while. 40-something?” No, I was told — Black Swan has just over 300 vfx shots. “Almost every mirror is slightly manipulated,” he said. “Lots of subtle, hopefully unconscious weirdness.” Of course, the unconscious or not-blatantly-noticable weirdness is what’s beautiful about it, I replied. One of the things, I mean. And there are so many.
Cheers also to Portman’s costars — Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder (a grotesque role, but the best thing she’s done in eons), the great Vincent Cassel and Barbara Hershey. And hats off to Matthew Libatique‘s cinematography (which is grainy like The Wrestler‘s), Andrew Weisblum‘s editing and Clint Mansell‘s original score.