Ok, so I really don't do reviews, but this time I couldn't hold back. Over the holidays I saw four great movies, three in theaters and one on demand (cable) and I was in heaven. So many times I get to the point where I feel where are the good movies, I mean really good movies and wonder if we'll ever have a time in Cinema again when real stories, real films trump profiting over 300 mill at the box office. Well that may never happen (read never happen). But luckily I think there will always be a hunger for strong stories, strong characters and multi-layered, multi-textual stories. Don't get me wrong, I love a fluff, popcorn, no brainer films that I forget the minute I leave the theater (Transformers, Avatar, "The Other Ones"...well maybe "The Other Ones" I did remember for a while, Ferrell and Whalberg were classic), but the films that stick with me, stay resting in my craw, irritating me, making me think about the process, the story, the concepts and ideas, the ones that stimulate me, my mind, those are the ones I prefer to drop my ten bucks on (or more depending on where, time, 3-D, IMax etc..) It's like those gifts you get that keep giving back, my money lasts and I can revisit over an over in my mind. Or want to revisit in the theater.
The four movies I saw over the holidays are all award contenders, "Black Swan", "True Grit", "The Tourist", and "The Town". The first two are from two of my favorite directors Darren Aronosky and The Cohen Brothers. Aronosky blew me away with his freshman effort, "Pi" and has been impressing me ever since, then the incredible "Requim for a Dream' and the quietly powerful "The Wrestler".
And the Cohen brothers have done it again. They are masters at regional characterizations, creating worlds inhabited by characters; people and places that ring true to whatever theme or genre they see fit to work in. They are masters. From Fargo's Minnesota Midwestern twang, to the southern drawl of "Oh Brother Where Art Thou", to the deadpan short, bluntness of the antagonist in "No Country for Old Men", the brothers Cohen have brought to life some of the most rememberable worlds and characters in Cinema and have won many awards for themselves and others in the process.
Black Swan soars. Natalie Portman is one of my favorite actresses and has been in some of my favorite films in her long career. She's been acting for many years because she started at such a young age. She lit the screen on fire in her first film The Proffesional at the age of twelve and hasn't looked back. Her nuanced performance in one of the best crime drama's ever "Heat" held its salt with some of the biggest in Hollywood history, Al Pacino, Robert Dinero, Val Kilmer and more. More about Heat when I get into The Town. In Black Swan, Natalie showcases an incredible versilitude, detailed and broad strokes of emotion, both required for the role. This is true of the ballet the film is based on and is true for the movie as well. What was great for me was the strength of the entire cast . For all of the strength Ms. Portman exuded for the her role, her rival character played by the wonderful Mila Kunis showcased a voracious theatrical appetite; expressing youthful zeal and recklessness coupled with raw passion, dogged determination and cutthroat cunning. Maybe a bit more on the other incredible performances later, but all were brilliant performances that balanced the main characters on a scale set ablaze with kerosene and gasoline.
But of course it was Mr. Aronosky's show and he is the one that pulled off the real balancing act. The story moves effortlessly between the power of the dance to the power of the character's souls or lack thereof. And the balance of the other characters and their relation to the main players. It is what keeps the viewer entranced, gripping or at least trying to grip to some semblance of what's real and what is not. Ultimately it's this balance that makes Black Swan such an incredible and powerful film. I was on the ride, on the ups and downs and still felt the motion long after getting off.
More on the other three films later and a film from last year that I only recently saw "Precious", which I feel is every bit as good as last years Academy award winner "Hurt Locker".