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Oscar Countdown, Day 7: Black Swan

Posted on the 24 February 2011 by Cinefilles @cinefilles

Counting down the hours until Hollywood's most golden of awards galas? So are we! Semi-obsessively. Join us at noon for the next ten too-long days as we mentally prep our Oscar pool ballots and give each of this year's Best Picture nominees a once over and half.
Oscar Countdown, Day 7: Black Swan
Photo: allmoviephoto.com
THE RUNDOWN: Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is an insane ballerina. Really. She's an obsessive perfectionist who's determined to win the role of the Swan Queen in her company's upcoming production of Swan Lake. She'll stop at no means to get it, even if it means losing her dignity to a pervy, slimy instructor (Vincent Cassel) or knocking out the top competition and tease (Mila Kunis).
WHY IT'S GOLDEN: To be honest, I'm sort of with Michelle on this one. I found Black Swan to be a letdown, a build up of psychosexual tension without any real release. But, you do have to appreciate it on some base levels. First off, the story really is intriguing (although, not quite unique), taking the true horrors of being a ballerina to a whole other, nightmare-inducing (or so I've heard - I slept soundly after watching it) level. Whether you enjoy the performances or the direction, you'll desperately want to see how it all ends, especially if you're a gore whore or fanboy. This really is  just a semi-high-brow horror film. Second, the editing, both in terms of audio and visuals, is tight and intense, making even the most menial activities seem menacing. I mean, who would have thought hearing someone clip their toe nails could be so haunting!? And last and most importantly, the actors (particularly Portman) commit themselves fully to the script, even in the more Showgirls-y scenes. You've got to watch this even if it's just for the camptastic Winona Ryder cameo. - Emily
WHY IT'S NOT: The shortcomings of this film for me seems to be those that are conversely gaining most of the praise: Natalie Portman and the film as a truly disturbing, palpable psychological thriller.
To address the first, while some are dubbing this the highest point thus far in Portman's career (to which I say, rent Closer), she was actually biggest stumble of the film. Portman is Nina. She doesn't bring the black swan to screen. A brilliant performance isn't just about checking off the marks (ie. anguished expressions and frantic movements) but also about making the audience feel something, in this case, unsettling and even revolting. Wasn't that Nina's ultimate hurdle herself? And when it doesn't come across with Portman, it doesn't with Nina.
To the second shortcoming, you'll need to see Requiem for a Dream (which sadly only garnered one nom in it's time, though for a well-deserved performance by Ellen Burstyn). That is how truly rattling psychological torment is done, which evidently Aronofsky knew how to direct, but perhaps the film fell back without the pen in his hand this time. - Michelle
THE FINAL VERDICT: This is the Academy Awards, not the Scream Awards. Aside from the still-deserving Silence of the Lambs, there haven't been many forcefully frightening films that have gotten Oscar love. The only gold Black Swan will be taking home will be for Portman.
Check out Emily's original review here! Tomorrow, we weigh in on Winter's Bone!

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