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Natalie Deserved the Oscar. End of Story.

March 29, 2011 Leave a comment

This story has plagued both publications and the blogosphere alike for the last week, and damn it, it really needs to stop. This is one of the most annoying, ill-founded, and downright inappropriate smear campaigns against a great performer in recent memory. First off, even if Natalie Portman didn’t train for and perform a great deal of dancing in “Black Swan,” that’s not why people do or should win Oscars (unless you’re Jennifer Hudson, who sang her way to an Oscar in ’06 since she sure as hell can’t act worth a damn). People win Oscars for acting, and that’s what Portman did. She acted her ass off.

I mean seriously, people. This is horrible. It’s like saying: “I actually heard a rumor once that Natalie did not do her own makeup for the final scene. Nor did she even design her own costumes. I’m appalled. She didn’t deserve the Oscar.” All of these accusations are nearly as absurd as expecting an actress to somehow cram fifteen to twenty years of dancing experience into one year of film training.

Of course, this all started when Portman’s apparent “dance double,” Sarah Lane, complained that the actress only performed five percent of the dancing in the final cut of the film. I’ve only seen the film once, but running it through my head, something about that figure automatically sounds fishy. Maybe this dancer got a raw deal, simply being credited as a hand double and an extra, but way to go by turning yourself into an international joke by insinuating that Natalie was a fraud in the film.

Meanwhile, director Darren Aronofsky is dancing to a different drumbeat, defending his actress and her career-defining performance to the last stroke. In an interview with the UK Guardian, he claims that Portman did in fact do eighty to ninety percent of her dancing in the film, putting the double to shame. In an excerpt from the piece, he says:

However, Aronofsky has issued a statement claiming Portman performed 80 to 90% of the routines seen in the final cut of his film. “Here is the reality,” he said. “I had my editor count shots. There are 139 dance shots in the film. 111 are Natalie Portman untouched. 28 are her dance double Sarah Lane. If you do the math, that’s 80% Natalie Portman.”

He added: “What about duration? The shots that feature the double are wide shots and rarely play for longer than one second. There are two complicated longer dance sequences that we used face replacement. Even so, if we were judging by time over 90% would be Natalie Portman.”

Aronofsky states that Portman did, in fact, dance on point, a difficult technique which was also said to be played false by Lane. The Guardian article also features costar Mila Kunis defending all of Portman’s performance, as well, stating that she “danced her ass off.”

What it all comes down to is CUT THE S#!T. This plague of defamation must end. I can only hope that in the end, it will only help to bolster the legacy of Portman’s performance when people realize how much she actually worked long and hard for this role. Shame on all who say otherwise.

Check out the opening scene from “Black Swan” below, re-color corrected and cut to a different song. Also, you can view the entire Guardian article, here.

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Updated Oscar Predictions

December 19, 2010 Leave a comment

What with everything that has happened in the last month in regards to the critics, the Globes and the SAGs, I figure that it’s time to do a full update on my Oscar predictions. Not a lot has shifted in the technical cateogories, except that “The Social Network” is looking more and more like a sure thing for a Best Original Score nomination. I’ve also taken “The King’s Speech” out of Best Editing. If it does miss that nomination, and somehow goes on to win Best Picture, it will be the first film in 30 years to win the big one without the support of the editors. Those two awards somehow go hand in hand.

As far as the acting categories go, Best Actor seems pretty much locked. Jesse Eisenberg has carved his name in stone and is just as solid as the top two contenders. There’s an outside chance that Ryan Gosling might break in and knock out one of the two veterans, but becoming less and less likely. A big question for Best Actress is who will take the place of Hilary Swank, after the odd as hell SAG nomination. I’m still betting on Lesley Manville, and not just because of the NBR stat, but because it’s a truly endearing character. However, much like Gosling, Williams is looming, and I can definitely see her getting a nomination, much like Laura Linney did for “The Savages” in 2007, and she didn’t even have the Golden Globe nod.

I think its safe to say that Justin Timberlake has fallen out of the running, especially since Andrew Garfield is no longer a lock. I refuse to predict Jeremy Renner until there’s no hope left. Never thought I’d find myself rooting against one of my favorite performers. My how the tables turn. I am however, hoping that the Academy will remain as bold as the SAG and nominate John Hawkes, but its a crap shoot. In Best Supporting Actress, it’s pretty solid that both of “The Fighter”‘s ladies will be making it in, though Leo definitely has the edge. Mila Kunis and Jacki Weaver will fight it out for the last slot.

One thing that I think is safe to say is that “The Fighter” is now as solid a contender as it has ever been. We shall see how it fares with the rest of the guilds, but from the SAGs and Globes, alone, it has gained even more ground than “Black Swan.”

Read all of my predictions after the jump:

BEST PICTURE

1. The Social Network
2. The King’s Speech
3. Toy Story 3
4. Inception
5. Black Swan
6. The Fighter
7. The Kids Are All Right
8. 127 Hours
9. True Grit
10. Winter’s Bone

Alt 1: The Town
Alt 2: Another Year

Read more…

Screen Actors Guild Nominations: My Thoughts

December 16, 2010 Leave a comment

While trying not to put the cart before the horse, it is important to realize that the SAG is the real deal. What we have here is the most accurate precursor in regards to matching up to what the Oscar nominations will look like.

First of all, the actors make up, 3 times over, the largest contingent of the Academy, with producers and executives in 2nd, sound personnel in 3rd and writers in 4th. And while Best Ensemble does not always line up with Best Picture, the singular achievement nominations have lined up with Oscars, per say, about 80 to 90 percent of the time. Last year, was perhaps the most similar, with only 1 nominee in Best Supporting Actress not making it to Oscar (Diane Kruger). Best Actor, Actress and Supporting Actress lined up perfectly.

That being said, I’m mostly happy with these nominations, despite a few hiccups. Without a doubt, the most shocking and disturbing omission is Andrew Garfield in “The Social Network.” I thought that, if anything, he would be locked and Jesse Eisenberg would still have an uphill battle, despite all of the critical love. However, Garfield was the heart and soul of the film and anyone who can blaze through Sorkin dialogue, while still maintaining that level of emotion and integrity, deserves recognition.

The trouble is, who is to blame for this slight. If it is John Hawkes, then I cannot mourn for too long, because he is the one man that I want to appear in the eventual Oscar lineup ahead of Garfield. John Hawkes gives, quite simply, one of the best performances of the year and a true underdog story to boot. However, if it is Jeremy Renner who passed Andrew Garfield by, then I am appalled. Renner was absolutely stellar in “The Hurt Locker,” realistic, unique and all heart. In “The Town,” he is good, maybe the best performance in the film, but really nothing special at all. I still cannot believe the amount of buzz he’s receiving.

Another weird turn this morning was Hilary Swank getting in for her only slightly above average performance in “Conviction,” knocking out critical favorites Lesley Manville in “Another Year” and Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine.” What’s really weird about this is her inclusion, but not Sam Rockwell or Juliette Lewis, the individuals in the film that people have actually been talking about. A true out-of-the-blue nomination, and really kind of a hilarious one seeing that she is once again up against Annette Bening, who lost the Best Actress race to Swank twice in the last 11 years.

A little known fact, if Lesley Manville is not nominated for an Oscar, she will be the first woman to win the National Board of Review award for Best Actress and not go on to an Oscar nod since the year 1990 when Mia Farrow failed to secure a nomination for Woody Allen’s “Alice.” In superstitious terms, that’s a long streak to be broken.

Mila Kunis made a surprise appearance here. Kind of boggled by that, because as funny and peppy as she is, it’s really not that solid of a performance. Barbara Hershey was a standout, if ever anyone could stand out around Natalie Portman’s brilliance.

Now, the good things. I’ve already addressed my absolute elation for John Hawkes come-from-behind nomination, even if he has a long shot, even if hell does freeze over, of actually winning. I must also congratulate Jesse Eisenberg, who has now all but engraved his nomination in cement. Truly brilliant work. and while I haven’t seen “True Grit,” it’s nice to see Jeff Bridges show up here, especially after his snub at the Golden Globes.

While I wasn’t really expecting any kind of showing for it, it’s kind of sad to see yet another Christopher Nolan film snubbed from the Ensemble Cast category, let alone any other category in the case of “Inception.” True, the first thing the mind goes to when it comes to this film is the visuals, the story and the direction. Yet, it is an ensemble piece, through and through, with so many actors (Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joesph Gordon Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, and, of course, Tom Hardy) all pulling their weight more than needed. And while “Black Swan” does have decent performances all around, it’s really Natalie Portman’s show. One deserved this nomination more than the other, and it’s going home empty-handed.

My longshot predictions for the win would probably go like this:

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST
“The King’s Speech”
alt: “The Fighter”

BEST ACTOR
Colin Firth – “The King’s Speech”
alt: James Franco – “127 Hours”

BEST ACTRESS
Annette Bening “The Kids Are All Right”
alt: Natalie Portman – “Black Swan”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christian Bale – “The Fighter”
alt: Geoffrey Rush – “The King’s Speech

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Melissa Leo – “The Fighter”
alt: Helena Bonham Carter – “The King’s Speech

We shall see.

17th Screen Actors Guild Nominations

December 16, 2010 Leave a comment

All I will post my full reactions in the next few hours. In the meantime I leave you with one thought: John Hawkes, John Hawkes, JOHN GODDAMN HAWKES!!!!!!! Thank you very much.

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST
“Black Swan”
“The Fighter”
“The Kids Are All Right”
“The King’s Speech”
“The Social Network”

BEST ACTOR in a LEADING ROLE
Jeff Bridges – “True Grit”
Robert Duvall – “Get Low”
Jesse Eisenberg – “The Social Network”
Colin Firth – “The King’s Speech”
James Franco – “127 Hours”

BEST ACTRESS in a LEADING ROLE
Annette Bening – “The Kids Are All Right”
Nicole Kidman – “The Rabbit Hole”
Jennifer Lawrence – “Winter’s Bone”
Natalie Portman – “Black Swan”
Hilary Swank – “Conviction”

BEST ACTOR in a SUPPORTING ROLE
Christian Bale – “The Fighter”
John Hawkes – “Winter’s Bone”
Jeremy Renner – “The Town”
Mark Ruffalo – “The Kids Are All Right”
Geoffrey Rush – “The King’s Speech”

BEST ACTRESS in a SUPPORTING ROLE
Amy Adams – “The Fighter”
Helena Bonham-Carter – “The King’s Speech”
Mila Kunis – “Black Swan”
Melissa Leo – “The Fighter”
Hailee Steinfeld – “True Grit”

68th Annual Golden Globe Nominations

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, here they are. Some good things and bad things. It appears that “The King’s Speech” leads with 7, while “The Social Network” and “The Fighter” in a close second with 6.

More later, but I leave you with this. Leave it to the HFPA to nominate one of the worst-reviewed and worst received films of the year for 3 awards including Best Picture for the sole reason that it has Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in it. I don’t know if it’s better to use that excuse, or to just say they have bad taste. Starfuckers, we salute you.

Best Picture, Drama
Black Swan
The Fighter
Inception
The King’s Speech
The Social Network

Best Picture, Comedy/Musical
Alice in Wonderland
Burlesque
The Kids Are All Right
Red
The Tourist

Best Director
David Fincher, The Social Network
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David O. Russell, The Fighter

Best Actor, Drama
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter

Best Actress, Drama
Halle Berry, Frankie and Alice
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Best Actor, Musical/Comedy
Kevin Spacey, Casino Jack
Jake Gyllenhaal, Love and Other Drugs
Johnny Depp, Alice in Wonderland
Johnny Depp, The Tourist
Paul Giamatti, Barney’s Version

Best Actress, Musical/Comedy
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Anne Hathaway, Love and Other Drugs
Angelina Jolie, The Tourist
Emma Stone, Easy A
Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter
Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech
Michael Douglas, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Best Screenplay
Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Christopher Nolan, Inception
Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right
David Seidler, The King’s Speech
Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours

Best Original Score
Alexander Desplot – The King’s Speech
Danny Elfman – Alice in Wonderalnd
A.R. Robin – 127 Hours
Trent Reznor – The Social Network
Hans Zimmer – Inception

Best Original Song
“You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me,” Burlesque
“Bound to you,” Burlesque
“Coming Home,” Country Strong
“I See The Light,” Tangled
“There’s a Place For Us,” Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Best Animated Film
Tangled
Toy Story 3
How To Train Your Dragon
Despicable Me
The Illusionist

Best Foreign-Language Film
I Am Love
Biutiful
The Concert
The Edge
In a Better World

“Black Swan” Review

December 8, 2010 3 comments

For a thriller about a ballerina having a nervous breakdown, I don’t think it’s possible for “Black Swan” to have accumulated higher expectations prior to its release. Not even counting the immense cult following that a filmmaker like Darren Aronofsky carries with him in his pocket. I’ve been watching the trailer constantly since summer and I can’t seem to turn on the web or even in the grocery store without a glimpse of this film’s publicity. With this much wood fueling the fire, the less of a net it has to work with, and sadly, the film falls a bit short of what it was originally aiming for.

Don’t get me wrong. The film is very good. Aronofsky taps some of the brilliance invoked by Argento, Cronenberg and even Hitchcock to create event of psychosexual madness to add to his to his, for the most part, stellar repetoire. The film uses nearly every available facet of filmmaking to create levels of shock and paranoia to frazzling heights.

Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers, a young woman who has committed her body, mind and soul completely to the art of ballet dance. Her entire life has become a whirlwind of pressure from her overbearing mother (which is an understatement), her director, for whom she has a confused sexual disposition towards, and an always lurking understudy, for whom we won’t even get into sexual discussion with. However, her greatest opposition may lie in a darker place, one that may very well be unconquerable.

If there is one theme that maverick director Darren Aronofsky has loved to document, it would be that of obssession. No matter how elaborate the stories get or layered his characters become, the driving force behind them always comes in the form of almost rabid fixation of both the tangible and sometimes the intangible, as well. Here, that topic is brought to new depths, perhaps too deep for its own good. The director composes his film much like the violent crescendo of a classical symphony, using Tchaikovsky’s own themes blended with Clint Mansell’s incredible score to raise each scene to be a bit more intense than the last, straight up to the spectacle that is the final note.

The cast is well chosen. Vincent Cassel provides the perfect blend of bravado mixed with sheer creepiness in his unorthodox methods of both teaching and seducing the main character. Barbara Hershey is the perfect embodiment of Portman’s mother, both in appearance and ability, even if at times her domineering manner can feel a bit forced by the situation. Mila Kunis also holds her own as Portman’s dark apprentice, though never really provides a standout scene for which she can compete with the real star of the film.

That aforementioned ray of light is the incomparable Natalie Portman. Her Nina Sayers IS the film, and the reason to go see it, if there be no other. Portman spent nearly a year of her life losing weight, training in the art of ballet, and doing whatever else was in her power to become this role. And even if her physical transformation wasn’t a standout factor, her emotions are spot on in every single moment that she’s on camera. In a scene near the end when a moment of clarity and revelation reaches her during her opening night and she works to cover her rolling tears with snow-white make-up, we literally see her become not only a great actress, but one of the greatest of our time. The Best Actress field is very strong this year, but I would have no doubt that she could bring home the gold, nor have a problem with it, either.

Aronofsky uses an immense amount of mis en scene to enhance the levels of suspense and paranoia in his film. The alternating tones of black and white help emphasize the duality of Portman’s character, and the placement of mirrors in moments of crisis and fear help illustrate her own self-destruction. Massive kudos to Matthew Libateque on the most gorgeous cinematography of Aronofsky’s career. The close-ups on Portman’s feet as they patter and skip across the studio floor are some of the most real and compelling moments of the film. The following-shot is also becoming a signature trademark of Aronofsky’s style.

Yet, alas, the second shoe had to drop at some point. The film, while always gripping, just gets out of hand, especially in the third act. Aronofsky really can’t decide what type of film he’s trying to create. The character-study is a potent selling-point for the audience to  hold on to. However, the director keeps making attempts at B-movie horror to change the pace up with using jump-scares and fake-outs. When these elements begin to appear, they seem out of place, and when they accelerate, they become overwhelming, just as the film does. And while the ending note is one of metaphorical triumph for the director and his film, this viewer wishes that the final jog to the finish didn’t have to be quite so draining.

GRADES:           B+            * * * * / * * * * *           8.2 / 10.0