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Darren Aronofsky's force of nature BLACK SWAN makes Capone once again reorder his Best Films of 2010 list!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
When is a movie about a ballerina obsessed with perfection not only that? Probably about as often as a horror film takes the conventions of the genre and turns them inside out, while still remaining true to the practices of building tension, piercing the mind of the unstable central character, and making her fragile yet imaginative psyche as much of a character as the timid woman whose mind can't quite keep it locked up. Welcome to the world of BLACK SWAN. In the finest work of her career, Natalie Portman plays Nina, a dancer in the New York City whose all-consuming search for the flawless performance is surpassed only by her overbearing mother's (Barbara Hershey) desire to see all of her dreams realized through her daughter's life. I've always been fascinated by the world of ballet and dance, not so much to see the resulting performance but more to see the toe-crushing work that goes into each routine. Director Darren Aronofsky seems to have a similar curiosity about the grueling steps it takes to shape a ballet, which clearly goes far beyond simply knowing the choreography. Nina's career has a chance to soar when the company's artistic director Thomas (Vincent Cassel, who splits his time between being seducer and dictator) decides to put on a production of "Swan Lake" with an emphasis on the darker aspects of the ballet 's lead role of the White Swan/Black Swan. While tightly-wound Nina is clearly the choice for the duel role of the White Swan (she knows the routine before the audition is even announced), Thomas has doubts she's capable of letting go enough to inhabit the Black Swan. He attempts some rather unorthodox methods to coax the performance out of Nina--everything from kissing her, telling her to go home and touch herself, and bringing in Lily (Mila Kunis), a new dancer who seems to embody the less technically perfect but free-spirited abilities Thomas is attempting to get from Nina. Nina's anxiety is so pronounced that the signs begin to manifest themselves outwardly as painful-looking scratch marks begins to appear on her shoulder blades (apparently she had scratching issues as a girl, as well). In a small but critical role in BLACK SWAN, Winona Ryder plays Beth, the recently retired ballerina and star of the company whose paranoia and rage are matched only by Nina's admiration for her as a fellow perfectionist. And for years, Nina has been stealing small objects from Beth's dressing room in order to capture something of what Beth possesses. Aronofsky's genius (and it's something he's toyed with before, especially in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM) is the idea that a great deal of what Nina sees happening to or around her is all in her head. Is Lily trying to steal her part? It sure looks that way when Thomas casts Lily as Nina's understudy, or when the two women spend a night partying and Lily's slips drugs into Nina's drink. But then there are other moments, like the already legendary lesbian sex scene between Portman and Kunis, that are slightly less certain as to the reality of those situations. Aronofsky is most comfortable in those moments when reality and delusional fantasy co-exist. A backstage brawl between the two ballerinas during the premiere "Swan Lake" performance is especially death defying. But amongst the psychological chaos, Aronofsky also wants to capture what it's like to spend countless hours in rehearsal and performance. There's an especially remarkable sequence where the director literally plants a camera just behind Portman's shoulders as she comes from her dressing room up the stage, positions herself just off stage, waits for her cue, and then emerges to meet her male counterpart in the middle of the stage. The point of view is similar to what Aronofsky frequently did with Mickey Rourke in THE WRESTLER, and this putting-us-in-their-shoes style is simply breathtaking. There are a couple of other instances of this POV in BLACK SWAN, and often in those instances the director is using the method for scarier sequences. I've read a number of reviews that say BLACK SWAN is Aronofsky's attempt at Cronenberg or Argento, and I can certainly see the latter, especially since Dario Argento set some of this best horror works in the arts world. But those comparisons seems lazy without at least diving a bit more into what sets Aronofsky's work apart. He is intent on having this world surround us. I was as fascinated watching Portman re-stitch her ballet shoes as I was watching her metamorphosis into the kind of creature she needed to become to perform this ballet. And in a complex and bizarre way, we are rooting for Nina to complete her transformation, even if it means her losing her mind or life. We want it because she wants it (again, parallels between BLACK SWAN and THE WRESTLER are easily made on this level). It's fantastic seeing Hershey back in top form. Her face may look slightly older, but her performance knifes its way under your skin to reveal every overbearing thing your mother ever did. She is the personification of passive-aggressive behavior--there's a scene with a birthday cake that will make you want to murder somebody--and her soul-sucking relationship with her daughter is destructive, bordering on dangerous, and Hershey absolutely crushes the performance. Vincent Cassel (recently seen the title role in the two-part MESRINE) has long been one of my favorite actors, but I really liked the way he injects a huckster quality to Thomas. He's selling a lifestyle to Nina, the same way he has with all the women who have come before her, because he knows breaking her in with such a challenging performance will make her his for as long as he wants. He is as evil as he is charming and handsome, and Cassel is one of the few actors with the strut to pull it off. BLACK SWAN is a devastating work of power, style, and unfiltered tension. It's about the psychological price of personal accomplishment. It's about having your soul crushed and having it set free. And most importantly, it's about the differences between breaking free and being broken. Make no mistake, the almost-constant look on Natalie Portman's face is fear. The challenge I put to you is figuring out what she is most afraid of. And after you've compiled your list of possible answers, the correct choice is "All of the Above." BLACK SWAN will rattle you something fierce.
-- Capone capone@aintitcool.com Follow Me On Twitter



Readers Talkback
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  • Dec. 3, 2010, 12:34 a.m. CST

    Yay

    by unkempt_sock

    Was kinda bummed after the "meh" review earlier.

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 12:38 a.m. CST

    but do Kunis and Portman get naked?

    by Titus05

    and engage in a wild 5 minute sex romp?

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 12:41 a.m. CST

    ASS TO ASS!!

    by F-18

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 12:45 a.m. CST

    Maaaaaash potatoes...

    by Grasscutter

    maaaaaaaaash potatoes!

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 12:50 a.m. CST

    Sounds like it's a lot of other movies

    by CherryValance

    I'm thinking THE TURNING POINT plus SUSPIRIA plus REPULSION. I don't know why that's just what I'm getting from what you said. But those are all really good movies. So if I think that and then this is a dud, I'll be annoyed. Especially since I'm not as enamored with Ms. Portman as everyone else is. I like the rest of the cast but I don't know when I'll be seeing this because my local theaters don't have it tomorrow.

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 12:56 a.m. CST

    Is the lesbian scene as explicit as "Chloe"?

    by Redmond

    Where a naked Amanda Seyfried fingered a naked Julianne Moore. I guess I'll find out Saturday.

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 1:03 a.m. CST

    I've read the 1st paragraph five times now...

    by tritium

    and it remains pretty much non-sensical. What exactly does this sentence mean: "When is a movie about a ballerina obsessed with perfection not only that?" <p> My brain hurts just trying to understand the semantics of this opening sentence.

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 1:16 a.m. CST

    Still say it owes more than a little to Perfect Blue

    by empyreal0

    And maybe a little to Persona.

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 1:34 a.m. CST

    That's strange

    by D o o d

    everyone else has said it's shit.<p>I like aronofsky so I'm going to give it a go, but this is the first positive review I've seen for this movie!

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 1:41 a.m. CST

    Dood...

    by Kirbymanly

    I think you should check out rottentomatoes...

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 1:58 a.m. CST

    Special to us, not to ballet

    by Benita

    It would be unusual if a dancer in a ballet company did not know all the steps to Swan Lake, that wouldn't make Nina special in a ballet company. Any one of the dancers in the corps could be called to dance any role in any ballet, at any time and she would know the steps by virtue of all the hours they have spent rehearsing those ballets. Muscle memory is a powerful force among dancers and most can repeat an entire variation (that's when a dancer dances by herself) after seeing it performed only once.

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 2:57 a.m. CST

    Dood, You Must Be Deluded...

    by Rebeck2

    Or imagining things, hearing voices, because this movie is at 85% on RT and almost every review I have read has been either a full-out rave like this or at the very least begrudgingly admiring.

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 3:42 a.m. CST

    Caught this at a screening tonight.

    by Psyclops

    All the hype about Natalie Portman's performance is absolutey true. I'd be surprised if she doesn't get the Oscar for this. The one thing I wasn't really expecting was just how much this movie plays like a horror film, and not just the gruesome bits, which this movie does have. From the very first scene there's this atmosphere of dread, this tension, that just keeps building. Even the lesbian sex scene between Mila and Natalie still manages to keep you on edge without losing its eroticism.

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 6:23 a.m. CST

    Redmond

    by hst666

    I have no idea, but you just guaranteed one more sale for the blu-ray of Chloe.

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 7:18 a.m. CST

    @Psyclops - None of the AICN reviewers are devoting any

    by V'Shael

    paragraphs to the ONLY thing we give a shit about. The lesbian sex scene.<br /><br />How does it rate?

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 7:23 a.m. CST

    So It's The Red Shoes

    by Aquatarkusman

    With more shots of gnarled-up feet and Moira Shearer getting it on with Ludmilla Tchérina. Hey, if what Empyreal says above is correct, I say steal from the best. Maybe the masses will get exposed to some Powell/Pressburger and Bergman indirectly.

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 7:27 a.m. CST

    Black Swan and True Grit

    by elsewhere

    Are currently my most anticipated movies. I kind of fell out of love with TRON:LEGACY, but I'll see it anyway.

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 8 a.m. CST

    Yes, but what about the lesbian sex scene

    by vorlonkosh

    Why are you reviewers avoiding the topic you know we are all interested in? Do they bump beavers or what???!!!

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 8:01 a.m. CST

    V'Shael

    by Psyclops

    It implies more than it actually shows, and both stars remain partially clothed throughout. Nothing beats the girl-on-girl scene in THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE (you couldn't pay Noomi Rapace to keep her clothes on) but this was a close second. It's also staged in this kind of hallucinatory way that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy for Portman's character so it's kind of scary as well. Still, the sight of Mila Kunis wiping the Amidala juice from her lips is one that will be burned in your fanboy memory banks forever.

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 8:39 a.m. CST

    top 10?

    by Miyamoto_Musashi

    Really don't think this years deserves or needs a top 10<br />,top 5 is fine, yet to see True Grit or Black Swan but mine would be:<br /><br />Inception - clearly number 1 for me<br />Toy Story 3<br />The Social Network<br />Kick Ass<br />The Town<br /><br />Unlucky to miss out would be Animal Kingdom and Let Me In

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 8:48 a.m. CST

    One thing's for sure

    by BizarroJerry

    This movie will give us one of the most downloaded video clips on the internet very soon.

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 9:02 a.m. CST

    Portman is flat-chested

    by krabklaw

    Who cares about seeing her naked

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 9:21 a.m. CST

    krabklaw...

    by BizarroJerry

    Expand yer horizons, dude. Big boobs are a wonderful thing, but women can be hot without them. For further illustration, may I direct your attention to Kate Hudson and Olivia Wilde?

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 10:08 a.m. CST

    I just can't give a shit about this movie.

    by Series7

    Like the whole story? Ballet? Just bores me. Can't get interested.

  • Dec. 3, 2010, noon CST

    Does she sip from the hairy cup?

    by JohnWayneWasGay

  • Dec. 3, 2010, 11:58 p.m. CST

    tritium

    by BadMrWonka

    "When is ____ not only that?" is a common phrase to imply that while something might seem to be simple on the surface, it's actually much more than that.<p> so a dumbed down version (no offense) might read, "Black Swan is about a ballerina obsessed with perfection, but there is much more going on under the surface than just that."<p>got it? good. <p>now we can move on to the sentence about Barbara Hershey looking older. I think there was a thought missing in there somewhere. What exactly does her looking older have to do with the second half of that sentence? Was it referencing the sentence before it? we may never know...

  • Dec. 4, 2010, 5:55 p.m. CST

    I want to see Natalie Portman naked as much as the next guy, but

    by kisskissbangbang

    it sure as hell isn't the deciding factor in seeing this. If it happens, nice, it's gravy, but I'm seeing the film because it's by one of the most talented new directors out there. What kind of film fans are you guys? Reminds me of my friend who went to Eyes Wide Shut saying, "Let the masturbation begin." Boy, was he disappointed (as was I, but for completely different reasons).

  • Dec. 5, 2010, 8:22 a.m. CST

    Kisskissbangbang

    by clupula

    I agree that he really is an incredibly talented director, but I don't think we can still call him "new."

  • Dec. 5, 2010, 8:35 a.m. CST

    RE: THE LESBIANISM FROM SOMEONE WHO SAW IT

    by Squidgy_Faced_Vigilante

    OK, everyone is asking about the nudity and the lesbianism. Let's put it this way. I saw the movie last night and it is amazing as a film, fantastic work of art. However, there is a sensual sexuality to this movie that is also amazing to see. There is NO NUDITY, but honestly, when Kunis goes fully down on Portman, I wanted to take my dick out and jerk it right there in the theater. Thankfully, I did not do that, but that is how incredibly HOT this scene and the overall tone of the movie is. This is must see stuff for multiple reasons folks. Kunis is SMOKING HOT in this, an absolute want-to-fuck hottie. I have never seen a movie with more people grabbing female crotches, and it is all rolled into one GREAT, great movie as well. SEE IT IMMEDIATELY! (Sit in the back so people do not see u rubbing one out!)

  • Jan. 22, 2011, 5:51 p.m. CST

    Forget the lamers, the suckers

    by pATREUS

    This movie is a TRIUMPH. Natalie Portman for Best Actress Vincent Cassel for Best Supporting Actor Demonoid.me / KickAssTorrents / PirateBay if you have to - until the BluRay is released. Then buy it. Awesome 21st Century movie - Natalie is 100% human.