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Monday, December 6, 2010

Black Swan & 127 Hours

The last two movies I've seen in the theater are both about sacrificing your physical self for various reasons, whether those reasons are for survival or artistic perfection. One is my favorite of the year and the other is also a must-see.

Black Swan

This has been my most anticipated movie of the year ever since I saw the electrifying preview, and it did not disappoint one bit. Director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler) is one
of the most interesting and passionate director working today, and this is another remarkable addition to his resume. What is it? A ballet movie, a psychological horror film, a dark fairy tale, and a depiction of the depths of the artistic process. In my view, it succeeds brilliantly on all accounts.

I want to convey all the things I love about this movie without giving too much away, so I'll try to convey my passion without too many spoilers. I love how this movie builds from a quiet and meditative start to a deranged, passionate, violent, and out of control final third. Arono
fsky builds tension and dread so expertly in this movie, I'm astounded. Between The Wrestler and Black Swan, I think it's fair to call Aronofsky the master of looking unblinkingly at the extremes the human body can be exposed to.

All of Arronofsky's skill and passion would be for nothing if he didn't have the perfect actress at the center of this movie. Unless I'm mistaken, I don't think there's a scene that doesn't contain Nina Sayers, played by Natalie Portman. Portman, who trained over a year for this role, is perfect as Nina. Her ballet skills are stunning, and she completes a remarkable character arc. I'm calling it now-I think she'll win the Oscar. My second-favorite performance is by Mila Kunis as Lily, the rival/enemy/friend (?) to Nina. She is the perfect foil throughout the film, and she had to learn ballet as well. Barbara Hershey and Vincent Cassel are also excellent in key roles.

Black Swan is getting quite a rousing critical reaction, and of course is facing some inevitable backlash. The criticisms I've heard are that it's a thin story, overly melodramatic, or too campy. What I love about it is that Arronofsky doesn't shy away from the melodrama, or the camp. He embraces it and it makes the movie that much more strange and wonderful. Perhaps you'll disagree, but it's definitely one you'll want to discuss on the way out of the theater.

Grade: A (My favorite of the year so far)

127 Hours

Speaking of body mutilation, here comes 127 Hours, by director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) and actor James Franco. I'm guessing most readers know the central dilemma and outcome of this movie, so I won't worry too much about spoilers.

For a movie about a man stuck under a rock, 127 Hours has a considerable amount of energy. I love how Boyle leads up to the central accident. In no more than a handful of minutes,
we immediately get to understand the energy, adventurous spirit and recklessness of Aron Ralston.
Once he's under the rock, it's up to James Franco to carry the movie. Much like Natalie Portman in Black Swan, this movie lives or dies with Franco's performance, and he does a terrific job.

[Spoiler Alert-if you don't know much about the movie]. One question to ask is why you would possibly want to sit in a theater and watch a man saw off his own arm. By the time I got to the scene, I was ready to watch it. I knew it was coming, I felt Ralston's desperation, and I just wanted to see it. In a way, it's a really beautiful scene. Ralston has a remarkable yearning for life, and I take my hats off to him for doing what he had to do to survive.

127 Hours was fascinating, superbly acted by Franco, and visually interesting. I wanted a little bit more about Ralston's character, though. This movie has some parallels to Into the Wild, and I felt that movie had a greater emotional depth to it. I really liked 127 Hours, but it's not a movie I'd go back to again and again.

Grade: B+

Other 2010 Movies

How to Train Your Dragon

This was a huge hit, both critically and commercially, so I guess I was expecting a bit more. I liked the dragon, mostly because he kind of acted like my cat. The main character was also charming. I just think the whole thing was a little too heavy on the action sequences and not especially original.

Grade: C+

The Girl Who Played With Fire

My favorite of the Stieg Larrson books, but I didn't like this movie as well as the first one. It just doesn't give the emotional depth to Lisbeth that is so interesting in the books. I'll still see the last movie on DVD, though.

Grade: C+


  1. I really liked '127 Hours', and I was surprised at how emotional the ending was (after he has freed himself from the rock). It just felt like it was overflowing with life in those last few moments.

    I can't wait to see 'Black Swan', it doesn't open here until this weekend.

  2. Rebecca,

    I love your phrase-overflowing with life. I felt that way too. I still feel like I really wouldn't want to watch the movie again though-that's why I gave it a B+ and not higher.

    I cannot wait to hear your thoughts on Black Swan. I think you'll like it.