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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

February 15, 2011 at 10:23 AM

Oscar countdown: “Black Swan”

Only twelve days to go! Cate Blanchett’s presenting an award! I’m using too many exclamation points! But somehow, exclamation points feel right for “Black Swan,” easily the most over-the-top movie on the Best Picture list — and the most polarizing. There’s no middle ground on Darren Aronofsky’s lurid tale of madness, lust and bird metaphors, set in the world of ballet. Just this week, in fact, a co-worker told me she loved it, and another co-worker visited my desk to tell me he hated it. (His wife hated it too, so it’s not just a gender thing.) I think people who approach “Black Swan” as a ballet movie will be disappointed — there’s really not that much dance in it and, except for the final Black Swan solo, the dance we do see isn’t particularly memorable — but those looking for a unique, embrace-the-crazy psychological thriller will be thrilled. I know I was. I’ve seen this movie three times (the third time just to see that final solo on a big screen once more), and each time the same things strike me: it’s a little out of control, Portman’s perfectly cast but giving a one-note performance, and how did 103 minutes go by so quickly? Love it or hate it, nobody forgets “Black Swan” in a hurry. But it doesn’t have a prayer of winning Best Picture — the Academy would never go for such a nutty movie, and I suspect it’s less effective on screener DVD, which is how many voters will watch it.
Total U.S. box office: It’s currently just a hair (or a feather) below the magic number of $100 million — which is much, much more than anyone ever thought a ballet-world thriller could ever earn. One of the year’s unexpected box-office success stories.
Total Oscar nominations: Five, for best picture, director, lead actress, cinematography and editing.
Best chances for a win: Everybody, and I mean everybody, thinks Portman is a lock for best actress — she underwent a physical transformation (losing weight and learning ballet technique for the role) and plays crazy, which Oscar voters generally like. I think it’s the least interesting performance of the five actress contenders. Portman does exactly what the movie needs, which just happens to be what she does very well, but I never believed this character in the way I believed Annette Bening, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Laurence and Michelle Williams. Then again, “Black Swan” isn’t the kind of movie you need to believe. Anyway, Portman will probably win; Aronofsky probably won’t; and the movie has a good chance in cinematography and editing, both fo which were remarkable.
Odds of this movie creating any fabulous Oscar-night weirdness: Short of Portman going into labor at the podium, probably not. There was a lively controversy/feud going on in the fashion press over costumes credit, between costume designer Amy Westcott and the fashion house Rodarte, but the costumes weren’t nominated so we won’t get to see any wrestling at the podium.
Where I’d rank this movie among the ten Best Picture contenders: 7

Bring on the wings! Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” (Photo credit: Niko Tavernise, copyright Fox Searchlight)

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