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Matthew Libatique (#110 of 3)

Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

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Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Cinematography
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

The first wave of guilds—directors, producers, and actors—all supplicated down on their knees for The King’s Speech, all in near-simultaneity with the announcement of the film’s dozen Oscar nominations. If the impact of that sea change has had some Oscar bloggers stepping off of observation decks and into the paths of oncoming trains, a few of the more insular guilds have started to show signs that they’re not interested in laying down for another Weinstein sweep, and have taken the competition into their own hands—quite literally.

The Art Directors’ Guild couldn’t quite manage to sidestep The King’s Speech’s gimme in the category for best “period film” (presumably referring to a big blot of discharge Carrie White’s mother warned her about), but at the same time gave Inception a rather unexpected leg up. Now, the American Society of Cinematographers have continued momentum for poor little non-nominated Christopher Nolan’s epic and its chances in the tech categories by handing Inception the ASC award. Their slate of nominees aligned five-for-five with Oscar’s, so this marks one of the most high profile guild snubs for The King’s Speech to date.

The Conversations: Darren Aronofsky Part II: Black Swan

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The Conversations: Darren Aronofsky Part II: Black Swan
The Conversations: Darren Aronofsky Part II: Black Swan

Ed Howard: Jason, you ended the first half of our conversation about Darren Aronofsky by wondering both where the director would go next after his first four films and which Aronofsky would be represented in Black Swan, his fifth feature. Throughout that exchange, we mostly divided Aronofsky’s career in half, considering Pi and Requiem for a Dream as blunt, bleak rehearsals for the more fully realized explorations of thematically similar territory in The Fountain and The Wrestler. So I suppose it’s appropriate that for the first half of Black Swan, I found myself thinking I was watching another Requiem for a Dream, while the second half ventured into the richer, deeper territory of Aronofsky’s more recent career. It’s appropriate, too, that the film itself is so concerned with halving and doubling, with mirrors and doppelgangers, built as it is around a production of the ballet Swan Lake in which the dancer Nina (Natalie Portman) is asked to play the dual role of the Swan Queen and her dark rival, the titular Black Swan.

It’s a fascinating film, and especially so in the context of Aronofsky’s career, because it feels like such a consolidation of everything he’s been exploring and dealing with in his other work. I haven’t read any reviews of Black Swan yet, but I feel pretty confident predicting that at least a few of them will call it “The Wrestler in ballet slippers,” or something similar, and they will be more or less accurate. As in The Wrestler and his other films, Aronofsky is exploring his protagonist’s singleminded pursuit of her obsession, in this case Nina’s pursuit of dancing perfection. As in The Wrestler, Aronofsky is recycling familiar cinematic clichés, drawing on the backstage movie’s tropes of domineering mothers, neurotic stars, ambitious rivals, aging hasbeens, and predatory/sexual relationships between male directors and female performers. In working with these clichés, however, Aronofsky reinvests them with vitality and freshness through the raw intensity of his filmmaking.

Nina wants, desperately and obsessively, to be “perfect,” though the film itself eschews this purity for grime, chaos and fragmentation, mocking Nina’s desire to be perfect by running her through an increasingly harrowing gauntlet of real and imagined trials and terrors. Black Swan begins in methodical, observational realism and slowly morphs, like a woman becoming a swan, into a psychological horror film, a dizzying fever dream that haunts the audience and the central character alike. I’m still wrestling with this dense film, and I’m sure we’ll delve more into its substance and its connections to Aronofsky’s oeuvre throughout this conversation. But one thing I’m already sure of is that I can’t forget this film; it’s provocative and viscerally exciting and visually compelling. I haven’t totally resolved my feelings about this film or its effect on me, but I’m already sure that it has affected me.

An Outline of a Heartbreaker: Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain

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An Outline of a Heartbreaker: Darren Aronofsky’s <em>The Fountain</em>
An Outline of a Heartbreaker: Darren Aronofsky’s <em>The Fountain</em>

Part sci-fi head trip, part swoony romance and part pop-philosophical manifesto, The Fountain is a gusher of poetic imagery, extravagant yet controlled. Hugh Jackman plays three incarnations of a hero: a conquistador trying to find the Fountain of Youth, a present-day cancer researcher who’s in denial over his wife’s impending death, and a 26th century astronaut piloting a translucent starship into a disintegrating nebula believed to be the gateway to the afterlife. But because the tales are not merely intercut, but densely interwoven—with images from one section being quoted, alluded to or expanded upon in another—The Fountain feels less like an anthology of thematically similar short stories than variations of the same narrative developed on parallel planes. When the movie cuts away from one period, you feel as though the story is still moving forward even though you’re not there to see it. Every scene—indeed, every shot—has been composed, designed, blocked and lit for maximum aesthetic oomph. You can envision the storyboards pinned on a production office wall, each drawing accompanied by a typewritten sheet explaining why every creative touch, however seemingly small, is integral to the film’s vision.