Black Swan (2010)
Screenplay by: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John McLaughlin
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, and Winona Ryder
Synopsis: When a NYC ballet company artistic director (Cassel) decides to replace his prima ballerina (Ryder) with a fresh face for the company's upcoming performance of Swan Lake, he chooses Nina (Portman) to perform the dual roles of the White Swan and the Black Swan. While Nina dances the White Swan perfectly, she struggles to fully embody the Black Swan. When Nina strikes up an unusual friendship with a new dancer (Kunis), she begins to lose control and starts to embrace the sensuality of the Black Swan. But things are not at all as they appear...
Black Swan is, in my opinion, definitely one of the best films of the year, and it is completely deserving of its multiple Golden Globe nominations. Natalie Portman is flawless as a young woman struggling to reach the unattainable goal of perfection, and never quite meeting the expectations of her director, her suffocating mother (played by Barbara Hershey -- so great to see her on screen again; it's been a while), and herself.
I really enjoyed the way the film seems to start out as a drama, but quickly veers into the territory of psychological thriller. The way director Darren Aronofsky reveals Nina's innermost fears and insecurities to the audience is at times shocking. There were several moments in film when I had to ask myself whether what was happening on screen was real or whether it was just in Nina's troubled mind. Her slow and steady downward spiral makes for a great thriller. I also felt the film was a great commentary on the dangers of trying to achieve the impossible. The stress of Nina's eternal desire to be "perfect" (not to mention the pressure put on her by those around her) eventually leads to an unnecessary and tragic end.
I highly recommend Black Swan to everyone (However, please note that it's rated R and there is some sexual content). Go see it before the Golden Globes!
True Grit (2010)
Screenplay by: Joel & Ethan Coen (based on the novel by Charles Portis)
Directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper
Synopsis: When fourteen year old Mattie Ross' (Steinfeld) father is killed by his hired hand Tom Chaney (Brolin), she hires US Marshall and notorious drunk Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to track the murderer down. Joined by a preening Texas Ranger (Damon) who also wants to capture Chaney, the three set out for the Indian Territories where they are sure to face many unknown dangers.
How does the Dude fare against the Duke? Not too bad, actually. The original 1969 version of True Grit is on my list of all-time favorite westerns, so I was a bit skeptical going into the theatre yesterday. The late, great John Wayne won his only Oscar for his portrayal of Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn in the original movie, so Jeff Bridges had some gigantic cowboy boots to fill. Bridges did very well in the role, but he's proven himself to be an incredible actor over the years, so I guess it shouldn't have come as a surprise. He certainly makes Rooster Cogburn his own, but I still think there is a bit of an homage to Wayne in his portrayal.
Of course, Joel and Ethan Coen never disappoint as directors. They made a film that was simultaneously fun and touching. And fourteen year old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld's performance was jaw-dropping! That young lady is going places as an actress. I wouldn't be surprised if her agent's desk is covered with offers right now. I actually liked her portrayal of Mattie Ross better than that of Kim Darby in the original. Matt Damon also shines as LaBeouf, a Texas Ranger who thinks he's hot shit but really, really isn't (Glen Campbell starred as LaBeouf in '69 version).
The Coen brothers' film sticks closely to Charles Portis' 1968 novel. I'm always an advocate for making movies that are true to the books on which they are based, so this made me particularly pleased. If you're into westerns, True Grit is a definite must see (both versions are, actually), and even if you're not, it's good story about an unlikely friendship that is both funny and heartfelt.