Wednesday, January 5, 2011


All eyes are on the women this year. Two contenders you can't help but go back and forth on. 

From the two most satisfying movies of the year, (BLACK SWAN, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT), the two most incredible scenes from the past year, in the two best performances. The two women: Natalie Portman and Annette Bening. Opposite roles and requirements from its actors in every way. How do you pick ? – how do you compare the two separate accomplishments?  As my bro says, “It’s one of those cases, you almost want someone to step in and give it to both of them like when Babs and Katherine Hepburn both won”
 Natalie’s ‘Nina’, is at first soft, even weak. It’s an external ride for her physically the entire film – a hard thrust outward, then at it’s crucial moment, from somewhere deep within she must find this ability to do and be something completely different – something dark and unknown. Annette’s Nic, has an external tough and demanding shell but an outward dilemma shakes her to the very core, exposing a vulnerable interior.
Opposites completely. Natalie Portman puts her body through a female ‘Raging Bull’ physically – the toughest sport and art a woman could possible do and be – a prima ballerina. Annette Bening let’s in the comedic and puts away her theatrical baroque qualities/techniques from before and let’s in the very human – something she may have conquered in her personal life ( as far as we know) with the biggest womanizer in Hollywood history – infidelity.
Breaking down the scenes it’s even more difficult to compare the two – I can’t imagine checking off a ballot as best.
In Black Swan, near the end of the film, before Natalie Portman begins her last amazingly leap across the stage as the Black Swan. She steps back stage and prepares herself to return to the 'white swan'. She shakes her head, twists her neck, riles her body into shape and then release it with breaths, the sound mixture of feathers, bird sounds, her makeup, Natalie Portman’s eyes and the focus of the camera on only her face, sets up the next scene with a drumroll of sorts, but more importantly in one shot I watched an actor and filmmaker transform the film from one thing into another. Then moments later the look to her mother in the audience, who is IN AWE. Almost as if to say, “that’s my sweet little girl – who is that?” I keep thinking of that brief tight shot on Nina as she has fully succumbs to the demons and alter 'black' self that has been chasing her throughout the film. Her dancing as the black swan and literally changing into a swan in front of the audience, and us, was a bravura sequence. The entire evolution, from the moment the gates opens and the show begins, to the end is simply...stunning. We see this possession take over her body and till she finally falls onto the mattress in her suicide (attempt (?)) at the close. Echoes from Winona’s Ryder scene “ I hope you enjoy it Nina” to “you’re gonna be AH-mazing”, ‘I wanna be perfect’ is the aim of the character, actress and film. She does what it takes, and pushes herself to the outer limits and it’s a daring, almost arrogant (good arrogant) – huge risk for the film and actress. And it accomplishes its very bold mission. I have been almost violent about my love for this film and triumphs from Natalie Portman but I feel the same for Annette Bening…in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT.
She can’t be a bridesmaid again! She hasn’t won an OSCAR yet !!!
Nic comes across as a considerable handful — a sharp-edged micromanager, helicopter mom - whose personality is as spiky as her blondish hair and who is all too fond of her wine. It's all in the eyes, in the silence and us pursuing the truth of this character.  Ms. Bening’s eyes reveal the many flaws lay at the heart of the character’s appeal. But Annette knows better to thrust her discoveries on us – She makes you work for it. We have to find her. Quite a difference from Annette Bening’s earlier films. She doesn’t condescend, spoon-feed us the performance – She makes us work for her genius. Smart, smart, smart.
Like the best comic protagonists, she takes herself very, very seriously and tries so hard to do the right thing—which all but guarantees that her orderly world will become unmoored and collapse in a shower of travestied ideals. In the film ‘s crucial moments, the discovery, Lisa Cholodenko supports the actress with point-of-view shots and a careful use of sound that reinforces and conveys the character's internal hell. Nic's eventual realization that Jules and Paul have been tending more than his bushes is indelibly captured in a moment whose slo-mo closeup on scowling Nic, pumped up with sludgy background noise, makes it play like a fight scene in "Raging Bull." Ms. Cholodenko described Ms. Bening as “the only person who could have done this part.”
The movie’s most unforgettable scene starts, in which Ms. Bening belts out a no-holds-barred rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “ALL I WANT” and then excuses herself from the table she just lightened up and goes to the bathroom . Her performance isn’t showy, but it kind of stays with you and the longer time passes, the better it gets and you realize how wonderfully complex the character is. And of course, she’s the character you feel for. Nic finds her partner Jules, Julianne Moore's hair in Mark Ruffalo's brush and shower drain and comes back to the table. SLOW-MO is never one of my favorite film techniques and neither is blaring music underscoring it - but in this film it works and Bening performance is sheer interior brilliance. The opposite of Portmans exterior push of convictions. Returning to the table is her own impossible transformation, thinking, 'perhaps it's nothing' to 'something has happened' to reading the under current of sexual tension outside of herself - between her rival (of all people) and lifelong lover and co-mom. The conclusion is OMG I'm fucked - they fucked! Are they in love? It is a mixture of out of control rage and terror, to possible responsibility and just plain hurt of the betrayal of the worst kind. To see it happen to Nic, a person that uniformly tries to control every situation and loving guide her children away from these personal lows is like watching a horrible accident – those moments in life to go into SLOW-MO. I so glad they slowed it up – I could have ran that sequence a tad longer even. Bening breaks down each moment so precisely and clearly. It's all in her barely seeable - wrinkled eyes. The shock and devastation is just plain mesmerizing.
My happiness for whoever wins is going to be short-lived. The next day is going to be blog crazy hysteria. I promise you won't hear from me.

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