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Will Black Swan Be Aronofsky’s Raging Bull?

Natalie Portman deserves an Academy Award for Black Swan Natalie Portman deserves an Academy Award for Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky is a filmmaker on the rise. In 2008 he made the critically acclaimed The Wrestler, which snagged Academy Award nominations for stars Mickey Rourke and Maria Tomei, and won a Golden Globe for Rourke. At 2011’s 83rd Academy Awards, Aronofsky’s Black Swan is up for five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Aronofsky, and Best Actress for Natalie Portman . But what are the odds that the mind-warping tale of ballet, insanity, and the quest for perfection will beat out juggernaut-esque favorites like The King’s Speech and True Grit, nominated for 12 and 10 Oscars, respectively? This might be a moment in Aronofksy’s career similar to what went down with Martin Scorsese in 1980, when what is possibly his greatest work, Raging Bull, lost in its Academy Award nomination.

Okay, follow me here. I know it’s high praise to start comparing Aronofsky to Scorsese at this point. For starters, Scorsese is a legend who made Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, and Mean Streets, while Aronofsky is still a far cry from that kind of stature. But in 1980, Scorsese thought he was in the twilight of his career. He had made the acclaimed Taxi Driver, but Raging Bull opened to mixed reviews and a modest box office. Ultimately, the Academy passed him over in favor of Robert Redford's Ordinary People, a move that history now views as a colossal misstep.

My suspicion is that Black Swan will also get passed over, but it’s my favorite of the ten nominees for Best Picture. And I’ll go a step further by saying that Darren Aronofsky is on his way to establishing himself as one of the great American directors, much as Scorsese has done for himself. Aronofsky’s work hinted at his capacity for greatness in previous years, but The Wrestler proved that he was as good a storyteller as anyone out there. Black Swan reaches another level again.

Black Swan is such an astonishing film, I was literally shocked to see it. I was expecting a quiet, subtle film about the pressures of being an artist at the pinnacle of a genre. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a story of human obsession, the frailty of the human psyche, and the tenuous nature of our understanding of what gives our lives meaning. Not only that, the movie is absolutely thrilling. I was enthralled by the puzzles and questions raised by the film.

Aesthetically, Black Swan is a triumph, with use of color in every shot controlled to affect the theme of each scene. I found myself marveling at the visuals again and again. In fact, sometimes the tight grip Aronofsky exerts on what the audience engages visually borders on oppressive, but it pays off – Black Swan is unforgettable.

Raging Bull and Black Swan, besides having adjectives and animals in their titles, might both be the best films of their respective years and get overlooked for more obvious fare. But they may end up having another thing in common. Robert DeNiro won his second Best Actor Oscar for his depiction of the deeply flawed Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, while Natalie Portman should be a shoe-in for Best Actress for her portrayal of the deeply (albeit more sympathetically) flawed Nina Sayers.

Both actors trained extensively in their respective disciplines – boxing and ballet – in order to portray their characters realistically. And if Portman wins, it will be another case of an incredible actor giving a stunning performance and earning the biggest award an actor can get in a movie that deserved the equivalent honor.

We’ll see. The Academy has sometimes proven inscrutable in giving out its awards, but they have, at least this year, done a fine job of coming up with nominees for Oscars. So I’ll be rooting for Darren Aronofsky, Natalie Portman, and Black Swan on February 27. True Grit and The King’s Speech might be the frontrunners, but anything is possible at the 83rd installment of Hollywood's biggest night.

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Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan might get overlooked for an Oscar, but it's the best of 2011's nominees for Best Picture
Last modified on Wednesday, 10 October 2012 13:39

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