Tuesday morning at the crack of dawn, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced their list of Oscar nominees, forcing West Coast film biz journos such as myself to hole up in seedy Palm Desert motels smoking crystal meth all night with toothless call girls named Charlene so we wouldn’t miss a second of the festivities. Sure, I could’ve set my alarm to wake up early — or just Tivoed the ceremony to watch it at a less ungodly hour — but I’m a professional who is dedicated to his craft. As I sat there trying to scratch away the imaginary bugs crawling under my skin I dutifully took mental notes. There were a few high profile snubs — Chris Nolan, Julianne Moore and a Funky Bunch-less Marky Mark were left high n’ dry — but no big surprises in the Best Picture category. If there was anything noteworthy about the Best Picture nominees it was that out of the ten, not a single film seemed undeserving. This was a far cry from last year, when the dearth of good pictures forced the academy to nominate Jim Cameron’s 3D Smurf adventure Avatar and the posthumous straight-to-video release Ernest Goes to Gitmo. Charlene agreed with my observation, or at least humored me so I ‘d stop screaming, adding that she was going to have a hard time filling out her own Oscar ballot this year. She grabbed the keys to my Honda and headed out the door, leaving me on that dirty mattress to soak in a puddle of my own tweaker sweat and ruminate the Oscar odds for the subject of this week’s column, ballerina thriller Black Swan.
At the very least Darren Aronofsky deserves a lifetime achievement award from the Institute of Cinematic Spankolgists for convincing two of Hollywood’s most boner-inducing young actresses to scissor fight on film. Yet as hot as the idea of Mila Kunis playing Kumbaya on Natalie Portman’s vertical harmonica looks on paper (hell, I’m at half mast just from typing it) — and as eager as my penis and I were to see the scene in question — I must painfully admit that it didn’t quite live up to our expectations. Perhaps my penis and I had built it up a bit too much in our heads, because while the Sapphic pairing was titillating, it still spank-ranks below the lesbian love scenes in Henry and June, Wild Things and Bound. So unfortunately for Darren Aronofsky (and my penis), we must judge Black Swan solely by its artistic virtues.
This is not to say that Black Swan is an unremarkable film. It was visually stunning and contained ballet sequences impressive enough that I can say so without having to punch something lest my masculinity be called into question. But it didn’t blow me away. Until recently, Darren Aronofsky made two types of films: Those that I loved (Pi, The Wrestler) and those that I hated (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain). With Black Swan he bridged the gap for me. Was it art? Certainly. Was it enjoyable? Without question. But something about it rang a little hollow; it lacked a bit of that intangible quality that we in the biz call “soul.” Basically it was the cinematic equivalent of Arcade Fire’s last record, and the fact that I’m able to compare it to an Arcade Fire record should tell you everything you need to know.
Still, this is just one man’s opinion, and Oscar winners are not left up to me (or my penis) alone. So let us now scrutinize Black Swan’s Best Picture chances using our scientifically-vetted ranking categories.
RETARD STRENGTH (4/5): It’s hard not to love Natalie Portman; she’s beautiful, brainy, Jewish (it’s a fetish, sue me) and has that adorable nails-on-a-chalkboard laugh. She’s also a genuine good person: I mean she’s nice enough to have that gay man’s baby, right? However with the exception of her work in Leon (I’m sure I’m not the only “To Catch a Predator” alum to list that film in his Top 5), she’d never really impressed me with her actressing, that is until Black Swan. Her turn as the schizophrenia-tarded ballerina whose quest for perfection drives her past the edge of sanity was definitely the performance of her career, making her a favorite to take the Shiny Gold Dude for Best Actress. The retard is strong with this one.
SOCIAL RELEVANCE (2/5): Does Black Swan have a message? Perhaps that if we smother our children and make them surrogate vessels for our own unrealized dreams, they’ll end up as self-mutilating, bulimic, obsessive loonies who fantasize about having gay sex with “That 70s Show” cast members. And while I think that’s a lesson certain parents could stand to learn (looking at you, Dad!), I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “socially relevant.” (Call me, Ashton!)
EPICOSITY (3/5): Visually speaking, it was my favorite Aronofsky film yet, combining the verité style he employed in The Wrester with the more bombastic, bells-and-whistles approach of Requiem and The Fountain. And the ballet scenes were outstanding… er, I mean… Hot chicks! Superbowl! UFC! Pick-up truck! I wouldn’t go so far as to call Black Swan “epic,” but like Natalie Portman’s ubiquitous nipple hard-ons, it sure was nice to look at.
UPLIFT (0/5): As heartwarming as an overdose on sleeping pills. Euthanizing a leukemia kid’s puppy would be more uplifting.
TOTAL POWER RANKING (2.25/5): Black Swan is a film Darren Aronofsky can be proud of, and it certainly earned him a high five from anyone who’s ever wondered what it’d be like to see Mila Kunis go down on Natalie Portman (meaning, everyone). But if it’s a Shiny Gold Dude he’s hoping to take home, he should ease up on the bleak and throw in a bit more heart.