Oscar Grouching ’10: Inception and Black Swan

The Oscars are almost almost here, and I’ve promised Ashley that I’ll shut up about them soon. But there’s so much I haven’t been able to talk about! So I’m going to make a last-ditch effort to address some of my lingering nominee-related thoughts.

First of all: Christopher Nolan’s Inception, which I discussed in an initial, wildly enthusiastic review and in my year-end wrap-up. My opinion of it has fluctuated over the past 6-7 months, and I recently revisited it to write a “Mix Tape” article for The Film Experience about the film’s use of Édith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.” A few points stood out to me: first and most frustratingly, the film totally wastes a fantastic ensemble. Ellen Page and JG-L act as Cobb’s glorified assistants (and bounce exposition off of each other), while Cillian Murphy is a quirky, talented actor trapped in a bland nothing role.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting, meanwhile, leaves a lot to be desired since he’s supposed to be the film’s lead and emotional linchpin. He has two modes here—pedagogic and brooding—and neither is especially enthralling. Only Cotillard, Watanabe, and Hardy do anything much of interest, and even they are hampered by the film’s structure and dialogue. It’s emphatically not an actor’s movie. However, it is an art design and special effects wet dream, and redeemed by its moments of sheer visual spectacle. It also builds a creative, streamlined world out of old clichés and pieces of cultural detritus. Given this last attribute, I could imagine Inception 2 going in some cool directions.

For now, though, all we’ve got is Inception 1, which is occasionally awesome and fun, but nonetheless has plot holes big enough to drive a train through in the middle of its raison d’etre, the über-complicated shared dreaming technology. But I’m still excited for The Dark Knight Rises and whatever else Nolan wants to make; maybe we’ll get another Ledger-as-Joker-caliber performance out of his movies again. In the meantime, Inception certainly deserves a technical award or two. We’ll find out tonight!

It’s hard to separate the good and bad of Black Swan (see my initial review), and I think that’s just how Darren Aronofsky likes it. Is it gorgeous, intense, and sensual, unlike almost every other Best Picture nominee? Hell yes. Is it adolescent, prurient, trashy, and obsessed with Natalie Portman’s oh-so-romantic masochism for her art? Also hell yes. It’s an icky, atmospheric horror movie that would make a great double feature with Perfect Blue; it’s also comparatively simple-minded about sex and female performance, steeped as it is in hoary melodramatic tropes. (After all, it is an unofficial remake of everything from 42nd Street to Showgirls.)

To be frank, though, I love all the women in this. Portman (this year’s almost-certain Best Actress) is the film’s center which cannot hold, the diva around whom Ryder, Kunis, and Hershey orbit, and each one of them still gets a few juicy moments in the limelight. In the end, though, it’s all about Nina’s manic, transformative dance to the death. In that final scene, you either applaud Aronofsky’s gall, you ask “What the fuck is going on?!”, or both. To conclude, I’ve got a few fascinating and informative Black Swan-related links:

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Filed under Cinema, Sexuality

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