Creative fever dream Swans into Best Picture

Reviewers who write about movies for a living, who have to slog through every paint-by-numbers adaptation, seem to have difficulty with two things: spirituality in movies, and the creative process in movies. Mind you, there aren’t that many movies about either of those two things because they are also ephemeral streaks of lightning to capture in the film bottle.

What I had read about “Black Swan” prior to seeing it fluctuated on the spectrum from horror flick to Grand Guignol theatre to thriller to scary movie. In short, I really didn’t know what to expect. Perhaps it will be one or some of those things to you, too.

How I perceived “Black Swan” was more like a dream. The dream, the central focus for this ballerina, is to be perfect. And she studies and she plies and she does everything she thinks she’s supposed to do.

But when the company leader decides to do “Swan Lake,” he presents her with this challenge: “You’d be great as the White Swan.” But, essentially, she doesn’t have enough of a dark side to do the Black Swan justice. (This lead character in the ballet performs both sides of a complex persona.)

“Black Swan,” then, is about this striving-for-perfection ballerina figuring out what it takes to reach her own “dark side.” What she discovers is that passion and the thrill of life often lie in its imperfections. As we travel with her on her journey, we also discover what is at the heart of the creative process, how far someone can push themselves for their art.

It is a stunning bravura performance. Prior to seeing the film, I posited on my podcast that Natalie Portman was going to take every award in sight this Oscar season. I think so even moreso after seeing the film. Like Christoph Waltz and Mo’Nique last year, every other Best Actress contender this year can just sit down. It’s Natalie Portman’s year. Her work in this movie is stunning. In fact, I can’t remember the last time an actress was so stunning and superb and affecting. Brilliant work.

Her supporting cast is also affecting and may glean some supporting nominations: Vincent Cassel as the ballet company director, Barbara Hershey as her mom, Mila Kunis as a fellow dancer. Winona Ryder takes an especially inspired turn, making a droll commentary on her own life, that elicited laughs in our industry screening.

People have also made reference to an “All About Eve” subtext. That is only there in as much as fearing other people taking roles you covet is part of the creative process. It’s really and truly not about that.

In fact, I think where reviewers get into trouble with this role, and even the screening I saw this at, the questioner had the same problem–is dissecting it too much. Think of it as a dream. Roll around with the images, go with the flights of fancy. True creativity isn’t that far from the dream state, and true creativity borders on that part of the brain near psychosis too. But don’t let that analysis hinder you.

As Nina had to learn, with sex, with dreaming, with life, sometimes you just have to let it flow over you and become part of you. So, too, with “Black Swan.”

Best Picture 2009? Avatar

I have seen this year’s Best Picture, and it is Avatar.

Prior to viewing this film, I was scouring this one and that. Could it be this one perhaps? Or maybe this one? I fell into the world of Pandora, and I had no more doubts. This movie is as transporting and visual and stunning as Titanic, and all other contenders can just sit down now.

“Avatar,” in case you haven’t heard, is James Cameron’s $400M movie, filmed and shown in 3D. And it’s a 3D that makes you forget any 3D you’ve ever experienced before. Even the glasses you receive are different, heavy and all encompassing, equipped with computer chips for special viewing (I saw it in the Cineramadome in Los Angeles).

So, the world that our hero is transported to comes at you in stunning color and texture, almost jumping out at you. Beautiful and transforming and ethereal. Like things you have never seen before. It’s amazing.

I thought that Cameron (who wrote and directed the movie) had borrowed a lot of ideas from experimenting in Second Life once or twice. Certainly the concept where you are your whole self in First Life and your full body avatar in Second Life for me came from there. But someone online schooled me that it’s an ancient concept, actually. The sources they cited were Ayeurvedic principles and a book series called Summer Tree trilogy, by Guy Gavriel Kay. Suffice to say, Cameron didn’t come up with the Avatar concept, though he certainly made it acceptable for the mainstream.

Like Titanic, this 3-hour movie is one you’re going to want to revisit. It’s like walking around in a magical world. And unlike Titanic, this one has a good story, with bad guys and good guys and big splashy fights. I loved Avatar in a big way. Loved the story and the new world and the hero, everything.

If you see one movie in a theatre this year, this is the one. And make sure it’s real 3D. It’s well worth it if you have to pay a few extra dollars for it, too. This groundbreaking film is where movies are going. How lucky we are to see it.

Finally! A movie I LOVE! All 500 Days.

So, I’m slogging through this Oscar season, viewing this movie and that. This one has good costumes. This one has good cinematography. I like that actor. The mental checklist. Who’s going to make it to the Oscar stage this year? Too much thinking, frankly.

Suddenly, (500) Days of Summer comes onto the agenda unexpectedly.

From the very first frame to the very last, I loved this movie. LOVED it. Loved every frame, every moment, every backwards and forwards in time. I’ve seen maybe 100 of this year’s movies by now. This one completely spoke to me. It easily moves to the top of my favorites, and I sure hope it’s remembered at Oscar time. It was a joy to watch.

It’s a love story, but NOT a romantic comedy. The two leads, Joseph-Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are wondrous and gorgeous to watch. We even get a bit of the incredible Zooey singing (she’s one half of the band She and Him when she’s not doing movies; I adore her voice).

It is smart, it is funny, it is interesting, it is well edited. The writers (Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber) should plan their walk right now to the Best Original Screenplay Oscar stage.

There is happiness, there is sadness, there is despair, there is an impromptu dance number that reminded me of the Bollywood end of last year’s “Slumdog Millionaire.” The music, starting from Regina Spektor’s “Us” under the opening credits and every song going forward, was stunning, smart and perfectly chosen.

The plot is simple. Summer is the character Zooey Deschanel plays. And they go through 500 days with her and the male lead (Levitt). And though the ending is not a romantic comedy ending, I actually love the ending. Drama, after all, is all about conflict, and if they’d just walked happily off into the sunset, it wouldn’t be much of a movie. Plus, now that I know the ending, I’d watch it differently the second time around. And YES! I do want to see it again. I can’t say that about many of the movies I’ve been slogging through.

A gorgeous movie about love. Well worth a watch.