The Best Films of the Decade: #22. Black Swan (2010)

| December 20, 2019
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In just 12 Days the decade will come to a close and so for movie lovers like me it is an opportunity to look over the decade of movies that are left behind. Over the next few weeks I am going to count down the best films of the past 10 years from #40 to #1. My choices are personal choices swayed by nothing but the love I have for this medium. These are all great movies. These films all achieved something great. All reached for something special. They are the best of the decade . . .

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Black Swan sounds like the standard, ordinary backstage drama – All About Eve in a tutu.  It’s the story of a fragile spirit named Nina (Natalie Portman) who is pushed into ballet by her domineering mother (Barbara Hershey) where she, in the artistic maelstrom of the New York Ballet company finds herself under the stress of an overbearing director and the presence of an upstart that is threatening to push her out of the spotlight.  But this is a movie that is about more than showbiz and ballet.  This is a weird journey inside the artistic mind as it begins to splinter.  And if you know the films of Darren Aronofsky, then you know that this is familiar territory.

The movie is focused squarely at Nina’s point of view and makes her journey into a dark and seductive thriller. Nina sees things that aren’t there, like injures to her fingers and back (if you know the basic structure of Swan Lake, you quickly deduce why). She becomes paranoid about losing her part. She thinks the upstart is out to sabotage her. She sees herself doing things in the mirror that she is not doing in reality.

There is a stark and frightening melodrama at work here but also a fascinating mystery. The more you understand the basic plot of Swan Lake, the quicker you will understand what is happening to Nina. Yet, even if you don’t, the underlying mystery unfolds beautifully leading to one of the most exhilarating final acts that I have seen in a movie in years. Finally, like a breath of fresh air, it is nice to see a movie whose ending isn’t telegraphed from the beginning.

Natalie Portman was a revelation here. I’ve been watching her for years in a variety of roles both good and bad but something came out of her in this movie that I didn’t expect. I know that she is a wonderful actor but I wasn’t aware that she was such a good re-actor. Most actors stand by, waiting for the moment but Portman knows how to play to a situation. Here she is asked to play a character who is in a constant state of stress and confusion. She wears the pain right at the center of her face and around her eyes. If her performance seems somewhat overwrought, then consider that ballet itself thrives on that very thing.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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