Okay, now I'm ready to...

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Okay, now I'm ready to...

Lawrence in "Winter's Bone"

...make my case for who really should have won the 2011 Oscar for "Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role" last February, and why.

I've never made any secret of the "who" part: Jennifer Lawrence, so sublime in "Winter's Bone" as the 17-year-old Ozark Mountains woman, quietly and desperately struggling to keep what's left of her immediate family together!

It was a gutsy, gritty per­formance that pealed with authenticity in every frame of the film's 100 minutes... and richly deserving of the Oscar for "Best Actress."

(See it! Debate me if you can!)

But, as predicted here and elsewhere, Lawrence didn't win, and none of the film's three other nominations, "Best Motion Picture of the Year," "Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role" and "Best Writing, Adapted Screen­play," garnered any gold statuettes.

Now, courtesy of Netflix, I've seen "Black Swan" and the performance which won Natalie Portman the Oscar for "Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role," and I'm even more disappointed pissed that Lawrence was passed over!

Acknowledging that much of any critical notice is sub­jective, I'll state up front that the film made me uneasy throughout, as do most narratives about people spinning increasingly out of control, whether it's descents into madness or headlong plunges into the degeneracy of substance abuse or gambling.

(I would be remiss in not noting at this point that my wife loved the movie and was greatly affected by it)

Natalie Portman as the "Black Swan"

Portman's "Nina" certainly looks the part of the burgeoning prima ballerina, but that is more a fact of her body type and some terrific make-up1.

And while Portman had trained in ballet as a youth and... no mean feat... lost 20 pounds for the role, the toughest parts of the actual dancing were performed by professional ballerinas Sarah Lane (primarily) and Kimberly Prosa, both of whom were requested by the film's producers to not give interviews until after the "Awards2 season" so that...

"...Natalie Portman would receive most of the dancing credibility."

(This is tacit acknowledgement that had Academy voters known the truth, it would have cost her votes.)

In separate interviews, Prosa and Lane each noted that Portman was filmed dancing from the waist up, showing only face and arms, while the rest of her dancing, waist down and full-length, were that of the dance doubles.

In response, Director Darren Aronofsky and choreographer Benjamin Millepied3 rushed to publicly rehabilitate Port­man's contributions to the Oscar-winning role.

Aronofsky asserted:

"Here is the reality. I had my editor count shots. There are 139 dance shots in the film. 111 are Natalie Port­man untouched. 28 are her dance double Sarah Lane. If you do the math that's 80% Natalie Portman."

What's that old aphorism about figures don't lie, but liars can figure?

The film's actual editor, Andrew Weisblum, however, did a closer examination at the request of ABC News, and determined:

"There are about 35 shots that are full body shots in the movie. Of those 35 shots, 12 are Natalie, and then the rest are Sarah. But over the overall film, Natalie did a lot more than that. I mean, she did most of the other shots. It was sometimes hard for me to tell the difference as the editor, it was so close."

And then there was a digital manipulation of the final product.

I thought the ending of the "Black Swan" sequence where Portman's outstretched arms became black-feathered wings was sensational, even for an obvious "trick."

But the furious dance sequence where Lane's face was digitally replaced by Portman's was extremely subtle, and it would be interesting to know how many Academy votes were swayed by what they assumed was the remarkable breadth of the actress' talent.

Portman is a good young actress, one whose career has intrigued me since I first spotted her age 12 in Luc Bes­son's "Leon: The Professional." That was an excellent performance, and it was all hers!

"Nina," the protestations of the director, the fiancé and co-star Mila Kunis4 to the contrary, isn't!

But hey!, that's Hollywood, right?

Like the late Jerry Orbach for 1981's "Prince of the City," Jennifer Lawrence was jobbed by Oscar.

I'm hoping that she gets more roles worthy of her shimmering talent.

Notes
  1. Nominated by only two groups: the Broadcast Film Critics Association Critics Choice Award and British Academy of Film and Television Arts, winning neither.
  2. The value of just an Oscar-nomination to a film's box office performance is substantial, so much so that producers will frequently spend $10-$15 million just to promote their movie as Award-worthy.
  3. Millepied also serves as Portman's fiancé and baby daddy.
  4. Kunis: "Lane wasn't used for everything. It was more like a safety net. If Natalie wasn't able to do some­thing, you'd have a safety net."

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