Local audiences can pretend they are Academy voters for the next few weeks because almost all the big nominees are being released at the same time. It’s the NZ way – try and maximise attention for your films while they are still contenders but before they become losers. It makes for a crush at local screens – you may not find the film you want at the time you want – but it also means the odds of seeing something really good are much better than usual.
Spielberg’s Lincoln is classy old school filmmaking, as you might expect from such a veteran. He’s assembled an A‑team of writers, performers and technical crew to tell one of the most important – and resonant – stories of the last 150 years. Abe Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) has been re-elected to his second term as President and the painful and bloody Civil War is almost won. Why would he risk his considerable political capital to try and pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution – prohibiting slavery – when the slave-owning south is almost defeated and many on his own side don’t feel it is necessary?
Following up on the 2009 surprise hit The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky has offered us another film about people who destroy themselves for our entertainment – this time in the rarefied world of ballet. Tiny Natalie Portman is plucked from the chorus of the fictional but prestigious New York City Ballet for the dream role of the Swan in a hot new production. It’s the chance of a lifetime but her fragile psychology shows through in her performance even though her dancing is technically perfect. Maestro Vincent Cassel tries to reconstruct her – as you would a first year drama school student – while domineering stage mother Barbara Hershey is pushing back in the other direction. Something has to break and it does.
Black Swan is exceptionally well made, beautiful and challenging to watch – and Portman’s performance is nothing short of amazing – but films that aspire to greatness need to be about something more than, you know, what they’re about and once I’d decoded was going on I couldn’t see enough under the surface to justify the hype.