We are kicking off 2011 in true Hollywood style, by showcasing and reviewing a number of films coming out this Oscar season - in theaters and on DVD/Instant Watch - with a particular emphasis on the films featuring stage talents - such as Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Liev Schreiber and more - and what to watch out for on Oscar night. From black swans to boating to rabbit holes and just everyday life, there is sure to be something here to strike even the ficklest of fancies.
One of the most compelling portrayals of backstage life since ALL THAT JAZZ, Darren Aronofsky's BLACK SWAN is a harried and hurried fever dream of conflicting emotions, ideas and styles. Is it a horror film? A psychological drama? A coming-of-age tale? A backstager? It is all of these things and much, much more. It's also a masterpiece. Natalie Portman will undoubtedly be the queen of the ball at the Oscars for her fearless lead performance and all of the supporting cast - especially the alluring Mila Kunis and terrifying Barbara Hershey - contributes considerably to the power of the piece. Tell me if you have ever seen more stunningly filmed ballet sequences than those done in this film - because you have not. This is the movie of the year for all of these reasons and more and essential viewing for anyone who calls themselves a theatre enthusiast.
John Cameron Mitchell's film adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning play RABBIT HOLE strikes just the right balance between ruminative, repressed and ethereal. Nicole Kidman gives one of her most detailed and expressive performances to date as a mother dealing with the inconceivable pain of losing a child and Aaron Eckhart contributes solid work as her long-suffering husband (no one does sad sack better than Eckhart). Dianne Wiest also must be singled out for her commitment to her role and in just one scene near the end of the film shows why she has two very well-deserved Oscars on her mantle (both for Woody Allen comedies, believe it or not). Mitchell proves yet again that he is a formidable filmmaker with a true eye for the camera and I breathlessly await his next film since each so far has been anomalous, innovative and almost alien - there is something about Mitchell's films that make us feel like we are on the outside looking in on a strange, strange world. So, down the rabbit hole we go.
JACK GOES BOATING
Philip Seymour Hoffman is a Herculean talent - a multi-talented monster of a man who can reveal the dew-eyed little boy inside with the blink and twinkle of an eye. To say that he is well-suited for the title role in JACK GOES BOATING would be like saying Barbra Streisand can sing a little. It fits him like a glove and every single moment that he is onscreen hits just the right note of disenchantment, displeasure, but with the hope to change. Or the hope to try to change. Or something like that. The supporting performances - especially that of Daphne Rubin Vega, who is positively glowing in this in every single way - are accomplished and amenable to the vision of the film as conceived by Hoffman as director. Few actors can pull off their first feature film with the panache and well-worn charm that Hoffman imbues this enterprise with and his work should be commended come Oscar time - though this is a very small film, so you never know. It's even better than the play.
Our final Oscar entry is also the newest release of the four films we are taking a look at today as EVERY DAY opens in selected cities this weekend and wider in the coming weeks. EVERY DAY is an ensemble film written and directed by Richard Levine of NIP/TUCK fame and centers on a few days in the life of a family on the East Coast and what that everyday, day-to-day experience is like - with no judgment. With such a simple conceit, one would think the film could easily get bogged down in the mundane or - even worse - the maudlin, but the talented cast buoys the underlying pathos in what at first may seem to some to be mere banality. This is a film that tackles many of the topics we don't actually discuss everyday - gay children, dying parents, marital affairs, drugs - and it is in that subversive power that EVERY DAY becomes something quite noteworthy. Liev Shreiber's lead performance is absolutely integral to the success of the film, and I can't imagine any other actor in the role (or striking ten of the hundred-plus chords he strikes, many with a mere glance or raise of an eyebrow). The stage stalwarts of the supporting cast - Helen Hunt, Carla Gugino, Eddie Izzard and Brian Dennehy - all significantly contribute to the overall tapestry of domesticity versus plasticity (of Hollywood TV writing, the main character's occupation) theme, and Gugino is note-perfect as the sexy, wild-eyed temptress. EVERY DAY gives us a glimpse of what is so cherish-able - and oh-so perishable - about our day-to-day lives in a way we would never see even in our own bathroom mirrors.