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OSCAR: Is Natalie Portman Overexposed?

Pete Hammond

For that matter, is Geoffrey Rush’s Oscar chances in The King’s Speech hurt by a dud movie earlier in 2010? Or Justin Timberlake’s in The Social Network by a kid’s movie that came out at Christmas? Or Nicole Kidman’s in Rabbit Hole by a comedy releasing in February? Or James Franco’s in 127 Hours by a soap opera turn during Academy Awards week? The careers of Oscar contenders have taken some strange twists and turns of late. But none more so than that of Natalie Portman, who has new movies opening in theatres in January, February, April, and May, and the marketing for them as already begun to kick in. The question is whether this constant Portman media blitz will help or hurt her Black Swan campaign?

The undisputed specialty hit of the year that has won her Golden Globe, Critics Choice, and SAG nominations also has made Portman one of the frontrunners for the Best Actress Oscar. But just as the first round of voting is going on, she seems to be everywhere, most prominently on billboards and trailers for the January 21st release of No Strings Attached, a comedy directed by Ivan Reitman that asks the question: “Can Sex Friends be Best Friends?” It is indeed a sexy kind of performance demonstrating a different side of her talents and certainly miles away from a demented ballerina.

But that’s not all. There are movie trailers running on the internet and in theatres for her April release Your Highness, another upcoming Portman comedy “from the director of Pineapple Express” in … Read More »

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Natalie Portman In “Gravity” Orbit

Mike Fleming

What fortuitous timing for Natalie Portman’s tour de force in Black Swan to be unveiled on the festival circuit! The Oscar buzz for her performance certainly helped Portman get the offer for the female lead in the Alfonso Cuaron-directed 3D thrill ride Gravity. When Deadline described Warner Bros’ dilemma last week as it tried to find an actress who could carry nearly the entire $80 million film on her shoulders following Angelina Jolie’s decision to pass for a second time, we reported that the studio was focusing on Portman and Sandra Bullock. The movie belongs to the actress and not co-star Robert Downey Jr., who’ll spend only about three weeks filming. Portman, who is more age-appropriate for the role as Cuaron and his son Jonas wrote it, is an intriguing choice here and it seemed just a matter of time until she found her breakout vehicle.

From her childhood roles in The Professional and Beautiful Girls to her shockingly adult turn in the little-seen Mike Nichols-directed Closer, Portman has always been an out-sized talent waiting to grow past her youthful look. It’s also hard not to root for the 29-year old Portman, considering how badly she wanted the Lisbeth Salander role in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, which begins this fall with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Portman tried very hard to buy the book series before Sony Pictures Entertainment and producer Scott Rudin got it. Director David Fincher wanted a … Read More »

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‘Black Swan’ Dances Into Telluride While Sony Pictures Classics Duo Struts Stuff

Pete Hammond

TELLURIDE: After its sizzling debut in Venice earlier in the week, Fox Searchlight’s Black Swan continued steamrolling through this early awards season with its “unofficial” North American premiere Sunday afternoon  billed by the Telluride Film Festival as a “sneak preview.” At the start of the psychological terror film set in a contemporary ballet company, a festival rep told the audience they were the lucky ones as hundreds still lined up outside were turned away (fortunately there are at least two other screenings coming up). But you could feel the anticipation with curious film fans storming the 600 + seat Palm Theatre, Telluride’s largest venue.

Director Darren Aronofsky, making his first-ever visit to the fest, began his introduction by saying he had spent the earlier part of his day walking up to the waterfall “but it was a terrible hike”. He mentioned he and star Natalie Portman (not here) had talked about doing this project for almost a decade. So was the wait worth it? This crowd seemed to think so although, unlike Venice, it didn’t get a standing ovation (they may have been too stunned to stand). Buzz afterward was strong for Aronofsky’s  macabre vision of an artistically possessed ballerina pushing herself beyond the limits, and particularly for Portman’s dazzling tour de force that makes her an instant leading contender in every Best Actress race. During final credits, one shaken woman was overheard saying she was going outside to “smoke about 5 cigarettes”.

At the post-Q&A  Aronofsky, joined by his composer Clint Mansell and producer Scott Franklin, said he and Portman first met at the now defunct Times Square Howard Johnson’s to discuss the project about 9 years ago, but it took this long to finally come to fruition. He noted his original idea was to spin off Dostoevsky’s The Double and then after seeing a production of Swan Lake knew he had the beginnings of something grand (guignol). As noted during the Q&A, the movie oozes sexuality with one “fantasy” lesbian encounter between Portman and co-star Mila Kunis really steaming up this rocky mountain arena.  This is a hard R, folks. As with The Wrestler, there will be lots of Oscar talk  and probably some speculation that it might all be a bit too much for some of the older Academy members, but I have a hunch this will play just fine on Wilshire Blvd. It’s bravura film making, melodramatic and riveting entertainment with great handheld camerawork from Matthew Libatique and an award-caliber cast including Portman, Kunis,  an intense Vincent Cassel as the ballet company’s taskmaster director and Barbara Hershey as her domineering mother.

With two other titles–Never Let Me Go and 127 Hours–in addition to Black Swan, Fox Searchlight hosted a late night party Saturday and has a strong presence here. But they but can’t hold a candle to Sony Pictures Classics, which has 5 movies showing (adding yet another 4 for their trek next week to Toronto). Last night, SPC co-Presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard threw their annual La Marmotte dinner to celebrate the quintet that includes Mike Leigh’s Another Year, the likely French Oscar entry Of  Gods And Men (Grand Prize winner at this year’s Cannes), Charles Ferguson’s devastating financial meltdown doc Inside Job, Stephen Frear’s very well-received English comedy Tamara Drewe, and Sylvain Chomet’s beautifully animated The Illusionist, based on an un-produced screenplay by the late, great Jacques Tati. I saw the latter earlier today and predict it’s certain to put Chomet, previously nominated for The Triplets Of Bellville, right in the heart of this year’s animated race no matter if 3 or 5 nominees qualify. In fact with this Telluride group alone ,the company could easily find itself in the unique position of having a nominee in each of Oscar’s key film categories:  Picture, Documentary, Foreign Language Film and Animated Feature. Barker and Bernard are very high on their slate and told me they think they have particularly good Best Picture shots: Another Year, opening at the end of December; Made In Dagenham (Nov 19 but premiering first in Toronto), a stirring true story about the fight waged for equal pay by a group of English female factory workers in the early 70’s, with acting contenders Sally Hawkins, Miranda Richardson and Bob Hoskins; and even Get Low (currently on over 500 screens) where they have high hopes for Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek. They  will be strongly campaigning several other actors including Another Year’s standout star Lesley Manville, who attended last night’s dinner. SPC could be repped as well in the Golden Globe comedy or musical race with Tamara Drewe. While other studio owned specialty divisions continue to be in meltdown mode, this one somehow seems to keep thriving, largely thanks to smart awards-time strategizing. This year appears to be no different. Read More »

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UK Critics Tout Natalie Portman For Oscar In Venice Opener ‘Black Swan’

The fest audience gave Darren Aronofsky’s latest a standing ovation as credits rolled. London newspaper critics are giving the psychosexual ballet thriller rave reviews. “Portman is astounding,” says the Times of London. “Awards are sure to follow.” The Independent agrees, calling Portman’s performance “searing” and the film “enthralling”. David Gritten in the Daily Telegraph says Portman’s performance as a ballet dancer losing her mind elevates her from leading actress to major star. “Every film festival benefits hugely from a strong opening film, and they don’t come much stronger than Black Swan,” he says.

Of course, Aronofsky won the Golden Lion in Venice for his last film The Wrestler in 2008. The Telegraph thinks he could win again this year with Black Swan. Aronofsky told a packed press conference that the more he looked into ballet, the more he started to see similarities with the world of wrestling. “They both have these performers who use their bodies in extremely physical ways,” he said.

Fox Searchlight releases Black Swan in the US on December 1. Senior Fox Searchlight executives strolled up the red carpet into the Opening Night gala screening. Black Swan was the first of three opening films and is competing with 22 others for this year’s Golden Lion. In total this year’s festival will screen 79 full-length world premieres from 34 countries. The 67th Venice film festival runs from 1 to 11 September.

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