Friday, January 14, 2011

THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #12: YOUTH NOT AT ALL WASTED ON THE YOUNG



So this means I have the final word? Already? It seems we just got started. (Summer goes by so fast. No wonder it’s so cold outside.)

Dennis, it’s appropriate that you sign off by heaping praise on Emma Stone, because beyond being an unusually good year for actresses in general, 2010 was an especially good year for young actresses. Wait, I know what you’re thinking: Hollywood has always been kind to young actresses. It’s “old” actresses that Hollywood has so little use for. That’s why Natalie Portman – who turns 30 in June – is only a few months away from getting scripts about menopause. But hear me out, because some of the year’s most compelling performances were delivered by women who are really young.

Just to toss out some names: Rebecca Hall (born in 1982) in Please Give; Mary Elizabeth Winstead (1984) and Ellen Wong (1985) in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; Rooney Mara (1985) in The Social Network; Carey Mulligan (1985) in Never Let Me Go; Amanda Seyfried (1985) in Dear John; Blake Lively (1987) in The Town; Stone (1988) in Easy A; Mia Wasikowska (1989) in The Kids Are All Right and Alice In Wonderland (the rest of the movie is worth forgetting, but not her); Imogen Poots (1989) in Solitary Man; Hailee Steinfeld (1996) in True Grit; Chloe Moretz (1997) in Let Me In; and Elle Fanning (1998) in Somewhere. That’s just off the top of my head. (The list of actresses, I mean, not their birth years, because that would be creepy.) Don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying each of those performances rivals what Tilda Swinton does in I Am Love, but each of those actresses provides at least a glimpse of greatness and the promise of something more. I’m in no rush to chase off “older” actresses, and in fact I wish that actresses old enough to develop wrinkles would embrace them, because I’m tired of seeing all the same too-tight faces with too-pronounced cheekbones. Still, I look at that list and feel like we’re on the cusp of a new revolution, if you will, and that’s exciting.


One actress that I didn’t mention in the list above is Mila Kunis, but that’s not because she’s too old to be considered an up-and-comer (birth year: 1983) or because I think she’s less than wonderful (her performance in Forgetting Sarah Marshall turns me into a lovestruck 12-year-old). Rather, it’s because I’d like to talk about her performance in Black Swan. In the month or so since Darren Aronofsky’s film hit theaters, Kunis has been receiving high praise for her turn as Lily, the free-spirited, mischievous, blithe spirit and accidental rival to Portman’s Nina, and rightfully so: Kunis is a natural natural, if you follow my meaning. She’s absolutely perfect for the part. But when I see her performance mentioned among some of the best supporting turns of the year, it's not that I think such praise is unjustified, I just think it’s incomplete. Because the truth of the matter is that half of Kunis’ performance is Portman’s – and, no, I’m not talking about all Black Swan’s multiple-identity stuff. I’m talking about the reason that Kunis seems so remarkably free spirited, mischievous and blithe: because Portman is so pent-up, paranoid and punctilious.


Is it accurate, as Jim says, that Portman wore just one expression that made her look “like she was afraid someone was going to hit her and she was going to cry at any minute”? Well, not exactly. But does it feel like that? Absolutely! And, of course, that’s entirely the point. From afar, Black Swan might seem like the story of a young woman who suffers a mental breakdown, but actually it’s about a woman who is suffering a mental breakdown. When we first meet Nina, her fuse is already burning, and what we watch is the explosion. I can see why lots of people object to Portman’s performance specifically and to Black Swan as a whole – both are turned up to 11 – but personally I’m enthralled by watching Nina fighting to hold back the tsunami of anxiety and fear inside her. This is a film about suppression, after all, and if you can go with Portman’s performance, the payoff of the film’s final act is a catharsis of almost orgasmic proportions.

I’ve already written about Black Swan extensively in my most recent conversation with Ed Howard for The House Next Door, so I’ll wrap up talking about that film here before history repeats itself, but not before saying this: Black Swan is messy and even campy, cliché and yet unconventional. It’s also truly bold – a film that unfolds with the same vitality that is earning Kunis her kudos. The movie was over before I could fully comprehend what it was, but while watching it the first time I never doubted that it was something, because I felt it so much. Now, weeks later, and with the benefit of having seen it again, I know exactly what Black Swan is: my favorite film of the year, at least for the moment.


But I suppose I should close this out by honoring the film that I’ve seen most, and that would be 127 Hours, which is odd because I went into that movie wondering if I could get through it. I wouldn’t call myself an especially squeamish viewer, but extended human suffering isn’t my cup of tea, and the way I figured it, Danny Boyle couldn’t possibly do justice to the horrors of this story – about a guy who spends five days pinned by a boulder before he cuts off his own arm to escape – without making his film unwatchable. Thankfully, I was wrong. Make no mistake, 127 Hours is a challenging moviegoing experience (and I’m not even talking about some of Boyle’s ill-advised hallucination sequences or his “I haven’t use this effect yet” heavy-handed direction). Just thinking about its gruesome imagery can put a bitter taste in my mouth. But even though the film has no shortage of pain and suffering (both physical and emotional), its prevailing spirit is one of warmth and joy, almost euphoria. And so it was that I discovered that 127 Hours isn’t a movie about a guy who loses his arm, it’s about a guy who finds himself.

And with that, it’s time for me to find my way home. Dennis, Jim, Sheila, it’s been a pleasure remembering these moments with you. Now that I've written them down, hopefully these memories will stick.

Here’s looking at you, kids – in a tree.

JB

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THE SLIFR TREE HOUSE #1: INTRODUCTIONS

THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #2: IS THERE ANYTHING GOOD PLAYING THIS WEEKEND?

THE SLIFR TREE HOUSE #3: A BLUE VALENTINE TO THE PERSONAL

THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #4: THE BELLAMY AWARDS AND DIFFERENT WAYS OF LOOKING AT MOVIES

THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #5: SO MUCH TO SEE, SO LITTLE TIME

THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #6: HUMAN SEXUALITY AND ANNETTE'S EYEWEAR

THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #7: MOMENTS TO REMEMBER

THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #8: ACTOR-NERD SOUNDS OFF (ELOQUENTLY!)

THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #9: WON'T YOU PLEASE GIVE IT UP FOR EMMA STONE AND THE ACTRESSES OF 2010!

THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #10: THOSE SUBLIME SHEEP AND THAT SILLY SWAN

THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #11: TILDA SWINTON IS FREAKIN' GREAT!

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2 comments:

Hokahey said...

Jason - I'm totally with you on Natalie Portman in Black Swan. The way I saw at during two viewings of the film was her wide range of facial expressions expression varying degrees of obsession, paranoia, and torment.

As for young actresses, yes, it certainly was a great year. I enjoyed the performances of many of those that you mentioned.

I'd also like to add a nod to Izzy Meikle-Small for her touching performance as the young Kathy in Never Let Me Go. She establishes much of the wonder and poignancy as Kathy learns what love is all about that Carey Mulligan develops further when she plays the older Kathy.

Jason Bellamy said...

Hokakey ... she'd be a good addition, but, wow, man, fuck, I just realized I left out Jennifer Lawrence from Winter's Bone, who might be the most promising of them all. (Born in 1990, by the way.)