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As predicted yesterday, Black Swan met and easily exceeded it opening weekend box office estimates to set a new record for Fox Searchlight films in limited release. IndieWire has the hard numbers:

Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” had a massive limited debut this weekend. According to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier today, the film Рa psychological thriller about a ballerina (Natalie Portman) competing for the lead role in “Swan Lake” Рgrossed a stunning $1,394,265 from just 18 theaters. That made for a $77,459 per-theater-average, which is a new record for distributor Fox Searchlight, topping the likes of “Juno,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Sideways” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” all of which debuted on much fewer screens.

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Correcting the HR paragraph below. It turns out that Winter’s Bone won 4¬†prizes at Torino: Best Film,¬†Best Screenplay, the Achille Valdata audience award, and Best Actress shared by Jennifer Lawrence¬†for WB and Erica Rivas for Por Tu Culpa, directed by Anahi Berneri. (Thanks to Eduardo Grinovero for the correction.)¬†¬†Additional winners are listed at the TFF website.

Adding to its swag from Sundance, the Gothams, the NBR, the Seattle and¬†Palm Springs Film Fests,¬†not to mention¬†its 7 Spirit nominations, Winter’s Bone has won the main prize at the 28th Torino Film Festival, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The festival’s five-member jury headed by director Marco Bellocchio chose Winter’s Bone out of 16 main competition films, making it the first U.S. production to take home the main prize since David Gordon Green’s George Washington in 2000. The award carries a cash prize of ‚Ǩ25,000 ($32,500).

Jennifer Lawrence, the protagonist in Winter’s Bone, split the best actress award with Anahi Berneri, who was honored for her work in Port u Culpa. Omid Djalili was given the best actor prize for his role in The Infidel.

It’s quite something to see this little slice of Americana with its dark mood and big mythological themes winning acclaim not only here in the US, but in Europe as well. BIFA nominated it for Foreign Film, filling the same slot as last year’s The Hurt Locker. I doubt if Winter’s Bone can go all the way to a best picture win, but it’s looking like a real contender for several nominations, including best picture, Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, adapted screenplay and possibly even Debra Granik as director.

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Terrific to see women critics embracing Black Swan. After the cut, a few men who don’t get off on it to same degree.

The New York Times’ Manola Dargis sees everything in Black Swan that the National Board of Review missed:

Played by Natalie Portman in a smashing, bruising, wholly committed performance, the young dancer, Nina, looks more like a child than a woman, her flesh as undernourished as her mind…. It‚Äôs easy to read ‚ÄúBlack Swan‚Äù as a gloss on the artistic pursuit of the ideal. But take another look, and you see that Mr. Aronofsky is simultaneously telling that story straight, playing with the suffering-artist stereotype and having his nasty way with Nina, burdening her with trippy psychodrama and letting her run wild in a sexcapade that will soon be in heavy rotation on the Web… Together they create the solid foundation of truth that makes the slow-creeping hallucinatory flights of fantasy all the more jolting and powerful… ‚ÄúBlack Swan‚Äù is visceral and real even while it‚Äôs one delirious, phantasmagoric freakout.

USA Today, Claudia Puig

To induce a state of dread and mesmerize with beauty is a rare, paradoxical achievement… Like the most macabre nightmares, Black Swan plunges headlong into the dark side. Writer/director Darren Aronofsky fashions a terrifying tale that juxtaposes the grace of a dance film against a twisted horror backdrop. At the center of this dreamlike story is Natalie Portman’s exquisite performance of a troubled ballerina who evolves from timid to seriously unhinged.

New York Daily News, Elizabeth Weitzman

Aronofsky and his three screenwriters walk a thin line throughout, skirting overwrought melodrama without actually falling in. That’s a near-impossible task, requiring considerable skill from everyone involved. Portman, who does most of her own dancing, rises to the occasion with unexpected depth… It’s Aronofsky, though, who deserves the final bow. He has always boasted a unique vision, but as any dancer can attest, it takes years of hard work and discipline to corral talent into art.

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The Daily Beast calls this a list of the “10 Steamiest Lesbian Sex Scenes” but most of them are merely humid and partly dewy. For a stark contrast with true sizzle on film, make your own mental list of the 10 Steamiest Straight Sex Scenes (and please share so we can compare notes).

  1. Black Swan: Natalie Portman & Mila Kunis
  2. Wild Things: Denise Richards & Neve Campbell
  3. The Kids Are All Right: Julianne Moore & Annette Bening
  4. Higher Learning: Jennifer Connelly & Kristy Swanson
  5. Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Scarlett Johansson & Penélope Cruz
  6. Mulholland Drive: Naomi Watts & Laura Harring
  7. The Runaways: Kristen Stewart & Dakota Fanning
  8. Bound: Gina Gershon & Jennifer Tilly
  9. Gia: Angelina Jolie & Elizabeth Mitchell
  10. The Hunger: Susan Sarandon & Catherine Deneuve

Almost amusing to see The Kids Are All Right at the top of the steamy heap, except that it’s such a sad commentary that anyone would think the wry comical couplings in that film are the least bit sultry.

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Charlie Rose talks to Natalie Portman and Darren Aronofsky about Black Swan. NOTE: There are a couple of comments in plain sight on the Charlie Rose site that constitute blunt spoilers, so don’t even go there if you don’t want to know anything.

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Effective concept. Prismatic strips break up the emotional peaks and valleys in a dramatic spectrograph. See it full size after the cut.

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Thanks to Fox Searchlight for access to this exclusive first look at their official Black Swan profile for Natalie Portman.

poised (poizd) adj.

  1. Assured; composed.
  2. Steady in readiness.

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Today, the 2,100 randomly selected Screen Actors Guild nominating committee members are getting their ballots. They will then have a few weeks to see everything before jotting down their choices.

Votes for nominees may be cast online or via mailed paper ballot. Votes must be received by the Guild’s official teller, Integrity Voting Systems, by Monday, Dec. 13, 2010 at 5 p.m (PT). Nominations for the 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards will be announced at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010 at 6 a.m. (PT)/9 a.m. (ET), telecast live on TNT and webcast live on tnt.tv and tbs.com.

The SAG members will likely rely on screeners and on their own memory from screenings they attended. Some films will play very well on screener, while others, not so much. The year’s best performances have somehow been about the power of two. Two co-stars coming together or pulling apart. If you look behind one great performance, in other words, you will see many supporting faces that help them get where they want to go.

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“Transcendent.”
[Note: between 2:45 – 3:00 Natalie says something that might be considered a spoiler — though it’s nothing you couldn’t guess from watching trailer. Just thought I’d mention that though. It does seem like Portman and Aronofsky are both handling the issue of spoilers casually — because they know the movie doesn’t depend on tricks or twists.]

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The Santa Barbara International Film Festival will honor Nicole Kidman with its Cinema Vanguard award on Feb. 5.

“Honoring Nicole Kidman is so exciting for us here at SBIFF,” executive director Roger Durling said in today’s announcement. “Her work is immensely diverse and with this year’s heart-wrenching and brilliant performance in Rabbit Hole — a project she helped develop as well — it is exactly who we should be celebrating with the 2011 Cinema Vanguard Award.” (THR)

The Santa Barbara Fest runs from Jan. 27 through Feb. 6, commencing just after the Oscar nominations are announced (on Jan. 25). The Cinema Vanguard Award recognizes filmmakers taking artistic risks and making a significant contribution to motion pictures, and has recently been awarded to Christoph Waltz, Stanley Tucci and Kristin Scott Thomas.

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My Oscar Poker partner, Jeff Wells, is worried that Lesley Manville won’t make the cut if they run her as Best Actress. He thinks she has a better chance of getting in in the Supporting Actress category. It probably isn’t going to matter what bloggers think about it – if the AMPAS wants her in lead, they will nominate her in lead. Although we keep talking up actresses, here is how I envision a scenario with Manville in:

Natalie Portman
Annette Bening
Jennifer Lawrence
Nicole Kidman
Lesley Manville

And then, you’d go:
Michelle Williams (all of this NC-17 business is great for her, actually, publicity-wise)
Naomi Watts
Julianne Moore
Sally Hawkins

The bottom line is that there IS room for Manville in the lead actress race simply because they will make room. Hers is, without question, one of the best of the year. She plays a character who is coming apart but was only barely there to begin with. Completely self-centered, unrealistic and neurotic, Manville’s portrayal could have slipped into caricature. But somehow, she keeps it grounded. The truth is, you can’t take your eyes off her. So, though it’s appreciated, I don’t see the need for a “Save Lesley Manville” campaign.

Very close to the same trailer we saw in August — a few new scenes to tease out the themes more explicitly, and of course the UK review quotes are here replaced with raves from familiar US critics.

Natalie Portman and Colin Firth have been announced as winners of the Desert Palm Achievement Awards for Acting by the Palm Springs Film Festival. They will join previously announced honorees Javier Bardem, Jennifer Lawrence and Carey Mulligan. The Festival runs Jan. 6-17.

“We are honoring two of the finest actors to grace the screen, both of whom deliver Oscar-quality performances in their most recent films,” said Palm Springs International Film Festival chairman Harold Matzner. “Colin Firth brings a regal versatility to each of his roles, but his portrayal of King George VI in his latest film, The King’s Speech, is extraordinary. Natalie Portman, who started dancing at age four and acting at age 11, tests the full range of her significant talent with a powerhouse performance as the obsessed ballerina in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.”

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Later today or tonight, our Moveiegasm podcast will go up. But here is the 8th episode of Oscar Poker. Jeff Wells, Phil Contrino, Scott Feinberg and I discuss many things. Our podcasts, both of them, keep going up in length of time.¬† But there isn’t any point in cutting in. If you get bored, just stop listening. We talk the sex in Tilda Swinton’s I Am Love as being more explicit than the sex in Blue Valentine (hence the head-scratcher about the MPAA rating). Jeff and Scott talk about how much they both loved The Fighter and why they feel it is definitely one of the ten Best Picture contenders of the year (I still haven’t seen it because I am the Queen of Lame). They compare it to The Town. Phil Contrino and I are both fans of The Town and feel it is also deserving of Best Pic consideration. We touch a bit on Christian Bale’s performance, though, and whether we think he can still win the thing, even with his reputation. So, give it a listen if you care to.

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It’s been said before, but let it be said again, 2010 is marked by an uncharacteristic tsunami of women. Sure, there are still some male-driven films that have risen to the top of the pile, namely Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech, Jessie Eisenberg/Andrew Garfield/Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, the brilliant James Franco in 127 Hours, (though I haven’t yet seen it) Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in The Fighter, and the upcoming True Grit with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin. But let’s face it, this year it’s raining women.

The Oscar for lead actress is going to be competitive this year, which always makes for an exciting Oscar run. Even before I’d seen Black Swan, I felt like three women had a real shot at taking it: Natalie Portman, course, Annette Bening and Jennifer Lawrence.

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Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky’s unflinching swan dive into the world of artistic expression, is a mirror with multiple foldings. It is about a dancer who strives to be perfect, haunted by her own reflection, which emerges at the worst times. It is about a daughter who is a reflection of her terrified mother who looks at her and sees her young self, but also sees her daughter as something she created, and therefore owns. It is about a student who yearns to fulfill the expectations of her teacher because she is a reflection of his own creative ability. It is about an actress who is fulfilling the demands of her director who requires nothing less than everything. It is about a film that reflects a play-within-a-play — it IS Swan Lake as they DO Swan Lake. And finally, it is about a film that strives to fulfill the critical, judgmental eye of its audience. It is all of those things at once and more. Black Swan may be the best film of 2010.

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We hear a lot about how hard-going the movie is, but here is a clip where the mood becomes lighter. Who doesn’t love Dianne Wiest, that’s what I want to know.

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It took me a while to finally see The Kids Are All Right. I knew the movie would be good, and I followed the trail of buzz that has it continually landing on lists of films that might make the cut for the Oscars. Some have asked why the film is always there when it doesn’t have any so-called buzz. The simple reason is that the film stands out not just because of the tuned and harmonious cast, but because the subject matter is daring, confrontational, and dare I say it, groundbreaking.

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