It always happens every year a unique film like Black Swan starts hitting the mainstream. There is bound to be some sort of freak out as people see the film that is creating such a stir. There is never any guarantee that it will be a movie they respond to. I’m thinking of Christmas time cinema going. While I no longer believe this idea that the Academy voters are either too conventional, too infantile or too old to “get” great filmmaking, I do understand that there are a good many who will be freaked out by Black Swan nonetheless.
In our latest Oscar Poker podcast, linked to below, Jeff Wells, Phil Contrino and I talk to New York Film Critics Circle, New York Film Critics Online member and critic Marshall Fine of Hollywood & Fine and the Huffington Post. In it, he talks about the voting procedures, how close the votes were and how it all goes down. There is no discussion, apparently, just a few rounds of voting. In those rounds, Annette Bening came out the clear winner. Natalie Portman had just a tiny bit of support with these folks. Jennifer Lawrence and Tilda Swinton were higher than Portman. This tells me that Black Swan, and specifically Natalie Portman cannot be called the critics’ darling. But, as we know, that isn’t ever all there is to the story. The Oscar race for Best Actress is often won not on the screen but on the red carpet.
Still, it does give one pause. Black Swan is doing really well so far in the early stage of the race, meaning it’s well liked by the Golden Globes voters and the Critics Choice voters, so far. It’s possible that Portman’s performance could be similar to Marion Cotillard’s in La Vie en Rose. Many people think it’s that kind of performance. But to be down with Portman’s work, one has to really understand her transformation, hang in there with her as she goes through it. The point was brought up that women prefer the stronger performance by Annette Bening because she plays a strong character, a “mama grizzly” standing up for her family and her relationship. It really could go either way.
Bening has her long career and her likability in general in her favor. She isn’t doing a lot of campaigning now, which could end up BEING her campaign, like Mo’Nique last year. There is something to be said for that. A non-campaign is a good campaign sometimes, provided you are winning EVERYTHING. If you aren’t winning everything, and you have competition, it can sometimes make the difference if you’re out there, like appearing on 60 Minutes or something. But then again, Bening has been down this road before – she’s done the dog and pony show. Maybe she just figures that the performance should stand on its own.
In Portman’s favor is the Black Swan buzz. I hate going there because it demeans everyone and everything, but the age issue is once again at hand. Bening has likability of actress/likability of character – a tough combo to beat. Portman has the body transformation, starving herself for almost a year, learning how to dance — and she gives the kind of performance you really never forget. But is she likable? It is going to be a close between these two. Anyone who thinks it’s a done deal may have another think coming.
Jennifer Lawrence is obviously still very much in the race, not just because of what the critics are saying/doing, but because of the general strength of Winter’s Bone. Michelle Williams has gotten a nice bump over the past week. Lesley Manville might squeeze in there, along with Hilary Swank. Nicole Kidman is definitely in as well.
So if we have:
That leaves only one slot. It’s going to be a nail-biter, this Best Actress race.