Black Swan – for the first half, I admired the film but was not fully engaged emotionally. Then, the film really takes off. Ultimately, the story unfolds the way it must to work as well as it does. Billed as a “psycho-sexual thriller,” it represents a different genre from Darren Aronofsky’s earlier film The Wrestler (which I love), but even while watching Black Swan, I began to see the two films as bookends. Both of them are essentially character studies of performers who operate within subcultures, a man and a woman each defined by the practice of his or her art in ways that are ultimately damaging but inescapable for them. It’s hard to miss, too, the parallel between the endings of these two films. Yes, I see these films as bookends, and you should simply see them!
True Grit – well, the Cohen Brothers have definitely improved on the original with authentic landscapes (not glossy images of Colorado!) and better actors. Even with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon turning in convincing performances, it is newcomer Hailee Steinfeld who steals nearly every scene. This movie feels more conventional than the average Cohen Brothers film, but there’s nothing wrong with a crowd-pleaser when it is this well-crafted. It’s good to have some films you can take either a parent (as I did) or even a young teenager to see without hesitating.
The Fighter – Wow, David O. Russell makes interesting films, but not since Three Kings have I liked one nearly as much as The Fighter. The hardscrabble existence and complicated family dynamics of these characters seem fresh, the boxing tale is invigorated (much as the genre was with Million Dollar Baby), and Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale are terrific as brothers in this story based on actual events. The entire cast is wonderful, but I have to single out Melissa Leo as their mother, Alice Ward. I love watching her work. I also like the style of the film…and the script…and, well, just about everything.
The King’s Speech – what’s not to like about Colin Firth as the King and Helena Bonham Carter as the young version of the Queen Mum, especially when we also get to see that the royals have foibles (and worse) just like the rest of us? Actually, this is not a love story; it’s a friendship story. Before he becomes King George VI, Firth’s character meets an eccentric Australian, played by Geoffrey Rush, who is hired to help his famous client overcome a stammer, or, as we would put it, stuttering. In the process, the men eventually become friends. Like The Fighter, this film is based on real people and actual events. The King’s Speech is a period picture without any surprises but with plenty of pomp, some wartime drama, and great actors.