"Natalie Portman’s dazzling tour de force makes her an instant leading contender in every best-actress race," Pete Hammond (Deadline Hollywood) proclaimed about her performance in "Black Swan" after its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival. The London Times decreed Portman so "astounding" in Darren Aronofky's ballet thriller that "awards are sure to follow."
Portman is so lovely that she could certainly fit this year's "The Babe Factor" at the Oscars, where the best-actress race has largely been a beauty pageant for more than a decade (Sandra Bullock, Marion Cotillard, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, etc.). It can't hurt that she has a steamy lesbian scene in "Black Swan" that will surely get noticed by those notoriously frisky good ol' boys in the motion picture academy.
But is Portman really such a shoo-in for best actress? And what about "Black Swan" getting into the best picture race? Aronofky's "The Wrestler" didn't make the cut for best picture of 2008, but there were only five nominees back then.
Anne Thompson (Thompson on Hollywood, Indiewire) includes "Black Swan" on her list of top 13 strongest rivals to be nominated for the top 10 best-pic slots, but she's not confident about its chances. She says, "I wonder how 'Black Swan' will fare on the academy side. It may be painful for older voters to watch" because of its violence on screen. Nonetheless, Thompson believes "actors may laud Portman."
Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt thinks Portman gives "a bravura performance" but adds: "Trying to coax a horror-thriller out of the world of ballet doesn't begin to work for Darren Aronofsky … [T]he horror-movie nonsense drags everything down the rabbit hole of preposterousness."
Time's Richard Corliss says he's "of two minds about a movie that wants to be a nail-ripping thriller and a statement on an artist's unholy communion with her role. As for Portman's work, if not fully convincing, it's wondrously committed, and, yes, just the sort of daredevil achievement the Academy loves to reward. Still, I'd hold off on Oscar promises (except in headlines) until we see whether the last months of 2010 bring us any great performances, not just great stunts."
Photo: Natalie Portman in "Black Swan." Credit: Fox Searchlight