A couple of quick thoughts about the big four mid-December releases. You may be thinking that you might want to see The Fighter or The King's Speech, but I'm here to try to convince you that your first two choices ought to be Black Swan and 127 Hours.
Black Swan is so far my favorite movie of the year. It's creepy and exciting and basically a thrill a minute. I also found it incredibly sexy and often very, very fun. The best thing about this picture—and I put a high premium on this as a movie-goer so you can take my excitement about Black Swan with a grain of salt if you like—is that I pretty much never knew what the hell was going to happen. I was never ahead of this movie. The acting is great, as well – I was particularly fond of Ms. Portman and Ms. Hershey – both of whom are basically batshit crazy in this film. Darren Aronofsky is the star here, though. Has this man ever made a bad movie? Seriously. He's awesome.
The next movie on your list should be Danny Boyle's 127 Hours. While not quite the Hitchcockian drama that Aronofsky's movie is, 127 Hours is a riveting character study of a truly fascinating guy. It's a Danny Boyle movie, so it's a film about flash and color and, well, general coolness. To be honest, though, Boyle himself is outshined in 127 by the film's actual star James Franco, who gives one of the great performances of the year. The camera is on him nonstop and his desperation, fear, and even his ingenuity, are displayed through tiny nuances, minimal action. A ham in real life (obviously) Franco focuses his energy in this brilliant star turn and only gives away a little at a time. The result is, frankly, devastating. Boyle's filmmaking takes over again as the film's focus by the end, but this is no Slumdog Millionaire. 127 Hours feels deep under all of that flashy exterior in a way that Boyle's big Best Picture-winning extravaganza never did.
The King's Speech is a good movie. And the thing of it is, I just kept thinking that thought while I was watching this picture. In other words, I never really emotionally dropped in to Tom Hooper's movie. This has to do with direction, of course, and with, I think, the subject matter. The King's Speech is, after all, about a king, and, well, I am not sure that a king's problems are really that momentous just because he's the king. Maybe it's just me. The King's Speech feels very invested in the notion of patriotism and national togetherness and big stuff like that. (This is also a rather sex-negative film, to my mind.) It was good, but, well... I had the feeling that Tom Hooper was trying too hard the whole time. The acting is good in this movie except for the bizarre caricature of Winston Churchill, which I found baffling, even in a comedy.
The Fighter also has really, really good acting. Particularly from star Christian Bale and supporting-actress-of-the-decade Melissa Leo, both of whom give extraordinarily fierce performances, tearing into these roles and never criticizing the people they're playing. The film itself is a little uneven, however. First off, it's like no David O. Russell film I've ever seen. And, then, the center of the movie isn't really the center of the movie. The scenes that need to be in the film in order to make the main character the main character never materialize, and the emotional center of the film doesn't ever quite jell. Because of this, the end of the movie threw me for a bit of a loop. In a way, all of this is because The Fighter, as it turns out, is a boxing movie. It's not an unconventional boxing movie or a new twist on the boxing movie. It's a boxing movie: you know, like Cinderella Man or Rocky or Somebody up There Likes Me or The Champ. I was expecting something... else. So, perhaps if you go in with different expectations than I did, you will come out feeling a bit warmer toward Russell's new flick.