Friday, 25 November 2011

Iconic Scenes - 'Made in Britain'

I've decided to stop referring to these short entries as "scene of the week" because I don't always have time to do them and they tend to be quite sporadic. So from now on they are my "iconic scenes". Knowing me I'll probably end up doing them weekly now.

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Alan Clarke is arguably up there with the most influential British directors to have ever shouted action. He was primarily a television director but his "social delinquent" trilogy - 'Scum', 'Made in Britain' and 'The Firm' - remains some of the most powerful cinema I have (and probably ever will) see. Each one covers a frustrated and violent demographic of Britain in the late 70s and 80s, people who felt left behind in a time of bleak political and economic prospects under the shadow of Thatcher's Britain. His work also broaches upon topics such as the inadequacies of our prison and school systems, racism and the mentality of the mob. Very few directors have ever shown Britain's imperfections in such a truthful light (Shane Meadows is one of these few).

The trilogy also features blistering central performances from three young actors who would go on to become some of the most talented and versatile exports that these shores have ever produced - 'the young offender' (Ray Winstone), 'the skinhead' (Tim Roth) and 'the football hooligan' (Gary Oldman). These movies are powerful and so honest that it hurts. Think twice before watching one of those watered down, hollow monstrosities (probably starring Danny Dyer) which try and emulate how raw Clarke's creations are - they always fall embarrassingly short. 

This scene (starring a 21 year old Roth in his first feature) is one of my all time favourites. The neo-nazi is like an animal in a cage, his hatred flows forth like lava as he releases a tirade against the hypocrisy and double standards of a "civilised society" which on one hand, calls for decency and yet casts the vulnerable aside with the other. His reckless hatred and racist vitriol is a stark contrast with the civilised condescension of the authority figures which confront him but, in the end, only prove his point.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Dark City

"First there was darkness. Then came the strangers. They were a race as old as time itself. They had mastered the ultimate technology. The ability to alter physical reality by will alone. They called this "Tuning". But they were dying. Their civilisation was in decline, and so they abandoned their world seeking a cure for their own mortality. Their endless journey brought them to a small, blue world in the farthest corner of the galaxy. Our world. Here they thought they had finally found what they were searching for."

'Dark city' is the creation of Alex Proyas, a man that I have had mixed feelings towards for a while now. On one hand he directed 'The Crow' and 'I, Robot', two exceptionally stylish and exhilarating written works which he brought to the big screen with fantastic precision. On the other hand he also directed 'Knowing', one of the worst movies I have ever seen. (I really can't stress this enough. It's an abhorrent, big budget black hole which managed to be both boring and cringeworthy at the same time. It also features a ridiculous performance by Nicolas Cage, in which he flitted repeatedly from tediously wooden to inexplicably mental. The horror!) It baffles me that Proyas could go from such stylish cinematic zeniths to such a crushing nadir. Thankfully 'Dark City' is of the former category.

Again, the main strength of this movie is it's rich aesthetic. As mentioned previously I have a soft spot for dystopian science fiction (hence my adoration of masterpieces like 'Blade Runner' and 'Brazil'), 'Dark City' manages to perfectly occupy that surreal corridor between science fiction and film noir. The world here is one of perpetual night and the cityscape periodically shifts and alters like clockwork under a veil of sinister shadow. There is a constant inkling that the central characters are rats in a maze, that they are being specially positioned and forced down avenues in a city which never truly feels tangible. This constant feeling of conspiracy bubbles beneath the surface throughtout.

Aside from the powerful visual and atmospheric qualities of 'Dark City', the plot is also very engaging. A man wakes up in the bath of a strange hotel room, no name, no memories and no recollection of the city around him. Soon he begins to tumble down the rabbit hole and becomes entwined with murder and manipulation. Faces and buildings keep changing and he knows there is something fundamentally wrong with this place. Proyas demonstrates with great panache an ability to write a screenplay which is fantastical and morbid in equal measure, whilst at it's core being essentially a "small guy versus the state" story. It could almost have been written by Gilliam himself...almost. It also, like all good science fiction, raises cerebral questions along the way - questions surrounding our memories, our individuality and how humans are more than the sum of their parts.

Rufus Sewell is suitably baffled yet rebellious as 'John Murdock', whilst William Hurt and Jennifer Connelly put in characteristically solid performances as the cantankerous detective and sultry love interest. But it is the darker characters which seem to have the most presence. Kiefer Sutherland completely steals the show as 'Dr Schreber', an eccentric and miry psychiatrist with a gasping voice who never seems completely trustworthy. But well judged performances aside, it will be the villains of the movie that linger in the mind.

"The Strangers" are telepathic lifefoms with a hive-mind. They move and talk in eery unison, draped in black trench coats, gliding in and out of shadow and always watching. They are pretty terrifying and the appearance of black leather on cold, white skin is reminiscent of the masochistic bondage imagery employed in 'Hellraiser'. I also believe that the Wachowski brothers owe a lot to 'Dark City'. It may have only come out a year before 'The Matrix' but I find it very hard to believe that the 'Agents' of 'The Matrix' were not heavily influenced by "The Strangers" of 'Dark City'. There is even an 'Agent Smith' like character in 'Dark City' called "Mr Hand". The plots are also very similar in many ways too. It seems that the Wachowski brothers didn't solely plunder 'Akira' and 'Ghost in the Shell' for "inspiration". This is not to say that I don't like 'The Matrix' (I don't like the sequels, but that's another thing entirely). It is a brilliant movie and so much slicker but the thing I like about 'Dark City' is that it's more subtle and thoughtful in the scenes that really count.

'Dark City' more than holds it's own against 'The Matrix', it relies more on dialogue and doesn't give you answers on a plate. It's a tremendous backdrop to become absorbed in mystery. I would recommend this movie to fans of science fiction and of surreal and morose fantasy alike. The most concise way that I can describe it is 'Memento' meets 'Metropilis'. It's a potent cocktail of clashing elements which surprisingly accentuate each other and lift the movie to a higher note. This collage of ideas and themes doesn't lend itself to great commercial success (like 'The Matrix') but it will ensure that 'Dark City' continues to be a cult classic. See you at Shell Beach. 

The following is a great video that I found which illustrates the suspicious similarities between 'The Matrix' and 'Dark City' as well as their unique strengths.  

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Scene of the Week - Rushmore

This is the brilliant revenge sequence from 'Rushmore', my personal favourite of the movies written and directed by Wes Anderson. Just like other great Anderson exports, such as "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Darjeeling Limited', this movie manages to be hysterical whilst also being apathetic and heartfelt at the same time (as you can imagine, this is an incredibly difficult and contradictory line to walk). There is nobody writing or directing in cinema today quite like Wes Anderson and this scene is very characteristic of his work.

A peculiar schoolboy (Jason Schwartzman) and a depressive millionaire (Bill Murry) fall for the same woman and they go from being unlikely friends to bitter enemies. The sequence that follows is fantastic, it's absurd the way their one-upmanship escalates to such a serious level in such a short space of time. 

Both actors really shine in 'Rushmore' - Bill Murry is particularly brilliant in his usual dry, stonefaced, man-child sort of way and Jason Schwartzman really made a name for himself in it (they have both featured regularly in Anderson's movies since, including his quirky yet faithful animated adaptation of Roald Dahl's 'The Fantastic Mr Fox'). 

I'll be writing an entry on the movies of Wes Anderson at some point in the future, he's an acquired taste but one that is certainly worth taking the time to acquire. 

Monday, 15 August 2011

Scene of the Week - La Vita è Bella

This scene is from the hilarious and tragic 'La Vita è Bella' ("Life is Beautiful"). It's plot centres around an Italian Jew named Guido who is taken, along with his family, to a concentration camp following the spread of Nazism's shadow over Italy. Guido is established early on as a slapstick character that can find the funny side of anything. Once he is in the infamous striped pyjamas he is determined to keep up appearances for his son's sake and turn the concentration camp into a game. 

The juxtaposition of Guido's silliness with the horror surrounding them is a striking contrast. Seeing the holocaust through the eyes of an innocent child is also an extremely effective lens through which to view something so tragic (as also recently shown in 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'). At it's core this movie is about a father protecting his son and insisting that life is beautiful even though everything around them screams the contrary. At first glance some people would say that Benigni's performance is daft and that he overacts, but his entire performance is laced with desperation, fear and anguish (his mouth is smiling but his eyes are often not). This is an incredibly fine line to walk and ultimately why he is one of only three people to have ever won the Best Actor oscar for a role in a non-english speaking movie. Superb.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Scene of the Week - Annie Hall

This is the introduction to what many people believe is Woody Allen's magnum opus, 'Annie Hall'. I could have picked so many standout scenes from this movie but in the end I settled on the superb and very original opening scene. 

In it Woody Allen's character breaks what is known as the "fourth wall" and engages the audience directly, blurring the line between fiction and reality. This is a technique most commonly associated with the theatre - often a soliloquy in which a spotlight appears on the actor as they bare their soul to the audience, giving an insight into their internal monologue. This is an incredibly powerful theatrical tool and I can think of many examples where it has been used to full effect in other movies - e.g. hilariously in 'Fight Club' (splicing pornography into children's movies) and disturbingly in Michael Haneke's incredibly original 'Funny Games' (the wink and the dead dog).   

The other amazing thing about this introduction is that within the space of about two minutes you already have a very accurate sense of him, a feat which some film makers can't ever really achieve in two hours. He tells you his character. This may sound trivial but only a very gifted comedic writer and actor could do this with any real sincerity and natural flair.

Woody Allen would be a fantastic topic for a future blog entry, he's an iconic director and one of the snappiest satirical comedians ever. Movies like 'Sleeper', 'Everything you wanted to know about sex*' and 'Manhattan' are all undeniable testaments to this. Anybody who ends a sex scene with "that's the most fun I've ever had without laughing" and "I'll never play the piano again" is obviously something a bit special and worth writing about.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Scene of the Week - 12 Angry Men

This is a scene from 12 Angry Men, a masterclass in character acting and something modern Hollywood could learn a great deal from. This particular scene deals with the issue of prejudice and how society should behave towards those who exhibit prejudiced tendencies. 

In the heat of discussion this juror's true colours show and everybody else becomes aware that his judgment is tainted with reckless hatred. It's an incredibly poignant and symbolic moment when everybody puts their differences aside and are united in their general disgust with this man's views. They turn their back on him and meet his barbed words with a wall of silence, not even dignifying him with a retort. The late, great Henry Fonda is spectacular as the juror defending a man from the electric chair and more importantly the notion that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Absolute cinema royalty. 

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Tom Cruise...he's not all bad.

Let's face it, Tom Cruise is far from the poster boy of Hollywood he used to be. Ever since he went doolally on Oprah's sofa and became an exponent of Scientology (the cult/religion designed by mediocre science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard) people have had trouble taking him seriously - and rightly so. In the eyes of the public Cruise has gone from being Top Gun's 'Maverick' to a bizarre, glassy-eyed caricature you would probably cross the road to avoid. But, after recently seeing the trailer for the next instalment of the Mission Impossible series, 'Ghost Protocol', I was immediately reminded of what it was that made Tom Cruise such a star before his off screen persona took such an unprecedented U-turn.

Cruise has always been best at playing energetic, broad-stroke characters, generally avoiding subtle, fine-spun roles. He isn't the strongest character actor ever although he is exceptional at flitting between both serious and playful, portraying both in a very naturalistic way (in this sense I would compare Cruise to actors such as Harrison Ford and the late Dennis Hopper). Cruise has been under the direction of masters such as Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma and...well, you get the picture. You don't work with such an intimidatingly talented array of cinema heavyweights without possessing an acting ability which commands a certain amount of respect. So in an effort to remind you of what Cruise can do on screen (and draw focus from his antics off screen) I have put together a list of my ten best Tom Cruise performances in no particular order. I haven't chosen a lot of his cheesier albeit more financially successful roles (i.e. Top Gun, Days of Thunder etc) - these films are entertaining and hold a lot of nostalgic value but don't necessarily show off what Cruise can really do on screen. You could definitely swap a few of these choices for others, but I personally like this ten.

1. A Few Good Men
Lets open with a wonderfully taut courtroom drama in which Cruise plays a naval defence lawyer working to save two young marines from being unfairly imprisoned, following the death of another. Cruise plays a characteristically cocky and talented individual, who goes from being indifferent to his clients to genuinely caring about them. In the following clip Cruise's character cross-examines the Colonel in charge, who he believes is at fault. This is a classic scene, it's great the way Cruise's determined character clashes with the malevolent, God complex of the Colonel (wonderfully played by the brilliant Jack Nicholson). 

2. Vanilla Sky
Watching 'Vanilla Sky' is an ethereal experience. It feels akin to 'Alice in Wonderland' as Cruise's millionaire playboy character tumbles further down the rabbit hole, experiencing love and horror in equal measure. Themes of unrequited love, dreams, insanity and vanity are beautifully touched upon to the backdrop of Radiohead's "Everything in it's Right Place" (a very fitting song). Cameron Crowe did a fantastic job directing this movie and Cruise is a superb lead.

3. Rain Man
'Rain Man' is a defining movie of the 80s for me. Dustin Hoffman is probably one of the most talented actors of his generation and in this he very rightly won one of his two Oscars for his portrayal of an autistic savant. Although Dustin Hoffman steals the show, Cruise puts in a solid performance as his yuppie brother, who kidnaps him in an effort to steal his inheritance. As usual Cruise is very adept at playing characters that you initially dislike but warm to as the movie progresses.

4. Magnolia
Cruise is only a small piece in a large jigsaw of characters in this quirky Paul Thomas Anderson movie. But his character is a fantastically seedy, misogynistic public speaker that teaches lonely men how to "tame the cunt". This was quite an uncharacteristically distasteful character for Cruise and therefore it showed some extra range within his cinematic repertoire. Very entertaining and also touching when you see the issues and insecurities which underpin his chauvinism. 

5. Born on the Fourth of July
This is the biopic of Ron Kovic, a patriotic American who is shot and paralysed during the Vietnam War. In this Cruise depicts a man coming to terms with the horrors of war, it's residual physical and mental scars and the hailstorm of bureaucracy and lies surrounding it. The character goes from clean shaven golden boy of the Vietnam War to a misanthropic paraplegic who feels cheated by both God and country. Probably Cruise's most powerful and tragic performance.

6. Minority Report
Without doubt this is up there with the best science fiction movies of the last two decades. 'Minority Report' is an extrapolation of a short story of the same name from SF royalty Philip K Dick, in which precognition of murder can now be achieved via a new prophetic technology. Cruise's character is head of this "precog" police force but must go on the run when a murder is predicted where he is the perpetrator. With a wonderful combination of dystopia and polished mechanical futurism, this is a very vivid setting for an extremely original whodunnit.   

7. The Last Samurai
East meets west in this powerful post American Civil War action-drama; Cruise plays a disillusioned soldier who aims to learn from his enemy but ends up falling in love with their culture. Haunted by the ordered slaughter of Native American's during the Great Sioux War, he finds peace in the simple and honourable way of the Samurai. Ken Watanabe and Billy Connolly star alongside Cruise in this beautiful picture which also contains some absolutely breathtaking action sequences.

8. Collateral
In 'Collateral' Cruise stars as a cold, remorseless hitman that hitches a ride with Jamie Foxx's nightshift taxi driver. The dialogue between the two very principled characters is like listening to the devil and angel on somebodies shoulders. It's intriguing watching Foxx try to become Cruise's conscience - his words fall on deaf ears as the body count rises.

9. Eyes Wide Shut
A bit of an unusual choice I'll admit. This is far from one of my favourite Kubrick movies but I do nevertheless think that it's underrated. This was Kubrick's last film and I actually think Cruise's performance is quite measured as his character becomes consumed by paranoia. This was supposedly Kubrick's favourite out of all of the movies that he directed. He died soon after reportedly making that statement so one can only speculate over why he preferred it to movies such as 'The Shining', 'A Clockwork Orange', 'Full Metal Jacket', '2001: A space Odyssey', 'Dr Strangelove...', 'Spartacus' etc. I often watch this movie and try to catch a glimpse of what it was that made him feel this way, but as of yet I'm oblivious.

10. War of the Worlds
The remake of the classic Wellsian tale in which Earth is attacked by an alien species with an armada of tripods that are already stationed on earth. As the following passage from the book states, the basis of this story is all about the hubris of mankind and the inevitable and humbling wake up call which awaits us all.

“No-one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space. No-one could have dreamed that we were being scrutinized, as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few men even considered the possibility of life on other planets. And yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this earth with envious eyes; and slowly, and surely, they drew their plans against us.”
-H.G. Wells 

This movie wasn't received particularly well by a lot of critics but I actually enjoyed it, especially in the cinema where it's scale could be truly appreciated. No it was never going to win any oscars and no it wasn't that faithful to the original story - but it did maintain the general premise of this modern parable and it did bring it forward successfully from the Victorian era. Spielberg as always is fantastic at creating action on epic scale whilst still keeping a tone of realism and Cruise once again put in a solid and believable performance.

I hope by the end of this I've managed to show Tom Cruise's more positive attributes. Yes he's pretty mental, but a lot of very talented people throughout history have been off their rockers - they're still good at what they do. I thought it was quite interesting to take a look back at a career now overshadowed by ill-repute.  

I hope you enjoyed my best of Cruise recap and any future recommendations for actor/director career recaps are more than welcome. From this point on I will also be posting my scene of the week regularly. In this I will randomly pick an important scene from a great movie and explain why I think it's so wonderful. 

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Great Bad Guys


I thought it would be interesting to write a blog entry that wasn't about a specific movie but about a cinematic concept. Bad guys seemed like a good place to start because it's quite a fun topic that everybody has an opinion on.

So what makes a great bad guy? For me a truly great bad guy draws focus and drives a movie. They should be the epicentre of pretty much every scene they're in and the audience should look forward to seeing their dastardly deeds develop. They should be more than just a hurdle for the protagonist to deal with and should linger in the dark recesses of your mind long after the credits roll. I also wanted to avoid the predictable slasher horror bad guys (i.e. Freddy Krueger, Jasons Voorhees and Michael Myers) because they tend to be quite boring and lack substance and charisma. I have also avoided reprobate central characters (i.e. Patrick Bateman in 'American Psycho') because you see the world through their eyes and this compromises things - they are no longer an antagonist for a protagonist, they tend to become a lot more. So without further ado here are ten such bad guys (in no particular order) which came to mind whilst I was pondering this topic.

1. Bill "The Butcher" Cutting (Gangs of New York)
Daniel Day-Lewis is probably the best big screen actor in cinema currently; his versatility seems to know no bounds. The Butcher's knife wielding, violent persona and pure hatred for Irish immigrants comes across incredibly well and steals the show in 'Gangs of New York'. You get the impression that there is always an incredibly violent anger bubbling beneath the surface of his sly smirk, his glass eyed stare and his playful persona - this is why he's a constantly fascinating and magnetic character to watch on screen.

2. John Doe (Se7en)
The clever thing about this bad guy is that you only really see him at the end. The movie is a build up to his arrival - that famous moment when he steps out of that taxi with bloody hands and announces himself at the top of his lungs. Although you don't meet him until much later on, he is revealed in a sense slowly but surely throughout - his voice on the phone, his presence at the end of the corridor, his insanity scrawled on notebook pages and his very actions (in all of their graphic splendour) all reveal parts of his character. In my opinion the scariest thing about him is that he has almost no emotion and truly believes what he is doing is not only right, but God's will.

3. Hitcher (The Hitcher)
'The Hitcher' is a decent movie but not the best mentioned in this list; none of that matters though because it does exactly what it sets out to do and that is leave an impact. This fright fest follows a young man travelling on the road who, against all better judgement, decides to pick up a hitcher in the pouring rain. This is the single worst decision he will ever make. "The Hitcher" has no motive and this is the most worrying thing - he can't be bargained with or persuaded to stop and he wont stop until one of you is dead. When asked what he wants he replies "for you to stop me". After seeing this bad guy in action I promise you'll never pick up a hitchhiker again.

4. The Joker (The Dark Knight)
The Joker would be on pretty much everyone's bad guy list and for very good reason. Heath Ledger gave his finest performance breathing new life into the character of the Joker and unfortunately passed away not long afterwards. I could probably count the amount of good comic book movies on one hand; 'The Dark Knight' is the best by an absolute mile and The Joker is a fitting bad guy. He is a character without rules, the perfect antithesis to the very moral and self righteous attitudes of Batman. In a way, the fact that you're looking at one of the last performances of an actor only adds to the power and atmosphere of his scenes - although Ledger's Joker is flawlessly enigmatic and charismatic to begin with.

5. Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds)
'Inglourious Basterds' was a wonderful film and a return to form for Tarantino after the, in my opinion, tiresomely glib and clumsy Kill Bill movies. Christoph Waltz made this movie for me, exhibiting Tarantino's trademark bubblegum dialogue at its best since the scene which inspired my blog title. He was a revelation and definitely deserved the Oscar for best supporting actor. His character, Hans Landa, is both hilarious and terrifying depending on when you look at him. One minute he is the bumbling, grinning, overly polite Hans ("it's a bingo!") and the next he is "The Jew Hunter", ordering Jew executions and strangling women with his bare hands. He flits effortlessly between the two and it's wonderful and terrifying to watch in equal measure.

6. Keyser Soze (The Usual Suspects)
For the benefit of all who haven't seen 'The Usual Suspects' I wont say too much about Soze (for reasons which will be obvious to all who have seen it). All I will say is that his shadow hangs over everything and you get the feeling that he is always ominously watching over the central characters. A wonderful character movie, with a fantastic and iconic ending.

7. Darth Vader (Star Wars)
Ok ok I admit Darth has become a bit of a cliché and the prequel trilogy didn't exactly do his persona any good ("nooooooooo") but he is and always will be one of the archetypal bad guys. From that very first scene when he stepped into that starship corridor littered with rebel bodies, he had the audience gripped. There will always be something scary about the combination of his expressionless black mask and creepily audible breathing and because of that I decided he had to be on the list.

8. Anton Sigur 
Another very deserving Oscar winner here. Sigur is one of the most frightening characters I have ever come across in a book and Javier Bardem did a spectacular job bringing that character to the screen in the faithful adaptation by the brilliant Coen Brothers. With Sigur, actions certainly speak louder than words and his actions are generally extremely violent (hence the tension which fills every scene in which he features). The scene below is definitely up there with my favorites; you can't help but feel bad for this poor old shop assistant! Watch as Sigur psychologically tears him to pieces for no reason.

9. Amon Goth (Schindler's List)
Yet another Nazi, but lets face it Nazis are pretty good bad guys. Ralph Fiennes plays Amon Goth, based on a real life Austrian Nazi who became a concentration camp commandant. I think this character was immortalized by his slick coldness, his use of the phrase "I pardon you" and the following balcony scene where he acts out his very obvious God complex. He executes Jews as if they were literally just rats and is pretty much the personification of Hitler's hatred and disgust.

10. Norman Stansfield (Leon)
Gary Oldman is a British legend and in Luc Besson's 'Leon' (AKA 'The Professional') he plays my personal favorite on this list. He plays Stansfield, a corrupt and eccentric cop who has a love for classical music and killing people. 'Leon' is a fantastic movie and it wouldn't be half as good if Stansfield wasn't the antagonist. You'll love to watch him right up to his explosive final moments. In the following scene Gary Oldman acts opposite Matilda (a young Natalie Portman) - her fear is almost palpable. 

Obviously this is not an all encompassing list and, like everything to do with movies, it's all subjective and everyone has their own favorites. Did this list contain all of your favorites or do you think I missed out some obvious ones? (I know I have). Please feel free to add your favorites, I'd love to know which characters you've loved to hate. I've also created a poll to find out which one of the above ten is your favorite, please vote and let me know!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Black Swan

I had been waiting for this movie for some time, I heard rumour of it several years ago in conjunction with Darren Aronofsky's previous creation 'The Wrestler'. In actuality this movie is over a decade in the making but was most certainly worth the wait. As usual it is impossible to talk about a truly brilliant director without comparing and contrasting a recent movie with his previous (after all a director's career, just like any artistic process, is just a learning curve. A style and confidence evolves and each movie is a testament to this advancement). Aronofsky has most certainly developed an assured and idiosyncratic presence behind the camera and I am glad to say that 'Black Swan' definitely feels like his most complete creation so far. This aforementioned confidence was palpable in 'Black Swan', personified by Natalie Portman (who's performance makes her a likely and deserving Oscar winner).

'Black Swan' follows the painful ascent of Nina (Natalie Portman), a devoted ballet dancer on the brink of stardom and becoming the face of her ballet company as the Swan Queen in their latest re-envisioning of 'Swan Lake'. During the process of replacing the previous embittered alpha female (Winona Rider), forming a rivalry with a new fiery addition to the company (Mila Kunis) and constantly trying to impress both her flirtatious company director (Vincent Cassel) and suffocating mother (Barbara Hershey) an inner conflict stirs within Nina. As she attempts to embody the dichotomy of both White and Black Swan and transcend her usually virginally restrained performances, a stark and shocking transformation occurs both within Nina and physically. This is a tragically beautiful and nightmarish tale portraying a sexual and emotional transition akin to that of puberty.

As always Aronofsky's consistent composer Clint Mansell does a wonderful job building an eerie and intoxicating soundscape, complimenting Aronofsky's trademark handycam visual style which mercilessly brings you into the intimate world of the character.

You could view this as the sister movie to 'The Wrestler' and indeed this is what Aronofsky intended-

"I've always considered the two films companion pieces. They are really connected and people will see the connections. It's funny, because wrestling some consider the lowest art - if they would even call it art - and ballet some people consider the highest art. But what was amazing to me was how similar the performers in both of these worlds are. They both make incredible use of their bodies to express themselves. They're both performers."

The contrast between these two worlds is fascinating. Where there is a pirouette in one, there is a clothesline in the other. Where a dancer cripples her feet for her art, a wrestler makes himself bleed with a hidden razorblade. Indeed it would be fair to say that wrestling is in it's own way a dance (choreographed and physically demanding) and at times a dance can be passionate almost to the extent of seeming powerful and savage. I think the line between the two is thinner than it may seem at first glance. Another interesting point is that, behind the scenes, the world of ballet is portrayed as a lot more cut-throat and aggressive than that of the wrestling world (where an atmosphere of camaraderie and respect was depicted). But as mentioned by Aronofsky, they are both performers who put their very being on the line for their art and their audience (right down to the beautifully symmetrical applause laden endings linking both of the movies).

Apart from being similar thematically to 'The Wrestler', 'Black Swan' also sees a return by Aronofsky to an earlier visual style and atmosphere (which I am most grateful for). It's worth mentioning that Aronofsky's first movie 'Pi' is probably my favourite movie (and I don't say that lightly). 'Pi' is a stunningly intricate and penetrating piece of cinema which is also deeply philosophical - touching upon religion, mathematics, the stock market and the search for an order within chaos. In 'Pi', a theoretical mathematician called Max Cohen, spirals into a terrifying world of paranoia and hallucination which only intensifies as he approaches his goal. 'Black Swan' makes use of this atmospheric device, making the viewing more intense as you go along and building to a dramatic crescendo.

The other earlier Aronofsky movie I would like to mention in conjunction with 'Black Swan' is 'Requiem for a Dream' - the greatest movie you wont want to watch again (at least any time soon). This is a gut wrenchingly tragic tale of ambition blinding a group of individuals (all regular drug users in their own way) to the pitfalls which lay ahead of them. The suspense, surrealism and desperation of 'Requiem for a Dream' can definitely be felt throughout 'Black Swan' as well as the unsettling feeling that things aren't necessarily going to be ok.

I think very highly of Aronofsky's first two movies but I also appreciate that they are original and unflinching to the point of being harsh and abrasive to watch. As a result they will always be somewhat esoteric and niche (commanding a strong cult following). The reason 'Black Swan' is so wonderful is because it has the edginess of them combined with the warmth and emotional depth of 'The Wrestler' and 'The Fountain' (hence why I referred to it as the most "complete" movie he has directed so far).

Obsession is key with Aronofsky and forms the core of everything he does. Obsession with art. Obsession with substance. Obsession with meaning. You could say he is obsessed with portraying obsession - but nobody does it better. I genuinely believe that Aronofsky shows enough natural flair and versatility to potentially be thought of in the future alongside visionary greats such as Kubrick, Hitchcock and Kurosawa (and again I don't say that lightly).