Contender: ‘Black Swan’

Portman earns passionate praise

Read the Variety review

When Darren Aronofsky’s terpsichorean thriller bowed at Venice, Telluride and Toronto, the most passionate praise was reserved for Natalie Portman, whose gutsy, physically demanding star turn as a dancer pirouetting on the brink of madness was immediately hailed as a prime contender for the actress Oscar.

The film itself is a riskier proposition, and its traction with the Academy will depend to a considerable degree on whether enthusiasm for Aronofsky’s filmmaking can overcome resistance to the story’s lurid psychosexual content, at least for more traditional voters. Still, if its appeal to ballet enthusiasts and thriller fans translates into a solid B.O. foothold, the Fox Searchlight release could find itself among the 10 picture nominees.

While the directing race will be harder to crack, Aronofsky, coming off 2008’s well-regarded “The Wrestler” (which earned two acting noms), should be a formidable candidate given his reputation as an uncompromising talent overdue for recognition. Goodwill may translate into nominations for supporting players Mila Kunis and Barbara Hershey, both making strong impressions despite Portman’s dominance, and original screenplay (credited to Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin). And given the film’s ballet-world setting, citations for costume design and art direction can’t be ruled out.

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