OSCAR: AFI Fest Closes With Rapturous 'Black Swan' Premiere

Thursday night’s AFI Fest closer Black Swan fell in line with similar past fest triumphs at Venice, Telluride and Toronto earning huge applause and lots of Oscar talk, especially for star Natalie Portman whom director Darren Aronofsky introduced to the crowd before the screening along with her co-stars Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder. He particularly tried to goose the applause meter for Ryder, who makes a strong impression in a small role as a fading diva. “Come on people, I mean it’s Winona Ryder,” he said while she tried to make the long run to the front. “I guess people in Los Angeles are used to seeing movie stars. It’s not that way in New York.” He then really got pumped when he spotted a certain action hero in the audience. “Sylvester Stallone is here tonight!” Arononfsky was also excited to have the film premiere at “the Chinese Mann, my favorite theatre” but seemed a little flustered trying to remember all the key people to thank. Until his producer Scott Frankin nudged him he completely forgot Phoenix Pictures, which had started development on the film ten years ago. Phoenix’s  Mike Medavoy and Arnold Messer are among the film’s (4) producers and David Thwaites and Brad Fischer exec produced (2 of 8 credited). Afterwards Medavoy and Fischer were soaking up praise in the lobby and Fischer said he kidded Darren about the “oversight”. Fischer said it was true the movie, originally an All About Eve-ish backstage story called The Understudy, almost completely fell apart just a few weeks before production until the other credited producer Brian Oliver came in and saved the day, a fact Aronofsky did not forget in his opening remarks. Fischer said Aronofsky was originally attached right after he made his first splash with Pi but it took a decade before it came full circle back to him. It really is amazing that any movie not shot in front of a green screen ever gets made in this town.

Fischer also praised Fox Searchlight for their campaign so far. He said he’s noticed they have also done a great job with 127 Hours, which opened to big numbers in LA and NY last weekend. Maybe if a few people start fainting during the graphic scene (not a spoiler) where Portman breaks her legs they can drum up some extra publicity ala the Danny Boyle film. The screaming elderly women in front of me jumped so high I thought they were going to have a heart attack. Whether the psychological horror film about the mental disintegration of a perfection-seeking ballet ingénue is too dark and grand guignol  for older Academy members remains to be seen but I spotted several of the “bread and butter” academy voters in attendance. At the way overcrowded Hollywood Roosevelt afterparty one 80+  former winner was effusive in his reaction and said he thought it was great. Also there, Aronofsky told me he was concerned that from where he was standing in the back that the sound mix was a bit off in the theatre (not from my vantage point — it sounded incredible, particularly Clint Mansell’s masterful musical scoring). Still he was thrilled with the response, especially from guess who? “Sly Stallone told me I fucking loved it’, you can’t beat that,” he said.

Fox Searchlight had to be happy with the reaction both in the theatre and at the party. With Never Let Me Go (a box office disappointment), Conviction, 127 Hours and Black Swan (opening Dec 1) the specialty unit is out once again to show their Oscar savvy moves. And there’s already talk about next season with Terence Malick’s long-awaited The Tree Of Life reportedly set for a May 27 opening, a sure sign Searchlight is going to take it to Cannes earlier that month (whether they want to admit it yet or not). Alexander Payne’s George Clooney drama The Descendants also looks like it may be headed to the South of France. I ran into one of that film’s key players in the lobby who said he had heard of “a Cannes plan just a couple of days ago.” If so it will be Payne’s second trip up the Palais steps. He was in competition with About Schmidt in 2002. If the Cannes berth does happen I am told The Descendants domestic release would still be held until around this time next Fall for maximum Oscar potential. In other words you can place your bets now that we’ll probably see it opening or closing the 2011 AFI Fest.

In that regard I  caught up with AFI president and CEO Bob Gazzale  who was thrilled about the response to his week long festival  which hands out free tickets and seemed to have a red carpet gala for some potential awards contender every single night. It’s like a clearing house for Oscar hopefuls. Among the titles that benefitted from the AFI connection were opener, Love And Other Drugs, The King’s Speech, Blue Valentine, Barney’s Version, Rabbit Hole, Casino Jack, Made In Dagenham, Company Men and Paramount’s “secret (first ever public) screening” Tuesday night of The Fighter. A very impressive amount of  stars and filmmakers made the scene daily. The Weinstein Company used the occasion of the well-timed (awards-wise) November fest for three premieres in five days. “The distributors do seem to be lining up for those slots,” Gazzale said. “I think this has been, without question, our best fest yet and since we are a non-profit the money it generates goes to a lot of worthwhile programs throughout the year,” although he agrees something has to be done about the way the various lines of ticketholders, standbys and industry guests are handled. It seemed to be a constant zoo out there on Hollywood Blvd.

  1. Darren’s right. Though films look fantastic on the Chinese Theatre’s big screen, how the film sounds depends entirely on where you are in the auditorium. There’s quite a bit of echo in that cavernous room, and the further back you sit, the more muddy and indistinct the dialogue sounds. It mystifies me how this sound system got THX certification.

  2. So the insiders at the inside companies get the insiders at the festivals to see their films, and even though all the festivals have all these rules about premieres the guys with the inside track get the inside deals to premiere again and again. Not that anyone on the outside (real movie goers) give a shit about these movies.

  3. Saw Black Swan in NYC with Aronofsky in attendance. People gushed to him that it was fantastic, but when he was gone they said it was nothing special, and many didn’t like it at all. All the hype about Portman being a frontrunner for an Oscar nomination? Only if she and her director call in a whole lot of favors. Portman did not impress; Kunis, on the other hand, did. (It was good to see Ryder in a film again and yes, she was good.)

    1. every film has a lot of hype. And most don’t live up to it. I know people that have seen this and are saying the opposite of what your saying. taste is a personal thing. I hated Social Network and thought that was nothing special- so go figure

  4. Portman’s good, but not spectacular. Kunis dazzles. So do Ryder and Vincent Cassel. Ryder’s scene with, uh, the knife made a woman near me in the theater cry out in horror.

  5. Only question: Will “Black Swan” live up to its ballet namesake and die a glorious B.O. death?

    Funny about names…”White Swan” would bore, “Black Swan” titillates.

    To his critics: So Aronofsky’s hyping the hell out of his film-that’s his job!

    I haven’t seen “Black Swan” but like it already.
    No explosions, no shoot ’em ups, no college toilet “humor” a la “Hang Over”, no war/battles/detectives/murders, plus some kinky drug-crazed lesbian action-what’s not to like?

    Portman Oscar buzz? Why not! Given the right script, she’s as fine an actress as any Oscar winner over the last 10 years. And Kunis & Ryder, given a great script, are equally capable of Best Supporting Oscar’s.

    “Black Swan” (from the sound of it) seems like the type of sexy, psychological movie that people say Hollywood doesn’t make any more. For this reason alone, I wish it success.

    1. @Paul: “I haven’t seen Black Swan but…”

      then why are you commenting on it?

      And I pretty much agree with everything Dont believe the hype says above. And have seen it twice.

  6. Haters Gonna Hate. For my taste, this was a masterpiece. Kunis was great but Portman was PHENOMENAL. She’s got the Oscar on her mantle as far as I am concerned.

  7. Yes! The lines for the galas were a disorganized mess. The will call lines didn’t start moving until 30 minutes or an hour after they were supposed to open. Upstairs at the Mann 6 the lines were orderly and handled smoothly, but getting in to the Grauman’s Chinese was a nightmare.

  8. What isn’t said about last night’s screening is if you had AFI tickets NOT “industry tickets” you saw the film but upstairs without any of the talent after waiting in line for two hours. I am not talking about the rush line. I had tickets. AFI never completely has their sh*t together.

  9. I am mostly interested to see how Portman stands up to Annette Bening (The Kids are Alright), I still think she deserves the win out of all the roles I have seen this year.

  10. Portman’s beautiful, but her entire career is built on everything BUT talent: good looks, powerful connections, agent/pr/manager lobbying, hefty publicity, etc. She’s not the worst actress out there but she’s pretty much crappy-to-mediocre most of the time. How she’s gotten this far and manages to resonate some aura of “prestige” is beyond me. She doesn’t deserve much more of a career than Jessica Alba.

  11. Saw the film tonight and was very impressed. A brutally difficult thing to pull off and he did it magnificently – especially for an 8 week shoot, which is just crazy.

    My problem is the ending. I realize he’s doing Swan Lake in the real world part of the picture; that’s the intellectual conceit of the film . But in adhering to that conceit at the very end, I fear he’s pushed it into Grand Guignol. I gave up a disappointed sigh at the end – and I suspect others will too.

  12. I wish Fox Searchlight hadn’t given up on Never Let You Go. Though it didn’t light up the box office, I know people who have seen the film do like it. I think the film could have been marketed better. I think the film will be appreciated in years to come, certainly for the three lead performances.

    1. “Never Let me Go” was my FAVORITE movie of the year (so far) and the best I have seen in a very long time. A unique movie experience with three compelling performances.

  13. The Town, Wall Street 2, Let Me In, Easy A, Social Network, Secretariat, Red, For Colored Girls, Unstoppable. All in just the last couple months. All big studio mainstream fare aimed at adults, all relatively well-reviewed and (save Let Me In) relatively successful. And that’s not counting the out-and-out Oscar bait over the next six weeks. Yes, it was a bad summer, full of bad remakes, needless reboots, and lousy fantasy adaptations, but there’s plenty out there for those who don’t like comic book superheroes.

    1. Easy A was not an adult movie.

      Secretariat was not well-reviewed unless you are reading Horse & Hounds magazine.

      Social Network was absolutely targetting the young audience dspite the high-brow pedigree.

      Red was not a comic book per se, but was based on a graphic novel.

      And Unstoppable is an action flick that opened in second place behind Megamind’s second weekend..

  14. Portman was a revelation. Always a good actress, she played this one above the net. You may like the film or not (I did), but it’s still a masterful piece of work — a master class in editing, superb camera work, and with stunning portraits drawn by Portman and Barbara Hershey. (Everyone talks about Mila’s and Ryder’s supporting roles, but the film’s psychological tension is dependent on Hershey’s performance, and perform she did.) Mansell managed to meld the Tchaikovsky with original, fresh score to do all the things that movie scoring is supposed to do while giving us the Tchaikovsky where appropriate. Whether you like Swan or turned off by it, it’s great craft and original art.

  15. From over a thousand miles away, it’s really humorous watching all the Hollywood phonies sniff each other’s farts, then one after the other complimenting the aroma – if the farter’s in a position to help the fartee’s career somehow. “Ohhh, you gotta have the right ticket and know the right peeeeeeeple.”

    It’s all fake, right down to day-to-day living. If you call that living.

  16. I thought I heard that originally Medavoy flirted with Aronfsky directing “The Understudy” but ultimately passed on him. After all, he was just the director of PI at the time.

  17. I saw the film and thought it was a masterpiece. Portman was astonishing. An amazing and classic work. I believe that those who are criticizing it are sour grapes. here is a filmmaker who knows how to reveal a character’s point of view, who tracks her emotional world with music and image in a totally poetic way. I found it ravishing.

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