Who's In It: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Kassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder
The Basics: Natalie Portman is a talented, fragile, whisper-voice-only ballerina who lives with a domineering stage mother. She also lives with some creeping-yet-visually sumptuous mental instability. So when she's chosen to dance the lead in Swan Lake, the pressure to be the perfect swan sends her round the bend into Koo-Koo Bananas Land. On her way there she hallucinates, thinks she's growing feathers, self-mutilates, has aggressive crazy sex with Mila Kunis and has fractured-consciousness fights with even nuttier prima ballerina Winona Ryder. She lives in a spinning vortex of fear and unreality and you get to revel in her descent into madness. In other words, see this heartwarming holiday tale with someone special, perhaps an emotionally frail friend that you want to push over the brink.
What's The Deal: Darren Aronofsky is a national movie treasure at this point. His films aren't really art, they're just sort of arthouse by way of funhouse. They're the hall of wavy mirrors photographed with jittery, jolty camera moves and visual shock tactics, sort of like what would happen if people took the Crank movies more seriously. His actors are meat puppets who sign on to play obsessive artists or addicts or some other kind of ruined-mind, ruined-body masochists. And that, of course, is awesome. He fills a niche with movies that aren't necessarily good for you but they taste great going down, the equivalent of snacking greedily at the State Fair on a funnel cake made of sugary broken glass, then puking it back up on the Tilt-a-Whirl.
Everything That's Wrong Is Also Everything That's Right: A movie like this requires intense overacting, so that's what you get with Portman. She looks like she knows better but at the same time has just decided to go for it. There's this deranged face she makes that keeps you watching; it's sort of half erotic breathlessness and half I'm-gonna-stab-myself-here-in-just-a-minute-so-DON'T-CLOSE-YOUR-EYES-IT'S-GONNA-BE-RAD! In an awards-movie season of measured royal warmth and earnest hopeful dramas, we all deserve a tingly trip to hell and back as a nice break from the classiness.
Add It Up: Mulholland Drive minus the genuine heartbreak, Suspiria without actual witches, Repulsion minus Deneuve and Polanski's truly dark vision, Showgirls minus Gina Gershon winking at the camera, The Fountain with no Tree of Life ejaculating all over Hugh Jackman. And then top it off with just a touch of a truly disturbing French movie from a couple years back called In My Skin. It was about a woman who wounds herself intentionally and becomes erotically fixated on her own broken flesh. Weirdly enough, every time I talk about that one to friends they tell me they're never planning to watch it. But you should.
Which Is Crazier? This Or The Nutcracker in 3D? The Nutcracker in 3D, of course. That one has rat-Nazis wearing Andy Warhol wigs. Even Aronofsky isn't that demented.