He's only directed five feature films, yet his name is widely known. He pioneered of his own fame by raising the money himself to fund his first whacked out feature, Pi. Became an indie God with his sensationally influential Requiem for a Dream. Fought for half a decade to get his effects-heavy futuristic passion project The Fountain off the ground, then tossed out the mindfuck style he was known for with his quiet and humanizing film The Wrestler. Next is Black Swan, which is already generating serious Oscar buzz for star Natalie Portman. I’m posting this the night before I see Black Swan, and I'm not exactly (or hell, even partially) sure what it’s about. But that's the best way to jump into Darren Aronofsky’s world: head first and blind.
This grainy, 16MM, high contrast indie makes up for its lacking production value with a wildly originally screenplay delivered with balls-to-the-wall, manic execution. The film, about a tormented mathematician who may be a genius or insane or both, is short and to the point, but not without leaving an permanent stamp.
Aronofsky’s first flick, justifiably, raised comparisons to David Lynch with early echoes of Kubrick. It isn’t a perfect film, but it’s one hell of a start. A-
Interesting fact: Aronofsky and his crew filmed this entire movie guerilla style, with virtually no permits or permissions to shoot in some of New York City’s most public places.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Where to begin. Some hail Aronofsky’s horrific modern day tale of addiction as a masterpiece, others dismiss it as tiresome performance art. I lean more toward the former. This is one of those notorious movies that you’ve heard so much about because, once you see it, you will never forget it. Ellen Burstyn, in one of the best performances of the decade, coupled with Aronofsky’s game-changing editing and camera techniques make for a highly disquieting, yet utterly convincing film. Mix in all the other brutal shit, and you’ve got one of the most disturbing films of recent memory. Unsettling though it may be, Requiem for a Dream is not to be missed. Even if you don't think you can stomach it. A
Interesting fact: Honestly, there’s just too much to list here. My advice: listen to Aronofsky’s commentary on the DVD, it’s chock full of interesting facts, thereby making the film that much more impressive. If you’ve never listened to a commentary track before, this is a great place to start.
The Fountain (2006)
Nope, Aronofsky didn’t take six years off before making this, in fact, he has long said that The Fountain was the film he was born to make. Slugging through years of Hollywood studio purgatory, The Fountain was green lit and shut down and recast and terminated several times before Aronofsky finally got it off the ground. The final result was an insightful and wildly debated film that spilt audiences and critics alike. You either love it or you hate it. Or, you simply choose not to understand it. I like The Fountain, a lot. I love the centuries-jumping narrative, the delicate performances, the deliberate use (or non-use) of sound, the sepia-hued cinematography,and so on. The Fountain is a film that grows on you, so long as it give it a chance. A-
Interesting fact: Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt were locked on to star, before dropping out due to production delays before Rachel Weisz, then Aronofsky finance, and Hugh Jackman (who Aronofsky will be directing in the new Wolverine film) took over.
The Wrestler (2008)
You’d think Aronofsky’s best film would be in the same vein as his others: warped, over-caffeinated, fantastical glimpses into underworlds. But The Wrestler, the best film of 2008, is Aronofsky’s masterpiece. Mickey Rourke, in a career-defining, robbed-of-an-Oscar performance, is perfectly cast as faded professional wrestler Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson. We empathize with The Ram’s every decision, no matter how poor. Our hearts break at every false hope, every shed tear and glance of needed acceptance. God bless Aronofsky for sticking it to the studio system and holding on for the movie he wanted to make, the result of which is a perfect two hours of American filmmaking. A+
Interesting fact: No studio would back the often unreliable and hotheaded Rourke. The bosses wanted Nicolas Cage, who was signed on to star, before relenting and helping convince the studio that Rourke was the only man for the role.
Black Swan (2010)
Loyal readers know I haven’t shut about this movie since I saw it in the beginning on December. And for good reason. It’s everything a contemporary movie should be: new, inventive, emotionally gripping, and wholly convincing. Natalie Portman delivered the best acting performance of the year as a tortured ballet dancer, and she should be awarded accordingly. Black Swan is the highlight of Darren Aronofsky’s already impeccable career. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “Perfect. It was perfect." A
Interesting fact: After Natalie Portman’s double claimed that the star only did “5 percent” of her full-body dance shots in the movie, Aronofsky sat down with his editor and did a shot count of all the scenes in which Portman did herself. Aronofsky’s count was closer to 80 percent.