Oscar Smackdown: 'Black Swan' vs. 'Never Let Me Go'

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Never Let Me Go

When critic Caryn James saw Black Swan and Never Let Me Go the same day, she thought they'd both be Oscar bait. So why is Swan about to crack $100 million and Never Let Me Go hitting DVD and iTunes on Tuesday?

Never Let Me Go is a haunting love triangle, the year's most unjustly overlooked film, according to  both New York Times-turned-Indiewire critic James and the Phoenix Film Critics; Black Swan is, as novelist Scott Rose says, "Night of the Living Dead in tutus." Yet it's the $2.5 million-grossing lonesome-clones movie whose theatrical run is dead.

Ironic, since one of Oscar season's pivotal players is Andrew Garfield, the Never Let Me Go star who plays Mark Zuckerberg's victim in The Social Network, the most critic-raved film in recent memory (though Black Swan is James' fave). And if Social Network beats King's Speech, you can thank the emotional wallop of  Garfield's betrayal scene. It's the one scene producer Mike De Luca points to as the movie's beating heart (and it will take heart to beat the King). Plus, Garfield is Spider-Man. "I love Tobey's interpretation," says De Luca, but "the quintessential element of Peter Parker is vulnerability -- a picked-on teen suddenly empowered. Andrew [will] put his particular spin on that. He brings a possibly more introverted quality, possibly more of a kind of weighted sensitivity."

Nobody's sensitivity is weightier than Garfield's -- except everybody and everything else in Never Let Me Go. De Luca hails Garfield's Spider-Man as “a 10 seconds ahead of the curve piece of casting.” So why is his most daring, heart-baring performance in a masterful adaptation of a literary masterpiece so violently snubbed?

"I love NLMG so I hate to say this," says James, "but I think all its problems at the box office and during awards season come down to one word: bleak. It's such a sad film -- beautiful, with a restraint that gives it real power, but sadness and subtlety don't translate into awards. The King's Speech is pulling ahead partly  because it gives audiences that feel-good, cheer-for-the-hero moment. Black Swan has high drama, TSN has the zeitgeist, but they're not so sad -- and of course they seem to be fading behind TKS too."
"I disagree with you a  bit about Garfield. He's good in NLMG, and as I said in my blog it's a more difficult role than TSN, but I don't think NLMG is his film -- it's Carey Mulligan's, and I'm still baffled about why she didn't get more recognition because she is a critic's darling. Maybe like Lesley Manville in Another Year, the character was just too depressing?"

If James' analysis is correct, things look ugly for Biutiful.

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