Us Rating: ****
No ugly duckling, this drama about a ballerina on the verge of a nervous breakdown — or artistic breakthrough — stands as 2010’s most powerful and provocative movie. Backstage at an NYC ballet’s production of Swan Lake, rising star Nina (Natalie Portman) gets cast as the lead yet still lacks the necessary maturity. Enter easy going rival Lily (Mila Kunis), who unleashes Nina’s repressed sexual impulses (the two share a passionate love scene) — and catches the eye of the ballet master (Vincent Cassel). Meanwhile, fading diva Beth (Winona Ryder) desperately attempts to retain his favor. Director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler) never eases the tension for a moment, whether showing the obsessive details of a dancer prepping her shoes, the breathless duet between teacher and student or the intrusive demands of a stage mama (Barbara Hershey) pushing Nina to excel. Successfully blending both the light and dark of Nina’s character, Portman pulls off her most complicated role to date. Brava!