Film Festival Buzz: Natalie Portman, James Franco, Joaquin Phoenix And More

New movies from Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, Danny Boyle and others are drawing attention at this year's Telluride and Venice film festivals.

Around this time last year, George Clooney’s “Up in the Air” opened at the Telluride Film Festival and rode that initial buzz to six Academy Award nominations. A year later, another crop of high-profile films have premiered at Telluride and the Venice Film Festival, including new work from Danny Boyle (director of 2009′s Oscar winner “Slumdog Millionaire”), Darren Aronofsky (“The Wrestler”) and Ben Affleck (“Gone Baby Gone”).

Which films will we be feting in the weeks and months to come? Here’s a look at the most buzzed-about movies from both fests.

“Black Swan”
Just days before Aronofsky jetted off to Venice to present his follow-up to “The Wrestler,” the director confessed to MTV News that he gets very nervous before one of his film’s premieres. “When ‘The Wrestler’ showed at Venice the last time, I walked out in the middle,” he said. “I couldn’t handle it. I snuck back in the end. It was not a pleasant experience.”

Aronofsky may have been nervous, but “Black Swan” was indeed well-received, with rapturous praise reserved for star Natalie Portman that immediately makes her a Best Actress Oscar front-runner. Pete Hammond of Deadline Hollywood dubbed her turn a “dazzling tour de force.”

The film follows Portman as a ballerina ready to take over the lead role in her company’s production of “Swan Lake,” until a rival dancer (Mila Kunis) shows up and begins to drive Portman toward madness. ” ‘Black Swan’ is a brilliant mind f—,” wrote Peter Sciretta of SlashFilm. “It is one of the boldest films I’ve seen produced by a Hollywood studio in years.”

“127 Hours”
Danny Boyle debuted “Slumdog” at Telluride in 2008, a decision that came to be seen as a wise one, and the critical darling went on to sweep the Oscars months later. Boyle’s back now with a true story about a hiker (James Franco) who becomes trapped under a boulder in the wilderness and must saw off his own arm to escape. Like Portman, Franco is being discussed as a potential Oscar nominee.

“[Franco] pulls off a virtual one-man show,” said Stephen Farber of The Hollywood Reporter. “The actor already has demonstrated tremendous versatility, and just this year, viewers have seen him as one of Julia Roberts’ lovers in ‘Eat Pray Love’ and as Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in ‘Howl.’ Here he manages to create a radically different character — an extroverted adventurer who is forced to turn reflective. Expect Oscar to come calling next year.”

“The Town”
Ben Affleck’s heist drama does not premiere until Wednesday (September 8), but anticipation is high based on the director’s past work and the new film’s impressive ensemble, including Jon Hamm, Blake Lively, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall and Chris Cooper.

“It’s hard to disavow a movie when you’ve written, directed and acted in it,” Affleck told The New York Times. “This is an emblem of the person I want to be going forward.”

“The King’s Speech”
British director Tom Hooper might not be well- known on American shores, but his new film just might be the buzziest one to debut at Telluride or Venice. Colin Firth stars as member of the British royal family who overcomes numerous obstacles to become King George VI. He’s joined by Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush and Guy Pearce, among others.

“After several additional screenings and a rare standing ovation Sunday night as part of a companion tribute to Firth … the film has provoked talk of widespread awards recognition,” said The Hollywood Reporter. “While other films also attracted partisans, ‘The King’s Speech’ was seen as having the broadest support across a broad array of awards categories.”

“I’m Still Here”
The questions began early in 2009: Just what the heck was going on with Joaquin Phoenix , with that bushy beard and the unhinged public appearances? Phoenix and Casey Affleck filmed the entire unraveling, and now audiences are starting to decide for themselves: documentary or mockumentary? Trouble is, not everyone is convinced they’ve come to the right conclusion.

” ‘I’m Still Here’ finally addresses the question of whether Joaquin Phoenix’s decision to give up acting to pursue a hip-hop career was on the level or a setup. The answer seems to be: a bit of both,” reports Variety.

Affleck, of course, is not exactly setting the record straight, which only amps up anticipation for the film. “Elliptically, I would say … I sincerely don’t want to influence people’s interpretation,” Affleck told reporters in Venice, according to The Associated Press. “I can tell you there is no hoax. It makes me think of ‘Candid Camera’ or something.”

From the saucy Jessica Alba in “Little Fockers” to James Franco’s grueling journey in “127 Hours,” the MTV Movies team is delving into the hottest flicks of fall 2010. Check back daily for exclusive clips, photos and interviews with the films’ biggest stars.

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