Black Swan — Darren Aronofsky's dazzling psychological thriller set in the cutthroat world of New York ballet plays like a kitschy mash-up of The Red Shoes, All About Eve, Rosemary's Baby, and Carrie. Natalie Portman delivers a bravura performance as Nina, a young dancer battling internal demons and a crazy, infantalizing mother (Barbara Hershey, terrifying) after being chosen to replace an aging prima ballerina (Winona Ryder, perfectly cast) and threatened (as well as possibly seduced) by a sensuous newcomer (Mila Kunis, excellent). You'll never look at manicure scissors the same way again.
I Love You Phillip Morris — After endless delays, this same-sex rom-com finally gets a U.S. release, and it's a hilarious, deranged romp that was worth the nearly two-year wait. It's based (perhaps loosely) on the improbably true story of a religious family man with serious abandonment issues turned- ay con man who finds true love in prison. As charismatic, flamboyant Steven Russell, Jim Carrey finds a role that brilliantly exploits his full range, while Ewan McGregor as the title character is winsome and appealing. As this comes from the filmmakers responsible for Bad Santa, the film is deliriously politically incorrect and full of the expected unhinged raunch, yet the love story at its center is surprisingly touching.
The Beginning by the Black Eyed Peas — After the best-selling The E.N.D. comes The Beginning — at least in the world of the Black Eyed Peas. And while lyrics still aren’t their strong suit (“Girl you stole my heart like a klepto / Now the flies in my tummy need Pepto” is a shining example from “XOXOXO”), but the fun party beats the Peas have become known for are better than ever. Fergie takes a bit of a backseat on this album — which isn’t really a good thing — but when she is allowed to take center stage, she shines, particularly on the mid-tempo, guitar-laden “Whenever.”
Endlessly by Duffy — Blue-eyed soul songstress Duffy has a assembled a classy, catchy — albeit too brief — collection of 10 tunes for her long-awaited sophomore album, Endlessly. As she did on her first album, Rockferry, she sings of love with the yearning of a lovesick teen and the skill of a modern-day Dusty Springfield. Plenty of tracks here have the potential to be this album’s “Mercy,” her runaway hit. Whether radio will embrace this unique sound once again remains to be seen.
Boys Life 7 — Four LGBT-themed short films culled from recent Sundance festivals are compiled in the seventh installment of the popular series. Most intriguing, despite somewhat awkward tech credits, is Larry Kennar's Spokane, which stars Kyle Bornheimer as a straight guy attending his brother's wedding who finds himself fascinated by a gay man's attention.
Flipped — Rob Reiner has perhaps been better known among gay fans in recent years for his financial support of the federal effort to overturn Prop. 8 than he has for his directing, but with Flipped, he should capture your attention again. This sweet and innocent look at young love boasts a stellar cast (Rebecca De Mornay, Anthony Edwards, Aidan Quinn) and is fun for all.
Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise by Sam Irvin — The multifaceted career and complicated life of Thompson gets a long-overdue examination in this rather breezy bio. The versatile entertainer is best-known to contemporary audiences for her scene-stealing turn in the 1957 Audrey Hepburn musical Funny Face, and a behind-the-scenes look at her feud with costar Fred Astaire makes for some of the book's most entertaining passages. But her legacy endures as author of the beloved Eloise books, vocal coach to Sinatra, Dietrich, and Horne, godmother to Liza Minnelli, and, with gossipmongers, for her long-rumored affair with Judy Garland, an allegation the author thoroughly dispels. (Simon & Schuster, $26.99)
Leonard Bernstein at Work by Steve Sherman — Ah, to be Leonard Bernstein, one of American music’s bona fide geniuses and a man who seemingly relished every moment of life — at the podium, at the piano, at the after-party. The final six years of the maestro’s life are chronicled in the new Leonard Bernstein at Work. As historical photo books go, this one can border on monotonous — seeing a conductor again and again with baton in hand is not always as scintillating as, say, Maria Callas event-hopping in endless couture dresses by Marcel Escoffier — but Bernstein’s sheer vitality as seen through the lens of Steve Sherman is instantly endearing, as is the foreword by Lauren Bacall. A must for any classical music lover this season. (Amadeus Press, $34.99)
Caught — The world premiere play focuses on the pending wedding of Kenneth and Troy, a committed gay couple living in Los Angeles, but examines the greater issue of the contentious debate raging over same-sex marriage. The play is performed at the Zephyr Theatre in Los Angeles through January 23. CaughtThePlay.com