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Natalie Portman (#110 of 15)

Oscar 2017 Winner Predictions Actress

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Oscar 2017 Winner Predictions: Actress

Lionsgate

Oscar 2017 Winner Predictions: Actress

Those who’ve been paying especial attention to the bylines attached to these articles may have noticed that I’ve largely predicted the categories in which La La Land isn’t nominated. For the conspiracy theorists among you, let me be clear: My complete and utter ambivalence toward Damien Chazelle’s film necessitated that I hand over the reins of the categories in which it is nominated to Eric Henderson, or we would have risked our rolling Oscar prediction coverage rousing the level of excitement of a Jeb Bush rally. And to those who’ve been relishing the shade Eric has been throwing at La La Land, I apologize, because I will not be taking Emma Stone to the library today.

Los Cabos International Film Festival Jackie, Voyage of Time, Hasta la Raiz, & The Red Turtle

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Los Cabos International Film Festival: Jackie, Voyage of Time, Hasta la Raiz, & The Red Turtle

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Los Cabos International Film Festival: Jackie, Voyage of Time, Hasta la Raiz, & The Red Turtle

When I left my apartment in Brooklyn for John F. Kennedy International Airport, late at night on November 8th, neither Hilary Rodham Clinton nor Donald J. Trump had yet secured the 270 electoral votes necessary to be elected the 45th president of the United States. By the time I got through security checks and made it to my gate—where TV screens were broadcasting returns from key battleground states—the race was called. Of course, I needn’t hear the result: I saw it on the faces of the people waiting to board, a mix of utter shock and overwhelming concern that the future of our republic would be determined by the most inexperienced, unqualified, and roundly disreputable person to ever hold the highest office.

Toronto Film Review Pablo Larraín’s Jackie

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Toronto Film Review: Pablo Larraín’s Jackie

Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto Film Review: Pablo Larraín’s Jackie

In Jackie, it doesn’t take long for Pablo Larraín to pull his first subversion of the biopic genre. Those familiar with Natalie Portman’s previous work as an actress will be startled to hear her vocal approximation of Jackie Kennedy’s distinctive speech patterns in the film’s opening moments. But when Jackie makes it clear to a visiting journalist (Billy Crudup, playing a version Theodore H. White, who profiled her in Life magazine a week after John F. Kennedy’s assassination) that she’ll be controlling this interview as much as possible, one quickly realizes that Larraín wants us to be aware of Portman’s performance as an act. The spectacle of a famous actress like Portman taking on one of the most iconic figures in American history becomes, under Larraín’s direction, just another level of performance, in a film concerned with elucidating levels of performance in public and private spheres.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Actress

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Actress
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Actress

Unlike Anne Hathaway, who’s probably even sidestepping sidewalk cracks lest she break some old Academy member’s back, and perhaps jeopardize her inevitable Fantine-quoting speech (“Life hasn’t killed the dream I dreamed!”), Jennifer Lawrence is taking a page from Mo’Nique’s book and playing the campaign game by her own rules. With Hollywood’s hottest new franchise already cranking up her star wattage, the on-fire frontrunner has, without denying her desire for victory or tainting her “It Girl” image, shown a refreshing, and even alarming, awards-season irreverence, such as in that little SNL intro bit, or her recent howler of an interview with EW. The lack of formality may prove off-putting to some, who prefer, say, an Oscar angel like Natalie Portman, but odds are Lawrence still has this win in the bag, as further evidenced by her precursor record and the sheer influence of Silver Linings Playbook producer Harvey Weinstein.

15 Famous Women in Black

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15 Famous Women in Black
15 Famous Women in Black

This weekend, Daniel Radcliffe celebrates his first post-Potter effort with the release of The Woman in Black, a horror thriller about an axe-grinding female ghost who need only be seen to claim a child’s life. The veiled phantom surely has the edge when it comes to offing the little ones, but she hails from a long line of ladies who’ve gone all Hot Topic for the camera. Witches, wives, and even Whoopi made this list of women who sport only the darkest uniforms, making them scary, sexy, cool, sophisticated, and in some cases, all of the above.

The Conversations: Wong Kar-wai

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The Conversations: Wong Kar-wai
The Conversations: Wong Kar-wai

Jason Bellamy: “When did everything start to have an expiration date?” That’s a question posed by a lovelorn cop in Wong Kar-wai’s 1994 film Chungking Express, and in a sense that line is a snapshot of what Wong’s films are all about. In the 20 years and change that Wong has been directing, he’s developed several signature flourishes that make his films instantly recognizable—from his striking use of deep, rich colors, to his affinity for repetitive musical sequences, to his judicious use of slow motion for emotional effect, and many more—but at the core of Wong’s filmography is an acute awareness of passing time and a palpable yearning for things just out of reach. In the line above, the cop in Chungking Express is ostensibly referring to the expiration dates on cans of pineapple, which he’s using to mark the days since his girlfriend dumped him, but in actuality he’s referring to that failed relationship, to his (somewhat) fleeting youth (he’s approaching his 25th birthday) and to the deadline he has created for his girlfriend to reconsider and take him back. In the cop’s mind, at least, whether they will be together has as much to do with when as with why. Or put more simply: if timing isn’t everything, it’s a lot of it.

That theme pops up again and again in Wong’s films. Roger Ebert zeroed in on it in his 2001 review of Wong’s In the Mood for Love when he observed of the two lead characters, “They are in the mood for love, but not in the time or place for it.” While that’s particularly true of Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan, it could readily be applied to almost all of Wong’s lead characters. In this conversation we’re going to discuss Days of Being Wild (1990), Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love (2000), 2046 (2004) and My Blueberry Nights (2007), and over and over again we’ll see characters united by emotion but kept apart by timing. So I’d like to open by asking you the following: Do the recurring themes of Wong’s body of work strengthen the potency and poetry of the individual films or water them down? Put another way, are Days of Being Wild and Chungking Express enhanced by In the Mood for Love and 2046 or obliterated by them, or are they not significantly affected one way or the other?

Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Actress in a Leading Role

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Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Actress in a Leading Role
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Actress in a Leading Role

For Annette Bening, it seemed as if the stars in the Oscar sky had finally aligned into a shape that wasn’t that of Hilary Swank’s face. For her fine performance in Lisa Cholodenko’s Showtime-y The Kids Are All Right, the actress was a frontrunner for this award since Sundance last year, and nothing seemed capable of pussyblocking her on the way to the Oscar podium. Then came the pitter patter of Black Swan’s balletic feet. Darren Aronofsky’s casually, if cluelessly, homophobic and misogynistic melodrama, after receiving mixed notices at Venice and Toronto, struck a chord with American critics and audiences, and the rest was not only box office history, but a repeat of the same old Oscar story. For being young, having a nice ass, showing us every frayed nerve in her character’s body, but little else, and indulging in the sort of gay sex that only a gay person could have a problem with, Natalie Portman so perfectly embodies the spirit of this award that few are entertaining the possibility of an upset at this point. I won’t either, because I’m not sure Bening, for all of her class and industry cred, can complete with the sort of effusive passion chronic masturbators fans of Black Swan have for all of the blood, sweat, and tears Portman poured into the project, though if truth be told, does it really matter who gets it? Whichever way it goes, the category’s best performance still gets the shaft.

Will Win: Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Could Win: Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right

Should Win: Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Oscar 2011 Nomination Predictions: Actress in a Leading Role

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Oscar 2011 Nomination Predictions: Actress in a Leading Role
Oscar 2011 Nomination Predictions: Actress in a Leading Role

All season long, two prominent Oscar players have straddled the uncomfortable line between aligning with the supporting and leading categories. One appeared in approximately two-thirds of her film’s running time, most of it not merely the center of attention but arguably the black hole of attention; her handlers gunned for a Best Actress nomination, no doubt confident that “female lead in Mike Leigh’s newest film” translates to instant Oscar buzz. The other appeared in all but the final three or four minutes of her film (when an older actress took over the role for a “30 years later”-style coda), but admittedly spent significant chunks of that running time making room for her male costar’s grizzled, drunken antics; her handlers pushed her for a Supporting Actress berth. Both won various awards and nominations in their chosen categories, but now all the buzz surrounding these two particular races is whether the latter, Hailee Steinfeld, can pull off a Keisha Castle-Hughes miracle, which we now believe she can. All the while, virtually no one even mentions the name of the former, who would’ve probably been a slam dunk if she’d switched category allegiance. The hard lesson for Another Year’s almost certain also-ran Lesley Manville to learn from this: Don’t you dare, even when both the relative centrality and overtly showy nature of your role would justify the placement, stiff up in class when you could just as easily slum. Manville will be punished for daring to do the right thing, whereas True Grit’s Steinfeld will be doubtlessly rewarded—and, we think, in the correct category—for feigning modesty about her chances among the big girls. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that youth helps in Oscar’s distaff categories—a double-edged sword which only actually cuts those who play women who openly lust after men 10 to 15 years younger than themselves.

The Conversations: Darren Aronofsky Part II: Black Swan

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The Conversations: Darren Aronofsky Part II: Black Swan
The Conversations: Darren Aronofsky Part II: Black Swan

Ed Howard: Jason, you ended the first half of our conversation about Darren Aronofsky by wondering both where the director would go next after his first four films and which Aronofsky would be represented in Black Swan, his fifth feature. Throughout that exchange, we mostly divided Aronofsky’s career in half, considering Pi and Requiem for a Dream as blunt, bleak rehearsals for the more fully realized explorations of thematically similar territory in The Fountain and The Wrestler. So I suppose it’s appropriate that for the first half of Black Swan, I found myself thinking I was watching another Requiem for a Dream, while the second half ventured into the richer, deeper territory of Aronofsky’s more recent career. It’s appropriate, too, that the film itself is so concerned with halving and doubling, with mirrors and doppelgangers, built as it is around a production of the ballet Swan Lake in which the dancer Nina (Natalie Portman) is asked to play the dual role of the Swan Queen and her dark rival, the titular Black Swan.

It’s a fascinating film, and especially so in the context of Aronofsky’s career, because it feels like such a consolidation of everything he’s been exploring and dealing with in his other work. I haven’t read any reviews of Black Swan yet, but I feel pretty confident predicting that at least a few of them will call it “The Wrestler in ballet slippers,” or something similar, and they will be more or less accurate. As in The Wrestler and his other films, Aronofsky is exploring his protagonist’s singleminded pursuit of her obsession, in this case Nina’s pursuit of dancing perfection. As in The Wrestler, Aronofsky is recycling familiar cinematic clichés, drawing on the backstage movie’s tropes of domineering mothers, neurotic stars, ambitious rivals, aging hasbeens, and predatory/sexual relationships between male directors and female performers. In working with these clichés, however, Aronofsky reinvests them with vitality and freshness through the raw intensity of his filmmaking.

Nina wants, desperately and obsessively, to be “perfect,” though the film itself eschews this purity for grime, chaos and fragmentation, mocking Nina’s desire to be perfect by running her through an increasingly harrowing gauntlet of real and imagined trials and terrors. Black Swan begins in methodical, observational realism and slowly morphs, like a woman becoming a swan, into a psychological horror film, a dizzying fever dream that haunts the audience and the central character alike. I’m still wrestling with this dense film, and I’m sure we’ll delve more into its substance and its connections to Aronofsky’s oeuvre throughout this conversation. But one thing I’m already sure of is that I can’t forget this film; it’s provocative and viscerally exciting and visually compelling. I haven’t totally resolved my feelings about this film or its effect on me, but I’m already sure that it has affected me.