The “unknowable” Natalie Portman
In November Sarah wrote about Natalie Portman’s Oscar chances, noting that Natalie does indeed give a strong performance in Jackie and that, no doubt, Natalie knows how to campaign for an Oscar, but that the biggest obstacle to her getting another one this year is that she just won one not too many years ago. At the time it was reassuring to me. Because I’m still trying to recover from last time and all the eyerolls she brought to that award season. And yet… it’s Natalie Portman. Which is why once a week, at least, I keep texting Sarah, like the Queen in Snow White before the mirror. “Are you sure, Sarah? Are you sure she won’t win?” The answer was always the same, until about 2 weeks ago, when Sarah answered back that she’d actually been speaking with male members of the Academy and… well… they might be voting for Natalie Portman.
Just before the holidays, on our Show Your Work podcast, Duana and I talked about Natalie Portman and what it is that makes her so intolerable – it was always so for Duana and I only came around to it later, after that Oscar run, when she dedicated one of her awards to Benjamin Millepied for putting a baby into her. The peg for the discussion was a piece at MTV.com by Teo Bugbee about how Natalie Portman will never grow up, how “her powers as a performer are never greater than when she’s playing a oddly sexualized, childlike grown-up”.
And that kind of performance appeals to a certain kind of man, non? Many of those men are old ass white Oscar voters who live in Palm Springs. They worship a specific femininity. A nostalgic femininity. The femininity of Jackie Kennedy. In Jackie, Natalie Portman plays an icon who used all her skills to establish and protect her husband’s legacy. Think about all the erections a tribute performance like that might inspire in those men. And then, and then, their favourite actor, Tom Hanks, gets up on stage at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, receives the only standing ovation of the evening…
…and delivers an introduction for Natalie that does the work of 15 screenings and Q&As and red carpet appearances. He calls her “unknowable” but “authentic”, he reminds the audience that she went to Harvard and wrote research papers, he pretty much calls her a genius who isn’t too good for Sesame Street and The Simpsons. It is the most powerful endorsement we’ve seen all season, maybe over the last few seasons. Watch here, starting at 1:49.
Remember, Tom Hanks is a member of the Academy’s Board of Governors. Needless to say, Natalie Portman’s Oscar nomination is a done deal, a lock. And even though Emma Stone’s been the presumed frontrunner since Venice, if the Oscars were this weekend, I’d put down Natalie on my predictions ballot, not Emma, and not Annette Bening, goddamn it, and not Isabelle Huppert. “Persistent freaky baby quality” in the lead.
Michael Kovac/ Charley Gallay/ Jon Kopaloff/ Jeffrey Mayer/ Getty Images