Friday, January 21, 2011

Strings attached - to Portman's Oscar hopes

One of the surest bets on Tuesday is that Natalie Portman will receive her second Oscar nomination for her role in Black Swan. After all, she won the Golden Globe for the role. That's not a guarantee she'll get nominated -- just ask Jim Carrey, whose win (in the musical/comedy category) for Man on the Moon didn't translate to any Oscar love. But it's very close to a guarantee.

In Portman's case, it feels like "her year," so a nomination is one of the best locks for Tuesday morning. Annette Bening will give her the best run for her money, but may settle for second place for at least the third time in her career.

Then again, she may not ... if voters hold Portman's upcoming roles against her when they vote.

Don't think that's possible? Just ask Eddie Murphy.

Murphy was also a Globe winner for his role as James "Thunder" Early in Dreamgirls, and was considered the frontrunner to win his first Oscar in the same supporting actor category. Until Norbit came along and screwed everything up.

There's no way to verify that, of course, but the standard thinking at the time (early 2007) was that voters would have cast a lot more ballots for Murphy if they weren't being simultaneously assaulted by the grotesque Rasputia character from the Norbit ads. That was one of three roles Murphy played in the movie, but either of the other two (the title character and an old Chinese man) would have probably still allowed Murphy to stroll up to the podium on Oscar night. This vile, crude third character, which required every bit of latex in Rick Baker's arsenal, was what did Murphy in. Or so the thinking goes. (The Oscar went to Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine, a deserving choice.)

Now, No Strings Attached, which comes out today, is no Norbit, even if you might alphabetize them consecutively. It addresses a perfect topic for a romantic comedy -- fuck buddies, or "friends with benefits" (there's an actual movie called Friends with Benefits, starring Justin Timberlake and Portman's Swan castmate Mila Kunis, coming out this summer) -- and it looks like it's been made at least half-competently. Let's hope so, because then I won't have to be so disappointed in mumblecore darling Greta Gerwig for "selling out" to be in this movie.

On the other hand, it's pretty far from Oscar material. In fact, has a movie featuring Ashton Kutcher ever been nominated for an Oscar? (The answer is, no, but Emilio Estevez' Bobby did get nominated for a Golden Globe -- a best picture nomination that was about as unjust as this year's nominations of The Tourist and Burlesque.)

But Portman isn't only fighting No Strings Attached when it comes to subliminally influencing the Academy. Her next two features are Your Highness, a Medieval stoner comedy starring James Franco and Danny McBride, and Thor, the ridiculous-looking comic book movie. They release in April and May, respectively, so there isn't much in the way of actual advertising for them just yet. But voters may still be mulling over their ballots around the time of the Super Bowl, when there figures to be ads for at least one if not both of these films. In fact, factoring in Black Swan, that makes this one of the most fertile periods in the career of a woman who once expressed her ambivalence about continuing acting as a profession. It's possible that No Strings Attached would not be enough to sabotage her chances, but the three movies put together could convince Oscar voters that Portman isn't "Oscar material."

Not that there's anything Portman could have/should have done differently. You make the choices you make and you sign on for the projects you think will be fun, challenging, and/or lucrative. Once you're on the dotted line, you're committed, and you have no control over when the studios consider it the perfect time to unleash these films on the world. Unless you decide to play the diva on set just to delay the production -- which is basically career suicide.

In fact, if we'd heard that Portman had stalled the momentum of her own career in order to manage her image in the months immediately following Black Swan, she would instantly drop several notches in our estimation. First off, it would mean she thought she had a good chance at an Oscar -- never a safe thing to assume, and the mere assumption is the kind of thing that seems to jinx it, if you're a superstitious person. But then it would also represent a cold and calculating attempt to finesse the conditions that must be in place for a person to win an Oscar -- which are not only giving a good performance, but also being likable ... and also not tainting your performance by reminding people that you're the kind of person who would consider Norbit an acceptable use of your talents.

Well, there should be a deserving first-time winner come Oscar night, one way or another. If Portman wins for her harrowing performance in Black Swan, she'll deserve it. If Bening finally wins her first Oscar after three previous nominations, spread almost equally throughout a 20-year career, then that'll also be a well-deserved coronation of one of Hollywood's most well-liked actresses. And if someone like Jennifer Lawrence from Winter's Bone manages to sneak in and steal it, that'd be great, too.

As for No Strings Attached ... my affection for Portman and my dislike for Kutcher averages out to me catching this on video sometime in August.


Nicholas Prigge said...

As someone who is blatantly on the Portman "Black Swan" bandwagon posts like this freak me out. Still, she'll be okay. I think. I hope.

Vancetastic said...

Yeah, probably. The big difference is that Portman does not do anything undignified in the ads for this movie. She looks as elegant as she always does, even when succumbing to the dubious charms of Ashton Kutcher.