There are less than 30 shopping days until Christmas and only a month of release time left for films seeking 2017 Oscars eligibility. The next few weeks will be jam-packed with prestige movies like Jackie, the Jacqueline Kennedy biopic led by Natalie Portman. The film is out on Dec. 2, making the movie and its performances available choices for Academy voters. I always hope that the Oscar nominations will yield some surprises, but in a case like this one, I feel comfortable promising you that Jackie will not be snubbed. It's not so much a question of whether the drama will earn some nods, it's more of a question of whether or not Natalie Portman will win her second Oscar for Jackie.
According to Vulture, Portman has been attached to the Jackie project since 2012. Initially, the film was a planned collaboration between director Darren Aronofsky and actor Rachel Weisz. Weisz left the film when the couple broke up. Aronofsky is still a producer. Part of the draw of the role for Portman was the real Jackie Kennedy's talent for personal performance, a precursor to the era of curated and cultivated social media feeds. Portman told Vulture, “She was very ahead of her time in having the kind of agency to tell her own story. That’s everyone’s obsession now, presenting this image that they want to show the world." Kennedy's ability to keep her private business private makes this intense probe into the inner life of the former First Lady a meaty part for an accomplished actor.
There's no question that biopics have facilitated many an Oscar triumph. In the last ten years alone, seven Best Actor winners and five Best Actress winners took home their trophies for portraying real people. Movies like Jackie give voters an opportunity not just to marvel at a layered performance, but also at a studied resemblance to a figure they may already know. It can be a superficial advantage, but the emotional resonance of a well-executed profile is still irresistible to the Academy.
And this subject is a member of what's arguably the closest thing there is to an American royal family. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis passed away in 2004, but she still fascinates. As one of the most photographed women in the world, she set trends and defined much of what I'd called "classic" style. Her marriage — especially John F. Kennedy's many rumored affairs — were the topic of much gossip, yet the well-bred and reserved Jackie Kennedy refused to satisfy a public hungry for a temperature-taking of her own response. She was sitting next to her husband when he was assassinated, and her grieving process made international news. And though she's been portrayed many times in film and television, Jackie Kennedy is usually a supporting character in someone else's story. Jackie is hers, in the most difficult part of her life: the days between John F. Kennedy's death and funeral.
Currently, Jackie has a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Time Out's review states that her performance in Jackie is Portman "eclipsing her work in Black Swan" — the ballerina psycho-drama-thriller that earned her an Oscar in 2011. Variety praises her "complex, meticulously shaded" acting. Flavorwire credits the movie's success to Portman's "tough, hard-edged, yet vulnerable performance."
Portman will very likely be nominated for this performance. Whether she wins or not is more dependent on external factors: the rest of the field (probably including Ruth Negga in Loving, Emma Stone in La La Land and Amy Adams in Arrival); the money and influence behind the movie's "For Your Consideration" campaign; and perhaps even the political and social climate into which the movie is being released.
Natalie Portman may be due a second Academy Award for Jackie, but a few critical months lie between her and that Oscar stage.
Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures