Can Natalie Portman Crash the Best Actress Ball with Jackie?
May I Have This Dance? Natalie Portman has her eyes set on Oscar #2 with her rave reviews in ‘Jackie’
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Yesterday, Jackie debuted at the Venice Film Festival to shockingly great reviews, most of all for its star Natalie Portman. The film, about the immediate aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, has been a bit of a mystery this year. It was originally a project for Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) to direct and Rachel Weisz to star for Fox Searchlight but through time and turnaround it ended up in the hands of Chilean director Pablo Larraín (Neruda, The Club) but retained Aronofsky as a producer and Fox Searchlight with a first look/first right of refusal.
After disastrous biopics of two of the world’s most famous women, Princess Diana (Diana, starring Naomi Watts) and Princess Grace (Grace of Monaco, starring Nicole Kidman), it was safe to look at Jackie as potential third strike but after reviews came in for the film heralding it “brilliant,” “astonishing” and calling Portman’s performance “magnificently layered” it seems the film and Portman have dodged a bullet from critics and that she and Larraín have a real winner on their hands.
With the film also hitting the Toronto International Film Festival (which opens today,) on Sunday evening we could see a real fight for the distribution rights for the film if Fox Searchlight chooses to give it up. It seems strange that they would when they’re one of the few major players without a Best Actress contender this season and, in the wake of the PR disaster that is The Birth of a Nation, it might behoove them to pivot hard and push Jackie as their major player, not simply a Best Actress grab. That the film was passed over by Telluride is the only red flag right now, especially in the era of Telluride being the pre-Oscar festival must for your Best Picture player. If we are looking at just a Best Actress push, Toronto is a great place to do it. Julianne Moore started her path to Oscar for Still Alice there when Sony Pictures Classics picked up the film and never looked back.
Let’s take a look at the studios and their Best Actress contenders this year:
20th Century Fox/Fox 2000 – Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures
A24 – Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
Amazon – Kristen Stewart, Cafe Society; Kate Beckinsale, Love & Friendship
Bleecker Street – Rachel Weisz, Denial
Disney – Alicia Vikander, The Light Between Oceans
EuropaCorp – Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane
Focus Features – Ruth Negga, Loving; Amy Adams, Nocturnal Animals
Fox Searchlight – no Best Actress contender
Lionsgate/Summit – Emma Stone, La La Land
Netflix – no Best Actress contender
Open Road – no Best Actress contender
Orchard – Rebecca Hall, Christine
Paramount – Amy Adams, Arrival; Marion Cotillard, Allied; Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins; Viola Davis, Fences
Sony/Columbia/Tri-Star – Jennifer Lawrence, Passengers
SPC – Isabelle Huppert, Elle
STX Entertainment – no Best Actress contender
Universal – Emily Blunt, The Girl on the Train
Warner Bros. – no Best Actress contender
Weinstein – Rooney Mara, Lion
It would seem that a film like Jackie would best fit with a smaller but high-profile indie distributor rather than a Warner Brothers so let’s cut them out. STX just had a monster summer box office hit with Bad Moms, but they tried last year to make Secret in Their Eyes happen with two huge Oscar winners and that went nowhere. Let’s scratch them for now. Netflix thought it was going to break into Oscar season after its strong showing at the Screen Actors Guild with Beasts of No Nation but the Academy said no. Granted, that was difficult material and not comparable to Jackie but I’m also thinking the streaming format is what turned them off. Hollywood isn’t quite ready for the end of the studio executive. So that just leaves Fox Searchlight and Open Road Films. Open Road Films would be an interesting choice; they’re the reigning Best Picture distributor (Spotlight) and their major (only) push this year, Bleed for This, was not only met with middling reviews at Telluride, it doesn’t have a Best Actress contender to compete against. They could pull off a coup by giving Fox Searchlight an offer they can’t refuse.
All of that aside, let’s get to some nitty-gritty though; this Best Actress season belongs to Viola Davis in Fences. Now I know what you’re saying, “But no one has even seen the film yet!” and you’re right, no one has. But pedigree matters. Davis won a Tony in Lead for the role in 2010, which has been expanded for the film. She would become the first WOC Best Actress nominee since Halle Berry’s historic win in 2002 for Monster’s Ball and the first ever to even be nominated for Best Actress twice (think about that for a minute). This coming off her own historic win at the Emmys last summer in the Lead Actress in a Drama Series category (a first for a non-white actress in the Emmys’ 68-year history). In the aftermath of #OscarSoWhite and the huge diversity push this year, it’s hard to ignore that narrative. Now, that said, I’ve been working on changing my prediction habits this season from things that simply look ‘good on paper’ to a more ‘it’s the frontrunner once it’s seen’ mentality but that doesn’t mean that when something with a history and narrative as Davis brings happens that it doesn’t make sense to see it as #1. In our just released September predictions for Best Actress, the Gold Rush Gang still has Davis at #1 (where she’s been all year) and with Portman in the ‘Other Contenders’ section. Reasonable, as the film hadn’t screened yet and could have been a huge flop. But now that it’s not, Portman becomes a major player…if Jackie is released this season. It’s hard to see why it wouldn’t be. The oft-told tale of JFK’s assassination is rarely told from Jackie’s POV so this will be a new and different approach that many people will want to see and in an election year with the first female candidate for President of the United States by a major party, it might be all the more vital.
For now, here is the first clip of Natalie Portman in Jackie: