Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Best of Natalie Portman (1994-2010)... So Far...

Born Natalie Hershlag, the Israeli-American actress known as Natalie Portman has been one of cinema’s most enduring and gifted actresses.  From her star-making debut appearance in Luc Besson’s Leon to her most recent performance in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.  Portman has amassed a library of films ranging from dramas, action-adventure, comedies, and art-house films.  Yet, she has been in some great movies and some bad ones.  Still, Portman’s gift as an actress is truly marvelous to watch as up-and-coming actresses like Chloe Moretz cite her as a major influence.  For fans of Portman, it’s hard to choose what is her best performances of her career.  Even jotting it down to 10 despite not having a huge number of films that she’s acted in from 1994 to 2010.

1. Leon

There’s great debut performances and then there’s Natalie Portman’s role of Mathilda in Luc Besson’s Leon.  Playing a troubled, abused young girl living with a dysfunctional, selfish family.  She gains the sympathy of the film’s title character, played by Jean Reno, who is a hitman for hire.  The scene where Portman walks by her apartment to Leon’s door following the brutal murder of her family as she is in tears pleading for Leon to open the door is probably one of the most heartbreaking performances of her career.  The other great scene is her confrontation with Stansfield about the fact that he killed her family.  To go toe-to-toe with someone as revered as Gary Oldman is definitely a great way to start a film career.

2. Closer

10 years after Leon, Portman plays her first true adult role as Alice in the four-character drama Closer.  Playing the youngest character on the film with a red-punk haircut early in the film.  The film was also notable for Portman playing a stripper where she has a great scene giving Clive Owen a private lap dance with dialogue where she treats him coldly.  The way she teases in showing skin to her last confrontational scene with Jude Law shows Portman playing a character that get her hands dirty and is willing to take any kind of hits.

3. Black Swan

Probably her most complex and troubling role of her career, the character of Nina Sayer is definitely the role of a lifetime for Portman.  Playing a child-like, technically-proficient ballerina who is the embodiment of innocence and perfection.  Portman’s character exudes everything her character was needed to play the White Swan persona for the lead of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake.  Yet, she is unable to portray the sensuality and looseness that is needed for the Queen’s dark side as the Black Swan.  In her desperate attempt to play that persona, Portman goes into a very dark world where the innocence and protective cocoon that Nina had lived in shatters.  It is truly a tour-de-force performance for Portman.

4. Beautiful Girls

In the role of Marty, Portman’s plays the young girl who steals Timothy Hutton’s hearts as he ponders about his own crises as an adult.  Though she was only a 13-year old girl in the film, she brings a lot of natural humor as someone just discovering young love while coming to Hutton’s Willie character.  The most notable scene in the film is where Marty is skating with Willie watching where the two talk about her crush towards him and the fact that he’s going to get older and she might forget about him.  It’s a wonderful scene along with her brief exchange with Michael Rappaport where she calls him an “alcoholic high school buddy shit for brains”.

5. Garden State

A role that has unfortunately been known as the idea of the Manic Pixie Girl.  Portman’s role as Sam, a quirky girl who wows Zach Braff’s Andrew Largeman with the music of the Shins.  It is truly Portman dabbling into a bit of comedy as she plays the eccentric girl next door who can act kind of dumb while saying all sorts of crazy stuff.  The scene where Sam says something original and decides to go “blah, blah-blah, ah” is probably the cutest thing she has ever done.  It’s hard not to fall in love with a character like that.

6. V for Vendetta

While Demi Moore may have shaved her head for G.I. Jane just to try and play tough.  When Portman shaved her head for the film adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel, she definitely brought more complexity and bravery to her role as a young woman who encounters the mysterious V.  Set in a dystopian future in London, Portman’s Evey becomes the one link V needs with the outside world as she is later transformed from a scared young woman into a quiet yet dangerous anarchist help bent on fighting totalitarianism.  It’s definitely one of her most iconic roles so far.

7. Hotel Chevalier

A short film that is a prequel of sorts to The Darjeeling Limited where Portman appears very briefly.  Her performance in Wes Anderson’s short film is one of the most shocking.  Not because she gets partially nude but for the fact that she’s playing a cold, bitchy character who torments the character of Jack Whitman, played by Jason Schwartzman, by making an unexpected visit.  The lines she says show a character who is truly ambiguous while it is clear that it could be the last time they see each other as she would later become part of his torment in The Darjeeling Limited.

8. Anywhere But Here

Though it’s not a great film, Portman’s performance as Ann is definitely the highlight of Wayne Wang’s mother-daughter drama.  Even as she is the straight woman to Susan Sarandon’s eccentric Adele.  Portman shows all of the awkwardness and angst of her character who just wants to escape her mother while wanting to go to Brown.  One great scene is where Portman imitates Sarandon for an audition scene where it is an attempt to make Sarandon look awful as Portman shines in that role.

9. True

Though it was slightly shortened for the 2006 anthology film Paris Je t’aime, Tom Tykwer’s 10-minute short that starred Natalie Portman as an American actress is certainly a delight to watch.  Even as she plays the girlfriend to a young blind man as it is told from his perspective of how they met and how they later fell apart.  While it’s an experimental short, Portman truly stands out as she can play wild and be fun while also showing a much darker side including a chance to overact when her character is trying to act. 

10. The Other Boleyn Girl

In the role of Anne Boleyn, Portman gets a chance to play not just bitchy but also someone who wants to be powerful.  Though her scenes with Eric Bana aren’t that great since Bana is quite dull.  It’s Portman scenes with Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn that really shows two acting powerhouses at their best.  With Portman in the more meatier yet towering role, she is complemented by the more subtle and vulnerable Johansson.  The best scene the two have is when Anne and Mary are in Anne’s jail cell as Mary takes a chance to save her sister’s life.

Honorable Mentions

For every performance she has given, not everything can be on the list as Portman has already made a wide range of films.  Whether its playing a troubled, suicidal young girl in Michael Mann’s Heat or the President of the United States’ teenage daughter in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks!  Portman can even do a musical in Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You or be in an experimental art house film like Amos Gitai’s road film Free Zone.  Then there’s Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium where she gets to play clerk at a toy store who is lively and fun.  And of course, there’s also a graceful turn as a young widow who takes in Jude Law in Anthony Minghella’s Cold Mountain.  While they can show what kind of range she has, it also proves that can also be quite prolific.

The Worst of Natalie Portman

1. Star Wars Episode III:  Revenge of the Sith

While the prequels to original Star Wars series isn’t high with some fans.  It’s not a place where actors really get to do their best work.  Natalie Portman is no exception in the role of Queen Amidala/Padme.  While The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones had Portman in both good and bad situations.  The latter of which had her act with the uncharismatic Hayden Christensen for the majority of the film.  It’s in Revenge of the Sith where Portman is at her worst.  Notably the line “Hold me Ani, hold me like you did in Naboo”.  That is followed by probably almost every person who had heard that line throwing up afterwards.  I bet Miss Portman bitched to George Lucas about that line.  “What the fuck George!  You expect me to say this shit!  This is fuckin’ awful”

2. Goya’s Ghosts

This was a film that had high expectations because it reunited the team of Amadeus in director Milos Forman, screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, and producer Saul Zaentz.  Unfortunately, the film was pretty damn terrible as was Portman in a dual role as a woman named Ines and her daughter Alicia.  While she gets to play a younger version of Ines and later as Alicia in her current age at the time.  It’s when she plays the older Ines that has looking not just awful with nearly no hair as well as having her mouth looked very crooked as if she had a stroke.  It’s pretty damn terrible and she looked like she was having a hard time to make it convincing.

3. Where the Heart Is

Definitely one of the worst films Portman has been in.  The story of a 17-year old pregnant girl who gives birth to a girl in Wal-Mart and later has a new, glorious life is one hokey story.  Even worse is having to see Portman sport a very bad Southern accent with her in ridiculous situations where she also has to play cute.  She can be cute if the character has a lot of personality.  Unfortunately, the character of Novalee Nation is more of a caricature than a character people can relate to.

Well that’s the best and worst of Natalie Portman.  There’s definitely more to come from her in the future whether its being in a comic-book action blockbuster like Thor.  Playing a badass chick in David Gordon Green’s period-fantasy comedy Your Highness.  And of course, having to act with Ashton Kutcher in the romantic-comedy No Strings Attached.  Until then, it’s been a great ride and it looks it’s like it’s still going to be an enjoyable one.  After all it’s Natalie Portman aka Po’tman mothafucka!

© thevoid99 2010


Unknown said...

The Other Boleyn Girl was a horrible adaptation of a wonderful book, and Natalie was the worst part of all. She was shrill and unconvincing as Anne (especially compared to Natalie Dormer who was killing that role in The Tudors at the time) and she was a complete miscast. There was nothing commanding, nor sensual about her, and to believe that she could wile her way into the bed of the King was laughable at best. As for Bana being dull, you must be smoking something because he was working with the best that he had, and his best scenes were with Johansson, who was actually the only good thing about the film in general. She knocked that role out of the ballpark, and the only reason Natalie's performances with her were any good were because Scarlett was killing it. Natalie was awful, and up until Black Swan, she hadn't had a good performance since Garden State, and even that is questionable. She's dull and unremarkable, and is the biggest reason The Other Boleyn Girl was ruined beyond repair. In other words, bitch, pleeeeease.

thevoid99 said...

While I will definitely agree with you that Natalie Dormer was much better. I still disagree with you about Portman and Bana. We'll just agree to disagree. I'm not in the mood to get into an expansive argument.

Black Jesus JC said...

Have you seen Brothers? The reason i mention it is because it features a imo amazing performance by Portman

thevoid99 said...


No, I haven't seen it yet. It hasn't come into any of my cable channels. Plus, I wanted to see the original Danish film by Susanne Bier first. I'm the kind of person that prefers to see the original (if I had access to it) and then see the remake.

David said...

I liked her a lot in person,since I got to know she graduates from Harvard and is a vegetarian.She looks great in Star War films and terrible in V for Vendetta,and yes,her best films so far is still Leon.

thevoid99 said...

@David-Leon will always be the best thing she's done.

Based on the interviews and the Garden State audio commentary track she did, she seems like a totally cool person to hang out with.