Natalie Portman is one of those actors who is fairly consistent with her work—she never steps out of the spotlight for too long, and her name always manages to find a way into everyone’s mouths. After all, it’s no secret that Portman is arguably one of the most reliable actresses working today. Her performance in Black Swan earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2010, along with numerous other awards, and she’s earned recognition for many other roles as well including her turn in 2016’s Jackie. But 2018 is already shaping up to be a particularly spectacular year for Portman: not only does she have Annihilation under her belt, but she has major roles in two hot festival titles (Vox Lux and The Death and Life of John F. Donovan) featuring stellar performances that could easily make her a contender in this year’s awards race once again.
Portman started out this year strong with her role as Lena in Alex Garland’s sci-fi thriller Annihilation, in which she plays a cellular-biology professor whose husband mysteriously returns after a secret military mission, the likes of which she knows nothing about. Lena eventually discovers that her husband spent time in what is known as “the Shimmer,” and she finds herself part of the next group to enter the area and investigate why, aside from Lena’s husband, no one who has entered has ever returned.
The grief that Lena feels from her husband’s absence permeates Portman’s performance, even once he has returned from the unknown. The film also conducts time jumps between past and present, and Portman manages to subtly communicate in the scenes taking place in the future that she has some sort of knowledge she did not before, yet without letting on to what the nature of it might be. As the leading actress of the film, Portman carries the bulk of the film performance-wise, sometimes being the only character onscreen for periods of time. She constantly pushes the story forward, which is what makes her performance in Annihilation so fantastic.
This has proved to be only the beginning of Portman’s streak of strong performances this year, as two more made their debuts at this year’s TIFF. One of these is Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux, an arthouse, pop-music-infused drama that follows a young girl named Celeste on her rise to fame following a horrific tragedy that inspires the beginning of her career. Portman is only present for roughly the second half of the film, playing Celeste later in her career.
Portman portrays Celeste as rough around the edges to say the least: it is clear before anything is asserted for a fact that her character has been through some trying experiences during the film’s most significant time jump. Through her careless mannerisms, perturbed facial expressions, and IDGAF attitude, Portman immediately exudes the aura of a pop star who has been in the spotlight for just a little too long, has had one too many public mishaps, and is perhaps not quite a candidate for World’s Best Mother. She pulls off the act with exceptional believability—it is easy to forget that Portman is not really a pop star spun out of control. This is all taken one step further in a show-stopping sequence that has Portman performing several synth-driven pop hits in front of a sold-out arena, all with full choreography to boot. Her performance is a dedicated and convincing one that is likely to be raved about upon the film’s release.
Another major title for Portman coming out of TIFF is Xavier Dolan’s The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, in which she plays Sam, the mother of a young boy named Rupert (Jacob Tremblay) who maintains a written correspondence with a famous actor over the course of several years. Sam’s relationship with her son is often in fluctuating one in terms of its stability, and she often finds herself struggling to communicate with him as he grows into his pre-teen years and begins to isolate himself from her.
Sam’s relationship with her son is, in many ways, the emotional heart of the film. Portman takes on the disposition of a fierce mother who, while not always seeing eye-to-eye with her son, would go to the ends of the earth for him. She is many ways a stark contrast to the type of mother she embodies in Vox Lux—she gets into spats with his teachers and searches the streets of London to find him (which culminates in a particularly rewarding scene), all due to her maternally instinctive desire to protect her son. Portman’s chemistry with Tremblay is fantastic, and their onscreen mother-son bond feels incredibly authentic. This is further strengthened by some particularly emotionally-resonant line deliveries from Portman, making this performance yet another impactful one.
Natalie Portman is a renowned actress for a reason—she is consistently superb in nearly everything she does. 2018 has proven to be a year filled with particularly special performances and is quickly shaping up to be the Year of Natalie. She is currently slated to appear in the upcoming film Pale Blue Dot and is preparing to play identical twins in her next directorial project. After this streak of successful performances, it will be interesting to see what exactly she has in store next.
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