It’s hard to believe Natalie Portman, at age 36, has been acting for 24 years. Since her breakthrough role in “Leon: The Professional,” Portman has never left the silver screen. She stretches herself regularly across all genres, including comedy, drama, science fiction, action and biopics. Over the course of her career, she has been nominated for three Oscars, winning once for “Black Swan” in 2010.
After starring in such blockbusters as the “Star Wars” prequels and “Thor,” Portman returns to sci-fi with “Annihilation.” Directed by Alex Garland of “Ex Machina” fame, could this be the perfect marriage of Natalie Portman the sci-fi movie star and indie darling? “Annihilation” opens in theaters Friday, February 23rd.
In honor of her upcoming film, let’s look back at the ten best Natalie Portman performances so far.
“The Other Boleyn Girl” (2007)
There is little in the way of taste present in Justin Chadwick’s frothy adaptation of the Philippa Gregory novel. In many ways, it is a cage match between two A-list actors stuffed in bodices. However, in the war of Scarlett Johansson’s Mary loses out to Natalie Portman’s fiery and calculating Anne Boelyn. Portman more closely understands the tone of juicy melodrama and plays into it. It is a broad performance, but an effective and entertaining one nonetheless.
“No Strings Attached” (2011)
Speaking of understanding the film they are in, Portman succeeds in that in this light rom-com. She manages to win the battle of the buddy-romantic comedy films over “Friends with Benefits” starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. Portman plays Emma, an overworked medical resident, who turns to a friend she has known on and off for 15 years, Adam (Ashton Kutcher), for casual sex. While her on-screen counterpart comes off as a dense bro-figure, Portman finds chemistry with him and elevates the film. Not only that, she has terrific chemistry with her roommates, which includes comedians extraordinaire Mindy Kaling and Greta Gerwig.
“Cold Mountain” (2003)
It takes a lot of talent to wrestle away a prestige picture from Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellweger. However, wrestle away Portman does in a significant supporting role that proves she is more than just a Star Wars Queen. Portman portrays Sara, a grieving widow and single mother during the Civil War. Jude Law’s Inman happens upon her and saves her from malicious Union foragers. Portman demonstrates a unique strength and resolve, while still making Sara vulnerable. She walks a tricky tightrope with the character. In many ways, Portman’s small section of the film is the most interesting part. Though Zellweger may have won the Oscar, Portman walks away with the best supporting performance in that film.
“Garden State” (2004)
In many ways, “Garden State” seems synonymous with the “hipster indie rom-com” subgenre that blew up following its success. However, the film mainly works thanks to Portman’s deft hand. She sidesteps most “manic-pixie-dream-girl” tropes (even when the script gives her many of those tropes). Portman plays Sam, an eccentric liar who becomes the galvanizing force of light for the depressed, medicated Andrew (Zach Braff). Sam emerges as the most interesting character and the one we wish to follow throughout the film. Her offbeat family relationships makes us want a movie about her before Andrew comes into town as well.
Jim Sheridan’s remake of the 2004 Danish film Brødre remains criminally underrated. While Tobey Maguire nabbed much of the praise (and a Golden Globe nomination) for his role as a POW returning home, the rest of the cast is just as stellar. Portman’s Grace Cahill finds herself traversing through a mountain of revelations. As her husband, Sam (Maguire) goes off to war, she has to take care of their two girls alone. Once she hears her husband has died, Grace turns to Sam’s ne’er-do-well brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), for comfort as he helps around the house. Their friendship turns into a relationship just as Sam comes back for war, decidedly not dead. This performance from Portman turns on a dime and always feels believable. Her role is yet another reason why more people should have discovered this gem.
“V for Vendetta” (2005)
Before Charlize Theron shaved her head for “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Portman went bald for the nihilistic comic book adaptation. As Evey Hammond, Portman serves as our window into V’s (Hugo Weaving) plans to take down the oppressive Norsefire Party. Rescued after being out after curfew, Evey adopts V’s cause and becomes galvanized to work with him. Being a household name thanks to the “Star Wars” prequels Portman received top billing for her role in the film. This fits in many ways, as Evey takes control of both our attention and the actions of the films. She is a fully developed character looking to burn corruption to the ground. It is a fiery and angry performance. Both are traits that Portman excels at when allowed to dig deep.
“Leon: The Professional” (1994)
Few child performance arrives with this much polish and praise. Her role as Mathilda, a lonely girl from an abusive family who is taken in by a hitman, marks Natalie Portman’s first role. Portman exhibits an understanding and commitment to a character far beyond the years. The adult nature of the film is not what makes it such an adult performance. Portman builds drama with each scene. She develops a unique chemistry with co-star Jean Reno. On top of that, she grabs the audience with every scene. One can’t look away as a major talent is born right in front of our eyes.
Under the direction of Pablo Larrain, Natalie Portman brings us a Jackie Kennedy we have never seen. Her grief knows no bounds as she struggles to maintain a calm during such a trying time. We spend many wordless scenes as Jackie tries on her dresses, wanders around her home and attempts to process her emotions. This nicely juxtaposes with the Jackie we see in the archival footage. She is intelligent and fully focused on history and legacy, specifically regarding the Presidents. Portman succeeds because she goes deeper than just simple mimicry. Her performance revolves around Jackie’s inner turmoil, rather than just looking the part (which she does). Performances like these elevate what it means to be in a biopic.
From the opening moments where Natalie Portman saunters down the street as Alice, we are transfixed. As we learn more about her, the more we are confused and enamored. She becomes Dan’s (Jude Law) girlfriend, but nothing is as calm or happy, as it appears. She is a muse to photographer Anna (Julia Roberts), catapulting her to success and into Dan’s bed. Later on, she becomes a source of temptation as a stripper for Larry (Clive Owen), Anna’s brusque husband. Alice gives us a lot to piece together while withholding even more. She is the glue that holds this fantastic film together. The film ends as it began with Alice. However, we the audience are different. We have witnessed a child actress finally make good on her potential as a star. Natalie Portman claims her destiny as an A-list actress with “Closer.”
“Black Swan” (2010)
Natalie Portman’s role as Nina Sayers in “Black Swan” looks like a daunting role to any actress. First, there are the physical demands, as Portman had to undergo nine months of intense ballerina training to nail both the black and white swan movements down. From there, the role requires heavy psychological burdens, as we fall deeper into Nina’s paranoia. Director Darren Aronofsky has never made a film that one describes as comfortable. Finally, we watch as Nina morphs from a precocious dancer hungry for her big break to a deluded, yet confident, star who goes to any lengths for perfection. This insatiable desire to be perfect serves as the crux for Portman’s performance. Portman brings to life this uncomfortable and engrossing quest for the unobtainable. Her Oscar win was well deserved for such a challenging, intense and provocative performance.