10. Everyone Says I Love You
Woody Allen’s career has come under fire recently during a MeToo driven 2018, but it was also struggling critically as well. Outside of the odd gem like Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine, part of the Allen experience is waiting for the next solid film amongst the numerous duds.
Everyone Says I Love You happens to be one of the better films of Allen’s later career (from the early 1990s onwards). When it comes to great child performances, the follow up film is always important in order to see the capabilities these young stars have.
After Léon, Portman starred in this huge ensemble cast, and you could tell she was a gifted actress through and through (and not a one trick pony). In Allen’s made-for-‘90s ‘90s staple (look at the nostalgic colours and the bright lights!), Portman is a young girl in love and trying to get the attention of the world. As a stand-alone, she shows her strengths. As a part of the cast, she contrasts perfectly.
9. Knight of Cups
Out of the two Terrence Malick films that Natalie Portman has starred in, Knight of Cups is arguably the stronger film that feels more like an attack-on-the-mainstream rather than a flawed film (hence its reception). The mental battles between life, death, lust and love are all present, as Rick (Christian Bale) loses his footing in life due to his gluttonous ways; so much of 81/2 is present here, amidst the tarot cards.
Portman is one of many muses (Cate Blanchett, Isabel Lucas, Imogen Poots, Freida Pinto, Teresa Palmer and others are present), but Portman’s Elizabeth plays a larger part in Rick’s damaged life. His selfish ways actually affect Elizabeth’s life permanently, and her portion of the film is a great reminder of the tampering your own self-harm can do to others. Knight of Cups is all about fates, destinies, courses-of-action, and intentions. It is a vicious game that is gorgeous to look at and earth shattering to experience; an understated wonder.
8. Léon: The Professional
This film is ranked high for a few reasons. Firstly, it gave us one of the most visceral child performances of all time with Natalie Portman’s career-sparking take on Mathilda. Secondly, it is likely the best film Luc Besson has ever created (it ticks off all of his itches – action, controversy, flare—and does it well). Léon (Jean Reno) might be a hitman, but he is very meticulous in his way.
The young, foul, traumatized Mathilda (a product of growing up in a world of crime) counters her new guardian by being the more threatening of the two in terms of characterization. Mathilda is driven by vengeance, and it hurts Léon to see hate in someone that young (perhaps why he refuses to work for a child, too). Léon: The Professional is messy, daring, and super drenched in ‘90s colours.
7. Garden State
The film of indie darlings and obsessives everywhere. Look, Garden State was everywhere when it first came out, and it might have forced you to put your guard up. Fourteen years later, Garden State really isn’t that bad. Hell, it’s actually a safe haven of a lot of indie ideas that allowed these images and sounds to leak into pop culture. Indie music was forever changed, and now “indie” hardly means strictly independent. The “manic pixie dream girl” was reinvented by Portman’s Sam, who drops lies like they are breadcrumbs.
Plot points get replaced by quips and retorts, turning Garden State into a character analysis more than a fully-fledged story. If you’ve been apprehensive to visit Zach Braff’s one hit wonder, just know that the dust has been settled and the mark has been made. Garden State is a poem that needs to be heard to understand where the shifting tides of current pop culture came from.
One of the last works by the great Mike Nichols, Closer is best regarded as the complexities that arise from the relationships between four interchangeable strangers. If you’re here for an explicit story, you might be disappointed. If you want to see how human nature can combust when charged enough, Closer is more than worthwhile.
In her first Academy Award nominated performance, Portman sheds off all of her previous coats from other roles. She is the devious Alice, whose hurt leads her to try and damage the loved ones that got in her way (even if she does more damage to herself). She shifts from one man’s curiosity into the object of desire of the town, but her true nature is still hidden from the world. Competing with acting greats like Julia Roberts, Clive Owen and Jude Law (who she shares four films with), Portman proved she could not only keep up, she could excel past the greatest within the same scene.
5. Vox Lux
Due out at the end of the year, Brady Corbet’s taboo film is due to shake the world once it finally arrives in theatres. At film festivals, his risky film about a pop singer that survived a school shooting as a child was polarizing. Vox Lux will either make you sick to your stomach, or it will refuse to let you go (the latter happened to me when I caught it at the Toronto International Film Festival).
Portman plays an adult Celeste for the second half of the film, but her performance-against-type is impossible to ignore. Here is the usually charming Portman playing an absolute monstrous diva that is driven by her traumatic experiences and her egos. She becomes a drug and alcohol consuming mess that will willingly throw daggers at anyone that opposes her (including loved ones).
Vox Lux is both minimalist and maximalist at the same time, and its highs and lows are so drastically set apart, you might feel uneasy for the duration of the film. With a viciously raw performance by Portman (that will hopefully turn into awards nominations in a few months), you will see the darkest corridors of pop culture.
Okay, a film this high on the list barely even features Portman at all. However, there are some things to take into consideration. 1: Heat is a great film, and we are rating films here after all. 2: Portman’s second feature length performance after Léon (and the short film Developing) places her amongst some of the medium’s greatest (including Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro).
This cat-and-mouse crime thriller also displays the impacts that these actions have on those that are within a close proximity. Enter Lauren Hanna (Portman): the step daughter of Vincent (Pacino). We see a girl struggling to cope with her parent’s toxicity.
The negative impact of crime and crime fighting seeps into the Hanna household, and only the strongest of young actors could pull off the intense repercussions. Portman, having shown her range in Léon, was rightfully cast here, in Michael Mann’s finest hour.
Yes, this only came out this year, but Annihilation is a savagely ambitious science fiction film whose metaphysical nature renders it destined to be an instant classic in the genre. This mainstream film features the story and aesthetics literally imploding as the film goes on, as if it were affected by the Shimmer like its characters. The entire film is harrowing, either with its character analysis, or the monstrosities that are around any corner.
The film feels a little bit different, but the interrogation scene changes the entire landscape of the picture and pulls the rug from underneath you. From that point on, you will not know what to expect at all.
Portman’s stone faced Lena is no stranger to horror (a former soldier) and devastation (her husband’s disappearance), but no human should endure the nightmare that is the Shimmer. That is, of course, if this is really Lena. We will never truly know, but that is one extra reason why Annihilation is brilliant: it leaves you in the unknown that it thrust you into.
Pablo Larrain’s no-holds-barred approach to the assassination of John F. Kennedy may be the best interpretation of that event in cinematic history. All of this comes from the recollection of a recovering Jacqueline Kennedy (Portman), who remembers every blood stained detail like it just happened an hour earlier. She has nerve because she is used to the tabloids attacking her every word (and, right now, her word is very important, because she wishes to maintain her late husband’s legacy).
Portman’s third Academy Award nomination was rightfully deserved, as she pinpointed the late First Lady’s mannerisms and voice perfectly. She debates her place on Earth without her husband, and her thoughts begin to stain each and every scene she is in.
We know what she is truly feeling in front of all of those people, and we clearly know the outcome of the entire story, and yet we still fear for her safety, With Larrain’s art-house influence and Portman’s brave performance, Jackie becomes a nauseating barrage of confessions; the pain from its sting will linger for a very long time.
1. Black Swan
Black Swan is Natalie Portman’s greatest film, not just because she won the Academy Award for Best Actress (which she obviously deserves). Darren Aronofsky’s psychological horror gets better and better with each viewing. On a first watch, you know the world is against Nina, and her fears are real.
The more you watch it, the more you realize that all of these nightmares are a figment of Nina’s imagination, and that there might not be any form of a threat at all. Nina is not crazy: she is a female within the arts that gets preyed on, abused, controlled and manipulated. For this feat to work, a miraculous performance was necessary.
Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers is a full embodiment of every piece of human nature coexisting at once. She hates as much as she loves. She strives as much as she panics. She is a permanent battle within herself that forbids her from doing what she wishes; her brain, and the film, naturally reacts.
Black Swan is one of the great films of the tens decade, because it surpasses all of the common tropes found in horrors and thrillers. It is a tour-de-force in every single aspect, including its pitch perfect performance by Natalie Portman.