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Natalie Portman is the official Oscar front-runner

September 10, 2010 |  2:21 pm

"That's it! The best actress race is already over!" gasped a notable Oscar-tracking journo after witnessing Natalie Portman's dazzling diva turn in Darren Aronofsky's ballet thriller, "Black Swan," at the Toronto International Film Festival.

I was equally wowed and tempted to agree with that Oscar assessment except for one cautious reminder. At this point on last year's calendar we didn't know that the eventual winners of the last Academy Awards for best actress and actor -- Sandra Bullock ("The Blind Side") and Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart") -- were even in the running.

Natalie Portman Black Swan-1

That said, it's still fun to make fierce pronouncements, so let's leap as boldly as Portman does on screen while she performs "Swan Lake": Yes, she's out front. Yes, Portman will be very hard to beat because she's got many strong advantages.

1) DIVA APPEAL: In "Black Swan," Portman gives in dance what many past winners did in song -- the full-throttle diva performance: Barbra Streisand ("Funny Girl"), Liza Minnelli ("Cabaret") and Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose"). Unfortunately, ballet has played only a minor role at Oscars past, so it's hard to look backward for guidance to what will happen ahead. "The Turning Point" spawned two best actress nominees (who probably canceled each other out in the voting), Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft, but they played dancers past their prime, not bouncing ferociously and constantly on stage.

2) GET PHYSICAL: Throughout the two hours of "Black Swan," Portman gives an even more athletic performance than Hilary Swank did when boxing her way to an Oscar victory for "Million Dollar Baby."

3) THE BABE FACTOR: Those notoriously frisky good ol' boys in the motion picture academy have clearly turned the best actress competition into a beauty contest in recent years: Sandra Bullock ("Blind Side"), Charlize Theron ("Monster"), Nicole Kidman ("The Hours"), Halle Berry ("Monster's Ball"), Julia Roberts ("Erin Brockovich"), Gwyneth Paltrow ("Shakespeare in Love") plus many more examples in between and earlier. Portman is knockout gorgeous in "Black Swan."

4) THE SEX FACTOR: Overt eroticism used to be a turnoff at the Oscars in more prudish times, but nowadays we're seeing those academy gents get excited by sexy roles. Some cynics say Kate Winslet ("The Reader") and Halle Berry ("Monster's Ball") wouldn't have won without their brazen sex scenes. In "Black Swan," Portman has steamy masturbation and lesbian scenes.

5) THE INGENUE FACTOR: One of the great, false Oscar myths is that voters always reward veteran grande dames such as Meryl Streep, Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis. In fact, Streep hasn't won in 28 years, and voters actually like to crown hot new emerging stars such as Cotilliard, Theron, Berry and Swank.

6) STARRING IN A BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: "Black Swan" is so artistically daring and thrilling that it's guaranteed a spot among the 10 nominees for best picture. Over the last decade, 60% of winners appeared in films up for the top Academy Award. Many Oscarologists believe that starring in a best picture contender was one of the key elements in Bullock's victory last year.

7) THE COMPETITION: At this early point in the best actress race, Portman has more buzz than any of her chief rivals: Annette Bening ("The Kids Are All Right"), Anne Hathaway ("Love and Other Drugs"), Diane Lane ("Secretariat"), Jennifer Lawrence ("Winter’s Bone"), Lesley Manville ("Another Year"), Carey Mulligan ("Never Let Me Go"), Michelle Williams ("Blue Valentine") and Swank ("Conviction"). But that may change quickly if any of those rivals start winning the film critics' awards in December.

Photo: A poster for "Black Swan." Credit: Fox Searchlight

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Comments

NICOLE KIDMAN is the official oscar front-runner...
her perfomance in RABBIT HOLE IS OUSTANDING AND GLORIUS

IS THE COMEBACK OF A BIG ACTRESS!!!

a movie about a nassim taleb-style black swan would be more interesting. two hours of ballet is a reach, no matter how many hot lesbians are participating.

I think the Academy will view the film has being too "weird".

I've loved Natalie Portman since THE PROFESSIONAL. Darren Aronofsky is one of my favorite directors and has been since PI. This is a great combo and I'd love to see Natalie win an Oscar. I can't wait to see this movie.

I am as cynical about the Oscars as the next guy, but isn't at least ONE teensy tiny factor the quality of her performance?

If you believe that the only relevant factors are lesbian sex scenes and hotness, then why are you even interested in the Oscars? I believe that all of the factors you mention are relevant, and cumulatively impact the outcome about 25%, but I still believe that most voters genuinely vote for what they happen to believe -- rightly or wrongly -- is the best performance. I didn't want Sandra Bullock to win last year, even though I like her, because I thought the movie was total junk and her performance was merely fine but nothing special. But I do believe that those people who put her over the top probably believed she deserved it for her performance.

You did this last year and you are doing it again -- reducing the entire Oscar race to the factors that play into a People Magazine hottest babe poll.

The Oscars are a joke. Only in Hollywood would someone like Natalie Portman win an oscar before veteran actresses Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. Continue to tarnish your reputation AMPAS. Not long from now, you'll be a glorified MTV Movie awards.

First off, it is waaaay too earlyyyyyyyy to be saying that she's going to win. Second, Aronofsky has never had any luck winning his actors Oscars (re: Ellen Burstyn and Mickey Rourke).

Don't count your chickens...because eventually you'll get it wrong and someone else may end up the winner...Hilary Swank still lurks around the corner you know...

Right, like Julie Christie was the frontrunner for the 2008 Best Actress Oscar, in the middle of the summer. Cotillard won because of the power and genius of her performance in LA VIE EN ROSE. The studios don't bother with their "art" pictures until after Thanksgiving; the rest of the year is given over to "boy movies" with no women in them, the "f word," lots of violence and explosions, white boys being stupid, and loud noise

Natalie Portman is undoubtedly among the top ten most gifted actresses around, but not in the top five (Jolie, Cotillard, Winslet, Theron, and Blanchett) because she hasn't worked enough. Until she is able to make more films more consistently, she won't rise in power.

On the other hand, if Sandra Bullock can win a Best Actress Oscar playing herself with blond hair, and making a lot of money with THE BLIND SIDE (a C movie at best), anything is possible now. As one wag put it, "Sandra Bullock is a charming girl, but she's no Marion Cotillard."

I definitely think Nicole Kidman may get a stab at the Best Actress nomination. Rabbit Hole doesn't get its premiered until Monday but she's supposed to be fantastic in it. There has already been a bit of oscar buzz over her performance so I guess we'll just see what the reviews are like after Monday.

I'd love to see Natalie Portman nominated and Black Swan looks amazing. But I'm not sure if this sort of glitzy/arty role is the most likely to win. My money would be on Kidman, as the bereaved mother and estranged wife.

But even if Portman doesn't win, her career is so hot right now. I was reading that she's been offered the lead role in Alfonso Cuarón's new Sci-Fi epic Gravity after Angelina Jolie pulled out. But this is no give-away, Scarlett Johansson and Blake Lively had both been vying for the role.

Natalie is AMAZING!!! on this film,she really deserves the Oscar for Best Actress...Love her<3

Are you kidding me? Reducing these award winning roles to the fact that they are hot? That is insulting.


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