Best Actress Oscar battle: 5 reasons why Natalie Portman (‘Jackie’) will win over Emma Stone (‘La La Land’)

When I made by early Oscar predictions here on Gold Derby, I enthusiastically placed Emma Stone as my number one choice for Best Actress in “La La Land.” I had yet to actually see the film at the time, but had long been a fan of Stone since seeing her hilarious turns in films like “The House Bunny,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” and “Easy A.” In 2014, I initially picked her to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her small but scene-stealing role as Michael Keaton‘s daughter in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.”) After her rival Patricia Arquette began to clean up the precursor awards for “Boyhood,” I recognized my own ignorance and switched my prediction from Stone to Arquette. My heart still broke when Stone lost on Oscar night, but I took comfort in knowing that she would have many chances in the future.

Having now seen all of the likely 2016 Best Actress contenders, it pains me to say that I just don’t believe that this is going to be Stone’s year. I honestly hope that I’m wrong, and welcome any arguments to persuade me to change my prediction back to her. But in the meantime, here are five reasons why I believe that Natalie Portman has the Best Actress Oscar all sewn up for “Jackie.”

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1.  She portrays a real person.
I know – this reason resurfaces virtually every awards season. And it doesn’t always apply. (Does anyone remember acceptance speeches by Bryan Cranston in “Trumbo” or Michael Fassbender in “Steve Jobs” during the last go-around?) However, let’s dig just a little deeper into this. Over the past 15 years, in virtually every competitive lead acting Oscar race, the artist impersonating a real individual has prevailed over the one creating a fictional character. Here are some examples: Adrien Brody in “The Pianist” over Daniel Day-Lewis in “Gangs of New York,” Nicole Kidman in “The Hours” over Renée  Zellweger in “Chicago,” Charlize Theron in “Monster” over Diane Keaton in “Something’s Gotta Give,” Reese Witherspoon in “Walk the Line” over Felicity Huffman in “Transamerica,” Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose” over Julie Christie in “Away from Her,” Sean Penn in “Milk” over Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler,” Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady” over Viola Davis in “The Help,” and Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything” over Keaton in “Birdman.” Clearly, the theory that playing a real person wins awards isn’t just for the birds. Portman could almost fly away with the gold based on this reason alone.

2. She undergoes a major onscreen transformation.
Once again, yet another argument that is often repeated. And once again, Portman in “Jackie” is the perfect example. The 1960’s bouffant hairdo. The subtle yet striking makeup. The thick Mid-Atlantic accent. And of course, the iconic pink Chanel suit. As sensational as Stone is in “La La Land,” she looks like the same radiant redhead that we’ve come to know (and love.) Meanwhile, you almost forget that you’re watching Portman in “Jackie.” It truly feels as if First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy is up there on the screen. This powerful transformation could lead Portman straight to the Oscar jackpot.

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3. She plays the “damsel in distress.”
I remember reading about this phenomenon several decades ago, when I was just a budding Oscarologist. A magazine article pointed out that when a film heroine suffered or was victimized in some way, the actress portraying her would often win the Academy Award. I did some research and found a surprising number of examples of this. In the 1940’s, it was Joan Fontaine in “Suspicion,” Ingrid Bergman in “Gaslight” and Jane Wyman in “Johnny Belinda.” The trend continued in the following decades with Vivien Leigh in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Joanne Woodward in “The Three Faces of Eve,” Susan Hayward in “I Want to Live!,” Sophia Loren in “Two Women,” Elizabeth Taylor in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and Jane Fonda in “Klute,” The lesson learned? If you’re an actress playing someone who is tortured and tormented, fearful or frightened, diseased or dying, anguished or angry – you’re a good bet to win an Academy Award. In fact, this seems to have aided of number of Best Actress champions from the past 30 years, including several who triumphed without playing real women: Jodie Foster in both “The Accused” and “The Silence of the Lambs,” Holly Hunter in “The Piano,” Jessica Lange in “Blue Sky,” Halle Berry in “Monster’s Ball,” Hilary Swank in “Million Dollar Baby,” Kate Winslet in “The Reader,” Portman in “Black Swan,” Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine,” Julianne Moore in “Still Alice” and Brie Larson in “Room.” If the academy goes for the “damsel in distress” again this year – it’s going to be Portman. (Leaving the other four damsels in a state of distress.)

4. “Jackie” is likely to be nominated in other categories.
When discussing last year’s Best Supporting Actor race with Gold Derby Editor Tom O’Neil, I explained that I was not predicting Sylvester Stallone to win for “Creed,” largely because it’s extremely difficult to take an acting award on a film’s single nomination. (Stallone’s fellow BSA nominees, including eventual winner Mark Rylance, all appeared in Best Picture contenders with multiple bids.) It’s not yet clear if “Jackie” will make the cut for Best Picture or even Best Original Screenplay. Its failure to make the shortlist for Makeup and Hairstyling is both surprising and worrisome. Still, “Jackie” may well show up in several other categories, like Costume Design, Production Design, Cinematography, Film Editing and Score. Even if “La La Land” leads with the nominations, “Jackie” may not be too far behind. This might make it impossible for even a “La La” sweep to carry Stone to Oscar land.

 5. It doesn’t matter that she won six years ago.
As noted above,. Portman is a recent Oscar winner for Best Actress, for her extremely showy role in 2010’s “Black Swan.” Many, including myself, were (or still are) reluctant to pick her this year – suspecting that the academy might want to spread the wealth around. But is this really a factor? In recent times, Tom Hanks (“Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump,”) Kevin Spacey (“The Usual Suspects” and “American Beauty,”) Swank (“Boys Don’t Cry” and “Million Dollar Baby,”) Penn (“Mystic River” and “Milk,”) Day-Lewis (“There Will Be Blood” and “Lincoln”) and Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained”) all won two acting trophies in five years or less. The lesson learned? Oscar voters select whomever they truly believe is best, regardless of whether they’ve previously been honored. So Portman’s Academy Award for “Black Swan” doesn’t mean that she’s suddenly the derby duckling. Stone may have danced (and dazzled) in “La La Land,” but watch for a pregnant Portman to prance away with the prize come Oscar’s big night.

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