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Will Natalie Portman be this year's Eddie Murphy?

No strings, NorbitKurt here from Your Movie Buddy, not happy to have found a link between two otherwise un-linkable actors. The more promo material I see for Natalie Portman's considerable 2011 output – trailers for Your Highness and Thor, posters for The Other Woman, constant TV spots for No Strings Attached (not to be confused with fellow ballerina Mila Kunis's Friends with Benefits) – the more my heart sinks. It takes you back to 2006, when Eddie Murphy all but had the Supporting Actor Oscar on his mantle for his work in Dreamgirls, then saw his dreams shattered by the inescapable marketing campaign for Norbit.

 Some may argue that Little Miss Sunshine's Alan Arkin, with his endearing character and veteran status, had the upset in the bag, but comeback kid Murphy was the frontrunner. I'm of the firm belief that he did himself in by putting the awful taste of Norbit in voter's mouths. Portman's upcoming offerings can't rival the, shall we say, uncouthness of Murphy in a scantily-clad female fat suit, but none of them look too promising, either, least of all No Strings Attached. Is it such a stretch to think the Best Actress hopeful may become the victim of her own Norbit effect?

After all, Portman finds herself in a much more precarious position than Murphy did...

Her category's field of contenders (and eventual nominees) is leagues stronger than Murphy's was, and she also faces a far more formidable and voter-friendly vet than he did. Unless I'm mistaken, and have misread the mood in the air, Portman's precursor lead – and additional off-screen attractors like pregnancy – have done little to change the fact that she's in a head-to-head with Annette Bening. Despite the awesome power of her Swan performance, an unappealing 2011 slate could be just the thing to sway voters to select her long-overdue rival.

one of many Swan premieres

Or, maybe not.

Maybe Portman's 2011 ubiquity is instead just another thing to give her yet more of an edge. As an educated, gifted and especially comely actress whom Hollywood has loved since childhood, she may only benefit from flashing her pretty face all over the place. Rather than recoiling, voters may just smile and say, “ah, yes, there she is again...sweet girl.”

What, if anything, do you make of this? Could Portman have clipped her own wings?

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Reader Comments (31)

I was rooting for Arkin to win anyway. He was better, although I loved Murphy too.

I really don't think Thor or Your Highness are going to be Norbit-level bad. And you're forgetting they gave Norbit an Oscar nod for Makeup. So...I think that Arkin was the bigger contender for sentimental reasons and performance reasons, and Norbit just sealed Murphy's loss by being off-the-charts awful.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew R.

Norbit didn’t cost Eddie Murphy the Oscar. He’s an actor who isn’t respected in Hollywood. It’s okay to be un-likeable if you’re otherwise respected. I believe if Melissa Leo wins – Annette Bening loses. It sounds strange but the last time two old women by Hollywood standards took home the Best Actress and Supporting Actress prizes was in ‘95 when Wiest and Lange took home 2nd Oscars.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtfu11

Here's the main reason why this theory doesn't hold up: Eddie Murphy's Oscar campaign in 2006 was (at least partially) predicated on how happy and excited everyone was that Eddie was back to making real movies again, movies he could be proud of. Excited, that is, that he had stopped making fat-suit comedies. So Norbit was nothing so much as a direct slap in the face of that narrative, and it stopped it cold.

And while "No Strings Attached" doesn't look like a great movie, it is leagues away from how gross, dumb, and offensive "Norbit" was. It's not even in the top 10 most gross, dumb, and offensive romantic comedies released in the past year. So...not buying it.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Reid

My prediction was Arkin. A respected veteran in the supporting category. Think Palance, Coburn, Freeman etc. I was surprised that so few predicted him to win.

And my prediction this year is still Bening. I know about the age thing and all but it's now or never. She's Hollywood royalty and so is her husband. I won't be shocked if Portman wins but I will have to see it before I believe it. And yes, I do think that these upcoming films and their genres could make some voters turn towards Bening.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael W.

I don't think this argument holds much water. If Norbit was the reason Murphy lost, I'm sure a big reason it was so toxic to his chances is that he was the creative force behind the movie, and it was clearly marketed as such. When I see the trailer for No Strings Attached, nothing about it makes it seem like some sort of Natalie Portman passion project. If anything, like so many of the other crappy romantic-comedies starring talented actresses, it just speaks volumes about the paucity of good roles for women in Hollywood films.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSomeJerkoff

I don't think Murphy and Portman's scenarios are entirely related. By late February in 2007, Dreamgirls the film in general had lost a lot of steam. It didn't receive best picture/best director nominations like many so expected, and I thought in general it was getting tagged with the "overrated" label. It was obvious that Little Miss Sunshine had much greater respect within the Academy, judging by the fact that it received a best picture nomination over Dreamgirls. And LMS was also the frontrunner in the best original screenplay category.

So, in other words, I think there were a lot of external factors that put the nail in Eddie Murphy's Oscar prospects. Of course, Norbit didn't help in the slightest, but I certainly don't think it was the only thing that hurt him. As far as Natalie, No Strings Attached looks terrible, but other than that relation to Norbit, I still don't think it will hurt at all. Black Swan's profile (and box office) is rising day by day. It is THE most talked about film of the moment--and you know you have something good going on when SNL finally spoofs you. Black Swan's ubiquity, coupled with the fact that Natalie is also a previous Oscar nominee (unlike Murphy), and actually has some high profile former co-stars/directors giving her support (unlike Murphy). And finally she's just too damn likeable (unlike Murphy, who isn't as warm and cuddly as Portman). I still think Natalie has it in the bag.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

I don't think this will hurt Natalie much at all. In fact, I think she's gotten "Entertainer of the Year 2011" written all over her. No Strings Attached is no Norbit. I saw the trailer, and it's really just the usual 20-something slightly crude romantic comedy fluff. And I hesitate to use the word "crude" for it when it's being compared to NORBIT. I mean really. Two different leagues of crudeness altogether. No Strings Attached is a $$$ movie. Voters get that. These kinds of vehicles are how beautiful 20-something Hollywood actresses stay popular and make bank. There are quality movies and $$$ movies, and everybody in the biz understands that and has worked on both. But Norbit was more than a $$$ movie - it was an embarrassment.

Also, I think the main reason Eddie Murphy lost (other than his own unpopularity) is that Dreamgirls had just missed out on an expected best picture nom and was losing steam fast, and people no longer seemed to think it had any business winning two acting oscars. I think they'd generally been voting for Murphy earlier in the season out of this sense that they were supposed to because Dreamgirls was the big oscar movie and it was his time. But then everyone sort of collectively realized it was also Alan Arkin's time, and they just liked his character, and his movie, better.

Black Swan will not be fading at all. It will only keep pulling away from TKAA in terms of box office, popular support and general awards heat. Its fans are rabid in a way TKAA's are not. And Natalie's its best hope for a top award. She will win.

I also reject this notion that its now or never for Bening. Weren't people also saying that back in 2004 when she had the great diva role of a lifetime and was getting well into her 40s? Well then she came back with an even better (in most people's minds) perf in her 50s. It can happen again.

I honestly think the odds are much greater that it's Natalie who won't have this chance again, not Annette. Nat is still in her Hollywood "prime" and is the kind of obscenely beautiful, classically feminine actress whose most notable work comments on her youth and beauty in some way. And she won't have that going for her in her 50s, even if she maintains a vibrant career that long (if she even wants to).

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Keller

I thought Portman was in trouble the first time I saw that ad. In a close race with Bening, it could be what tips voters in another direction. Maybe not even because the film is bad, but it's clear she'll have more chances in the future (obviously not for "No Strings Attached," but she's ubiquitous). Will Bening?

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnthonyDC

No Strings Attached looks so-o-o dumb (and tacky), I can't even imagine what Natalie saw in it. (Surely it wasn't the allure of working with Ashton Kutcher because...whoever *jumps* at THAT chance?) And, I'm sorry, for all of her gifts, Natalie just doesn't strike me as a romantic comedy leading lady.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark B.

Sandra Bullock had 'All About Steve' and a Razzie, if that didn't stop her, it won't stop Portman. I think Murphy's biggest problem was the 'douche persona' he was known of, yes, Norbit may have left a bad taste in their mouth, but I doubt it was THE main reason.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike

I've always thought Murphy's performance was overrated. (Let's face it, it was Hudson's movie.) It was too similar to his James Brown 'in the hot tub' SNL skit, not to mention his assumed unpopularity with gay voters due to his liberal use of 'faggot' back in the 80's. I don't think NORBIT helped, but I think he was gonna lose anyway. As for Portman, it's not NO STRINGS ATTACHED I'm worried about, it's the possibility of overexposure.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTab

Adam -- interesting that you think Portman is less likely to have this shot again than Bening. Frankly i can't figure that because it only gets harder for actresses each section of their life, not easier. think how easy it was for Hailee & Mila to get traction and think how hard it is for any older woman. It's no longer automatic. You have to really WOW voters if you're older because so many of the voters are voting on things like heat and beauty.

it's sad but true. Plus Streep hogs all the older lady parts and will undoubtedly continue to. That article i did recently really freaked me out. I knew it was hard for older women with Oscar but i really never imagined it was THAT hard. Only one best actress has ever been in her 50s? That's just insane.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Wouldn't the film need to be extraordinarily bad, down to Portman's performance, to ruin her? What I've seen looks mediocre, not horrible, and she certainly is doing adequate work. This isn't even a Bride Wars derailing Hathaway; No Strings Attached will be a cute but forgettable romantic comedy. Nothing more.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOtherRobert

/3rtfull -- thank you for saying "by hollywood standards" cuz Wiest and Lange weren't exactly oldies at the time ;) but that was a strange year for wins in that it was all about repeats.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Eddie Murphy lost because his overal reputation has been rather unpleasant. There's no such thing as anyone's Norbit.

However, is it wrong that I root for Bening simply for the victory it would imply for middle-aged actresses? It's either very old or very young females, middle aged males.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRipley

Unfortunately, I don't think Portman can lose this race, she has the Oscar in the bag (I say unfortunately because I really wanted Bening to win this year).
After the next Oscar ceremony, Bening will automatically be considered the most overdue actress working nowadays (probably, even more than Julianne Moore), because she will have four Oscar nominations (three as Best Lead Actress in the last eleven years) for four acclaimed performances in very high-profile films. If she keeps working in good films and manages to get a fifth nomination - possibly as Best Supporting Actress next time, because 50something ladies seem unable to win Best Actress - I think she'll have that damned Oscar in the bag. If she's nominated one more time (as supporting) after losing the Oscar for such a wonderful performance as "The Kids Are All Right", I think everybody in Hollywood will feel in need to give her the recognition she deserves.
Obviously, things don't always go in this direction for actresses. Michelle Pfeiffer, after three nominations in five years, stopped working in great films (with the obvious exception of "The Age of Innocence") and is now in a semi-retirement. Glenn Close, after five nominations in seven years, only starred in minor film roles, getting a lot of awards for her work in theatre and television instead (let's see what happens with "Albert Nobbs"). Maybe Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are in a better position, because they keep (and hopefully will keep) working in high-profile movies with a lot of potential. If they'll be nominated in the supporting category in the next several years, I think they'll finally get their Oscars... or at least that's my hope!

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStefano

Annette Bening was in first place in my mind for much of the year, but only because there were no other conceivable competitors and she was the only mortal lock for the longest time. The idea of her winning for The Kids Are All Right, which is a fine performance, just never felt like it would come to pass. It's not just because of her age either, because I thought for about two seconds once upon a time that Lesley Manville might be able to take it. I think we were all just holding our breath until Black Swan had a non-festival release and we really saw what it would do in the awards race, or until we saw how the year end accolades would really treated Jennifer Lawrence and Winter's Bone. Regarding Annette, it's very similar to how I felt about Meryl Streep last year, not in terms of performance, but in terms of defacto frontrunner/winner because for the longest time, no one seemed like a competitor for her in that category. And I never believed that Streep was going to win her third Oscar for Julie & Julia

I don't think that Natalie Portman's upcoming slate of movies is going to severely hurt her chances. Having The Mexican in theaters didn't hurt Julia Roberts one bit, though she admittedly had very little competition, in terms of who people were pulling for. Comparing her to Eddie Murphy, while interesting, is kind of an example of those think pieces that come out around this time of the year when there's a lull in the race. For the record, I think Eddie Murphy should have won, even though I didn't like the movie. But we're talking about an actor who's not only not as well liked as Natalie Portman, but not well liked period in the Academy circle. If Portman loses, it will be because this is slated to be one of the strongest best actress lineups in many years, even if Swank miraculously slips in there and brings down the class average. Bening, Portman and Lawrence are all going to have intense pockets of supporters. The same can even be said for Michelle Williams if she gets in, because the people who love that performance really love it. My point is, I'll wager (not that we'd ever know) that it's going to be really close this year, no matter how best actress finally shakes down.

I don't think Portman's in trouble.

"Norbit" torpedoed Murphy's chances because it told everybody that, no, Eddie Murphy hadn't turned his career around. He was going to keep making awful movies, and the Academy had no interest in "Academy Award-winner Eddie Murphy" headlining a bunch more awful comedies (I bet they're glad they didn't give it to Burt Reynolds for the same reason).

"No Strings Attached" looks mediocre, but it doesn't reinforce or contradict Portman's narrative; she's made some bad movies before, everyone has (even Day-Lewis finally tripped up on that one), they won't hold that against her. Portman is a known quantity; she's been nominated before; there's no sense that, ten years from now, Oscar voters will look back with embarassment at having given her the Oscar.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSC

Alas, I am sad to say it looks like Bening loses again (for what is my favorite performance of hers to date). Portman has this in the bag. Re: the Eddie Murphy comparisons. Let's not forget that, while Murphy's role was his most difficult in some time, it was hardly a tour de force. His press reps were given the easy task of getting him attention for that part because he had been working so lazily for so many years prior. Bening doesn't have that same luck, since every time she decides to make a film, she saunters back into the race.

My advice: score the choice supporting role of Mattie Fae in "August: Osage County." A very different physical type than the original Tony-winning actress, Bening fits more into the mold of her replacement, Steppenwolf actress Molly Regan. I could really see her chewing on the role, and it wouldn't hurt to grab Streep's coattails...

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTravi

What enthusiastic responses!

Joe Reid -- I don't see how part 1 of your comment says anything about my "theory not holding up." Seems to me we are in agreement. And of course No Strings looks nowhere near as wretched...just brings back memories is all.

Mike -- very good point about Bullock.

Stefano -- you send shivers with your suggestion that Bening may go into "semi-retirement" if she keeps getting burned by Oscar. Please no.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKurtis O

It will be interesting to see how the media treat Annette Bening's Best Actress in a Comedy win, and whether of not it influences the narrative of the race. I think it will probably give the appearance of a competitive two-way race, but I honestly can't imagine Portman losing the Oscar.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBryan

None of Portman's upcoming slate of films will likely be held against her. "Black Swan" is too big right now in both a box office and cultural zeitgeist sense (just look at the great "SNL" parody for starters). Couple that with the pregnancy/engagement news, and it would almost be churlish for her to lose the Oscar. "No Strings Attached" is the only one I've seen so far, and yes, it's way beneath her, but that's how it goes sometimes. It's not done post-Oscar, so I doubt she was thinking, I better make the appropriate Oscar-bait choices for myself now that I've done "Black Swan." If Anne Hathaway can survive "Bride Wars" with her street cred still intact, then Natalie Portman can do the same. For Annette Bening to win, she's going to have to pound the pavement from now until voting's done to show that she's in this race and wants the win. Will she do that? I kind of think that she's above that at this point, just like Meryl Streep was above that last year, whereas Sandra Bullock was everywhere to be noticed and campaigned for. So in the end, I think it'll be smooth sailing for Portman to win that Oscar. She'll waddle up to that stage and the press will have a field day with her afterwards.

January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLenny

If the Academy hated Eddie Murphy so much, they shouldn't have nominated him. That was his Oscar win for the taking, and that SAG win should have shown that. As much money as that man has made the people in that Kodak, you'd think they'd let bygones be bygones for supposed behavior in the EIGHTIES (grudges, much?). And say what you will about how awful "Norbit" was, those kinds of films plenty of people watch and enjoy and plenty of people stay employed b/c of it. I think that film did help cost him that Oscar, and it reeks of hypocrisy when you think about the kinds of work and past behaviors that they have in their closets that they wouldn't want held against them at a time like that. And sadly, I don't think Eddie Murphy will ever top "Dreamgirls," which might have been his shining moment as an actor.

January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDC

Kurtis: absolutely it wasn't my intention! I really hope she keeps doing good film roles, I was suggesting that if she gets a powerful supporting role she'll have big chances to finally win the Oscar in the near future (same goes for Julianne Moore). Unfortunately, the semi-retirement is what happened with Michelle Pfeiffer in the last ten years, and many great actresses over 45 / 50 had to choose television instead of movies (Close, Field, Hunter), probably because the lack of good roles for older women. But I really want Bening to make more films and get that Oscar (at the moment she doesn't have any new project in development, let's hope for that role in "August: Osage County" or something like that).

January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStefano

DC -- i loved Murphy's Dreamgirls performance too. I think it was sad he lost that Oscar, truly. And agree with your reasoning. That performance was miles above Arkins. Anyway, PLENTY of actors are lazy about just raking in the money and making bad movies and are not held accountable for it at Oscar time. Halle Berry, Sandra Bullock, etcetera ;) or maybe it's just actresses who can get away with that because mostly Oscar just wants them to be beautiful.

Stefano -- given the casting rumors and decisions about AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY so far, I'm truly not expecting much of the film. Which is very sad but there you go. Retirement or transfer to TV is always a danger for the over 50 actresses

But at least we're saying 50+ because they used to get snarky ageist comments in their mid 30s! even as late as the 1990s! Things have gotten a lot better so we should be thankful for that at least.

January 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

The Black Swan is so popular that I think that will propel Portman to the win. But I'd love to see someone else in the category win.
Kidman, Williams for instance.

January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel Oak

I'm also with you, DC, about loving Murphy's performance. If it were up to me that year, I would have given the award to Jackie Earle Haley, but I was wowed by Murphy, especially in his "Steppin' to the Bad Side" scene. Electric was the word for that.

January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKurtis O

Can't wait for the Thor promotions that say, starring Oscar winner Natalie Portman! Never thought she would have an Oscar before Kenneth Branagh.

January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel Oak

The most cynical part of me is inclined to believe that Oscar voters looked at their ballots and saw the predicted winners in the acting categories looking a little too much like those who would appear at the NAACP Image Awards. Consequently, Murphy became the easiest casualty, especially being the one with arguably the most going against him from the start (comedian, somewhat reclusive, less than likeable, etc. -- "Norbit" notwithstanding). And who was going to deny Whitaker and Hudson? I clearly can't call racism on the matter, but there probably was some manner of tradition-keeping going on ("No more than two black acting winners a year for a while -- Halle and Denzel just won for Pete's sake! Let's not do too much too quickly.").

Wrong of me, I know; I just can't help it. LOL.

January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTroy

Wasn't there a statistic floating around back then that no two acting winners ever came from a film that wasn't a best picture nominee? Is that true? I doubt it, but if so, I could see how Eddie Murphy could have been the casualty there with both Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson being such clear frontrunners.

I really hope it wasn't the case of a "can't have three black acting winners on my ballot!" bias going on, but Eddie Murphy's rep (which shouldn't have been a factor if judging the perfomance alone), that BP stat in play, the love for "Little Miss Sunshine" being great enough to propel veteran Alan Arkin to a victory beyond the token original screenplay win, and yes, "Norbit," all had something do do with Murphy's loss I think. Even I recoiled from seeing those fat suit promos and trailers for the film, and I'd call myself a big Eddie Murphy fan.

I was rooting for him hard to win the Oscar that year. It's sad that he may never get the chance to do another "serious" role like that again. He even said that it's not that he isn't open to roles like that, but that no one asks him to do those roles. They want him in mindless comedies and being the "Shrek" donkey over and over again. I'm sure he's crying all the way to his insane bank account, but still, the talent's there to do far more than what he's currently doing.

And back to the topic of these upcoming films being Natalie Portman's "Norbit," I don't think any of that will hurt her much. None of those films look to be as poorly received as "Norbit" was, and she's still a ripe and young ingenue that voters will love to reward like they always do. It's kind of refreshing that she can go from doing "Black Swan" to "No Strings Attached" so easily. She's keeping herself critically and commercially viable. Smart girl. Particularly now with the baby and marriage on the way.

January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterUrey

I honestly think Annette Bening can still win the race if Hilary Swank is nominated, and some smart PR person of Annette's pushes that Annette vs. Hilary angle in the press.

January 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermelvel
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