Total Recall: Natalie Portman's Best Movies
We break down the 10 best reviewed films in the Brothers star's career.
It would be hard for any actress to ask for a more attention-getting opening scene than one that calls for strolling onto the screen with a black eye and a cigarette dangling out of your mouth -- and that goes more than double for Natalie Portman, who scored the role of The Professional's vengeful Mathilda when she was all of 12 years old. Few actors, let alone those Portman's age at the time, would have been able to summon the world-weary cynicism necessary to portray a young girl who's seen her crack-dealing family mowed down by vengeful DEA agents -- and who then goes on to pursue a terribly inappropriate relationship with the hitman down the hall. Add a borderline insane performance from Gary Oldman into the mix, and The Professional could easily have skidded into B-movie territory; in fact, a few critics felt that's exactly where it belonged. The majority, however, were too entranced by the sweetly deadly chemistry between Portman and Jean Reno to notice the film's flaws. As Time's Richard Schickel wrote, "The bonding of Mathilda and Leon may be among the strangest in the long, tiresome history of odd-couple movies."
You think you're under a lot of pressure at the office? Try being Natalie Portman in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and having to play a character who not only gives birth to Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, but is inadvertently responsible for the creation of Darth freakin' Vader. Where Episode II placed Portman in the thick of a state-of-the-art intergalactic action thriller, Episode III found her relegated mostly to the sidelines -- until the final act, when she was asked to not only give birth to the most important set of twins in all of sci-fi, but make audiences believe she was literally dying of a broken heart. A thankless task, to be sure, and more than a few critics were put off by the many ways George Lucas' script failed to live up to decades of hype and impossible expectations. For others, though, Revenge of the Sith was a perfectly pulse-pounding popcorn flick -- take Pete Vonder Haar of Film Threat, who gushed, "It did what I thought was impossible after the previous two films: it made me a Star Wars fan again."
Natalie Portman's first major role called for her to awkwardly try to seduce Jean Reno; a mere two years later, she brought an inestimable spark to Ted Demme's Beautiful Girls by playing a self-proclaimed "old soul" who's nevertheless far too young to catch the eye of Timothy Hutton. Considering that Girls' cast also included such famous names as Uma Thurman, Mira Sorvino, and Matt Dillon, the raves that 15-year-old Portman received for her work as the precocious (and, it must be said, utterly adorable) Marty were even more impressive. Not a lot goes on in this look at the commitment-shy shufflings of thirtysomething men in northern New England, and Beautiful Girls didn't attract much attention at the box office, but there's no arguing with raves from critics like Felix Vasquez Jr. of Cinema Crazed, who wrote, "Portman steals all the scenes with Timothy Hutton and lights up the movie in each and every one of her scenes with her beauty, charm and utter exuberance."
2. Garden State
In the years since it turned into an indie phenomenon, it's become fashionable to mock Garden State for the slew of scripts about morose middle-class dudes it triggered -- not to mention the many sensitive singer/songwriters who found inspiration in its soundtrack -- but Zach Braff's writing/directing debut struck an undeniable chord when it was released in 2004, and even if you were annoyed by the trends State sparked, it isn't hard to see what audiences were responding to. Nor is it difficult to determine why Braff's character, a disaffected Hollywood actor who's returned to his New Jersey stomping grounds for his mother's funeral, would find himself shaken out of his ennui by the joie de vivre of Natalie Portman's character, a hoodie-wearing, Shins-loving compulsive liar named Sam. Sound too quirky by half? Perhaps it is. But it's also, in the words of Tom Long of the Detroit News, "The kind of movie that reminds you why you love movies so much, a film so filled with unexpected energy and ambition and sly intelligence it gives you hope for the future."
It wouldn't be right to say that Natalie Portman truly "stars" in Heat -- Michael Mann's 1995 crime epic boasts a rather incredible cast, and far more seasoned actors than the teenaged prodigy were relegated to suporting roles. Still, few of those parts had more to do with the character development of Al Pacino's Vincent Hanna, a driven LAPD detective whose troubled marriage to Justine Hanna (Diane Venora) helps drive his stepdaughter (played by Portman) to the brink of suicide. Hanna is the mirror image of Robert De Niro's character, career thief Neil McCauley, and the scene where a horrified Hanna sets aside professional obligations to rush his dying stepdaughter to the hospital reflects McCauley's decision to break a lifelong rule by starting a new, honest life with his girlfriend (Amy Brenneman), and even if audiences knew neither man would ultimately stick to his decision, that didn't undermine the power of those performances -- or Portman's part in raves like the one from the Washington Post's Desson Thomson, who applauded, "As with his other works, [Mann] binds sound, music and pictures into one hypnotic triaxial cable and plugs it right into your brain. He makes this almost-three-hour experience practically glide by."
In case you were wondering, here are Natalie Portman's top ten movies according to the RT Community Tomatometer:
1. Léon The Professional -- 95%
2. Heat -- 94%
3. V for Vendetta -- 91%
4. Garden State -- 91%
5. Paris, Je T'aime -- 89%
6. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith -- 85%
7. Beautiful Girls -- 85%
8. Closer -- 80%
9. Cold Mountain -- 79%
10. Everyone Says I Love You -- 79%
Finally, here's a side of Natalie we never knew existed... until Saturday Night Live dared to show it to us (it's censored, but let the faint of heart be wary):