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Natalie Portman Comes on Strong

The reviews for Black Swan have me wondering whether or not Natalie Portman can become the leading Best Actress contender. Aronofsky’s leads dip to the dark side, as in the case with Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream – but Portman is already such a squeaky clean and beloved actress she seems primed for this moment. Here is In Contention’s Guy Lodge on Portman in Black Swan:

Portman has never been so cannily cast, nor so cunningly exposed, on screen. When, early on, Cassel’s ceaselessly demanding director chides that he “sees only the White Swan” in Nina, and not the dark spontaneity required of its black counterpart, it could be a daring metaphor for the actress herself: long a lissome, delicate screen presence, she has sometimes struggled with conveying intensity or purposefulness. Here, the role cleverly forces the actress into her most pinched, peaky mannerisms — even her little-girl voice is piched an octave higher than usual — only to undercut them as the character gradually loses her self-awareness; the resulting performance is as dangerous, and oddly touching, as Portman has ever allowed herself to be.

And don’t miss TIME’s Steven James Snider on Aronofsky’s fascination with women. Obsessed with Film is left “devastated, excited, tense and emotionally drained.” And calls Portman a lock for Best Actress.

Portman has long been considered one of the most promising young actresses, going all the way back to The Professional. She followed that performance by getting yet more raves for her work in Beautiful Girls. She’s the best thing about Closer. And she quietly gave a bravura, unnoticed performance in The Other Boleyn Girl (early bad reviews prevented her from being noticed, which just goes to show you). She may be more widely known for the Star Wars debacle but her work and talent can’t be denied. Whether or not she becomes the leading Best Actress contender will not take away this being the moment she went from great supporting player to formidable lead.