I usually confine my Hollywood conspiracy theories to guessing which allegedly straight actors are gay (answer: most of them. Hi Jake!), but here goes: Natalie Portman is going down (and not on Mila Kunis this time), or at least, that is my newest crackpot theory after seeing a particularly curious series of trailers at the movie theater last night. The hus-b and I went to see “The Fighter” at the Vogue Theater, a completely charming, single-screen, independent movie house just blocks from our home. Three trailers preceded the film: one for “Drive Angry” (which should be retitled “Nicolas Cage Needs a Paycheck”), a second for the upcoming spring blockbuster release “Thor” and a third for “No Strings Attached”.
What struck me as odd was that neither of the last two trailers seemed to belong. Independent theaters specializing in art house fare usually show trailers for films they might actually show or that their independent film-favoring patrons might find interesting. There is no way that a teeny-tiny, neighborhood theater is going to purchase the rights to exhibit “Thor”. Sure, the cast looks pretty legit and it’s being directed by Kenneth Branagh, but it’s still a Marvel comic book movie with a $150 million budget, and in 3D no less.
Even more curious was the inclusion of “No Strings Attached”, the painfully predictable Ashton Kutcher-Natalie Portman romantic comedy that has already been released. Why waste screen time promoting a film that was released a week ago and, let’s face it, is unlikely to have crossover with the crowd going to see “The Fighter” at an independent theater?
The common denominator? Natalie Portman, who stars in both “Thor” and “No Strings Attached”. The Best Actress Oscar is hers to lose, and methinks someone is trying to give her a little push off the ledge. “No Strings Attached” has been an issue for months, the concern being that co-starring in a rom com with a veritable industry joke like Ashton Kutcher released at the height of awards season could essentially “Norbit” Portman’s chances. Couple that with co-starring in a Marvel Comics 3D action movie and Portman’s street cred as a serious, Oscar-worthy actress is inevitably called into question.
Who stands to benefit from this? Clearly Annette Bening, the star of indie darling “The Kids Are Alright”. A four-time Oscar nominee without a win thus far, it could be argued that it’s Bening’s “time” (especially by those Oscar voters who seem to abide by the career-achievement-award theory). That being said, Oscar voters can’t resist a beautiful ingenue or a dramatic physical transformation for a role (and the public seems to be bizarrely obsessed with pregnancy right now), so Portman still seems to have the edge.
How to tip the scales in Bening’s favor? Encourage the Norbit by making “No Strings Attached” even more visible. Counteract those who dismiss “No Strings Attached” as a one-off dud unlikely to harm Portman’s Oscar chances by making her upcoming 3D comic book movie more visible, too. This may remind folks of Portman’s involvement in the Star Wars prequels, branding her as a commercial blockbuster actress as opposed to a serious thespian (decidedly not a good thing to Oscar voters).
Calling in a few favors to make sure these potentially damning trailers get seen wouldn’t be much of a challenge, especially given Hollywood’s fondness for Bening and quirky, groundbreaking indies like “The Kids Are Alright”. The collateral benefit to Oscar Best Picture nominated films of diminishing Portman’s chances — and those of “Black Swan” by association — also can’t be ignored. Collaboration between independent theaters and production companies to slip in some damning trailers would be an easy enough task, especially if you’re The Weinstein Company whose films “The King’s Speech” and (shocker) “The Fighter” arguably stand to gain the most from a black eye to “Black Swan”. Fishy…