Let's Talk Oscars

The Special Stain of Natalie Portman's Harvardness
All about the Academy Awards.
Feb. 24 2011 10:37 AM

Let's Talk Oscars

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Natalie Portman

Dearest Dana,

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

Yes, I will quickly put this baby in the corner and chat about Oscar, but first, in the spirit of this morning's TV coverage, I must tell you how good this baby is by making pointless reference to Oscar-related statistics. Advertisers refer to the Oscars as "the female Super Bowl," but to hear the frenzy of stats and trivia shared by film geeks, movie experts, and entertainment wenches this morning, you'd think they were also akin to a fantasy-baseball World Series.

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This baby is more thrilling than Rosemary's Baby (which starred Ruth Gordon, one of three octogenarian Oscar winners, and which would make for a great double feature with Black Swan, as both showcase lower urges on the artistic Upper West Side). This baby is more precious than Million Dollar Baby (directed by Clint Eastwood, whose Hereafter was, justly, utterly snubbed, breaking a streak). This baby will be better than Bringing Up Baby (utterly and unjustly snubbed in 1939) as soon as he learns to talk and begins delivering screwball patter at 200 WPM.

Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck's first directorial effort, scored a supporting actress nomination for Amy Ryan three years ago. Now, Jeremy Renner has landed a nom for Affleck's second film, The Town—another thriller set in the sludgier areas of the Bay State. Meanwhile, the success of The Fighter, also about Beantown chowderheads, and of The Social Network, set on the faintly less uncivilized side of the Charles, points us in the direction of a theme for this Oscars: Boston blows. The trend even carries over to the documentary category, where—wait, scratch that; I rashly assumed that Waste Land was about Dorchester, not about Brazilian garbage-pickers.

The imminent coronation of Ms. Portman—whose performance and presence I am more fond of than you—counts as part of this trend, in a roundabout way. The qualities of her Oscar-season persona that you have steeled yourself to find irksome are, perhaps, directly connected to her Harvardness—the special stain that a few Crimson years puts on one's self-presentation and the warp that school can induce in the minds of non-Harvardian. What did you make of that arch little bit of Aaron Sorkin banter?

Divya: And Mark was the biggest thing on the campus that included 19 Nobel laureates, 15 Pulitzer Prize winners, two future Olympians, and a movie star. 
Sy: Who's the movie star? 
Divya: Does it matter?

Does it ever. It always annoyed me a little that when Portman (Lowell House, 2003) was an undergraduate, she did not allow journalists profiling her to mention exactly which "Ivy League college" she was attending, even though everybody knew. But, OK, perhaps if that polite fiction served to thwart a stalker or detour a lookie-loo, then fine. What really grated was the way the Harvard myth wafted from the profiles themselves, from passages promising that an explanation of one of her freshman papers would give us all headaches. I'm trying to ramble in the direction of saying that the academy, Portman, and the elite/sleazy milieu of Black Swan are a match made in status-porn heaven.

Does it matter?
Troy

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