“Jackie” proves to be more than just stellar Portman performance.

“Jackie” proves to be more than just stellar Portman performance.

When the Oscar nominations came out Tuesday, there were few surprises. One in particular was unsurprising: Natalie Portman for Best Actress for “Jackie.”

This was a nomination you almost could have called from the moment it was announced that Portman would be portraying Jacqueline Kennedy in the days after John F. Kennedy's death. Perhaps no movie screamed “Oscar bait” louder on paper than “Jackie.”

So I went into viewing this film with an expectation that I would see a movie built to showcase a fine performance and perhaps not much else. “Jackie” exceeded all of those expectations. It's not just a great performance; it's a great and unexpected film.

“Jackie” is framed by a dramatization of an interview between Jackie (Portman) and a magazine reporter (Billy Crudup) in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, in the days accompanying the nation's mourning of JFK.

Though weary from what she had been through, Jackie is fiercely strong-willed and almost adversarial toward the journalist. “You're not going to let me print that, are you?” he asks after one emotional exchange.

“No,” replies Jackie coolly. “Because I didn't say it.”

Her emotional state is depicted in flashbacks: the events that day in Dallas, the arrangements that followed and, notably, the filming of her televised tour that introduced the Kennedy White House to the American people.

Director Pablo Larraín, writer Noah Oppenheim and, foremost, Portman, succeed in creating an unexpected kind of biopic that is more focused on the emotion of the First Lady in a moment in which she was leading a whole nation in its grief.

Portman's performance first grabs your attention with its accuracy in capturing Jackie's physical mannerisms and that uncanny New England dialect. It is almost immediately impossible to imagine anyone else in this role.

But it's the range of emotion that makes this perhaps a career-defining performance for Portman, less showy but possibly more audacious than her Oscar-winning lead in “Black Swan.” She swings from coldly calculating as Jackie moves to protect the legacy she feels her husband deserves to private moments where she allows a soul-deep grief to come out.

The cat-and-mouse game played with a journalist was a perfect narrative tool to set up flashbacks that don't try to tell the story of a woman's life, but rather the moments when she became the focal point of the feelings of a nation. That the film is nearly as good as Portman's performance is remarkable.

With Alive's new look we're also making the switch from an old-school, four-star movie scale to the five-star system you'd see on Netflix, etc. We felt it's easier at a glance to know what we liked, loved and hated. But also, you know, keep reading the reviews.