Re-watching Jackie with post-election eyes, it’s hard to miss a shift in the film’s Oscar status. Along with those already acknowledged performance points for Natalie Portman, who portrays Jacqueline Kennedy in the days surrounding her husband’s assassination, and widespread regard for director Pablo Larrain, Jackie — which looks at media collaboration in building a Camelot myth around the Kennedys — has suddenly acquired that most valuable awards season asset, Importance.
Importance isn’t a sine qua non for Oscar Best Picture winners. Certainly The Departed and No Country For Old Men were more entertaining, in a chilling sort of way, than consequential. As for The Artist and Birdman, it would be hard to say those films really mattered, in the grand sense, unless to those caught in the toils of the actors’ craft (as are many of those who vote for Academy Awards).
But weight does much for a film’s Oscar prospects. At least five of the last 10 Best Picture winners delivered social or political lessons that helped carry them past movies that were often a bit slighter in terms of message. Spotlight tackled priestly child abuse. 12 Years A Slave looked at the evils of America’s slave-holding past. The Hurt Locker opened a window on the human toll of contemporary wars. The King’s Speech told of leadership in trying times. Slumdog Millionaire was widely seen as kind of globalist herald for the then-dawning Obama era.
When it picked up Jackie after September festival showings in Venice and Toronto, Fox Searchlight was almost certainly focused heavily on Portman. She is in almost every scene, often shot in close-up, in what could pass for a one-woman show.
But after Big Media’s big miss in failing to spot Donald Trump’s electoral rise, Jackie plays more like a message movie. Those long scenes in which Billy Crudup, as a television reporter interviewing Jacqueline Kennedy after the assassination, helps to construct a fairy tale that even she doesn’t believe, feel painfully current. The script, by Noah Oppenheim, occasionally plays like a lift from those recently hacked John Podesta emails, in which journalists from respected online, network and newspaper outlets are caught in cozy arrangements with a Hillary Clinton campaign that was trying, in vain, to revive its own Camelot.
Peter Berg’s Patriots Day, about the Boston Marathon bombing, probably gets a similar boost. It is suddenly a bit more resonant—more Important—in a country that just voted, however narrowly, for an old-school endorsement of the police, and for a harder posture toward terror. And, in Oscar terms, a little Importance never hurts.