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The 2017 Vanity Fair Hollywood Portfolio: Wonder Women Emma Stone

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The Hollywood IssueHollywood 2017

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This image may contain Emma Stone Ruth Negga Janelle Mone Elle Fanning Amy Adams Dakota Fanning Clothing and Apparel

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‘Help us, Obi-Wan Kenobi—you’re our only hope,” went the distress
call beamed from Earth into the distant heavens after the election of
Donald Trump, but no answer or hope has been forthcoming. Carrie Fisher,
whose Princess Leia summoned Obi-Wan at the beginning of Star Wars, died
in late December; the next day her mother, Debbie Reynolds, one of the
last vibrant links to the classic MGM of commissaries and contract
players, died, possibly from a stroke—two generations of stardom, two
Hollywood eras, laid to rest in 2016’s final coup de grâce. Witty to the
end (and beyond), Fisher exited this world with her cremation ashes
preserved in a giant Prozac pill. The perfect symbol: a giant Prozac is
what we’d all like to pop right about now.

Movies, with their cultural ESP, sensed the disturbance in the Force in
2016. The films represented by the superlative actresses in this year’s
Hollywood Portfolio offer intimate studies of resilience, pluck, faded
glory, and the everyday heroics of forging ahead against backward
pressure. Even the seemingly happy-go-lucky dancing-romancing La La
, which tucked away seven Golden Globes, has melancholy weighing in
the background. Movies have always thrived on adversity (the Depression,
Vietnam, Watergate), and there’ll be no shortage of that on tap in the
fight ahead. So: Heroines, assemble!

Emma Stone

24 films, including La La Land (2016) and Battle of the Sexes (2017).

Acting chops matter most, but adorability never hurts, and this Emma
Stone has in tidy supply. A natural blonde, Stone has registered her
greatest impact on-screen as a scorchy redhead, first in Superbad, later
setting the high-school halls abuzz in Easy A, finding romance in the
inexplicably titled Crazy, Stupid, Love, and co-starring in a pair of
Woodys (charming Colin Firth in Magic in the Moonlight and jostling
Joaquin Phoenix’s moody moods in Irrational Man). Restored to
blondeness, Stone played the uncharacteristically abrasive part of the
wounded, resentful daughter in Birdman, a small volcanic eruption that
earned her an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress.

Stone finds herself in the Oscar steeplechase again this year after
winning the Golden Globe for best actress in a musical for her swirly,
ardent luminance in La La Land, a valentine to Hollywood musicals and
the Los Angeles dusk directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), which
re-teams her with Crazy, Stupid, Love manwich Ryan Gosling. A sensation
at the Venice Film Festival, La La Land was named best picture by the
New York Film Critics Circle, that finicky tribe of cannibals.

Natalie Portman

37 films, including Jackie (2016); one Academy Award.

A super-concentrated packet whose features have the precision of an
X-Acto knife, Natalie Portman literally and figuratively blasted out of
the box as a pubescent punkette assassin in The Professional (1994) and
hasn’t taken a breather since, working with the top stratum of directors
in a carousel of genres ranging from costume drama (The Other Boleyn
) to space opera (the Star Wars prequel trilogy), to
mirror-splintering psychodrama (Black Swan, for which she won the
Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role). And
now, dominating the camera frame while scarcely moving a facial muscle
(Garbo-esque close-ups galore), is her command performance as Jackie
Kennedy in Pablo Larraín’s Jackie, a master class in how to use
deportment, etiquette, feathery enunciation, and impeccable fashion
taste to ward off chaos and the howling wolves of grief. From Jackie’s
blood-spattered pink Chanel-styled suit to her widow’s black veil and
mourning dress as she staggers through the milky-white mist of Arlington
National Cemetery, the film is iconography in sleepwalk motion, history
as a trance state.

Janelle Monáe

3 films, including Moonlight and Hidden Figures (2016).

The Afro-futurist musical artist Janelle Monáe, whose 2010 album, The
, established her pro-android aesthetic and politique (“The
‘android’ represents the new ‘other,’ ” she explained), enjoyed a
rookie year as an actress in 2016 that would be the envy of any
humanbot. In the haunting triptych of fragility and identity Moonlight,
she is Teresa, the drug dealer’s girlfriend with a consoling heart and
keen emotional radar; in Hidden Figures, she’s Mary, the youngest member
of a trio of unsung female African-American mathematicians working
behind the scenes at NASA to keep John Glenn’s Mercury capsule from
collapsing like a soda can on launch and re-entry. Equally at ease with
Moonlight’s elliptical pauses and Hidden Figures’ expository prose,
Monáe showed she could handle anything thrown at her and bat it over the

Dakota Johnson

16 films, including Fifty Shades Darker (2017).

Daughter of actors Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, granddaughter of
the chillest, most unattainable Hitchcock blonde of them all, Tippi
Hedren, Dakota Johnson has pasted her own star into this Hollywood
constellation. Early twinkles in Crazy in Alabama and The Social Networkwere the prelude to her breakout casting as the demure literary ingénue
Anastasia Steele (yowza) in the screen adaptation of E. L. James’s Fifty
Shades of Grey
, the fiction sensation that got women worldwide
thrumming. Following Fifty Shades of Grey is the forthcoming Fifty
Shades Darker
, and, if civilization prevails, Fifty Shades: The Wrath of
. It is outside the pallor and dolor of Fifty Shades that Johnson
gets to strut a fuller stride, as Rebel Wilson’s avid sidekick in How to
Be Single
and as the sun-streaked temptress in Luca Guadagnino’s A
Bigger Splash
. For her next daredevil mission, Johnson will be en pointein Guadagnino’s remake of the horror cult classic Suspiria, as a
ballerina who joins a mysterioso dance academy presided over by her
sub-lunar co-star from A Bigger Splash, Tilda Swinton—it doesn’t get
more ooga-booga than that.

Elle Fanning

32 films, including 20th Century Women and Live by Night (2016).

Elle Fanning first toddled on-screen playing younger versions of her
older sister, Dakota, in I Am Sam and again in Taken, the Syfy
mini-series produced by Steven Spielberg about alien abduction and hybrid
breeding. Instrumental roles in Maleficent, as Princess Aurora, and as
the exasperated daughter in Trumbo didn’t quite prep viewers for the
one-two whammo of 2016’s The Neon Demon and 20th Century Women. In The
Neon Demon
, another one of Nicolas Winding Refn’s phantasmagoric orgies,
Fanning plays an under-age model sucked up the coke straw of L.A.
decadence who cuts a bloody swath to ace the competition.

In 20th
Century Women
, a far easier session on the optic nerves, Fanning plays a
lustrous, restless, teenage sunflower in Santa Barbara who moves like a
pop tune through air, teaches a young lad the proper dude way to smoke
and swagger, and mimics the whimpering moans of male lust with fond
disdain. In store for Fanning in 2017 is Sofia Coppola’s remake of Don
Siegel’s macabre Civil War fable, The Beguiled, where the dewy magnolias
of Confederate girlhood turn into Venus flytraps.

Dakota Fanning

37 films, including American Pastoral (2016).

‘Precocious” doesn’t begin to cover it when it comes to Dakota
Fanning. Born in 1994, she stacked up TV credits for ER, Ally McBeal,
, and Spin City before the age of seven and at that grand old age won
a Critics’ Choice Award for her performance in I Am Sam. A key role in
Steven Spielberg’s science-fiction series Taken led to a part in
Spielberg’s adaptation of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, and she
etherealized in a number of the Twilight sparkling-vampire movies, a
rite of passage for so many millennial stars and a curse for some. Like
her younger sister, Elle, Dakota looks dreamily evocative of days past,
a convincing sojourner in the punk 70s (as Cherie Currie in The
), the stuffily repressed Victorian era (Effie Gray), and the
revolutionary 60s (Ewan McGregor’s adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel
American Pastoral). Fanning will step into the time machine once again
to star in The Bell Jar, directed by Kirsten Dunst and based on the
Sylvia Plath novel that became the bible for a depressed generation. If
anybody can dispel the cobwebs and vapors that have collected in the
Plath sacristy, Dakota and Dunst can (fingers crossed).

Ruth Negga

13 films, including Loving (2016).

The Irish-Ethiopian actress Ruth Negga has eyes intentful enough to
shift objects around on-screen—a near-telekinetic focus that can shove
aside anyone crowding her path (as evidenced by her brash Tulip O’Hare
in AMC’s Preacher). What makes her performance in Jeff Nichols’s Lovingso quietly capturing is how long her character’s direct gaze is kept
warily under wraps, deflecting scrutiny, biding its time. For good
reason: in the real-life 1960s South, where the film is set, a direct
look from a black person at a white man in authority was considered an
affront—it could get you killed. Loving is based on the true story of
Richard and Mildred Loving, an inter-racial couple whose marriage was
treated as a crime in their home state of Virginia, and as a victory
when the Supreme Court ruled in their favor, in 1967. It is Richard
(Joel Edgerton, chiseled and hunkered-in) who is insistent at first on
setting things right, then Mildred who proves the persistent one,
seizing the baton when he starts to hang back, and whose eyes, no longer
averted, are on the prize.

Aja Naomi King

6 films, including The Birth of a Nation (2016).

Aja Naomi King’s movie ascendancy as the slave girl Cherry in Nate
Parker’s blazing battle cry, The Birth of a Nation (based on the Nat
Turner rebellion of 1831), is a complete boomerang from the role that
made her television rep. After an assortment of credits in film
(“Positive Polly” in Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress and Rosa in
the underseen comedy The Rewrite) and in prime-time series such as Emily
Owens, M.D.
and The Blacklist, King was whisked aboard the mother ship
of Shondaland’s How to Get Away with Murder, starring the inviolable
Viola Davis. Shondaland TV is not so much a place as a quantum state in
which dialogue, events, character reversals, and shocking twists occur
at speeds unknown to mundane humankind. King’s Michaela Pratt has been
in the mad thick of it for three seasons, and the part of Cherry
required a rapid deceleration and divestment of contemporary traits to
fit seamlessly into the time, place, and tragic situation of southern
slavery. This King did so artfully that you don’t see the art, only an
eloquent act of being.

Greta Gerwig

14 films, including Jackie and 20th Century Women (2016).

A screwball heroine with a lot of topspin, Greta Gerwig is at her best
playing agitators and instigators—taking Lola Kirke under her erratic
wing in Mistress America, creating a junior-miss version of Miss Jean
Brodie in Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress, hatching a scheme to
unload her pretentious married boyfriend back onto his wife in Rebecca
Miller’s Maggie’s Plan, and driving Al Pacino out of what’s left of his
woolly mind in The Humbling. Her gyrating and instigating are
beautifully fused in Mike Mills’s 20th Century Women, in which she plays
Abbie, a soul-hungry Woody Woodpecker punkhead in a Lou Reed T-shirt who
spazzes out to Talking Heads and the Clash, takes her teenage roomie to
the nearest mosh pit, and conducts a blunt tutorial on menstruation at a
dinner party presided over by a squinty and supremely unamused Annette
Bening (never greater). Gerwig can also be seen in the recently released
Jackie, consoling and advising the grief-stricken First Lady, a guardian
angel in a brunette bouffant.

Lupita Nyong’o

6 films, including Queen of Katwe (2016); one Academy Award.

Lupita Nyong’o is a message amplifier: only a small handful of major
screen credits to her name but what a solid thump they’ve made. She
seemed to burst out of parts unknown in her feature-film debut as the
sadistically mistreated Patsey in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, for
which she won an Academy Award for best supporting actress. Fortitude
also forms the mortar of her performance in Mira Nair’s Queen of Katweas Nakku Harriet, the Mother Courage of a family of hungry, unschooled
children in a teeming, poor, ramshackle township in Uganda where
skyscrapers stand in the hazy distance like the Emerald City of Oz.
Elsewhere, in a galaxy far, far away, Nyong’o is a member of the
revivified Star Wars mod squad, playing the goggle-eyed pirate Maz
Kanata in J. J. Abrams’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens and its next
billion-dollar chapter. As if that weren’t pop pantheon enough, she is
also cast in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s forthcoming Black Panther
movie, making her a dual dignitary at any Comic-Con.

Amy Adams

36 films, including Nocturnal Animals and Arrival (2016).

An air of expectancy is what Amy Adams has brought to the movies ever
since her breakthrough, in Junebug (2005), an avid acceptance of
come-what-may that made her exiled princess in Enchanted such a piquant
charmer. The most un-showy of actresses, a smooth canvas each time out,
Adams buoys nearly every movie she’s in, her ready calm establishing an
oasis amid the testosterone sweatbox of The Fighter and the hurly-burly
of American Hustle (both directed by David O. Russell), keeping the
multi-narrative crisscrosses of Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals on track,
and elevating her performance in the critical and box-office hit
Arrival—Denis Villeneuve’s Jungian science-fiction meditation, in
which the aliens communicate through enso ink circles, as if blowing Zen
smoke rings—to a state of grace. She’s been nominated five times for
an Oscar: perhaps this will be the year—finally!—that she gets to
lug one home.

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