Oscar's Leading Ladies
Gwyneth Paltrow won the best-actress Oscar for her role in Shakespeare in Love (1998). From the February 2004 issue. Photographs by Michael Thompson.
Marion Cotillard won best actress for her role as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose (2007). From the March 2008 Hollywood Issue. Photographs by Mark Seliger.
Faye Dunaway was nominated for best actress for Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Chinatown (1974). She won the statuette for her leading role in Network (1976). From the April 1996 issue. Photographs by David LaChapelle.
Hilary Swank won best actress for her roles in Boys Don’t Cry (1999) and Million Dollar Baby (2004). From the August 2006 issue. Photograph by Patrick Demarchelier.
Halle Berry won a best-actress Oscar for Monster’s Ball (2001). From the April 2002 issue. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
Jodie Foster is a two-time best-actress winner, for The Accused (1988) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). From the May 1994 issue. Photograph by Steven Meisel.
Charlize Theron won a best-actress Oscar for her role as Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2004) and was nominated for North Country (2005). From the January 1999 issue. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
Cher was nominated for best supporting actress for Silkwood (1983) and won the best-actress award for Moonstruck (1987). From the November 1990 issue. Photograph by Herb Ritts.
Jessica Lange has been nominated for an Oscar six times, and won twice—for best supporting actress for Tootsie (1982) and for best actress for Blue Sky (1994). From the December 1991 issue. Photographs by Steven Meisel.
Nominated twice, Sophia Loren won the best-actress award for Two Women (1961). From the April 1995 issue. Photograph by Herb Ritts.
Reese Witherspoon won a best-actress Oscar for her portrayal of June Carter in Walk the Line (2005). From the December 2004 issue. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
Meryl Streep has 15 nominations and two wins—so far. She won best actress for Sophie’s Choice (1982) and best supporting actress for Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). From the April 1999 issue. Photograph by Herb Ritts.
Julia Roberts has been nominated three times, with one best-actress win for her role in Erin Brockovich (2000). From the December 2007 issue. Photograph by Michael Thompson.
Nicole Kidman won a best-actress award for The Hours (2002). From the December 2002 issue. Photograph by Mario Testino.
Laughing Matter: Comedy's New Legends
JONAH HILL, PAUL RUDD, SETH ROGEN, and JASON SEGEL, The Pretty Young Things
After appearing in Knocked Up and/or The 40-Year-Old Virgin, this quartet can now be considered summa cum laude graduates of the Judd Apatow school of comedy. Unlike so many comedy stars of the last two decades, they—and the other funny people depicted on the following pages—seem at their best when they work not as soloists but as part of a tightly knit ensemble. Say good-bye to the laughter of alienation and hello to a brand of comedy that fosters a feeling of community. Rather than dominate a crowd, they conspire with the people in the audience. Their strength lies in their charm. Even Rogen.
DANNY McBRIDE, The Breakthrough
Actor, writer, producer.
He-e-e-e-e-re’s … Danny! In the last couple of years he’s burst through the door like no one since Jack Nicholson in The Shining. In Pineapple Express, he was sick funny as Red, a freakish low-life dealer who never starts a fight he can’t lose in an extremely painful manner. (In real life, McBride’s head was split open by a bong during filming.) And in a cast of brilliant comic actors, he still managed to steal a corner of Tropic Thunder for himself as the lunatic pyrotechnician. McBride has a special talent for taking your average everyday dumb-ass and making him into someone you hate to love. That’s what he’s been doing as the star of the new HBO comedy series East Bound and Down, in which he plays an ex-major-leaguer working as a gym teacher. The show’s co–executive producer is Will Ferrell, who appears on it from time to time. McBride will in turn be lending Ferrell comic support in the likely summertime comedy blockbuster Land of the Lost. Photographed by Mark Seliger in Los Angeles.
RUSSELL BRAND, The Comic
Actor, writer, naughty boy.
The flamboyant, handsome, and very hairy Russell Brand may not attain the worldwide fame and influence of Charlie Chaplin, but he’s a huge talent with an adroit physicality and large ambitions. Americans got a taste of this British provocateur in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Brand’s character, the vain pop star Aldous Snow, made for an unusually multifaceted comedy villain: he’s shallow, obnoxious, and pompous, but also shows himself to be insecure, self-aware, good-hearted, and given to bouts of melancholy. Aldous will return as the hero of Get Him to the Greek, a rock ’n’ roll comedy from the Judd Apatow factory scheduled for 2010. Before then, Brand will try to kindle a love affair with American audiences via his first Comedy Central special (his stand-up is influenced by Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks); a turn as the jester Trinculo in Julie Taymor’s film of The Tempest; and the U.S. release of his memoir, My Bookie Wook, a U.K. best-seller, which chronicles an odd upbringing, heroin and crack use, sex addiction, rehab, and his dismissal from British MTV after he arrived dressed as Osama bin Laden on September 12, 2001. Photographed by Mark Seliger in Los Angeles.
BILL HADER, ANNA FARIS, JASON BATEMAN, and LESLIE MANN, The Honeymooners
Do they option photographs? Because this might work—The Honeymooners updated for 2010. Jason Bateman may not be big enough or loud enough to pull off a Jackie Gleason–style Ralph Kramden, but, as he proved in Arrested Development and Hancock, he has on-screen charm to spare. Leslie Mann, who will anchor the most-anticipated comedy of the year, Funny People (written and directed by her husband, Judd Apatow), looks ready to go as the too-good-for-this-world Alice. Saturday Night Live stalwart Bill Hader, the heir to the Dan Aykroyd cunning-doofus crown, who has lent his distinctive touch to Pineapple Express (the opening minutes) and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (those idiotic/amusing video chats), provides a more muscular Norton. And Anna Faris, so lovely and Goldie Hawn–ishly hilarious in The House Bunny, almost out-Trixies Trixie. Action, already. Photographed by Norman Jean Roy in Los Angeles.
PAUL RUDD, The Role Model
It’s … alive! More than that, the career of Paul Rudd is thriving. He got a lot of attention for his banter with Seth Rogen in The 40-Year-Old Virgin (“Know how I know you’re gay?”), delivered with an easy manner that masks a depth of feeling. Rudd may well end up this generation’s Jack Lemmon. His steady work is made possible partly by his enviable range, which allows him to play oddballs (his touched-in-the-head surfing instructor in Forgetting Sarah Marshall), romantic leading man (alongside Michelle Pfeiffer in the seriously underrated Amy Heckerling film I Could Never Be Your Woman), and at least one alienated guy (in Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things). In Monsters vs. Aliens, he voices a yuppie weatherman whose fiancée turns into a giant. In last year’s Role Models, which he co-wrote, he starred as a charming misanthrope who learns, bit by bit, not to hate everyone else quite so much. With its hard-R jokes and child actors, Role Models was a strange little package, but it gave us probably the best on-screen representation of Rudd-ness we’ve had—at least until the upcoming bro-mantic comedy I Love You, Man, in which he plays a so-called “girlfriend guy” who needs to find a best man in time for his wedding day. Photographed by Art Streiber in Los Angeles.
JONAH HILL, The Chopper
Even when he plays characters who tend to freak out over little things—think of his germophobic tizzy in Knocked Up’s hospital scene or his anxiety attack outside the liquor store in Superbad—Jonah Hill exudes a feeling of calm. His steady gaze and deliberate, crystal-clear way with a line bring to mind Christopher Walken. And perhaps no other actor has managed to get away with talking so much filth while conveying a puppy-dog sweetness.(Were he to cut down the cherry tree of yore, he would probably say something like “I chopped it down and I’m really very fucking sorry about it.”) Hill was likable even when playing the waiter with creepy stalker tendencies in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Look for him to brighten up three movies in the coming months: Judd Apatow’s Funny People, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, and the much-anticipated alternative-reality comedy from Ricky Gervais, This Side of the Truth. Photographed by Sam Jones in Los Angeles.
AMY POEHLER and WILL ARNETT, The Accomplices
Some Saturday Night Live cast members just made you laugh (Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Will Ferrell). Others made you laugh and freaked you out at the same time (Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Molly Shannon). And one made you laugh while scaring you (John Belushi). With Amy Poehler, there was something new. She certainly got her share of laughs in her eight-season tenure on the show, but she also inspired the kind of affection that’s hard to come by at that hour of the night. Last October, when it was announced on-air that she was absent because she was having a baby, there was something like an awwwww from the crowd, mixed with some seriously warm applause. Poehler will continue her cuddly relationship with NBC viewers soon, as the star of a new Thursday-night sitcom, Parks and Recreation. The Han Solo–esque stud on this page would be Will Arnett, Poehler’s husband. If you’ve seen Arnett as the entertainingly insufferable G. O. B. Bluth II on the late Fox sitcom Arrested Development, or in Blades of Glory or Semi-pro or, God help you, Let’s Go to Prison, you know there’s something not right about him. In a good way. He’s now doing his thing on 30 Rock, as Devon Banks, a corporate climber overwhelmed by his own gayness. Photographed by Patrick Demarchelier in New York.
JASON SEGEL, The Loner
Actor, writer, producer, songwriter, singer, puppeteer.
The great silent-film comedian Buster Keaton got his name (bestowed upon him by Harry Houdini, according to showbiz legend) because, as a kid on the vaudeville circuit, he was willing to take a lot of physical punishment for a laugh. Jason Segel, with his quick smile and basset-hound eyes, doesn’t do much traditional slapstick, but he has taken part in a few pretty devastating pratfalls—though his are of the emotional variety. Does anybody cry funnier than Segel does in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the wonderful rom-com farce he not only starred in but wrote? Has anybody done funnier full frontal nudity than he does in the movie’s infamous naked-breakup scene? This alumnus of Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks and Knocked Up will next appear as a slightly unhinged pal to Paul Rudd in the springtime buddy comedy I Love You, Man. Segel is also putting his scripting and puppeteering skills to use in the next Muppets movie for Disney. Photographed by Norman Jean Roy in Los Angeles.
SETH ROGEN, The Auteur
Actor, writer, producer.
With his booming voice and bearish appearance, Rogen has displayed a commanding screen presence in comedy hits such as Knocked Up and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and he may go on to achieve something like Will Smith–level celebrity when he becomes known even to grade-schoolers as a voice in the upcoming animated Monsters vs. Aliens and as the star of 2010’s The Green Hornet. But the amazing thing about Rogen is that he (along with collaborator Evan Goldberg) is one of the finest screenwriters going, with Superbad and Pineapple Express to his credit. Both pictures borrow elements from the films of Quentin Tarantino and Rogen’s mentor, Judd Apatow, to freshen up the action-buddy genre for a generation raised on reality TV and YouTube. Rogen is set up for another memorable year, with a part in Apatow’s Funny People and a starring role as an unstable security guard in the mall comedy Observe and Report. Photographed by Norman Jean Roy in Los Angeles.
Oscar's Leading Men
Nominated for an Academy Award five times, Dustin Hoffman has won twice, for leading roles in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Rain Man (1988). From the April 1996 issue. Photograph by Herb Ritts.
Also a five-time nominee, Denzel Washington won a best-actor Oscar for Training Day (2001) and a best-supporting-actor award for Glory (1989). From the October 1995 issue. Photograph by Herb Ritts.
Jack Nicholson has been nominated for a best-actor Oscar eight times, winning one for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and another for As Good as It Gets (1997). He has been nominated in the best-supporting-actor category three times. From the April 1993 issue. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
Daniel Day-Lewis has won two best-actor awards, for My Left Foot (1989) and There Will Be Blood (2007). From the April 2003 issue. Photograph by Brigitte Lacombe.
Sean Penn has been nominated for best actor three times, winning for his performance in Mystic River (2003). From the March 2004 issue. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
Eight-time nominee Jack Lemmon (right, with Some Like It Hot co-star Tony Curtis) won a best-actor Oscar for Save the Tiger (1973) and a best-supporting-actor award for Mister Roberts (1955). From the April 1995 issue. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
Nominated eight times for best actor (and once for best supporting actor), Paul Newman won an Oscar for his leading role in The Color of Money (1986). In 1985, the Academy presented him with an honorary award, to recognize his many compelling screen performances and his personal integrity and dedication to acting. Newman also received the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in 1994. From the August 2002 issue. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
Tom Hanks won the best-actor Oscar for his roles in Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994). He was also nominated for the award for Big (1988), Saving Private Ryan (1998), and Cast Away (2000). From the June 1994 issue. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
Al Pacino won a best-actor Oscar in 1993 for Scent of a Woman. That year he was also nominated in the best-supporting-actor category, for his performance in Glengarry Glen Ross. From the October 1989 issue. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
Nicolas Cage won an Oscar for his leading role in Leaving Las Vegas (1995). From the July 1996 issue. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
Anthony Hopkins received a best-actor Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Since then, he has been nominated twice for best actor, for The Remains of the Day (1993) and Nixon (1995). He was also nominated for his supporting role in Amistad (1997). From the February 1992 issue. Photograph by Wayne Maser.
Jeremy Irons won a best-actor award for his performance in Reversal of Fortune (1990). From the November 1990 issue. Photograph by Helmut Newton.
Something Just Clicked - 2009
DANNY BOYLE and DEV PATEL, The Dickensians
One film together: Slumdog Millionaire (2008).
Danny Boyle has slung some pretty brutal stuff at us before—that ’95–’96 one-two punch of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, not to mention 28 Days Later in 2002—but Slumdog Millionaire is a real sock to the solar plexus. The reason? It’s got more than cunning, violence, and kinetic thrills; it’s got heart, the way a Dickens novel has heart. Through all the muck and carnage, all the pendulum swings between penurious and privileged milieus, there is a sympathetic human protagonist whose struggle becomes our struggle. In gawky, jug-eared Dev Patel, Boyle found his perfect Pip, his ideal David Copperfield. Like those characters, Patel’s Jamal holds on tightly to his dignity and reserve when there’s nothing else left to hold on to—whether he’s surviving by his wits as a self-raised orphan in the slums of Mumbai or enduring the (public- and state-enforced) pressure of being the star contestant in India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. (It must be said that the child actors who play Jamal at young and intermediate ages, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar and Tanay Chheda, are also fantastic.) Boyle could have cast a more conventionally handsome kid as Jamal, but in shrewdly anointing the sweet, soulful, British-born Patel, he raised the whole enterprise to a higher plane—a decision affirmed by four Golden Globe Awards and possibly more hardware to come. Photographed at Gordon Ramsay at the London, New York City.
DARREN ARONOFSKY and MICKEY ROURKE, The Ringers
One film together: The Wrestler (2008).
The wreck that was the SS Rourke had a perilous journey on its way to Darren Aronofsky’s shores. The director was keen on casting the damaged-goods actor in the title role of Randy “The Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler, but when no U.S. studio would finance the film with Rourke attached, Aronofsky turned to Nicolas Cage. Then, at the eleventh hour, an overseas studio agreed to back the picture with Rourke, and Cage graciously bowed out of the project. While the director’s original choice made sense—who better to play a preening grappler who’s seen better days than a preening, pugilistic actor who’s seen better days?—no one foresaw the alchemical result of mixing the brainiac enthusiasm of Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) with the on-the-ropes desperation of Rourke: an unapologetic tearjerker that offers Rourke’s best performance since Barfly. Randy’s similarities to Rourke have been much remarked upon—the way his “the 90s sucked” rant could easily be applied to the actor’s fallow decade; the way his whole face seems to have cauliflower ear—and Aronofsky has admitted that The Wrestler’s screenplay essentially turned into a collaborative effort when Rourke became involved, with the actor taking a pen to Randy’s lines and rewriting them in ways that would resonate with him personally. The serendipitous actor-director partnership brought out the best in both men; hell, it would make for a good movie in its own right. Photographed in New York City.
SAM MENDES and KATE WINSLET, The Partnership
One film together: Revolutionary Road (2008).
It’s unfair to Mendes and Winslet to say things have come easily for them, but from the moment she first appeared on-screen, as a sexually confused teen in Heavenly Creatures (1994), and from the moment his deviant reconceptualization of Cabaret skipped the pond from London to Broadway (1998), these two seemed destined for big things. And then, lo, Kate burst through with Titanic (1997). And, lo, Sam moved into feature films with American Beauty (1999) and won an Oscar for best director on his first try. And then they found each other. A wedding and a son later, they’ve finally worked together, on Revolutionary Road, a film based on Richard Yates’s troubling 1961 novel, whose very purpose was to indict the concept of “the perfect marriage.” Even with Leonardo DiCaprio standing in as the husband, the subject matter must have produced some uncomfortable introspection in the Winslet-Mendes house. But then, the work’s tragedy lies in its heroine’s unrealized aspirations to be bohemian and artistic. In a real-life household where the Mister is directing Shakespeare and Chekhov at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Missus’s other current film is Stephen Daldry’s audacious and sexually explicit The Reader … aah, not so much of an issue. Photographed at Northlight 1111 Studio, in New York City.
GUS VAN SANT and SEAN PENN, The Milk Men
One film together: Milk (2008).
Van Sant’s filmography is crowded with disaffected and alienated young men who shuffle through life with their shoulders hunched, their bodies curled into themselves: River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho, Joaquin Phoenix in To Die For, Michael Pitt in Last Days, Gabe Nevins in Paranoid Park. Milk adds Emile Hirsch to this pantheon, but otherwise the film is a startling break from Van Sant tradition, and for one reason: Sean Penn. As Harvey Milk, the gay activist and politician, Penn is disaffected and alienated, to be sure, but he’s an older and more resolute Van Sant protagonist: his shoulders rolled back, his arms outstretched in welcome, his chin up, his smile unwavering. In his most endearing role since—and this is said respectfully—Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Penn captures the phenomenal charisma and inherent warmth that made the real Milk a different kind of outsider: a charmer who charged defiantly into the “inside” world rather than stand shivering on the fringes. And so, together, Penn and Van Sant have pulled off a neat trick. They’ve taken on two very tired genres—the biopic and the triumphant tale of a ragtag band of outsiders—and gently subverted them, with fantastic results. Much as the gently subversive Mr. Milk did in San Francisco politics. Photographed in Marin County, California.
PENÉLOPE CRUZ and WOODY ALLEN, The Odd Couple
One film together: Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008).
The archetypal Woody woman might be the over-educated, over-therapized yammerer—exemplified by Diane Keaton’s characters in Annie Hall and Manhattan—but another type of woman has also recurred in his work: the smoldering, emotionally volatile knockout. Think of Charlotte Rampling in Stardust Memories, Scarlett Johansson in Match Point, or, from Allen’s masterful short story “Retribution,” the Wasp goddess Connie Chasen, possessed of a “lewd, humid eroticism” and a body “the envy of a Vogue model.” In Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Cruz takes on this assignment and then some—throwing in bits of Béatrice Dalle in Betty Blue and Emmanuelle Seigner in Bitter Moon for good measure. As María Elena, the tousled, pouty, impossibly sexy ex-wife of Javier Bardem’s painter character, Cruz is a whirlwind of carnality and psychosis. “You are de meesing ingredient,” she tells her ex’s new lover, an American naïf played by Johansson. “I get thees warm feeling when I hear you both locked in passion every night.” With Allen pulling the strings, you just know it’s not going to end well. Photographed in the Empire Suite at the Carlyle, a Rosewood Hotel, in New York City.
RON HOWARD and TOM HANKS, The Classicists
Four films together: Splash (1984), Apollo 13 (1995), The Da Vinci Code (2006), and the upcoming Angels & Demons (2009).
It’s hard to remember how much we underestimated Howard and Hanks when Splash came out. The former wasn’t long removed from TV life as Richie Cunningham and had but two modest features to his name as a director, Grand Theft Auto and Night Shift; the latter was the taller guy from Bosom Buddies, just another TV actor at sea in Hollywood after his hit series ended. But the wonderful mermaid movie Splash changed everything, establishing the templates for both men’s careers: Howard as a mainstream maximalist, making big, bustling movies that don’t skimp on heart and humor, and Hanks as an eminently relatable-to leading man who is forever getting thrust, whether he likes it or not, into extraordinary situations. Apollo 13 ratified both reputations, its acutely American story—of how the astronaut Jim Lovell and his crew nobly averted disaster during an aborted NASA mission to the moon—reinforcing the acutely American, down-the-middle appeal of both men. Their Dan Brown diptych, The Da Vinci Code and the forthcoming Angels & Demons, has them wandering farther afield, to the corridors and catacombs of the Vatican and the Louvre. But, like Howard Hawks and Gary Cooper ranging freely across genres in Today We Live, Ball of Fire, and Sergeant York, Howard and Hanks can take on anything and still leave us feeling safe in their hands. Photographed in Los Angeles.
NICOLE KIDMAN and BAZ LUHRMANN, The Colonists
Two films together: Moulin Rouge! (2001) and Australia (2008).
“Compared with you, we are a taciturn people. But only compared with you,” wrote the Australian critic Robert Hughes, addressing us Americans in his book The Fatal Shore. The exuberant Luhrmann would have it the other way around—the Aussies are the ones who make Americans look restrained and refined. His swooping, sweeping pictures abound with old-style Hollywood theatricality, but his sensibility—cheeky, sweaty, delirium-inducing—is wholly Australian, even when, as in Moulin Rouge!, his films aren’t set in Australia. Casting Kidman as the courtesan Satine (“the Sparkling Diamond”) in that movie, Luhrmann recaptured her as an Australian national treasure: the sensual, sensational Saucy Nic, back after a long period away in Kubrickian, Eyes Wide Shut limbo. In Australia, Luhrmann steps back, to some extent, from the heightened artifice of what he calls his “Red Curtain” style of filmmaking—nothing fizzy or phantasmagoric about those Japanese bombs raining down upon the city of Darwin—but his ambitions remain epic, and no filmmaker seems more able to set Kidman’s face alight. It’s a serious film, but you get the sense that Luhrmann and Kidman—a conspiratorial partnership between director and actress—had a ball making it. Photographed in New York City.
MERYL STREEP and JOHN PATRICK SHANLEY, The Undoubted
One film together: Doubt (2008).
Having spent so much of this decade making us smile—The Devil Wears Prada, A Prairie Home Companion, Mamma Mia!—Streep, in Doubt, has gone back into what might be called her “Meryl being Meryl” mode. Her hair tucked into a bonnet, her face pallid and stony, Streep, as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, is again the grave, icy virtuoso in whose screen presence we trembled as we watched The Deer Hunter, Kramer vs. Kramer, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman. And who better to frame Sister Aloysius’s severe worldview than writer-director Shanley, who, since his Off Broadway debut with Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, in 1984, has established himself as the laureate of New York City’s outer boroughs? A Bronx native, Shanley has traditionally portrayed these milieus as feudal societies where one’s loyalties are to family and the church. He’s not averse to going for laughs—witness Moonstruck (1987), for which he won a screenwriting Oscar—but in Doubt, based on his Pulitzer Prize–winning 2004 play, there is no levity. Drawing upon his own experiences at 1960s Catholic schools, where the nuns were sometimes too harsh and the priests perhaps a tad too friendly, Shanley undermines these feudal loyalties, withholding the comforts of faith and certainty. Streep’s unsettling Sister seems to be a ghost of his past, his own doubt made manifest. Photographed in New York City.
CHRISTOPHER NOLAN and the late HEATH LEDGER, The Risktakers
One film together: The Dark Knight (2008).
In one of his final TV interviews, viewable online, Heath Ledger can be found refuting any posthumous speculation that the Joker role somehow got inside his head, contributing to the circumstances surrounding his death. “That was the most fun I’ve ever had—probably ever will have—playing a character,” he says, his future-tense prediction all too heartbreakingly accurate. He found a worthy fun-mate in Christopher Nolan, a mind-warp specialist who broke through in 2000 with Memento and successfully rebooted the Batman franchise in 2005 with Batman Begins. “My thoughts [for the Joker] were identical to his,” Ledger said of his director, and the result—a barmy, creepy hybrid of Beetlejuice and Ratso Rizzo—is compellingly odd and worlds apart from Jack Nicholson’s hammy 1989 version. “I believe whatever doesn’t kill you,” Ledger’s Joker says, in a killer entrance line, “simply makes you … stranger.” Hunched and stringy-haired, slathered in Robert Smith–like makeup gone horribly wrong, Ledger is unrecognizable as the man who played Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain or as the handsome, deep-voiced, Australian-accented 28-year-old he was in real life. As the Joker slouches across the screen, Ledger’s commitment to Nolan’s conception of the role comes off not as some black journey into the depths of the soul but as a hoot. Composite photo: Christopher Nolan photographed in Los Angeles, 2008; Heath Ledger photographed in New York City, 2005.
CLINT EASTWOOD, The Old Hand
Twenty-two films as director-star, among them two that received Oscars for both best picture and best director: Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2004).
“But what I really want to do is direct.” Has any actor fulfilled this wish more brilliantly and prolifically than our Clint? In the 1970s, Eastwood-the-star proved himself worthy of his mentors (Dirty Harry’s Don Siegel, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’s Sergio Leone) by working both sides of the camera in High Plains Drifter (1973) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). Since then, he has completely shattered any preconceptions that he’s strictly a genre-Western guy, taking on taut drama (Million Dollar Baby, last year’s Changeling), slush for the ladies (The Bridges of Madison County, 1995), the musical biopic (Bird, 1988), and the war epic (2006’s Iwo Jima twofer, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima). In his 29th feature as a director, Gran Torino, he delivers what he has hinted is likely his final film performance, as Walt Kowalski, a white-ethnic remnant of a working-class Detroit neighborhood now given over to Hmong immigrants. It’s a measure of Eastwood’s comfort with himself that he doesn’t approach the role with valedictory pompousness; rather, he plays Walt broadly, for laughs—growling, squinting, and spitting like a crotchety C.G.I. creature in a George Lucas film. But Eastwood-the-director still manages to take Walt to some deep, dark places, as only he can. The performing Eastwood will be missed, if this is indeed his last role, but the filmmaker, 78 years old, marches onward: The Human Factor, starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, is due later this year. Photographed outside the Mission Ranch, in Carmel, California.