Columns / Discourse / April 11, 2012

Check the Reel: This decade’s rising stars

Film stars’ careers don’t follow the rules of time or trajectory. It’s easy to forget Michael Caine has been making movies for almost half a century instead of just since “Batman Begins,” or to overlook the fact George Clooney and Johnny Depp spent a whole decade each as TV chick magnets before achieving cinematic recognition. By the time you realize a star has made it, they’ve already been established for a few months or years — fame works in hindsight.

Foresight is another matter entirely. Fame is a fickle beast, and critics have wagered incorrectly before (Matthew Broderick, Christian Slater, etc.). Rising stars can fall anytime, which is why this following list is by no means a guarantee. Still, if I had to pick the best candidates for hitting the big time and sticking there, perhaps joining the ranks of Robert de Niro or Jodie Foster, they would be:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt – I have some personal stake in this, admittedly. I told Emily Anderson two terms ago that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a rising star, and I’m sticking to my guns. He’s graduated smoothly from child roles (“3rd Rock from the Sun,” Jim Hawkins in Disney’s “Treasure Planet”) to blockbusters (“Inception,” “500 Days of Summer”) and indie favorites (“Brick,” “50/50”). With big roles in Nolan’s final “Batman” film and the Lincoln docudrama, Gordon-Levitt shows no signs of disappearing. Like Cary Grant and Justin Timberlake, he encompasses all ends of the star spectrum: charming looks, suave demeanor and solid acting chops. Healthy careers are built on these three cornerstones.

Jennifer Lawrence – I don’t agree with the notion that young actors and actresses have to be sanitary role models to the bitter end (see: every Disney celebrity yet), but if there’s one actress you can let your kids look up to, it’s Lawrence. Her meteoric rise to fame is all hard work and diligence, traits also reflected in her big acting roles. From the determined sister and surrogate mother in “Winter’s Bone” to the fierce and independent Mystique in “X-Men: First Class,” culminating in the unstoppable Katniss from “Hunger Games,” she’s the female empowerment figure Miley Cyrus, Emma Watson and Kirsten Stewart wish they could be. And unlike those three, Lawrence’s pre-“Hunger Games” career is strong enough to help her build an image independent from her association with the novels. Hopefully she’ll continue her work and leave a mark on how Hollywood approaches female stars.

Michael Fassbender – You’ve probably seen Fassbender without realizing it. He’s currently one of the most prolific young actors working under the radar, slipping in the occasionally mainstream appearance before stepping back into the independent circuit for a breather. His tragic villain turn as Magneto in “X-Men: First Class” is just the tip of the iceberg. He’s played Carl Jung (“A Dangerous Method”), Bobby Sands (“Hunger”) and a vengeful Jewish mercenary (“Inglourious Basterds”). He’s joined the ranks of Greek soldiers (“300,” “Centurion”) and romantic leads (“Jane Eyre”) without batting an eye and his virtuoso work in “Shame” catapults him amongst the greats. Versatility does not always equal a long career, but Fassbender has the industry know-how thanks to sheer experience and industriousness. And a starring role in the “Alien” prequel “Prometheus” doesn’t hurt.

Chloe Grace Moretz – This was a hard one. I debated putting Hailee Steinfeld, Mattie in “True Grit,” instead, but it’ll take some more films before we decide her lasting power. Chloe, however … at age 15, she’s already starred in a Scorsese film and Best Picture contender (“Hugo”). She never had the awkward transitional phase in her career where she’s branched out into more serious films because she made that a priority from the beginning. Her work in “Kick-Ass” and “Let Me In” is audacious and provocative but never gratuitous. Moretz has not been nominated for an Oscar yet solely because of her age and the genres of most her work, but after seeing her transform into a foul-mouthed, child killing machine and tortured vampire child, you know it’s only a matter of time.

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