When I was a kid the next Schwarzenegger film was an event. The new Jackie Chan film was eagerly awaited. The next Stallone film was tracked until the VHS release date. What would Eddie Murphy come up with next? Bruce Willis? Tom Hanks?
Others (i.e. not me) loved Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, Richard Gere, Julia Roberts, Patrick Swayze, George Clooney. The list goes on. Now though, when was the last time more than a select few grew excited about the ‘Next’ star driven film?
Last year Edge of Tomorrow arrived, a big budget Tom Cruise sci-fi actioner. It was actually a pretty good film (much to my chagrin), probably Cruise’s best for the millennium. It didn’t nearly recoup it’s budget.
The action stars of yesteryear are all 60 plus, desperately trying to pretend that they are but vestiges of their former glory. At least Stallone has the common sense to gather a bunch of has-beens together so society can ignore them in bulk. Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington and Jason Statham are what passes for action heroes nowadays, though apart from a few highlights none have the reliability Arnie, Jackie, Bruce and Sly boasted.
In the 90s I devoured any and every Arnie, Sly, Jackie and Bruce film released, now I walk past them without a second thought.
Comedy too has moved away from star power, Bill Murray, Steve Martin have been replaced by Ferrell and Sandler. No-one wins here. Ferrell’s films are sold on the strength of a trailer, no-one is fooled by Sandler’s antics anymore regardless of how pretty his co-star and how beautiful the backdrop of his buffoonery.
It seems now franchises rule. Numerical suffixes are more tantalising than the name atop the poster. We’d rather see Marvel’s newest film than Streep’s. The queue for ‘Anything 3’ is likely longer than ‘New Concept 1’, regardless of quality.
Star Power is dead, replaced by Brand Power. Transformers can survive the departure of Megan Fox and Shia LaBeouf – I think we all can – 007 will grab viewers regardless of who is filling the tux, we can have a Hulk that looks very different across three films. In fact franchises are now handing the central roles down the line to new generations, with the prevailing priority being ensuring the Brand survives at all costs.
It’s a matter of time before the lead in a film is chosen by a Twitter poll or a TV reality show.
With star-power a thing of the past and a noticeable gap in the next gen of new stars stepping up to fill the void, OGR has delved deeper and gone down another path. Let’s not worry about who the next George Clooney (Ryan Gosling?) or Julia Roberts (Emma Stone?) is, let’s look at the guys and gals with intangible qualities that make them interesting enough to wonder what they might do next.
It’s not a surprise to hear that Arnold’s next film will have him as an ex-CIA operative or a mercenary for hire. It’s harder to predict what the next film from those in the list below might be.
Some of these names are quite new, others have already spent decades in the spotlight. But the thing that links them all is that they bring something reasonably unique to the table, in terms of skill set, attitude or the willingness to try something new and different. It might not be great, it might not even be good, but based upon exposed evidence, it should at least be interesting…
Might as well begin with maybe the least known name on this list, Shane Carruth is the man behind (and in front of the lens in) both Primer and last year’s captivating curio Upstream Colour. That’s a mere two films almost a decade apart with practically zero box-office between them, but regardless of lack of commercial success both films were fascinating and distinctly different to anything in recent Hollywood – which in part explains the lack of ticket sales.
Carruth sees films unfolding differently to everyone else. He ignores normal plot developments in favour of themes that waft in and out. Primer was about a scientific breakthrough that Carruth admitted made no sense, but it was nonetheless fascinating in spite of this, and Upstream Colour is hard to pin down regardless of how many times you watch it, but is no less bewitching.
I have no idea what Shane Carruth will come up with next, but I am confident it will have tongues wagging when it does…
Chastain appeared from nowhere a few years ago and is now everywhere, though I defy anyone to name three of her signature roles. Chastain has thus far been the suffering wife, the eager mistress, the headstrong career woman and the tender rose in need of protection, but she is none of those things.
Zero Dark Thirty got her the plaudits, The Help credibility and Mama proved she anchor a Naomi Watts, Jennifer Connelly type horror flick. By being everywhere and nowhere Chastain has proven capable and flexible, while she is yet to headline a crowd pleaser, at this tender stage you would put nothing past her.
Eisenberg could patent his version of perpetual unease and self-uncertainty, but he’d likely be elbowing Michael Cera for the front of line. But Eisenberg has been delightfully lacking in confidence in Zombieland and Adventureland. Ironically it’s when he went against type as the cocksure and confident Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network that the plaudits and award nominations rolled in. Thankfully though Eisenberg steadfastly refuses to conform to stereotype, he helped elevate the magician heist film Now You See Me beyond the material, and helped make the ‘flawed but interesting’ The Double a notable curio.
It seems we keep thinking we have Jesse Eisenberg sussed, only his CV suggests quite different.
Joseph Gordon Levitt is a fresh faced young man who looks crisp in a tailored suit onscreen and loves moshing to heavy metal off. He has a classic sounding screen name, but in DVD extras refers to himself as simply ‘Joe’, and aside from Jake Gyllenhaal he might have a broader range on his resume that anyone else in young Hollywood.
Levitt is yet to have his breakout hit, but he does have a bunch of films that are worthy of tracking down; Manic, Brick (find it), 50/50, Premium Rush and Looper, all good to very good films, with Looper being by far the best and most successful despite not being as big as it should have.
Unfortunately while The Dark Knight Rises suggested that Joe was the heir apparent, it came at the tail end of the trilogy that saw its logical conclusion arrive. If there is justice in Hollywood a young man like JGL will find his niche and headline some films that see the credit they deserve, by linking himself with such luminaries as Christopher Nolan, Robert Rodriguez and Rian Johnson it seems inevitable that this success will come sooner rather than later.
When compared to Jessica Chastain, Eva Green differentiates herself by having at least one trait that seems to repeat, namely a willingness to disrobe. She has done so in her artie French debut and this year’s fictional historical action film 300: Rise of an Empire and the sloppy Sin City: Dame to Kill For, where frankly her nudity was the only consistently interesting thing in it.
But 300 showed that Ms Green can also kick ass as well as flash it, and Casino Royale showed that she can be both exotic and alluring with her kit on.
There is much to like about Eva Green, time will tell if she is the modern day Sharon Stone, or someone who can rise above taking off her top just to get roles.
There are only so many actors who can play a charismatic rock star, a vile self serving career criminal, an MMA fighter, Batman’s nemesis and a frumpy middle aged father carrying a terrible secret, all in the same five years. And next up to bat Hardy plays Mad Max, in a film that will likely suck, but more than likely not because of Tom Hardy.
Hardy can be steely determined, overpowering and muscle bound, then fragile, insecure and vulnerable the next. He can also sell emotion better than most, and can cry onscreen with the best of them.
Hardy can be the next action hero or a chameleon playing any character on any script. It is no surprise that his only peer currently in Hollywood is Christian Bale, with whom he has already appeared alongside multiple times.
It’s only a matter of time before Hardy finds his Batman role, and the next gen are playing second fiddle to him.
Cheers was an ensemble comedy with a host of household names. Like Friends and Seinfeld it was just expected that when the show dissolved most of them would simply transfer their domination to the big screen.
The guy deemed least likely would be the tall blonde hayseed in Woody Harrelson, yet now some twenty years later he is perhaps the biggest star remaining from all three shows, with an exhaustive CV that spans genres and successes in both independent, mainstream and big budget films.
Most important is the willingness to try new things. In the last 8 years Harrelson appeared in Transsiberian, Defendor, Zombieland, Bunraku, Rampart and Seven Psychopaths, films that defy easy categorisation aside from being different to the usual stuff. It’s unlikely that any one person identifies with more than a couple of those listed above, but all of them are in their way audacious. Then of course Woody helped take TV in a bold new direction with True Detective.
A renowned toker, it’s possible Harrelson doesn’t pay too much attention to what he is agreeing to, but in this unlikely situation we are all the winners of his willingness to take a chance.
It both pleases and bothers me that The Rock has so far refused point blank to embrace his destiny as Arnie’s heir apparent. For every GI Joe and Fast & Furious, there is a Journey 2 the Mysterious Island and… The Tooth Fairy !?!
Welcome to the Jungle is an underrated action comedy romp, Snitch is a better than expected action drama. Faster and Pain and Gain were flawed but made better for his appearance. Looks like The Rock finds pleasure in beating up on expectations. So far there is no Rambo, no Terminator, not even a True Lies.
But when there’s a huge Austrian sized gap in action films, there’s no shame in taking what is yours. Instead of the lazy Hercules and two sequels scheduled for 2015, surely The Rock deserves a shot at his own Predator or Terminator?
A legacy awaits…
After decades in TV and indie films, Clive Owen snuck into Hollywood on the back of a brief role in The Bourne Identity, followed by a slightly misguided King Arthur film that tried to unnecessarily ‘rev up’ the Camelot legend. He formally arrived with the one-two punch of Closer – a non-romantic relationship drama that was both intriguing and challenging, and his pivotal role in Sin City, which Josh Brolin only validated by snoozing his way through the decidedly inferior sequel.
Owen has subsequently lent his eyebrows, baritone and dignified presence to the solid Inside Man and brilliant Children of Men. He has chewed scenery and carrots in the irreverent Shoot ‘em Up and had a misguided crack at horror with the silly Intruders.
The name Clive Owen brings gravitas and credibility. He is a reliable rock that crops up in unexpected places. A known quantity that is often better than his supporting cast and material. I have a strange man-crush on this man, and hope that he soon gets the credit he deserves.
Two things I loathe; pretty boys and those who unfairly gain fame. I had Brad Pitt labelled as both those things, Johnny Depp too, but while Depp’s script selections now seem calculated to build his rep as a risk taker, Pitt’s choices seem to be more the product of experimentation and expanding horizons.
Say what you will about Fight Club, Burn after Reading, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Inglourious Basterds, but the trait that links them all is the fact that on first glimpse they are all projects that would seem on face value impossible to market. And in some cases that proved to be the case.
All I know is that once I make a call on whether I do or don’t like a star I rarely back track on my verdict. I had Pitt lumped with Tom Cruise, Hugh Grant and Richard Gere for a long while, but after a decade of interesting choices (Ocean’s Eleven and Angelina Jolie aside), Pitt has emerged through to the other side. He still isn’t on my ‘go to’ list, but I am willing to give most of his films a shot.
I don’t know if Tilda is the ‘next’ anything, and I must admit I have never selected a film because she is in it. I do know that the androgynous Swinton is like a delicious topping that makes a meal better. Her appearance in any film can mean anything, such is her chameleonic ability.
She can look odd when the role demands, ‘normal’ in others. She can be young or old, educated or otherwise, even male or female.
In Constantine she was an avenging angel with an acerbic tongue, in Snowpiercer a devious and fiendish Lieutenant of sorts. Swinton is in many films but it is testament to her skills that she can go unnoticed in many of them, though never because her performance is less than perfect.
Jake arrived in Donnie Darko, then vanished among the other handsome young fresh faced Depp-alikes. A career of picking from the Zac Efron and Heath Ledger cast-offs awaited.
Then Gyllenhaal (and for that matter Ledger) veered the other way with the cowboy romance Brokeback Mountain. Then came Jarhead, a film that took all glory from war. Then a police procedural with a difference (Zodiac), a low budget drama (Brothers), a big budget video game adaptation (Prince of Persia) a rom-com with integrity (Love and Other Drugs), a cool sci-fi action film (Source Code) and a gritty police film (End of Watch).
In a mere decade that’s creditable efforts spanning over half a dozen genres with no two films looking all that similar. Now he has already earned the reputation as a gritty police investigator with enough gravitas to spar with Hugh Jackman and his over-acting in last year’s underrated Prisoners.
You know what else? 32 film credits, not one sequel yet… not even a remake or reboot. Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t yet half way through his 30s and he might be the most interesting guy in Hollywood.
Despite their ‘interestingness’, there aren’t too many people above whose name alone convinces you to check out a film. Gyllenhaal has reached that point with me now. I figure “Well if he thought it seemed interesting…”
The arrival of the Land of Franchise spells the end of the Big Star era. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, though we will likely see less tailor made projects for our headliners, replaced by Something Something 4 and Michael Bay Dross 16.
The Action genre will be hardest hit by this, which should bother all red blooded males of all ages. I will examine the future of Action in the next month or two.
But action aside, as we sit here Jake Gyllenhaal wins at being interesting and more importantly not conforming or settling, but he isn’t alone in his quest against boring and expected, as the list above shows.
We can only hope more join the crusade.