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Trying to define the term “A-lister” with any sort of consistency is like trying to describe why ninety-five percent of the population seems to think Jennifer Aniston is sexier than Kate Winslet. If you were listing their features on paper, I’m not sure you’d have ninety-five tally marks next to Aniston. Kate Winslet has stunning eyes, a beautiful smile, a nice figure, but she’s more classically beautiful, which, oddly, works against her on the sexy scale. Jennifer Aniston just is sexier. And using that full-proof logic, let me now bring forth the rambling, semi-coherent definition which we’ll be using for the purposes of this piece of ordered deliciousness.
An A-lister is the person Hollywood goes to when they want a sure thing. Their name goes on the poster along with their face. Everyone else ends up somewhere in the background. They’ll carry at least a strong portion of the running time (though sometimes less than half), and ultimately, the success or failure of the film will affect their earning power more than anyone else’s. They’ll have an uncanny knack for getting their ideal projects greenlit and it wouldn’t seem weird if you heard two different tables at the same restaurant having a conversation about said person. They don’t necessarily need to be on a Julia Roberts level, but they do need to be better known for their acting than Jeff Daniels. He’s the cut off point. My mom knows who Jeff Daniels is, and has seen some of the stuff he's been in, but I guarantee I will never in my life hear her ask when his next movie is coming out.
None of the actors and actresses on this list are more known for their acting skills than Jeff Daniels is, but we, the visionaries here at Cinema Blend, believe someday they will be. We believe someday our moms will be asking when their next films will be out, and three, perhaps even four, separate restaurant tables will be espousing some sort of opinion on which of their movies they like best. We believe they will leave us with an amazing collection of brilliant movies and quite a few we’d rather forget. We believe someday we’ll be able to say things like “That wasn’t as good as Aaron Paul’s last movie” without getting blank stares. We believe there’s a Tom Cruise in here, a few Vince Vaughn’s and maybe even a Lauren Bacall. We believe these things because we can’t help ourselves and because one of us is one-sixteenth Gypsy. Here’s a look at twenty up and coming actors who will one day lead big-budget event films and Oscar-worthy dramas. Their mere interest in a film will inspire rewrites and the removal of studio tape, and by their forties, we’ll be playing Sporcle quizzes trying to remember all their acting credits.
Amber Heard is one of the most devastatingly beautiful girls in a town full of devastatingly beautiful girls. Her A-list looks have helped get her this far, and odds are that alone won't be enough to get her farther. Still, I'm betting Amber has something bigger and better than early-life hotness in her. Not because she can act necessarily, the jury's still out on that, but because she seems willing to try. See Amber could very easily sit back and be another Blake Lively, but she hasn't done that. Her career so far makes one thing very clear: She's a gamer. She's good looking, yes, but she keeps getting work because she's pretty much up for anything. Got a weird indie-movie where she'll be engaged in a naked threesome? Count her in and forget the body double. Nic Cage doing some crazy, hell-themed, car-revenge movie and you need someone to play his badass chick sidekick? Sign her up. Need a babe to play Seth Rogen's underage girlfriend in a stoner-action comedy? Amber Heard is there. Amber Heard's approach is no-holds barred, an actress who's actually there because she seems more interested in acting than being a brand. She doesn't have a list of things she won't do in her contract and because of that I think her big break will happen at any minute. I'm betting it'll be as frequently naked muse Chenault in The Rum Diary, if that long since finished Johnny Depp movie ever released. But even if it isn't, she'll be big some day anyway, because Amber Heard is up for anything.
Remember that scene in Step Brothers where Rob Riggle tells Will Ferrell he wants to punch him in the face? Not for any particular reason, of course, there's just something about that suck hole that needs punching. That's how I feel about Anton Yelchin's passive-aggressive, one hundred and eight pound frame at the start of every movie. There's just something about him that bothers me, makes me want to yell “man up” during random intervals until he feels self-conscious and changes, but as the movie goes on, I always start to hate these Anton Yelchin characters a little less. Then by the end, I'm cheering as they go skinny dipping with Amanda Seyfried and make out with Kat Dennings. I don't know why it happens, perhaps it's because Anton Yelchin's emaciated frame is Oliver Twisty, but more than likely, it's because these characters are supposed to come off as effeminate douches until they slowly start to figure it out. Such is the power of Anton Yelchin that he could convince me to hate him, the bastard.
Donald Glover is the next Tina Fey. I mean that. He's a creator as much as he is a performer, a guy who when he wants to do something is willing to simply step up and make it happen himself. He's prolific. A fountain of creative genius. He already starred in, co-wrote, and produced one of the funniest movies of the decade. It's not Donald Glover's fault that people weren't smart enough to see it. You really should run out and buy a copy of Mystery Team. On Community he's one half of the funniest comedic duos since Larry and Balki, but he's destined for bigger things than Bronson Pinchot. People were half-joking when they started a grass roots campaign to convince Sony to make Donald the next Spider-Man, but would anyone have minded if they'd taken the internet seriously and actually cast him? Probably not. He's too talented, too likable, for just about anything (even something as ill-conceived as Sony's Spider-Man reboot) he does to suck. He'll be huge, he'll do it all on his own, his way, through talent, hard work, and sheer likability. No, he's not related to Danny Glover.
Emma Stone has proven she can be a charming-ish love interest (Superbad), a solid supporting actress who can occasionally carry a scene (Zombieland), and now, with last month's release of the enjoyable Easy A, she's proven she can topline an above-average comedy that actually makes its budget back. That leaves her with a choice. She can either attempt to become Anna Faris, a not really worthwhile goal she will fail at, or she can try to be the next Jennifer Aniston, a more reasonable use of her talents she can definitely succeed at. It'll all come down to genre choices. I can't tell you how many reviews of Easy A I've read that have called Emma Stone a funnywoman. She's not. Gilda Radner was a funnywoman. Emma Stone is a good actress with excellent comedic timing. She's more than capable of servicing comedic material, but trying to force laughs on her own will ultimately prove a different story. Here's to hoping she goes the Jennifer Aniston route, and in doing so, takes a few more Office Space's than Along Came Polly's.
I'm voting for Camacho. That needs to be on a bumper sticker, somewhere. Terry Crews is heading into his mid-forties and he's been working non-stop in film and television for more than a decade on more than forty different projects. You might think that at his age, after so much work, if he was going to make it big it would have happened by now. But Samuel L. Jackson was forty-six before Quentin Tarantino recognized what he could do, and made him a mega-star by casting him in Pulp Fiction. That's where I see Terry Crews. He's the kind of actor who only really gets big late in life, the kind of guy whose talent doesn't really mature until he's long past his sexual prime. Terry Crews is just getting going. He's becoming that guy that everybody recognizes from somewhere, and would probably like to vote for in a dystopian future where everyone's dumb and our president is a retired wrestler. He can play the warm and caring father, or kill with comedic timing. He can flex his muscles and hold his own with the likes of Stallone and Rourke. Everything, whether it's an Old Spice ad or a gun battle, is a little bit better with Terry Crews in it. It's just taking the world a little while to figure it out and now it's only a matter of time before he hooks up with the right filmmaker and gets his own Royal with Cheese.
I'm not convinced, but if interviews and Youtube videos are any indication, Tom Felton sucks. Which doesn't mean he's a terrible actor—the opposite in fact is true. While his cameo in Get Him To The Greek gains him more street cred with me, his incredible performances in the Harry Potter franchise are what gains him street cred with 95% of everyone else. Which is sort of funny, because Tom Felton/Draco Malfoy only accounts for like 7% of Harry Potter references. Outside of Harry Potter, Felton's been writhing in the muck of a bunch of gritty indie flicks that only like 3% of the population has seen (.5% accounted for by Felton's family members) —case in point, you ever heard of 13 Hours or The Disappeared? This equivocating has caused Mr. Felton to be about as popular as banana peppers on a Subway sandwich. Of course, Vegas odds says there's like a 4% chance of him somehow ending up on the A-List. Because I'm a risk taker, and because I'm pretty sure Felton might just be an acting genius, I'd take the over in a second (22% of you should be smart enough to, too).
On the surface Anna Kendrick seems eternally suited to be pigeonholed in the thankless role of best friend to whoever it is they've hired to play the movie's lead. The girl she's playing best friend to will have better hair, and Anna Kendrick would be doomed to spend her character actress life in a world revolving around the part someone else is playing. But Kendrick's better than that and while she may not have the best hair in whatever movie she's in, no matter how she's used there's always the sense that she's that girl you know, and will probably meet again. She seems real, in a way so few others have, and when given the opportunity to do something other than play the best friend, she knocked it out of the park. Maybe she'll keep playing the supporting role for a few more years, but when you watch Anna Kendrick there's the sense that she has something pretty great inside her somewhere. She seems real, in a way too few Hollywood actresses do. She's more than just the lead character's best friend, she's your best friend too, and too rare to leave her stranded at fourth billing in someone else's film.
Eighty percent as cute and every bit as talented as his more famous older brother Macaulay, Kieran Culkin took a seven year hiatus from Hollywood after his Golden Globe-nominated lead performance in Igby Goes Down, only to recently return in a few juicy supporting roles including off-beat man whore Wallace Wells in Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. Brooding, angsty and always delightfully eccentric, Kieran Culkin usually comes off like that kid in Honors Math who ditches out the side door to chain smoke and read Phillip K. Dick novels. In all honesty, it's probably bad for society that we romanticize those underachievers, the Will Hunting's of the world, but how could we not when people like Kieran Culkin tinge their middle fingers with infectious rebellion and at-all-costs individuality.
We stopped being amazed by child actors who actually seemed good at their job, some time not long after Haley Joel Osment proved it was possible for kids not to suck on screen in The Sixth Sense. Haley Joel was a big deal, and every kid actor that came after him, no matter how good, is not. But Chloe Moretz is at least as good as Osment and as a bonus, she has parents who don't really seem to care about traumatizing her all that much. It's probably not good for her eternal soul and I worry that all that time she spent covered in sticky red entrails during the filming of Kick-Ass may have turned her into Dexter, but if she can avoid the massive drug problems of similarly treated child actors then Chloe Moretz could grow up to be something pretty good. Or even if she does turn into a coked out party kid as she gets older, there's still the chance she'll end up turning into Drew Barrymore, hopefully minus a starring role in Poison Ivy 7.
Gillian Jacobs is the kind of woman who looks like she doesn't need to wear makeup, the kind of girl who you feel certain rolls out of bed looking that way, and only looks cuter when her hair is messed up. She's one of the most underrated components of NBC's Community, going toe to toe with Joel McHale as the empowered female who secretly would rather be the girl next door. Gillian has wicked comedic timing and she's versatile too. Whether she's playing a day-shift stripper in Choke or a British party crasher in Helena at the Wedding every scene sparkles just a little more when she's in it. One look at her and she just seems like she's destined for something bigger, like she should be replacing Julia Roberts as the new queen of rom-coms, or at the least providing a less uptight, judgement-free alternative to the ones starring Katherine Heigl. At some point Jacobs is going to hook up with Judd Apatow and blow the world away, until then enjoy her on TV and plan for the day when your wife will own all of her movies on DVD.
The first time I saw Sex Drive, I turned to my roommate and said, “Hey, that's the kid at the party in Superbad.” “No,” he said, “That's the kid from Greek.” Such is the it factor of Clark Duke, that his second feature film and first major supporting role would immediately remind me of his only other film, a one-off bit part he's not even credited for, and remind my roommate of a show on ABC Family. There's just something about his mannerisms that is really funny, like if a 1976 Chevy Chase took two years off to eat excessively and somehow grow more sure of himself. Clark Duke is a throwback. He's the chubby, cocksure, loud idiot for the internet generation. God only knows if he'll reach the lofty heights of Belushi, but I'm pretty sure he'll smash a few guitars along the way.
I've known Michael Pitt was going to be famous for the last ten years. Remember Finding Forrester? He's the kid who can't come up with Coleridge, even though his last name is Coleridge. I remember watching the nervous sweat pool around his cheeks and thinking this kid's got it. Then, the next year he showed up in Bully, playing a stoner that impulsively joins a murder plot because he wants to have sex with one of the girls involved. Again, awesome. Same thing in Hedwig And The Angry Inch and The Dreamers and Funny Games. Now, Michael Pitt is the second lead on Boardwalk Empire, Scorsese's new HBO Prohibition drama. Do I really even need to tell you he's awesome in it? This kid has literally been the best thing about almost every film he's been in, the only thing holding him back has been his penchant for taking obscure indie films most people don't see. There's a way to be groundbreaking and at least partly mainstream. Someday Michael Pitt will mark his territory in that place and at that point, he'll have turned into his generation's Gary Oldman.
In the space of a single year, this year, Mia Wasikowska has managed to play the lead in one of Hollywood's most financially successful blockbusters while at the same time tackling a pivotal supporting role in one of the year's most critically acclaimed indies. And still, almost no one seems to know her name, let alone how to spell it. That won't last long. She has too much range. She does quietly complex almost unlike any other young actress you've seen lately on screen, and she has a knack for channeling that into bravery and strength when it's needed. Mia has a kind of ethereal grace, the kind you'd get from Grace Kelly, combined with an inexplicable layer of Christina Ricci oddity. She's beautiful, without looking exactly like anyone else you've already seen on screen. Maybe she'll get caught up in corset dramas, that seems to be where she's most comfortable, but expect to see more of her.
A good comedy needs three things: a funny premise, talent and momentum. Sometimes that momentum can come from a flawless script, but more often than not, it channels from the main actor either through energy or cleverness. Jim Carrey, Chris Farley, these guys are house of energy comedians, they come at you with all they've got, hoping to infect you with their determination. Woody Allen, Christopher Guest, these guys are clever, improving and subtly bouncing off what's given with a relentless wit that builds throughout a film. At twenty-seven years old, I've seen Aziz Ansari do both. From the brilliant Funny People Randy spin-off to the low-energy retorts of Tom Haverford on Parks And Recreation, Aziz Ansari is quietly one of the most talented comedians we've seen in years. He can carry the show like at the 2010 MTV Movie Awards or he can steal a scene here or there like in Observe And Report. It's like young Bill Murray and old Bill Murray fucked and had a dark-skinned baby. Good God, people would not pay money for that sex tape.
Now nearly 40, you have to think with a hit TV show like Community under his belt that Joel McHale is more interested in putting a new pool in his backyard than getting even more famous, but it's probably going to happen to him anyway. His eerily perfect combination of easygoing charm and biting, sarcastic wit in a Hollywood ready body is too much for anyone, let alone a studio exec sure to see dollar signs, to resist. The current incarnation of Saturday Night Live isn't going to crank out any more new movie stars any time soon and we have to find the next Adam Sandler somewhere. Maybe it'll be Joel McHale, who probably believes he's far more likely to end up mirroring Rodney Dangerfield's career path than Billy Madison's, but you never know when he'll hallucinate a girlfriend stealing penguin. He did a good job in Soderbergh's otherwise blah The Informant! last year. It's only a matter of time before the movie world starts to notice, and craves more of his lanky, cynical talents.
Ben Foster has played a psychotic prisoner in My Name is Earl, a learning disabled teen in Freaks and Geeks, and a confused and sexually frustrated artist in Six Feet Under… and this eclectic bibliography only accounts for his early television work. Whether he's playing a psychotic, erotic cowboy in 3:10 to Yuma or a panicked yet determined brother in Alpha Dog, Foster always keeps his audience in rapt attention. Maybe it's the nuance of crystal eyes. Maybe it's that dreamy/scary effect he shrugs out like its nothing (somewhere there's a girl all ready to change him). All I know, is back in the day Foster and fellow coworker Jewel Staite (of Stargate: Atlantis fame) were on this show that nobody remembers, with a title everyone knows (Flash Forward). It was about two kids, one a class clown, one a girl who tried to act grown-up, trying to make it through the ups and downs of middle school together. When Foster's teenage self entered that set, he walked on-screen like he was some Ellis Island immigrant knowing he had arrived. He may make famous for his off-kilter good looks, he should make famous for his acting skills, but I think he could make it on charisma alone.
Aaron Paul is a brilliant actor, but perhaps more importantly, he's handsome and creepy and depending on how he's dressed and how his face looks, either an intellectual member of high society or a learning-disabled product of inbreeding. He easily waffles between extremes with the slightest alterations. Johnny Depp can do that too, one minute a conquering hero, a merciless villain the next, all while never saying a word. It's all in the face, that handsome, yet up to no good smirk, the one that won Aaron Paul an Emmy for his work on Breaking Bad. Do yourself a favor and check out the remake of The Last House On The Left or his turn as Sarah's ex-Mormon boyfriend Scott on HBO's Big Love. I haven't the slightest idea where Aaron Paul will end up in ten years, but I can promise you the path to get there will be littered with a lot of strange films.
Jaden Smith is going to be a massive movie star, whether you like it or not, and whether he deserves it or not. His dad is Will Smith, one of the only big Hollywood box office draws left on the planet, and Will has sort of made it his mission to turn Jaden into his heir apparent. It's happening, you can't stop it. The good news is that Jaden might not actually be bad at it. The Karate Kid remake was one of the few movies worth seeing this summer and while most of the credit goes to the brilliant work of Jackie Chan, Jaden wasn't half-bad for a 12-year-old. He has a famous Dad, he probably doesn't have to try that hard, but he seems to be trying hard anyway. Maybe Jaden has inherited enough of his father drive, determination, and flat out talent that we won't mind all that much when he's shoved down our collective throats. At least he hasn't tried to become the next Jonas Brother, he could have done that you know, and it would have worked. The kid, for now at least, seems genuinely interested in acting. He'll be a star and maybe this is one case when nepotism isn't such a bad thing.
John Francis Daley is either going to be huge, or he's going to be exactly as big as he is now for several years to come before fizzling out. I really can't make up my mind. You see, common sense tells me his time has passed. Even though he's barely twenty-five years old, the last half-decade has been dominated by hyper-intelligent, socially-awkward, shyly cute nerds like Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg. John Francis Daley is nothing, if not that character. He's been playing that character since he was called Sam Weir on Freaks & Geeks. Hell, he's still playing that character (now named Dr. Lance Sweets) on an above-average crime show on network television. He's like the bizarre-o Matthew Grey Gubler. For the love of God, those two should be churning out scientist double date comedies like Harvard-educated Cheech and Chong's, but alas, the two crime crushers have yet to connect. I think maybe John Francis Daley might headline a few thinking man's Rom Coms at some point, but maybe that's only because I've learned what the likes of Seth Rogen, James Franco, Linda Cardellini and Busy Phillips had to teach me: being associated with Judd Apatow gets you a couple of Scooby Doo flicks and an invitation to the Hanks Family Thanksgiving, at worst.
Like Michael Vick, John Travolta and Disney's non-Pixar animation department, Justin Timberlake has been written off an almost uncountable number of times. He went from Star Search to The Mickey Mouse Club to N Sync to pop superstardom, all of which involved handsomeness, likeability and singing. Then, out of nowhere, he went from Saturday Night Live guest host to Alpha Dog to Black Snake Moan and now to The Social Network, literally crushing every performance like acting was his primary skill. And the sick thing about it is, it just well may be, all while ignorant purists keep writing him off. I can't tell you how many times before The Social Network came out people told me, "Yeah, it sounds great, but it's got Justin Timberlake." We need to face facts, people. Justin Timberlake is not only handsome beyond words, he's an excellent actor who throws himself into the work. If you gave me three possible outcomes for JT's future: fading away, continuing on as an above-average supporting performer or achieving Hollywood success beyond his musical achievements, I would undoubtedly put it all on the latter, even if he did start his career as a Mouskateer.
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