Nicole Kidman: Rabbit Hole
After her adventure Australia flopped in 2008, Nicole Kidman made headlines by saying she was retiring from acting because the “burning desire” was gone. But two years (and another flop with Nine) later, Kidman triumphantly returns in Rabbit Hole, which just opened amid awards season. The Oscar winner’s performance as a woman struggling to cope with the loss of her young son has been hailed by Time magazine as a “career-best performance.” The Hollywood Reporter says Kidman’s portrayal is “riveting because she essentially plays the entire film at two levels, the surface everyday life and then what is turning over and over again in her mind.” Whether Kidman’s “ passion project” will bag her Oscar gold remains to be seen, but considering she’s earned nods from the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild, she seems to be on her way.
Kirsten Dunst: All Good Things
Though Kirsten Dunst is no longer swinging around as Mary Jane Watson in the Spider-Man franchise, her career as a serious actress may just be taking off. In All Good Things, Dunst delivers her most adult performance yet as the abused wife of the heir to a real-estate fortune (played by Ryan Gosling). Director Andrew Jarecki said in an interview with USA Today that he chose Dunst for her “incredible ability to humanize and soften the man she's playing against.” Rolling Stone calls Dunst “heartbreakingly good,” while The New York Times says that she “can make you see the melancholy in her smiles.” If her performance in All Good Things is any indication, the former child star has a lot to look forward to in her career.
Sylvester Stallone: The Expendables
Sylvester Stallone has throttled his opponents in the ring as Rocky, sliced up his enemies as Rambo, and this year, the action star led a group of fellow muscular actors to box-office glory in The Expendables. Though the movie, which hit theaters four decades after his career kicked off, isn’t likely to earn Stallone any awards this season, it did shatter expectations and opened at No. 1 in the box office over Julia Roberts’ romantic flick Eat Pray Love. Stallone may have failed to reboot the Rocky and Rambo series in the 2000s, but he did relaunch his career—in the military-grade rocket launcher sort of way.
Matthew Vaughn: Kick-Ass
With the help of foul-mouthed young starlet Chloe Moretz and Nicolas Cage’s terrific channeling of Adam West, Kick-Ass was a stellar comeback vehicle for director Matthew Vaughn. After the well-received Layer Cake in 2004 and Stardust in 2007, Vaughn dropped out of X-Men: The Last Stand and directing altogether for the next three years. But it seems as though Vaughn has risen to the occasion to tackle the superhero universe in a less mainstream manner with this bloody and somewhat campy film. The Los Angeles Times called the film a “shrewd mixture of slick comic-book mayhem, unmistakable sweetness and ear-splitting profanity… poised to be a popular-culture phenomenon.”
Annette Bening: The Kids Are All Right
Annette Bening made a name for herself in Hollywood—her top-notch performances in 1990’s The Grifters and 1995’s American President almost make up for the flat comedy behind 2008’s The Women, a “disaster” according to the the New York Post. This year’s awards favorite The Kids Are All Right offered a refreshing role for Bening, who plays partner to Julianne Moore as they raise their two teenagers. The movie takes a twist when one of their children turns 18 and contacts their sperm donor father (played by Mark Ruffalo). Critic A.O. Scott of The New York Times called Bening’s performance near perfect and honest. Her efforts were recognized this week when it was announced she’s up for a Golden Globe and a SAG Award for Best Actress.
Michael Douglas: Solitary Man
After recovering from his role as a dead uncle in the painfully predictable and poorly received Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Michael Douglas was seemingly looking to regain his street cred. The plot of 2010’s Solitary Man perhaps mimicked Douglas’ oscillating acting career, over the course of which he’s earned two Academy Awards—one for his role in the exalted Wall Street—and experienced some previously mentioned pitfalls. But in Solitary Man, Douglas played Ben Kalman, a successful father who fell from grace. And the actor shined in the process— Roger Ebert called it one of Douglas’s finest performances, largely because he plays it with heart.
Ben Affleck: The Town
After a slew of roles in forgettable films like last year’s State of Play and 2006’s Hollywoodland, Ben Affleck wrote, directed, and starred in The Town this year. His second directorial stint received universal praise, with Richard Roeper calling The Town a “home run” and one of the best movies of the year. Time lauded Affleck as well, saying, “It's rare to see an ensemble movie like this, so loaded with talented actors, in which virtually all of them get an opportunity to make an impression. Affleck is the boss and the star, but he knows how to share.” Perhaps now Gigli can become a distant memory.
Aaron Sorkin: The Social Network
There’s no denying Aaron Sorkin’s talent—the man who wrote the classic 1992 drama A Few Good Men has garnered respect in Hollywood on both the big and small screens (i.e. The West Wing). Though a three-year lull after Charlie Wilson’s War threatened to bring in a sub-par movie script, Sorkin delivered this year with The Social Network—a dramatic entanglement of today’s Facebook generation. And seemingly, the screenwriter’s hard work and hiatus paid off—the film is now nominated in both the Best Picture and Best Actor (Jesse Eisenberg) categories for the 2011 Golden Globes.
David O. Russell: The Fighter
It’s been a while since director David O. Russell was associated with a positive project—the crash and burn of I Heart Huckabees and the accompanying behind-the-scenes fight with actress Lily Tomlin heard round the Web left a sour taste in many mouths in 2004. Russell’s savior came with The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale. At long last, a movie with all the hard-hitting drama of his 1999 success Three Kings, but without the slapstick comedy, The Fighter reeks of awards season success—it is already nominated for four SAG awards and six Golden Globes, including Best Picture and Best Director. David Edelstein of New York magazine calls the movie a “rousing” film, not so much about boxing as it is about the fight outside the ring.
Geoffrey Rush: The King’s Speech
While Geoffrey Rush has mastered the art of playing villainous marauder Barbossa in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, he’s traded in the peg leg and hook for a more Oscar-worthy role in The King’s Speech. His performances as the speech therapist that saves the British empire earned Rush a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Lionel Logue is the unorthodox counselor who agrees to help King George ( Colin Firth) conquer his stutter amid the second World War. The Los Angeles Times said the match of Firth and Rush is as good as it gets and it sounds like the curse of the pirate movies might be over for this “Triple Crown” winner—Rush’s three-decades-long career has already earned him an Oscar, a Tony, and an Emmy, among many other honors.