Thursday, February 07, 2008

Vanity Fair's Hollywood ~ Episode 4 (1998)

The recent release of the new "Hollywood" cover photo has reminded me that I've shirked my Hollywood Historian duties for a month now. If you missed previous episodes of my Vanity Fair Hollywood cover investigation here's 1995 , 1996 and 1997 and you'll be caught up.

In 1998, photographer Annie Leibovitz threw us for a loop. Boys and Girls. What a concept --but it was
the first time the two sides of the gymnasium were forced to intermingle. (What? They say Hollywood is like high school, right?) The cover was called "The Hot Next Wave" but judging from the color scheme and styling, they were thinking more along the lines of new Oscar cool. 1998 Also marked the first year they started overstuffing the cover --11 people this time in place of the usual 10.

From left to right

Joaquin Phoenix was 23 when this cover premiered. I'm old enough [gasp] to remember that he started his career as "Leaf" Phoenix. He had not yet moved out from under his brother River's long long shadow though people began to suspect that he might with his affecting work in To Die For (1995) as a none too smart and lovestruck teenager, coldly controlled by Nicole Kidman in her artistic breakthrough. He had just had a mild success with Inventing the Abbotts which was to launch both he and Billy Crudup as new Hollywood heartthrobs. And he was due in theaters twice later that year with Clay Pigeons and the grueling Return to Paradise (both with cover companion Vince Vaughn). But it would take his overheated villain in Gladiator (2000) to raise him to the next level in Hollywood and garner him the first of two Oscar nominations.

Vince Vaughn was a skinny 28 year-old, all the casting rage since his "money" breakthrough in the beloved indie Swingers (1996). He had four movies coming out in 1998: A Cool Dry Place, Return to Paradise, Clay Pidgeons and Gus Van Sant's Psycho. None of these dramas were what you would call "hits" but superstardom was still on its gradual (comedic) way.

Natalie Portman, soon turning 17, had been cast as Luke & Leia's mother in the Star Wars prequels. In 1998 nobody knew that that would mean she would be giving terrible performances that we'd all love to mock for years to come! But Queen, excuse me, Senator Amidala aside... Natalie was already a big deal. She had hit the movies with pretenatural force in The Professional (also known as Leon, 1994) and had been the best thing about the ensemble dramedy Beautiful Girls (1996) with much bigger stars swirling all around her. Once Star Wars was behind her she was free to become an Oscar nominee and an all around badass superstah.

Djimon Hounsou who was turning 34 had already f***ed Sandra Bernhard ("onscreen!" he adds quickly) in Without You I'm Nothing, danced with Janet Jackson in the desert in the video "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" and, of course, sailed on that slave ship in Amistad (1997). He was still a decade away from modelling Steel underwear in his late 40s. Damn, he's aging well. Hollywood still likes to cast him in nothing muscled exotic parts (Eragon, Gladiator, Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life) but when they give him a real opportunity (In America, Blood Diamond), they usually reward him with an Oscar nomination. So... one wonders why they don't give him more opportunities.

and now we've reached the first fold out.

Cate Blanchett was turning 28 and, though I haven't done the research, I feel safe telling you that this was the last time she didn't make the cover of anything. When this cover premiered she had just come off of kind reviews for Oscar & Lucinda (with Ralph Fiennes) which approximately 100 people, besides the reviewing critics, saw. Elizabeth was on its/her way, though, and that would change everything.

Tobey Maguire turning 23, had been working in the industry for about eight years at this point but had yet to "break." Spider-Man was still four years away from being a reality but big roles had already started to fall his way (though we hadn't seen them onscreen yet). Later this year he had the lead role in the black and white gone color drama Pleasantville and Cider House Rules and Ride With the Devil (for Ang Lee) were not so far off.

Claire Forlani nearing 26 had already been seen in Julian Schnabel's Basquiat and the action hit The Rock. But it was surely her impending co-starring gig with Brad Pitt (Meet Joe Black, the coming November) that nabbed her a coveted cover spot. The film was not what people were hoping for and an A list career never materialized for her. But she's never lacked for work since. Recently she's been veering toward television work (CSI was the main gig) but you'll next see her opposite Daniel Craig in Flashbacks of a Fool.

Gretchen Mol 25 would appear on two Vanity Fair covers this year (two! in one year!! before she had ever been seen in a substantial role!!!) The second (pictured, right) arrived in the Fall, leading people to believe that maybe Conde Nast had bought shares of her career. Unfortunately it also set her up to become the butt of never-was style has-been jokes. But at this point Hollywood, or at least casting directors and her agent, was counting on her to skyrocket. It wasn't completely impossible to imagine numbers-wise. She appeared in an incredible 15 (yes, 15) movies from 1998 to 2000 but it wasn't until 2006 and her leading role as The Notorious Bettie Page where she began to turn the career around. The next couple of years are crucial. It's her second chance.

Christina Ricci, 18 had been a wee star since 1990's Mermaids, her film debut opposite Winona Ryder and Cher. She had already delivered two Oscar nomination worthy performances (in Addams Family Values --sheer brilliance-- and as a sexually curious teen in The Ice Storm) by the time this cover suggested she was a real star, not just a famous child. She had 7 (!) movies coming out that year including Pecker and Buffalo '66. By December she was winning critics awards and her wicked star turn as DeDe Truit in The Opposite of Sex (1999) won her her first and only Golden Globe nomination. Strangely, her career seemed to go into freefall almost immediately after this sensational year. But her recent work in Black Snake Moan (2007) and participation in the upcoming Speed Racer (2008) could return her to her former stature.

Edward Furlong, 20, had been famous since his debut (a leading role as the future savior of mankind no less) in the envelope pushing blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). He hung around in leads or large supporting roles up until the time of this cover (when he headlined John Water's Pecker, opposite Christina Ricci and appeared with Edward Norton in American History X). He has appeared in several movies you haven't heard of since then, but 1998 was his last year of playing in the majors. Like so many young stars, there were drug abuse problems and arrests.

Rufus Sewell who was 30 had made a big name for himself on the British stage and Broadway, too. After well received turns in the 1996 Hamlet movie (there's soooo many of those) and Cold Comfort Farm he was in demand. In 1998 alone he had roles in Higher Love, Illuminata, The Very Thought of You, Dark City and Dangerous Beauty. He was less prolific with movies thereafter but you could spot him recently in The Holiday, Paris Je T'Aime, Tristan and Isolde, The Illusionist and Amazing Grace.

median age: approximately 25. Youngest: Natalie Portman ~ sweet sixteen. oldest: Djimon Hounsou @ thirty-four
collective Oscar nominations before this cover:

collective Oscar nominations after this cover: 10 (half of them are Blanchett's). 1 win (also hers)
fame levels in 2008, according to famousr, from most to least: Vince Vaughn, Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Joaquin Phoenix, Christina Ricci, Claire Forlani, Djimon Hounsou, Gretchen Mol and Ed Furlong (Rufus Sewell is not listed on the website)
... I'm confused about how Forlani is more famous than Djimon. Hmmm
see also: 1995 ,1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001


Anthony said...

It's ok that Mr. Furlong wasn't able to become a real star - it left room for the much better Joseph Gordon Levitt.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I never found Edward Furlong to be that gifted as a young actor. I remember that movie he did with Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson, and how awful it was that someone else wasn't cast instead of him.

I just stopped in though to see if you heard about the good Dr. Sunken Tits (Kirsten Dunst) being going into rehab. You probably had heard about it, but I was surprised to not see anything about it on your blog yet. I wish her well with because she's very talented, and I hope that she gets back to making great movies again. By the way, he nickname is meant to be affectionate. It's just something that someone came up with at Fametracker since it is an anagram of her name, and it fit her well unfortunately.

Peter said...

To be fair to Gretchen Mol, she wasn't technically on the cover of this issue -- she was on the fold-out.

Glenn Dunks said...

Poor Gretchen Mol. I saw 3:10 to Yuma today. Poor Gretchen Mol.

Nick M. said...

Claire Forlani is awful. She's probably the least convincing actress of the this decade (and the 90s).

Anonymous said...

If it is true that only 100 people saw Oscar & Lucinda, then that is a great misfortune because it is an outstanding film… and Blanchett and Finnes are terrific!

Anonymous said...

I love Natalie as much as (more than?) the next person, but that "now" picture makes her look about 90 years old! And then to contrast it with that dewy teenage picture...I'm having a hard time figuring out what you were trying to do? I know you have endless love for her, so make that picture go away!!

Anonymous said...

Actually, becahdawn, I quite like that pic of Natalie today. Callow teenage beauty is never as interesting to me as when a woman starts to get a little age (granted she's still a relative whippersnapper and she certainly doesn't look 90 in that pic to my eyes) and character on her.

Oh, and count my sweetie and myself as two of the "hundred" who saw Gillian Armstrong's Oscar and Lucinda (gee the art-house cinema when we went was pretty full so it must have been more than 100. Maybe 200, at least?) We quite liked the film - it was my first exposure to Blanchett and I fell in love with her - or rather her character - right there. Of course, in that film she was radiant, a strangely angular beauty with a transcendant smile and I wasn't aware of the mannerisms - yet. Ah, to be so young and naive again...



becahdawn --i love Natalie too. i did think that picture aged her a little but... well, not quite that much. but i was in a hurry!

SusanP said...

I love this series.

As for the Portman pic, I think she looks like she's barely aged at all, except that she's in shadow in the "now" pic.

Anonymous said...

I think it's weird how they rank their current level of Fame, I would put Christina Ricci in third ( at least). I mean she's more recognizable than almost everyone (child stars usually are)except Vince Vaughn. They should consider people who are not filmheads.

I know a lot of people like Natalie Portman, but I haven't seen many of her films except V for Vendetta. Any suggestions?

lylee said...

These VF cover retrospectives are great - thanks, Nat


Zee ---the rankings are famousr are actually determined by the general public from their clicking when confronted with two actors: which is more famous.

it's obviously not a foolproof system. (the photos could be bad for one) but it is sitll interesting. and it definitely doesn't lean to the movie buffs. All of the greatest icons of cinema the Hepburns, Brandos, etcetera are below the currently famous A -Listers for the most part

Anonymous said...

Oh I see

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog Nathaniel, and interesting choices by VF, spot on. Was that only ten years ago? Fame ties.

Anonymous said...

Besides this one,my other favorite was 1999,which was also feature both sexes.You should do that one next!I did not know Anna Friel existed back then,and it's too bad that Omar Epps did not become a big star.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear lord, Natalie looks like a real person in the second picture. With facial IMPERFECTIONS.
Goodness me!

She looks as beautiful as she's ever done. If non-airbrushed beauty makes you that uncomfortable, I think it's a personal problem.