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They Had a Certain Something

Recent films were chock-full of standout work--good and bad. Herewith, our Summer Sweepstakes Award winners.

September 03, 2000|RICHARD NATALE | Richard Natale is a regular contributor to Calendar

The summer movie season is crucial to Hollywood, and not just because it's the period when the motion picture industry does a big chunk of its yearly business; the successes and failures reverberate in the kinds of films that appear in summers to come. And because so many high-profile films are released, it's also a time when careers can be made or broken.

Yet with all the awards Hollywood gives out, standout work in summer mainstream fare is rarely acknowledged. With this in mind, it might be time to introduce the first Summer Sweepstakes Awards for breakout performers.

No prestige here, although it's certainly not out of the question. This is primarily the satisfaction of knowing you made a lot of money for the studio, which means a lot more money for you for your next film.

Let the ceremonies begin:

The "Batman and Robin" Award--Maybe if George Clooney had Mark Wahlberg as his sidekick in "Batman and Robin," the comic-book series wouldn't have come to such a grinding halt. As they demonstrated in last year's Gulf War film "Three Kings," Clooney and Wahlberg possess the kind of on-screen chemistry usually associated with Tracy and Hepburn. Their pairing in this summer's water-disaster epic "The Perfect Storm," out star-powered Mel Gibson in "The Patriot," proving that two hunks are better than one.

And because the dynamic duo will again be paired in the upcoming remake of "Ocean's 11" (along with practically every other male star in Hollywood today), maybe Clooney would be willing to put on monkey makeup for Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes" remake, in which Wahlberg stars.

The "You Should Show Your Legs More Often" Award--The gams-down winner is Russell Crowe. As with Clooney and Wahlberg in "The Perfect Storm," the Australian-born actor ("L.A. Confidential," "The Insider") was a major star waiting to happen, and the toga-and-sandals epic "Gladiator" was his ticket, boosting his asking price overnight to $15 million a film. Starring in the second-biggest hit of the summer (behind "M:I-2"), Crowe brought a heroic conviction to what could have easily been an exercise in high camp, inheriting the classical stoicism mantle of Charlton Heston--complete with his signature snarl.

The "Dress for Success" Award--If he'd only thought to get in touch with his feminine side sooner, Martin Lawrence's steady rise to stardom ("Blue Streak," "Life," "Bad Boys") might have been accelerated. Dressing like a woman certainly worked for Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman and Eddie Murphy--and now Lawrence in "Big Momma's House."

The modestly budgeted hit comedy has done for Lawrence what "The Waterboy" did for Adam Sandler: vault him to the top of A-list comic actors. Honorable mention in this category goes to the trio of Anthony Anderson, Mongo Brownlee and Jerod Mixon, who gave Jim Carrey a run for his money ($20 million) in "Me, Myself & Irene" as his three children.

On a more serious note, Jeffrey Wright stole most of his scenes in "Shaft," which is not an easy thing when you're sharing the screen with Samuel L. Jackson. After impressing critics with his performances in the little-seen "Basquiat" and "Ride With the Devil," the chameleon-like Wright, an African American, transformed himself into a preening Latino gangster in "Shaft" with his pomaded hair and outrageous outfits.

The "Comeback Kids" Award--Given their career choices of late, Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer ("Random Hearts" for him, "The Deep End of the Ocean" for her) didn't seem to have a ghost of a chance of reversing their fortunes. That all changed with Robert Zemeckis' scary supernatural thriller "What Lies Beneath," one of the biggest hits of the summer season with the adult audience. It makes Ford the only actor to have $100-million hits in the '70s, '80s, '90s and now at the start of a new millennium For Pfeiffer, it's her biggest mainstream performer since "Batman Returns."

And speaking of returning to form, with "Space Cowboys," Clint Eastwood starred in and directed his most popular film since "Unforgiven."

The "Ready for Your Close-Up" Award--Both Joaquin Phoenix and, to a lesser degree, Owen Wilson showed they were ready to move into the ranks of leading men based on their work in "Gladiator" and "Shanghai Noon," respectively. Phoenix has been working steadily since his teens, but his portrayal as the mad Roman emperor in "Gladiator" placed him center stage with a mass audience, and he'll follow up in the fall with two diverse performances, as a petty, corrupt businessman in "The Yards" and a lust-in-his-heart prelate in the Marquis de Sade period drama "Quills."

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