The latest vogue in millennial-chic film journalism is to look at Young Hollywood through a crystal ball and ask: which of today’s stars will shine the brightest— and longest? Premiere magazine’s “Millennium Issue” forecasted “20 Stars for the Year 2020,” while Movieline‘s “Young Hollywood” edition approached staying power from the other direction— profiling stars like Winona Ryder and Claire Danes “who’ve survived murderous odds to become touchstones for their generation.” Both features gleefully ignore the big, fuzzy line between prophecy and advocacy and make shiny prognostications based largely on wish fulfillment, as in, “X will be famous forever because, well, I just know she will.” Consequently, Ewan McGregor will still be hot in 2020 because, according to Premiere, he is “modern cinema’s uncontested white knight.” Matt Damon, Movieline insists, is less an actor than a Yoda-like being who’s “intent on showing us who he is as a way of showing us who we are.” That’s pretty impressive, but it pales in comparison to Leo’s “profound, unearthly access to truth,” as cited by Premiere.
Clearly, there’s a sense that career longevity can be assured through sheer force of cheerleading. But in order to guarantee eternal fame for their respective stars, both mags rely on the quintessential ’90s formula for measuring success: analogy to past actors. Accordingly, Damon is “Tom Cruise by way of Jimmy Cagney,” Winona is a “Katharine Hepburn” who needs to “find her Tracy.” Miramax has spent the last two years grooming Gwynnie for the new Audrey Hepburn mantle, but Premiere comes along and crowns Natalie Portman “the Audrey Hepburn heir apparent we’ve been waiting for all these years.” So many Audrey Hepburns, so little time. Maybe that’s the problem. Perhaps none of these actors would have the success they have if they didn’t remind us of an actor from a previous era. Or maybe we simply need to expand the list of past references to include the next Jan-Michael Vincent (Val Kilmer), the next Kristy McNichol (Neve Campbell), and the next Tatum O’Neal (Liv Tyler).
Playing the “most likely to succeed” game with Hollywood stars in any era is an argument for chaos theory. There’s no better proof than the ’80s Brat Pack diaspora. Judd, Emilio, and Molly all gave it their best shot, but in the end they just couldn’t shed the one-dimensionality of terminal adolescence. As a world-wiser Andrew McCarthy put it recently, “I now look at this awarded [Brat Pack] distinction as one might look at a mole on the skin. You might prefer it was not there, yet there it is.”
Surveying today’s crop of fresh young talent, it’s simply impossible to separate those who’ll inherit the mole of dead fame from those who’ll rule the multiplexes in two decades. Right now the future looks especially bright for Christina Ricci, who, like Tinky Winky, provides a cute yet transgressive role model. Otherwise, most of the big stars of 2020 haven’t been born, or digitally engineered, yet.