The Famous 50
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1. MERYL STREEP: Streep’s portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady is already on most people’s short lists, sight unseen (the film opens Dec. 16), for a 17th Best Actress nomination. But a win? Not so fast: A lot depends on director Phyllida Lloyd, who’s much esteemed in British theater but whose only big-screen bow was the critically reamed Mamma Mia!—and most prognosticators assume that if the statuette doesn’t go to Viola Davis for The Help, it may just go to Connecticut native Glenn Close for her transgender turn as Albert Nobbs. Anyway, next year we’ll be talking about Great Hope Springs, shot in various locations in Connecticut, and featuring Streep in another It’s Complicated-style ensemble, this time with Steve Carell and Tommy Lee Jones.
2. JOHNNY DEPP: Gotta say, it took so long for The Rum Diary to get released that when the film finally made it into theaters in October, we checked to make sure Hell hadn’t frozen over. And the pop-culture work ethic is strong in this one: He took a cut in pay to realize his dream of playing Tonto to the Lone Ranger; his next big big-screen splash will be as Barnabas Collins in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows. Depp also has a special cameo in the feature version of the TV show that started it all for him, “21 Jump Street,” the one project he used to say he’d never, ever do again. But Pirates of the Caribbean notwithstanding, foolish consistency has never been one of his vices.
3. PAUL SIMON: Talk about getting your mojo back. Mr. “How Very Strange to Be 70,” who just turned that magical age, is currently on another U.S. leg of his critically hosannaed tour for his acclaimed 2011 CD, So Beautiful or So What. He’s planning to welcome 71 with another tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of Graceland, which will be re-released as a box set next spring, complete with a documentary about Simon’s July 2011 return to South Africa (and an intimate show he played there with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Hugh Masekela). At this rate, we don’t know whether to be sad or relieved that he’ll have till 2015 to rest up for the 40th-anniversary Still Crazy After All These Years blowout.
4. SCOTT RUDIN: King of the world, ma! Broadway producer Rudin had a terrific 2011, thanks to Best Musical Tony-winner The Book of Mormon (a big-screen version is planned for 2014, which is about as long as you’d have to wait for tickets anyway) and Best Play nominees Jerusalem and The Motherf---er with the Hat. Movie producer Rudin looks poised for an even livelier 2012, beginning with the already-in-theaters Moneyball (starring Brad Pitt) and the soon-to-be released The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Daniel Craig), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock), Moonrise Kingdom (Bruce Willis) and The Dictator (Sacha Baron Cohen). You can add TV producer to the list: Look for a movie based on Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and a new, to-be-renamed Aaron Sorkin series, “More as This Story Develops,” both for HBO.
5. BRIAN WILLIAMS: As we went to press, it was too early to tell whether Williams’ new TV newsmagazine show “Rock Center” would be a go or a no, but the signs were all good—particularly with the hiring of Ted Koppel as special correspondent, who Williams (breaking out the baseball analogies) called “a consensus Hall of Famer” in the news business. If the show strikes out, BriWi certainly doesn’t have far to fall, unless his “NBC Nightly News” anchor/managing editor berth (with a reported 8 million and growing viewership) can be called bush league.
6. JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: Life was pretty much a good news-bad news sitch for J.T. this fall. On the plus side, he was honored for his commitment to green living at the Environmental Media Association Awards in October, due to his eco-friendly Memphis golf course Mirimichi. But at the same time he was hacked by that celebrity-obsessed guy in Florida, revealing some not-so-platonic emails between him and Friends with Benefits co-star Mila Kunis; Indy 500 racer Dan Wheldon was killed in a car sponsored by his William Rast clothing line; and critics began laughing at the trailer for his current flick, In Time. Heavy sigh.
7. LAURA LINNEY: Like Oliver Platt, her future was cliff-hanged at the end of Season 2 of “The Big C”; unlike him, we expect she’ll be back. As for news from the Odd Couple Dept., Linney’s been paired with Bill Murray in the feature film Hyde Park on Hudson: He’s F.D.R.; she’s the distant cousin, Daisy (Margaret Suckley), with whom he has an affair.
8. MATT LAUER: This fall, the redoubtable “Today” host—on the job for 14 years—earned his more than 5-million-daily viewership by getting tough with Republican politicos, getting flirty with chef Paula Deen and reviving “Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?,” a feature that brought him to Laos, Australia and Istanbul when he last hit the road in 2008. “Today”’s best ratings day since the 2008 Beijing Olympics: April 29, when the show covered the Prince William/Kate Middleton nuptials to the tune of 9.6 million viewers.
9. STEPHEN SONDHEIM: The theater world’s Sondheim lovefest continues unabated; last month, the 81-year-old, most Tony-winning composer in the history of Broadway received the Handel Medallion, New York City’s highest honor for achievement in the arts. Part Two of his memoir, Look, I Made a Hat, has just hit bookstores (The New York Times included Part One, Finishing the Hat, among its 10 best of 2010).
10. CONAN O’BRIEN: Looks like Team Coco and TBS are getting along just fine—in October, O’Brien sold the network a sitcom titled “Fat Chance” (reminding us how NBC once evaluated the likelihood of his success at the Ted Turner-owned station). In a similar spirit of entrepreneurial camaraderie, Conan recently rented out his TV studio on Airbnb.com, choosing three lucky female retirees from Mexico over thousands of other applicants for a three-night stay. And during a week of shows in New York City, he celebrated his first anniversary with TBS by officiating an on-air gay wedding.