Top 10 Boys of Summer 2009

Summer movies are a man's world -- and may the best men win in the sizzle-season blockbuster demolition derby that's just begun. Here's our guess at which stars' stars are rising the fastest, our Top Ten Boys of Summer.

christian bale

10. Christian Bale

You want to stay healthy? Don't mess with Christian Bale's lights, or he might punch out yours. He famously blew up at his director of photography on the set of Terminator: Salvation, and you don't want this guy mad at you. Not even robots better mess with Bale as John Connor, humanity's last hope in the war with the machines -- and the last best hope of the Terminator series to get a reboot, the way Star Trek just did. Bale is, well, baleful, in film after film, from the landmark satiric gore of American Psycho to the killer intellectual horror flick The Machinist (just out on Blu-ray) to the most authentic of the Batman movies, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Nobody's tougher than this guy -- it's as if he's still trying to live down his heartthrob role in Little Women. After all these years, in a career jump-started at 13 with a brilliant star part in Spielberg's Empire of the Sun, Bale remains a cult hero more than a movie star. He's too uncompromising to play the star-making game. But that grit is just what John Connor needs. This summer could be Bale's salvation from the cult-hero ghetto

brad pitt

9. Brad Pitt

With that awful mustache, Brad Pitt hasn't looked this bad since Terry Gilliam uglied him up for 12 Monkeys. But as Inglorious Basterds's Lt. Aldo "The Apache" Raine, a hick leading a pack of mayhem-minded Jewish troops itching to get medieval on Nazi behinds, Pitt's got a part he can sink his teeth into. The whole world at war, and these are the soldiers that take it most personally -- now, that's what I call a fight club! Quentin Tarantino, a dropout who cannot spell, spent a decade writing this titanic comeback opus. After years of coasting (and dreaming his way through the interminable Kill Bill pictures), it's high time for a Tarantino movie that really moves. And Brad's just the talent to put it over the top, in more ways than one.

jeremy piven

8. Jeremy Piven

You say Jeremy Piven will be big this summer because The Goods, the Will Ferrell-produced movie about a hard-living, stripper-fancying car salesman who can hard-sell anybody under the Temecula, California sun (except the one woman he wants to land) will be an out-of-left-field hit. You like it that Ferrell costars (in a supporting role as a victim of Piven's manic energy) and it's coproduced by Adam McKay of Talladega Nights. I say Piven's probably only in it because in real life, his sister is married to McKay, and the real reason he'll be big is that Entourage will be back on HBO in June. Ari rules. End of story. Boom! Hug it out, bitch! I'm right!

ed asner

7. Ed Asner

I know it sounds crazy. One of the hot boys of summer is the most incredibly old boy of all, that barrel-shaped walking liver spot of a man, Ed Asner -- or rather, not Ed as we knew him, Lou Grant of Mary Tyler Moore Show fame, but as Carl, the cranky 78-year-old balloon salesman who flies his house to South America to fulfill his dreams in Up, the new animated Oscar-nominee-for-sure from Pixar. I'm not saying Up will make Ed so hot he'll grab the lead from Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 4. But he will be the lead in a flick by Pixar, the only studio that's never made a bad movie, and early reviews have been ecstatic. Being a balloon-powered movie, it reportedly drifts on gusts of Miyazaki inspiration.

sacha baron cohen

6. Sacha Baron Cohen

The most profitably funny faux foreigner ever, Borat, has company in the offensive-stereotype summer blockbuster competition. But surely Bruno can't possibly be funnier than Borat. On the other hand, who knows what to expect from Sacha Baron Cohen? Bruno -- whose name must be pronounced with an umlaut, forcing everyone to make their lips into a smooching "eyeew" shape to say it -- is a fashion victim with a vengeance, bent on giving sodomy a bad name and strangers some truly uncomfortable moments. Warning! He wields a mean dildo (or two). If anyone can top the Borat nude wrestling scene, Bruno is the man for the job.

daniel radcliffe

5. Daniel Radcliffe

Honestly, I don't know how big a long-term future Daniel Radcliffe has. You can't get much more typecast than Harry Potter, and his oddly elongated now-grownup self reminds me of the cartoons Charles Schulz drew of teenagers, Young Pillars, who resembled tall, skinny Charlie Browns. They didn't catch on the way Charlie Brown did. But I can magically predict one thing: Daniel Radcliffe will have one hell of a summer thanks to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the Potter blockbuster to end all Potter blockbusters. And not one of the Potter pictures has ever been so insanely eagerly anticipated.

ryan reynolds

4. Ryan Reynolds

Since he gets to sleep with Scarlett Johansson, Ryan Reynolds has no right to more good luck. But this summer, he won a trifecta of roles, as Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Julia Roberts' son in the family romance Fireflies in the Garden, and, most promisingly, the hapless assistant to wicked witch boss (and love interest) Sandra Bullock in The Proposal. His air of charming tentativeness inspired attempts to make him the next Hugh Grant in Definitely, Maybe. Maybe this summer he'll break through at last. No, definitely. And if not, he can always cry all night in Scarlett's arms.

eric bana

3. Eric Bana

Everybody else is looking forward to seeing Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen as comics in Funny People, Judd Apatow's attempt to become James L. Brooks, a funnyman auteur with a heart and soul. But I'm betting on a different breakout boy: Eric Bana as Sandler's rival for the hand of Leslie Mann. Everybody thinks he's so damn serious, since he looks so convincing as the Romulan bad guy Nero in Star Trek, and it's still hard to shake the sweaty image of him as the tortured assassin in Spielberg's Munich. Hey, lighten up! Bana started out as a comic, and even had his own sketch comedy show Down Under. So this could be his comeback to what he was in the first place. Actually, I'm more looking forward to his part as a time-tripping librarian in this summer's The Time Traveler's Wife, but I think this is the one that will make his name in a new genre.

denzel washington

2. Denzel Washington

If ever a forgotten classic thriller deserved to get remade, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is it. And if ever a bunch of coldhearted Manhattan subway train hijackers led by John Travolta with his toughest hairdo since Pulp Fiction deserved to get chased by somebody even badder than them, that ruthless pursuer is Denzel Washington.

johnny depp

1. Johnny Depp

Yes, evil robots are clashing with humanity this summer (repeatedly, in Terminator: Salvation and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). But I say the real earthshaking showdown is between straight-arrow FBI gumshoe Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and gangster John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) in Michael Mann's Public Enemies. It's like the De Niro/Pacino face-off in Heat, except I hated Heat and hope this will be hotter. Why place my bet on Depp instead of Bale, and risk Bale's famous wrath? I think Depp's hungry for a big hit that's also an art film, and a role that isn't an impression of Keith Richards. Besides, he's proven he can play a pirate -- now he gets to play one on dry land, with much more reliable guns.