The Coen brothers may well be the greatest American filmmakers working today: emphasis on the American, in the sense that they peel away layers of fantasy and pretense about what America is supposed to be and show it for what it really is. Sometimes that's a positive thing -- see: the cheery, unquashable entrepreneurial spirit of The Hudsucker Proxy -- and sometimes it's negative: No Country for Old Men is a brutal takedown of the Western ethos (much more so than their new True Grit).
Joel and Ethan Coen, on their way to making their counter-iconic films, bring out the very best in their actors. Sometimes it's through an unexpected use of humor -- the quirky fun of O Brother, Where Art Thou? is what transformed George Clooney from a TV heartthrob into a genuine movie star with global appeal -- and sometimes it's through bleak and bitter drama: Jeff Bridges hasn't been so there as an actor as he is in True Grit in a long time. And while there are lots of actors whom I'd love to see work with the Coens, to see how their unique and hugely entertaining talents could be amplified by the brothers' idiosyncratic perspective -- James Franco, Amy Adams, Timothy Olyphant, Colin Firth, Steve Coogan, Maria Bello, and on and on -- none of them really need that boost the Coens could give them.
So who does need that boost, or a career rejuvenation, and who deserves it? I count down the likely candidates:
5. Zac Efron: This multitalented kid would have been Fred Astaire once upon a time. Hollywood doesn't bend that way anymore ... but the Coens might. Isn't it time they deconstructed the big, glitzy Golden Age musical? Efron would be the perfect star for such a lark.
4. Katherine Heigl: When I say that I hate Heigl, I mean of course that I hate that this woman -- who is cute, bubbly, and bursting with screen presence -- appears to have given herself over to idiotic romantic comedies that do nothing but make women look like moronic children. In a grown-up role in a grown-up but still silly story, the Coens could show off Heigl as a new screwball queen.
3. Anna Faris: Another funny woman stuck in stupid movies. Hollywood once had plenty of room for The Ditz, and plenty of work for her. I bet the Coens would find a way to let her be outrageously scatterbrained and enormously engaging in a way that no other filmmakers yet have quite managed.
2. John Cusack: The awful Hot Tub Time Machine cinched it: Cusack doesn't know what to do with himself anymore. But combine the acid satire of his War, Inc. with the Coens' trick of making the mean-spirited light and frothy, and he could find his way again.
1. Robert Pattinson: He's got talent and brains, he could get down and dirty and nasty in a Coen brothers' drama, or goofy and nimble in a Coen comedy. Either would help wash away the stench of drippy adolescent mooning that is clinging to him. He's better than that.