THE STAR WHO DOESN'T NEED A BOOST:
Brad Pitt: He wants an Oscar though. While he may have lost the "Moneyball" statuette he deserved to "The Artist"'s Jean Dujardin, 2011 was Pitt's best year ever; last year at Cannes "The Tree of Life" won the Palme d'Or. This year, Pitt has been rewarded with a Cannes Competition slot for loyally rejoining Aussie Andrew Dominik (who directed him in underappreciated cult fave "The Assassination of Jesse James) on the gangster pic "Killing Them Softly." With Harvey Weinstein behind him, a Cannes launch could set Pitt up for another Oscar nomination.
2012 and 2013 are looking strong for Pitt. He also stars in Marc Forster's zombie epic "World War Z" (June 2013) and the currently-filming third feature from Steve McQueen ("Twelve Years a Slave," opposite Michael Fassbender). As befits a star at the apex of the Hollywood food chain, he has several more projects in the works (as producer and/or actor) -- not to mention his official engagement to partner Angelina Jolie. Pitt is hot as ever with the best of his career still ahead.
THE STARS WHO DO NEED A BOOST:
Nicole Kidman: Things are looking up for Kidman after a year of 2011 duds such as "Just Go With It" and "Trespass." She boasts not one but two Cannes entries: Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy" with Matthew McConaughey, and Philip Kaufman's HBO biopic "Hemingway & Gellhorn," opposite Clive Owen. (An Oscar nomination wouldn't hurt.) And she's just landed the Grace Kelly role in Olivier Dahan's "Grace of Monaco" and is pushing a handful of other projects in various stages of development. She's still an Oscar-winning movie star.
Tom Hardy: "Warrior" proved that Hardy is not yet a marquee draw like Pitt. But Hardy is on the rise; he has cemented himself as a one-of-a-kind diverse talent with "Bronson," "Inception" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." He's raising his profile with iffy mainstream fare ("This Means War") and back with Christopher Nolan (as villain Bane) in summer tentpole "The Dark Knight Rises." With John Hillcoat's "Lawless" at Cannes, we'll see another dimension to Hardy before the still-in-the-works "Mad Max" reboot. Hardy is also linked to a biker project and may play Al Capone in "Cicero." Staying away from mainstream dreck and big-screen fame can lead to a slow and steady career rise.
Matthew McConaughey: Let's call "The Lincoln Lawyer" the start of his return (and his best work since 1996's "A Time to Kill"). With two films playing Cannes--Daniels' "The Paperboy" and Jeff Nichols' "Mud"--following up William Friedkin's "Killer Joe" (SXSW), Richard Linklater's "Bernie" (LAFF, April 27) and Steven Soderbergh's "Magic Mike" (June 29) - McConnaughey is working hard, and mixing things up, to prove the comeback is official. He's even developing a cable series with chum Woody Harrelson.
Eva Mendes: While she's worked steadily since 1998 ("Children of the Corn V") and got a boost with romantic comedy "Hitch" as Will Smith's uber-sexy and likable modern American sweetheart, she hasn't stood out in any stand-out films of late (not "Ghost Rider," "We Own the Night" or "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans"), but she's gotten a handful of billboards and beauty endorsements. Now's her time to break out as a serious leading lady. Cannes' "Holy Rollers" from Leos Carax could do it, or "Girl in Progress" (May 11) or Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond the Pines" alongside Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Rose Byrne (in post). The ample talent is evident and waiting.
THE STARS (WHO NEED TO PROVE THEMSELVES OUTSIDE THEIR COMFORT ZONE):