Who woulda thunk it? After downward spirals, former Hollywood pariahs Britney Spears, Mickey Rourke and Robert Downey Jr. managed to turn it around this year. And file under TV turnaround: NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” became culturally relevant again.
What was more stunning — the fact that Spears snagged three MTV Video Music Awards (including video of the year) or that she looked like a million bucks while doing so? Either way, the pop star — sporting a glittering silver dress and a slimmer body — pulled a remarkable 180-degree turn from last year’s fiasco at the VMAs, when she trudged through a performance of “Gimme More.” It was a striking example of how far the 27-year-old mother of two has risen since her father, Jamie, took control of her financial and private affairs in February. Spears, who famously shaved her head during one of her public meltdowns, continues to gain career momentum and stability in her personal life. Delighting her fans, the “Womanizer” singer will kick off her first tour in five years this March.
The 52-year-old actor more or less peaced out from Hollywood after squandering his early potential with bad-boy behavior. But thanks to his leading role in “The Wrestler,” Rourke is reliving the critical acclaim of his work in films such as “The Pope of Greenwich Village,” “Diner” and “Rumble Fish.” Director Darren Aronofsky fought to cast Rourke against the concerns of financial backers; Aronofsky forged a comprise by settling on a lower budget of $6 million. So far, so good: Rourke is getting strong Oscar buzz, and the poignancy of his heartbreaking turn as a down-and-out celebrity wrestler itching to make a comeback isn’t lost on him. As he told The Associated Press: “There were some broken pieces I didn’t know how to fix that made me behave a certain way. ... I wish I knew differently, because I put myself and a lot of other people through a lot of hell that I regret.”
Robert Downey Jr.The charismatic actor went from cautionary tale to bankable movie star last summer for his performance in the Marvel Studios blockbuster “Iron Man,” which grossed $318.3 million domestically. He also got raves for his risk-taking role as an actor in blackface in “Tropic Thunder.” Like Rourke, Downey had trouble finding plum roles that exploited the depth of his talent after some personal trouble — and Downey’s dark path included a crippling battle with addiction that led to stints in jail and rehab. Now clean, Downey proved he could draw millions to the multiplex last summer as billionaire genius-turned-superhero Tony Stark. That’s something new for Downey, who previously acted in smaller-scale movies. And he’ll do it again: Marvel has tapped him to star in “Iron Man 2” and “The Avengers,” respectively slated for 2010 and 2011.
“Saturday Night Live”The NBC sketch-comedy show returned to sharp political satire this year — and the payoff was big. Dogged by dwindling ratings, “SNL” experienced a much-needed boost, finding inspiration in the presidential campaign and a savior in the multitalented Tina Fey. Fey’s spot-on impression of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin helped resurrect the show as appointment television for viewers who couldn’t get enough of her winking send-up of the Alaskan governor. Don’t rule out Amy Poehler’s brilliant Hillary Rodham Clinton or Jason Sudeikis’ teeth-baring Joe Biden. Time will tell if “SNL” can continue its winning streak. If the sketches are able to mine laughs from an Obama administration, then you betcha.
Cloris LeachmanThe bitingly funny actress gained a new generation of fans with her crowd-pleasing run on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” At 82, she wore sparkly dance costumes, sat in judges’ laps and cussed during the live television broadcast — displaying 1,000 times more personality than beauty queen Brooke Burke, who waltzed away with the mirror-ball trophy in the Nov. 26 finale. After her early dismissal, Leachman declared: “I’m not leaving.” Here’s hoping the star, who nabbed an Oscar for her supporting role in 1971’s “The Last Picture Show,” will be here to stay.