James Franco: Hollywood’s Most Beloved Celebrity in 2010

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I think it’s safe to say that James Franco was the busiest man in show business last year, and has perhaps solidified his reputation as Hollywood’s most beloved celebrity. Franco brought the poet Allen Ginsberg vividly to life  in a career-defining performance in Howl, and he was never more alive than in his extraordinary portrayal of the famed adventurer Aron Ralston in 127 Hours. For long stretches, it’s a one-man show, and Franco stretches his extraordinary talents to their fullest. His transformation from confident and charming swagger to displays of shock, fear, anger, and heartbreak is remarkable, and has now nabbed him a Golden Globe nomination, and soon (likely) an Oscar nod. The actor has proven over the past few years he’s far from just a pretty face by starring in dramatic fare such as Milk and in 2010 he showed more of his comedic chops in an over the top, scene-stealing performance in Date Night. If that wasn’t enough, Franco brought daytime television to life with his random, short-lived, but awesome stint on the American soap opera General Hospital.

Insisting his stint on the show wasn’t a serious acting move, Franco stated, “I have been obsessed with performance art for over a decade, so I decided to experiment with the form myself when I signed to appear on General Hospital as the bad-boy artist ‘Franco, just Franco’.”

“I disrupted the audience’s suspension of belief, because I was going to be perceived as something that doesn’t belong in the stylized world of soap operas.

“Everyone watching would see an actor they recognize, a real person in a made-up world. It would be about inserting myself in a familiar space in such a way that it becomes stranger than fiction.

“In performance art, the outcome is uncertain. If it all goes to plan, it will definitely be weird, but is it art?”

Franco has been all over the news in 2010, from getting accepted into Yale’s PhD program, to posing in drag on the cover of Candy magazine, and eventually the Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts announced that he and Anne Hathaway were tapped to host the 83rd annual Academy Awards, continuing the double-act hosting setup that brought Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin to their stage at the 2010 ceremony. If that wasn’t enough, the actor, playwright, painter and perpetual graduate student can also add short-story writer to his increasingly eclectic resume, with his debut collection, Palo Alto, having just hit bookshelves.

Finally, we have to mention his photo shoot for New York Times in its Hollywood Issue. Franco, along with 14 other famous actors, acted out a number of strange but interesting scenes. His video was directed by Solve Sundsbo, set to a score by Canadian composer Owen Pallett of Final Fantasy and Arcade Fire. The videos accompanied the black-and-white portraits Mr. Sundsbo shot for “The Scene Makers: Actors Who Defined Cinema in 2010,” in the Hollywood Issue of The New York Times Magazine.

Now It’s just three days into the New Year, and happily many of the major characters of 2010 are already showing great initiative with respect to 2011, James Franco among them. The soon-to-be Oscar host is reportedly in talks to take on two directorial projects: an adaptation of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying for Fox Searchlight, and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Oh, and did I mention both films would be based on scripts that Franco wrote himself?

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