An item in the recent Grist List set off a firestorm of controversy, both inside and outside Grist. I refer, of course, to the purported status of Thandie Newton as a "B-list movie star." One staffer argues that Newton’s presence in the year’s Best Movie Oscar winner vouchsafes her A-list-ness; similarly, a British reader asks, "Doesn’t a BAFTA win qualify one as an A-list star?"

Well, no.

There’s no shame in being on the B-list; the A-list is, by definition, small and exclusive. Qualifying for the A-list is generally understood to mean the ability to "carry a movie." It is widely agreed that Nicole Kidman’s name on the marquee more or less guarantees a certain minimal level of box office. So too for Julia Roberts and, more recently, Reese Witherspoon (how else to explain the success of Legally Blonde 2?). However talented she may be, Thandie Newton can’t carry a movie. That’s why they don’t pay her $15 million-plus per film. Maybe she’ll get there some day, but I doubt it. She’s a looker, and a great actress, but getting to the A-list means that ineffable combination of accessibility, beauty, intelligence, vulnerability, and charisma that very few actors possess.

So. There you have it.

dave in '95In other inconsequential news, readers have had some fun commenting on the old picture of Chip that appears at the bottom of this post. And oh yeah, here. And, uh, here. Yes, so, we take some malicious glee in using it. But I can explain. At left, you’ll see a picture of me from (my god) 11 years ago. As you will note, I was a regular Hippie Adonis — in contrast to Chip’s Hippie Poindexter.

Sadly, in the intervening years Chip evolved into the suave, urbane, justly renowned gentleman you see here, whereas I just became a fat old blogger with lower back pain. I’m driven by envy. It makes people do ugly things.