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We pick the 5 Movie breakout stars of 2003

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Image credit: Keira Knightley: Sarah Dunn/CPI/K2

Keira Knightley

Keira Knightley ranks among 2003’s top breakouts

Hollywood will always have its ingenues, but it’s the rare talent who has the chops to match the charm. ”There are a lot of pretty faces out there, but a lot you don’t believe when the camera goes on,” says ”Pirates of the Caribbean” producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Bubbly turns in a string of hits this year ? ”Bend It Like Beckham,” ”Pirates,” and ”Love Actually” — have helped Knightley woo audiences with her toothy beauty and sweet skills. And we don’t just mean how the 18-year-old dribbles a soccer ball and swings a sword. ”She can act,” says Bruckheimer, who hired Knightley again, to play Guinevere in 2004’s just-wrapped ”King Arthur” (also on tap for the English lass: the period romance ”Tulip Fever,” opposite Jude Law). ”With Keira, you don’t see the wheels turning.” Not surprising given her role models. ”I used to watch Isabelle Adjani in ‘La Reine Margot’ before every difficult scene [I did]. She’s amazing,” Knightley says. ”Katharine Hepburn in ‘The Lion in Winter,’ too.” And sure, that cute mug doesn’t hurt. Quips ”Beckham” director Gurinder Chadha: ”She’s got fabulous cheekbones. Those will do her good.”

Shia LaBeouf
Image credit: Shia LeBeouf: Gregg Segal/Corbis Outline

Shia LaBeouf

Shia LaBeouf ranks among 2003’s top breakouts

If Garry Shandling had a sex change and mated with Dustin Hoffman, their offspring might look — and act — something like this curly-haired 17-year-old. Anyway, LaBeouf seems to have somebody’s acting genes. After three seasons as Louis on Disney Channel’s ”Even Stevens” (he won a 2003 Daytime Emmy), LaBeouf began racking up high-profile movie roles this year: Disney’s hit ”Holes” in April, followed by ”Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and ”Dumb and Dumberer” in June. With ”Even Stevens,” ”everyone just thought I was a big goofball…. ‘Holes’ changed that,” says LaBeouf. ”When your movie makes almost $70 million, it’s a different ball game.” LaBeouf even survived ”The Battle of Shaker Heights” — the little movie that no one saw, even though millions watched it being made, courtesy of HBO’s ”Project Greenlight.” Unlike some of ”Greenlight”’s participants, he garnered good reviews for both his on- and offscreen performances. ”’Greenlight’ was challenging. I had to stretch as an actor, and be diplomatic. There were a lot of politics,” he says…diplomatically. Now that LaBeouf has mastered such Hollywood-player palaver, he’s ready for his next films: ”I, Robot” with Will Smith and ”Constantine” with Keanu Reeves. ”This year has been like a birthday every day,” says LaBeouf. Happy birthday, kid!

Naomie Harris
Image credit: Naomie Harris: Neil Wilder/CPI/K2

Naomie Harris

Naomie Harris ranks among 2003’s top breakouts

As ”28 Days Later”’s fearless Selena, the 27-year-old Cambridge grad proved posh-accented Brits can dust the undead just as well as any ole Buffy. And in British TV’s ”White Teeth,” her joyous Clara made buckteeth and nappy hair beautiful. Next she’ll play a Bahamian cop chasing Pierce Brosnan in ”After the Sunset,” an action flick that’s ”kind of like a sequel to ‘The Thomas Crown Affair.”’ So how does hunk hunting suit her? ”I’m rather inept at it, actually. I get to rescue him, though, which is very exciting.” And a heck of a lot more glamorous than slaying rabid, red-eyed zombies.

Peter Dinklage
Image credit: Peter Dinklage: Chris Buck/Corbis Outline

Peter Dinklage

Peter Dinklage ranks among 2003’s top breakouts

Unlike the scowling children’s author he plays in ”Elf,” Dinklage has plenty to thank Santa for — starting with his role in that very movie. In his one brief but hilarious scene, the 34-year-old actor kicks Will Ferrell’s merry little butt for calling him an ”angry elf.” ”It’s not your typical holiday film,” says Dinklage. ”It was a joy.” Equally delightful? The Sundance smash ”The Station Agent,” in which Dinklage plays a reclusive railroad aficionado. His quiet performance earned him critical raves and made Hollywood take notice — finally. (He’ll soon star opposite Cheri Oteri in the reality-TV mockumentary ”Surviving Eden,” and he has a development deal for his own TV series.) ”Struggling is tiring,” Dinklage laughs. ”It’s nice to be comfortable.”

Documentaries

Documentaries rank among 2003’s top breakouts

Michael Moore may have declared that we live in fictitious times, but his ”Bowling for Columbine” kicked off a surge in fact at the box office: (From top) ”Winged Migration” and ”Spellbound” taught us about the birds and the bees, while ”Capturing the Friedmans” revealed a family’s undoing by allegations of pedophilia. Not your typical summer fare, but thanks to glowing reviews — and maybe even reality TV — the films hit the mainstream. ”Everybody figured out documentaries can be fun and interesting,” says ”Friedmans” director Andrew Jarecki. In other words, they’re not just for film geeks anymore.