June 06, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

Owen Gleiberman on Russell Crowe

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL His performance as 1950s Los Angeles cop Bud White, a quiet brute with noble instincts, established the magnetic, bow-lipped smolder of one of the first actors since Brando to radiate brains and brawn in equal measure. When Bud lifts his nose out of the sewer of corruption, we’re seeing the birth of a conscience — and of a star.

GLADIATOR Crowus Masculinis Triumphant. As Maximus, the fallen general-turned-vengeful Colosseum slasher, he rules everyone, be they armies or fellow gladiators, with his I’ll-slay-you-if-I-have-to stare of prideful fury. Memo to Colin Farrell and Orlando Bloom: This is what it looks like to take command.

A BEAUTIFUL MIND As a genius touched with madness, Crowe finds the haunted magic in a man whose mind is more real to him than the physical world. Far more than The Insider, this is the movie in which the thinking man’s action star turns thinking itself into an action.

ALSO CHECK OUT Romper Stomper, the Australian skinhead-without-a-cause drama that helped put Crowe on the map.

Lisa Schwarzbaum on Renée Zellweger

JERRY MAGUIRE The essential endearing Renée Zellweger on-screen persona was born here: the spunk, the vulnerability, the middle-American sexiness grounded in nice averageness and good sense rather than siren beauty, as if any girl could share her shoes. That, and the ability to cry really, really well.

NURSE BETTY Everything attractively askew about the star — her rumpledness, her scrunchiness, the sense that behind that can-do facade is a woman of mad dreaminess — comes into perfect imperfect alignment in her role as a traumatized housewife (bring on the tears) hiding from reality inside a soap opera.

BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY Her weight gain for the role is what made headlines. The freedom she found, in her heavier chassis, to represent modern urban singleton women everywhere — and poke fun at her own ability to cry really, really well — is the real news.

ALSO CHECK OUT Skinny Renée in Chicago; Texas-twang Renée in The Whole Wide World; scene-stealing Renée in White Oleander; Hasidic (huh?) Renée in A Price Above Rubies.

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