Legends of the Fall
Her personal life this year has unfolded like a Hollywood drama, but this fall we'll finally see Jennifer Aniston act – as Clive Owen's lover in the November thriller Derailed. Although filming finished before her official split from husband Brad Pitt, Aniston, 36, was an "all-around positive" presence on set, says studio chief Harvey Weinstein. As for her offscreen chemistry with Owen, "They definitely like each other," says Weinstein. "You can feel that in the movie."
She plays singer June Carter Cash opposite Joaquin Phoenix's Johnny Cash in Walk the Line – and Witherspoon, 29, knows about being part of a two-career couple: She's been married to actor Ryan Phillippe for more than six years (they have two kids, Ava, 6, and Deacon, 2). Their secret? "We almost never talk about the business," Witherspoon says, adding that there's no professional competition between them. "I suppose if he were 5-ft.-2, blonde and female, we might have a little trouble."
After playing a bounty hunter in Domino, Knightley trades her bullet belt for a corset in Pride and Prejudice. But even though she doesn't have to wield a machine gun, Knightley, 20, says she was "terrified" of taking the role of Elizabeth Bennet in the period drama. "She is one of my favorite characters. I said to my agents, 'Don't let me ruin that character, please!'a And they just went, 'Oh, you wuss, shut up.' Which is good, I'm glad they did."
SARAH JESSICA PARKER
On Sex and the City, she made Manolo Blahnik a household name – but these days, Parker, 40, who plays a woman clashing with her boyfriend's relatives in The Family Stone, answers to only one fashion critic: son James Wilkie, almost 3 (with husband Matthew Broderick). "My son has very strong feelings (about) what I should and shouldn't be wearing," she says. "James Wilkie is like, 'Take that dress off. I do not like it.' "
A South Bronx, N.Y., native who dropped out of Yale to become a model, Bryant made her acting debut in the 2001 MTV movie Carmen: A Hip Hopera. Now the 31-year-old is starring in another music-heavy production: Get Rich or Die Tryin', starring and inspired by the life of Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson. "It was really cool," Bryant says of playing the rapper's girlfriend. "He's very sexy, (and) I have to do more than kiss him in the movie."
Diaz, 33, may be known for her thousand-watt smile, but it was another part of her anatomy that made an impression on the set of her female-bonding comedy In Her Shoes. "She's got a huge heart," says costar Toni Collette. Diaz (whose boyfriend, Justin Timberlake, was a frequent behind-the-scenes visitor) even hired someone to make cappuccinos for the crew. "He was such a hit that we actually took him to Philadelphia and Florida with us," says director Curtis Hanson.
Thurman, 35, recently admitted to Oprah Winfrey that her 2003 split from husband Ethan Hawke (dad to her kids Maya, 7, and Levon, 3) left her "pretty mangled." That vulnerability drew her to her role as a recently divorced woman in Prime. "I understood exactly what this character was going through," she says. "I know what it's like to wake up a decade later and be single again and thinking you had a plan and the plan got derailed."
She's got one Oscar (for 2003's Monster), and critics say her gritty performance as a miner in North Country could win her another. But that doesn't mean Theron, 30, is too big for the small screen: She's appearing on Arrested Development ("They called and I said, 'Oh God, I love the show' ") and wouldn't mind guesting on boyfriend Stuart Townsend's drama The Night Stalker. Not that he's asked: "I think he's doing pretty good by himself there," she says.
In Rent, Dawson, 26, plays a struggling New Yorker – a life she knows well, having grown up in an East Village squat. Although she recently moved outside L.A. to be with her boyfriend, actor Jason Lewis, she's a city girl at heart. "We found a nice bit of property ... in Topanga Canyon," she told New York's Daily News. "It's great, though I'm not going to be able to run to the corner store at midnight anymore."
As Lois Lane in the upcoming Superman Returns, she'll win the heart of the Man of Steel – and she already has a fan in a former Batman: Val Kilmer, her costar in 2003's Wonderland. "Kate Bosworth can't get any more beautiful!" he gushed to PEOPLE recently. "Is she still with Orlando Bloom?" Sorry, Val: Bloom and Bosworth, 22, who plays a seductive Hare Krishna in November's Bee Season, "are very happy together," says their rep.
The Aussie actress stars opposite Ewan McGregor in the psychological thriller Stay and a giant gorilla in December's King Kong, but Watts, 37, is still looking for her real-life leading man. Although she's been linked to actor-director Liev Schreiber, she recently told British tabloid The Sun, "Now I'm getting older I'm thinking more about settling down and children, except I'm so busy with work," she said. "Life is always like that. So I'm happily single for the time being."
Since 1998's The Mask of Zorro, the Welsh beauty, 36, has had two kids (Dylan, 5, and Carys, 2) and won an Oscar (for 2002's Chicago). But she was thrilled to reprise her role for The Legend of Zorro: The original not only made her a star, but also found her a husband, Michael Douglas. "Michael saw me in it and then seduced me," she says. "Hounded me. Followed me around the world until he found me."