With honors

Three more deserving legends will receive Gotham Tributes

Melvin Van Peebles

High points: "Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha" (2008), "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" (1971)

Van Peebles broke ground in 1971 with "Baadasssss," which he wrote, produced, directed, scored and starred in. It challenged social mores and every rule of filmmaking, and its success (it made more than 10 times its budget) ignited the blaxploitation movement.

"I would love to have partners," Van Peebles says. "I've got no partners, so I do it all myself. But you can't have it both ways." As to the Gotham Tribute, he adds, "I thought, 'Finally, somebody understands me!'"

 -- Chris Koseluk

Gus Van Sant

High points: "Good Will Hunting" (1997), "My Own

Private Idaho" (1991)

Headquartered in Portland, Ore. (where he shot his first feature, "Mala Noche," in 1985), Van Sant's equally at home mingling with his fellow auteurs on the Croisette. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, he can't resist the act of deconstruction, reimagining Shakespeare's Prince Hal as a young hustler in "Idaho" or following Hitchcock shot-by-shot with his 1998 "Psycho" remake.

In Focus Features' forthcoming "Milk," Van Sant has found a subject that allows him to combine it all: sympathy for the outsider, casual acceptance of homosexuality, his unobtrusive but shrewdly observant camera and, with Sean Penn, his ability to cut to the quick without ever resorting to conventional sentimentality.

-- Gregg Kilday

Penelope Cruz

High points:
"Volver" (2006), "Abre los ojos" (1997)

Cruz is one of the few non-native English speakers to share an international success at home and in

Hollywood, and she has a repertoire of four languages. ("Though," she says, "that doesn't mean I speak all of them correctly.")

A film and TV actress since her teens, she made her name while working with directors like Pedro Almodovar, then segued into Hollywood with films like 2001's "Vanilla Sky," a remake of "Ojos." In 2006 she got an Oscar nomination for "Volver." This past year she's appeared in both "Elegy" (Samuel Goldwyn Films) and Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (MGM/Weinstein Co.).

Working with Allen is, she says, "different and shocking." "He's so specific about what he needs, even if he is not a man of too many words. You know you are in the hands of genius."

-- Chris Koseluk
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