In which we explore the filmic concerns of a given theme, and find new and novel ways of putting together yet another Internet-based list of movies. The wrinkle here, is our fifth pick will actually serve to prove as the counter argument, the best representation of the direct opposite of our theme.
NOTE: As a middle-aged hetero male, I felt at somewhat of a disadvantage with this week’s theme, so I quickly assembled a makeshift panel of intelligent, witty Gen-X women I knew (from Tuenight and elsewhere) and conducted a brief poll of what films they found terribly sexy, which greatly informed my process. As you can imagine, there were some deeply felt biases and startling omissions that gave us all pause. (Where’s Idris Elba?! No Daniel Day-Lewis?! And what, oh what, of Michael Fassbender?!) But in the end, there was at least enough consensus to compile this week’s film list. Herewith, four break-out sexy actors and their female counterparts, and one decidedly not.
1. Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise (1991)
Director: Ridley Scott
Essential Characters: Thelma (Geena Davis), Louise (Susan Sarandon), J.D. (Brad Pitt)
Gist: Two women go on the lam after an altercation at a bar, have a bunch of adventures together, and finally represent all of woman-kind in face of an oppressive and unfair male patriarchy. Oh, and they also meet Brad Pitt. Yeah, this one was a unanimous choice by my panel.
Moment of Sexual Awakening: That would likely be right about here, but in this film, you could really take your pick.
End Result: Brad Pitt becomes an overnight sensation (and, echoing a quirky career of twists and turns, quickly follows up his studly coming-out with the bizarrely conceived Tom Dicillo flick Johnny Suede), and shortly thereafter slips into actual, bona fide movie star territory.
Studmuffin, Female Division: Oh, a little something called Dangerous Liaisons, which featured the major film debut of one Uma Thurman.
2. Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love (2011)
Directors: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Essential Characters: Jacob (Ryan Gosling), Hannah (Emma Stone), Cal (Steve Carell)
Gist: Sad-sack Cal, dumped by his wife, gets taken under the wing of studly Jacob at a local bar, but freaks when he finds out the swarthy Jacob has been dating his daughter, Hannah.
Moment of Sexual Awakening: In a film that, shall we say, had a few ups and downs, by far the best scene involves Jacob and Hannah’s first night together, which has just enough character insight — pulled largely from the two gifted actors portraying them — to make the whole film work a bit better.
End Result: Well, what was begun in The Notebook, was absolutely cemented here: Gosling is the real deal, even if the poor guy is so breakfast deprived.
Studmuffin, Female Division: I will go way out on a limb here and say Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation caught many an interested eye, though extra props to Gosling for producing such a refreshingly peculiar, indie-heavy filmography up to this point.
3. Terence Howard in Hustle & Flow (2005)
Director: Craig Brewer
Essential Characters: Djay (Terrence Howard), Skinny Black (Ludacris), Key (Anthony Anderson)
Gist: A pimp living in hardscrabble Memphis has a dream to be a rapper, but has to reawaken his soul in the process.
Moment of Sexual Awakening: Nothing wrong with a man with a dream, but it’s when we first get to hear what Djay and his motley crew have put together during the recording of “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp” that we really get a sense of his gift, and how that gift might be everyone’s ticket out of their misery.
End Result: Nothing if not a hustler, Djay eventually gets a meeting with Skinny Black, the platinum-selling Hip-Hop legend, that ultimately doesn’t go terribly well. But his infamy eventually leads to his success. Would the same be said of the enigmatic Howard himself, who reportedly has a bit of a temper and has had some issues with giant franchise films in the past? Nevertheless, his talent and dedication are undeniable, and he’s certainly not the only artist to endure personal difficulties en route to success.
Studmuffin, Female Division: Strong, dedicated, and exceptionally talented whilst also terribly attractive? Let’s go with criminally underappreciated Angela Bassett (and not just because of American Horror Story), whose moxie and verve have stuck with us ever since she donned a wig and kicked her legs around in that Tina Turner biopic.
4. Javier Bardem in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Director: Woody Allen
Essential Characters: Vicky (Rebecca Hall), Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem)
Gist: Two attractive young women spend an adventurous vacation together in Barcelona where they meet a suave, rich artist who very much wants to cultivate a romantic relationship with each of them, despite a pockmarked history of his own divorce.
Moment of Sexual Awakening: I guess you’d probably say something along these lines, but keep in mind Woody Allen isn’t exactly known for the raw carnal sensuality of his films, so you might have to squint a bit. Just focus on the swarthy, charming beauty of Bardem (while very much trying to keep this out of your mind as best you can, Friendo).
End Result: We’ve talked about ScarJo and her rising fortunes, as for J.B., he’s gone on to make one of the most hauntingly devastating films of the last decade, and has been more or less accepted as one of the great actors of his era.
Studmuffin, Female Division: We don’t have to search very far. Let’s take another of his co-stars from Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Penélope Cruz, who has been the gorgeous muse to many an auteur, en route to becoming one of the most well-known International actresses of her generation.
And the antithesis (aka “The Stale Cronut”)
5. Mel Gibson in The Beaver (2011)
Director: Jodie Foster
Essential Characters: Walter Black (Mel Gibson), Beaver hand-puppet (Mel Gibson, stealing the accent of Michael Caine)
Gist: A depressed former executive gets booted from his house and turns to a hand-puppet as his only means of communication with the outside world.
Moment of Sexual Repression: Can we just say the whole damn thing, and not make me have to relive this mess clip-by-clip? We can? Awesome, you rock.
End Result: A once mighty Hollywood sex symbol (“Sexiest Man Alive” anyone?) has now been brought to his knees by a combination of vitriolic anti-Semitism, brutal alcoholic tirades, and ugly, murderous misogyny. Can you imagine this dude once said in an episode of The Simpsons: “The problem I have is people love me so much they never criticize me…” Now, he’s been reduced to weirdo cabin-in-the-woods type roles and has a Q-rating in the negative hundred-thousands. It’s tough to watch studmuffins go to, er, seed, but maybe necessary.
Studmuffin, Female Division: What’s happened to Meg Ryan hasn’t been pretty, but I’m fully prepared to blame Hollywood (and their aforementioned gender-biased, double-standard) for forcing middle-aged actresses to feel as if they have to have tons of plastic surgery just to remain relevant. As for the general fall from grace in the public eye, I guess we can sadly use poor Gwyneth Paltrow as our dubious spokeswoman, though it’s worth noting, everyone seems to despise her not so much for her incendiary patronizing speeches, but for being really confident about herself and starting a rich-woman’s self-help and advice site. Not saying she’s not irritating, but it’s really not on the same level as Senor Bigot Crazy Pants up there.