YEAR IN FILM: In praise of the actors who redefined "sex symbol" in 2011
YEAR IN FILM Picture this dreamy, steamy "Fuck Yeah! Ryan Gosling" Tumblr thought bubble: "Hey girl, sorry my shirt fell off, but at least I'm one of those new EGOTs (i.e., Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony quadruple threats)." You know, the type that's got actorly chops, talent, personality, and/or good works to boot — plus a chiseled chest that looks "totally Photoshopped." Yes, we're talking award-fielding hotties à la Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt, the kinds of golden boys who can easily pass for Oscar, only with full heads of hair and more soulful glances.
This year's awards-show heartthrob mob comes to you seemingly straight outta the heated imaginations of Sex and the City-fiending hetero ladies and gay connoisseurs of acute cinematic cutie-pie-ness (witness the many, many YouTube re-edits of X-Men: First Class that pump up the erotic undercurrent between Fassbender's Magneto and James McAvoy's Charles Xavier). The crowded field of studly talents is sure to be diverting during the inevitable lagging segments of Oscars, Golden Globes, and so forth. ("Reader, I drooled over reaction shots of Mr. Rochester during the technical awards.")
But hasn't Hollywood always served up heapin' platters of hunky man meat? Sure, but you'll probably have to go back as far as Paul Newman and Robert Redford's '70s heyday to find the current crop's particular combo of art and pulchritude. Ushering in this dear ab-by generation was Brad Pitt, the pretty boy unafraid to spoof vain self-absorption, as a brainless gym-bunny in 2008's Burn After Reading. Around the same time he bounced on a treadmill for the Coens, Pitt began to consistently hook his star to more ambitious projects than your average loutish, laddish Lautner-esque chisel-head, stretching the skill set while doing his part to further the art and working with Alejandro González Iñárritu, David Fincher, and Quentin Tarantino. None of their Pitt-centric projects were the directors' best, and that goes double for Bennett Miller's Moneyball and Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (Happy Feet Two, you're two too much).
Nevertheless, Tree of Life, despite its lack of shirtlessness, proved the least commercial and most ambitious widely released feature film of 2011 (in part thanks to co-producer Pitt), and his punishing pater familias was one of the best things about it, grounding Malick's inner-outer space opera, earth mama twirls, and dinosaur tricks down to earth with his against-type alpha-male hard glances — likely the most demanding performance Pitt has grappled with to date.
Shades darker, with a side of honest abs, Ryan Gosling added oft-wordless fashion-plate soul to '11: take a page from his Notebook, up-and-coming chestys, because whether you're crate-digging old footage of the young Mickey Mouse Club kid warbling in floppy PJs alongside Justin Timberlake on YouTube or marveling over his viral snippet of street-fighting men intervention, you know Gosling's loved. It's tough to choose between Gosling's George Clooney impression and cheese-eating Dirty Dancing (1987) tribute in Crazy, Stupid, Love.; his vintage Steve McQueen-James Dean style in Drive (that scorpion jacket launched a jillion Halloween costumes); and his quickly-devolving presidential campaign manager in The Ides of March.