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YEAR IN FILM: In praise of the actors who redefined "sex symbol" in 2011

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Sweet dreams are made of this: Ryan Gosling in The Ides of March.
PHOTO BY SAEED ADYANI

In Ides, Gosling's silky, feline, almost femme-y smoothness hardens into a chilly "Blue Steel," threatening to plunge into nuttiness, as the film progresses. As with these other award-snagging hunks, he's an adult caught in the cogs of a terrible, soul-shattering machine, and as Drive's romantic wheelman, Gosling's ready to run off the median into an off-roading wilderness of ultraviolence. Of course, the deadliest mechanism lies within, for the driver driven to kill, the ladykiller breaking down the angles, and the political player who grabs his revenge after having his ideals destroyed (and bromantic boss-crush on Clooney's candidate quashed).

The abs — and twinkling, then blistering, peepers — that truly seemed to be everywhere this year belonged to Michael Fassbender, who soft-opened the year in an archetypal romantic part, Mr. Rochester, in Jane Eyre. Fassbender went on to add a dose of real class to X-Men: First Class with his vengeance-seeking metalhead Magneto — oh, Jane, his emotional investment in the comic-book creation was the best thing about the reboot.

The latter part of 2011 ended with a seismic splash of wish fulfillment for Fassbender fans as his Carl Jung deconstructed — and entangled himself in — sex and the psyche in A Dangerous Method, and as Shame's corporate hot-shot by day, sex addict by night. His character, Brandon, attempts to lose himself in naked abandon, unable to sustain intimacy with anyone, including his boundary-less sister (see recurring support gal/fan stand-in Carey Mulligan). Shame director Steve McQueen, not be confused with Drive's inspiration, wisely lets his camera rest, unsettled and ambivalent, on Fassbender's face at the end of one night of hopeless coitus, after a close brush with a real relationship gets clipped short by flaccidity.

Caught in mid-rut, Brandon's orgasm face is an anguished rictus of painful pleasure, half horrifying tragedy mask, half laughable comedy mask. It's all there, the sexual fantasy-turned-nightmare, the tears behind the dazzling smiles, pecs, and full-frontal shots, conveying in one look the perils of manhood and the forces these foxes can — and can't — control.

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