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Bradley Cooper, Sexiest Man Alive?

Posted by Wesley Morris  November 17, 2011 07:17 AM

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Sexiest Man Alive.jpgIt could have been worse, I suppose. They could have chosen a werewolf or a vampire or Gerard Butler.

Instead, People magazine has named Bradley Cooper its sexiest man alive, so the editors chose someone who, in the movies, seems likely to buy you Manhattans until you submit then not call the next day. But according to the cover story, I have no idea what I'm talking about. 

Cooper speaks French and graduated from Georgetown. He's smart and loves his mother. It's we who want to seduce him. Actually, I think what I'm wondering is more like: Isn't this a little premature?

The movies haven't figured out what to do with him, and, as much we know what we'd like to do with him, this honor -- silly and empty and irrelevant as it probably is -- might, for now, be better spent on a star with a body of work as thick and lustrous as Cooper's hair. No one wants to say it, but he's the man-cave Katherine Heigl. Why Hollywood is keeping these two away from each other might be a matter of scientific necessity.

"Limitless," which came out in the spring, advertised what Cooper can do, that he can surprise us and himself. He's fun in that movie, and there's promise in that fun. Cooper doesn't need a lot to work with, but he does need something, and until that movie he hadn't had much of anything. Yet for fans of sexiness, what's annoying about Cooper -- or last year's honoree, Ryan Reynolds -- being named "sexiest" is that it insults the way someone like Ryan Gosling actually uses sexuality to do his job. Cooper uses a version of smarm. Smarm gets you phone numbers. But smarm isn't sexy. 

In the last year Gosling has been sexy in four different movies -- "Blue Valentine," "Crazy, Sexy, Love.," "Drive," and "The Ides of March" -- and has been so in four different ways. Cooper hasn't been sexy at all. So People's endorsement of him over Gosling or, say, Idris Elba (the magazine includes them, yet again, among the sexier options) is a kind of blow to sexiness. Cooper and Reynolds suggest that what People might really mean by "sexy" is, in reality, just "hot," and the problem with hot is that it cools off. 

It's possible People made the same mistake, some of the rest of us do: Comparing him to the 2005 title-holder, Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey truly is sexy -- yes, it's in a sleazy, swaggering, twanging, bring-protection sort of way. But what can you do? He's sexy. Cooper corrects all that is serious and real and possibly requiring an ointment about McConaughey. If he's sexy, he risklessly so. He doesn't hunger for you. He doesn't hunger for anything. At the very least, McConaughey hungers for himself, which is, of course, is off-putting and unseemly, but, again: What can you do? It will be fun to have a version of this conversation next year or the following one, when Michael Fassbender and Tom Hardy are likely (and rightly) to be up for consideration.   

There's also this: Why does the Sexiest Man Alive cover always fail to make the men look sexy? They always look like puppies. Is that what we want? This one, of Cooper, is particularly distressing. It's fair to see it and wonder why he's dressed like Justin Bieber.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

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