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The Third Annual Nerve Awards for Love & Sex on Film

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A look back at 2011's most — and least — impassioned moments in cinema.

Each year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives out a bunch of awards. Here at Nerve, we also have an annual award show, more modestly confined to matters of the heart/loins. Welcome to the third annual Nerve Awards for Love & Sex on Film. 

SEXIEST SEX SCENE OF THE YEAR

Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley in A Dangerous Method 

Psychoanalysis was once considered scandalous, subversive, and, as the title here says, "dangerous," but more than 150 years after the birth of Sigmund Freud, it's now widely seen as musty, cranky, and even outdated. Praises be to David Cronenberg for making it feel gloriously filthy again. The casting helps: if Carl Jung and his patient/protegee/lover Sabina Spielrein had really looked like Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley, they should have dropped what they were doing and devoted their scientific curiosity to inventing the homemade sex tape. And when he ties her up and spanks her, the guilt and passion and frustration and release are so hot that you appreciate how exciting it must have been to go into forbidden territory back when the disapproval of polite society actually counted for something. — Phil Nugent

Runners-up: Aaron Eckhart and Amber Heard in The Rum Diary, Svetlana Khodchenkova and Tom Hardy in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Michael Fassbender, DeeDee Luxe, and Calamity Chang in Shame, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in Crazy, Stupid, Love

UNSEXIEST SEX SCENE OF THE YEAR

Ryan Gosling and Evan Rachel Wood in The Ides of March 

George Clooney directed this slick, superficial political drama, in which he plays a candidate running for the Democratic nomination for president. Ryan Gosling stars as the young campaign manager who's devoted to him. How devoted? When Gosling is making love with Evan Rachel Wood and looks up to see Clooney's face on the TV screen at the foot of the bed, he's so transfixed that he forgets what he's doing and stops in mid-thrust. Apparently nobody suggested to Clooney that this might lend an unintended J. Edgar-and-Clyde tint to Gosling's devotion. (Or that it might seem unchivalrous for him to suggest that having a naked Evan Rachel Wood in your arms is no competition for the sight of his own handsome mug on a TV screen.) Maybe we should be grateful that he didn't have both of them stare at the TV and start banging even harder. — P.N.

Runners-up: Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt in Young Adult, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes in Martha Marcy May Marlene, Steve Carell and Marisa Tomei in Crazy, Stupid, Love

SEXIEST NEWCOMER, FEMALE

Jessie Wiseman in Bellflower

There's a certain type of Venus flytrap most straight guys encounter at some point in their lives — the kind of sexy, super-cool alterna-chick who beats you in a cricket-eating contest, then drinks you under the table at your favorite scary dive bar. She's the kind of girl you want desperately, because having her would surely mean you must be super-cool, too. The only trouble is, for all the hot sex and swoony romance, you'll never really have her. When she says, "I'll hurt you," she means it. And this year, that girl was Bellflower's Jessie Wiseman. — Andrew Osborne

Runners-up: Amber Heard in The Rum Diary, Elena Anaya in The Skin I Live In, Paula Patton in Misson Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Bérénice Bejo in The Artist

SEXIEST NEWCOMER, MALE

Jean Dujardin in The Artist

Jean Dujardin is thirty-nine, and he didn't exactly come out of nowhere, but even the few films of his that have made it to America before now (such as the spy spoof OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies) didn't suggest the depths of romantic charm he summoned up to play the silent movie star of The Artist. His performance may actually gain something for his not having been a familiar face before; he seems not just authentic to the period of the movie but like a lost artifact from the 1920s, and the ease with which he conveys that unearthly quality of someone from a different time makes him more magical. Whether his character is performing for the camera, hamming it up on stage, or sitting at home despairing over his lost career, he's all movie star. And seriously, how can you not love a guy who can bring off that mustache? — P.N.

Runners-up: Anton Yelchin in Like Crazy, Guillaume Canet in Last Night, Rupert Grint in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

SEXIEST NON-SEX SCENE

Kirsten Dunst strips down in Melancholia

Lars von Trier's end-of-the-world party opens with a series of rapturously beautiful yet apocalyptic images, before veering into an extended nightmare of a wedding bash. The wedding ends when the bride (Dunst) blows off the groom (Alexander Skarsgard) and cuckolds him with a man she barely knows. Right away, you know that this isn't going to be a warm movie. But the iciness is both unsettling and tantalizing, and it brings out something new in Dunst. Eventually, sensing that the end is coming, her character strips down and stretches out under a moonlit sky to commune with the natural world that won't be there much longer. (She certainly communed with the internet, where stills of her nude scene went viral long before the movie hit theaters.) If the world has to end for Kirsten Dunst to be this exciting, it ought to happen more often. — P.N.

LEAST ROMANTIC ALLEGEDLY ROMANTIC MOVIE

Larry Crowne

Larry Crowne features two of the biggest movie stars on the planet, inviting real people, who have real problems and are mired in a sucky economy, to watch them simper and act cute and overwork their pet mannerisms in what you can tell is their idea of a serious movie about unglamorous real people and their problems. It must be said that Tom Hanks does look unglamorous here: he's fifty-five and may be the only leading man in Hollywood who could pass for older, though even in a Justin Long costume he'd be too old to still be doing his "irresistible" lovable-dumbass thing. Since he directed, co-wrote, and co-produced this thing, it's understandable that no one had the bad manners to point this out to him. — P.N.

Runners-up: Friends With BenefitsBeastlyOne DayNew Year's Eve

BEST CHEMISTRY

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in Crazy, Stupid, Love

When Emma Stone's fast-talking Hannah first sees the bare chest of ladykiller supreme Jacob (Ryan Gosling), she laughs in disbelief at his too-perfect physique: "Seriously? It's like you're Photoshopped!" It's a great moment not just because it actually makes an incredibly fit person self-conscious about their body for a change, but also because it's the start of one of those rare relationships where emotional nakedness (achieved piece-by-piece in a charming all-night gabfest) becomes way sexier than a simple baring of skin. — A.O.

Runners-up: Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska in Jane Eyre, Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent in Beginners, Justin Timberlake and Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo in The Artist, Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris

LEAST PLAUSIBLE COUPLE

Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly in Carnage 

Jodie Foster's an icon and a hard-working technician whose sense of humor has mostly been displaced by the stick up her butt, and she's never really had much sexual chemistry onscreen with anyone. John C. Reilly's a likable character actor whose biggest recent successes have been in slob comedies, and one of his specialties has long been playing the more obtuse half of really bad marriages. (In his other new movie, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Tilda Swinton joins a conga line of unhappy movie wives of John C. that already includes Julianne Moore, Jennifer Aniston, and Renee Zellweger.) It should be noted that their characters here are not supposed to have the greatest marriage in the world, so on that level, the casting makes sense. But why the hell did they get married in the first place? Just so they could have not the greatest marriage in the world, in case someone ever wanted to make a movie about it? — P.N.

Runners-up: Winona Ryder and Kevin James in The Dilemma, Carey Mulligan and Oscar Isaac in Drive, Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson in We Bought a Zoo, Adam Sandler and Brooklyn Decker in Just Go With It, Russell Brand and Greta Gerwig in Arthur

TRAGIC-EST LOVE STORY

Bellflower 

Director-writer-star Evan Glodell's debut feature is steeped in the tortured emotions of a young man who experiences his first taste of sexual bliss, thinks he's found something he'll cling to for his whole life, and then, when things don't work out, wants to blow up the world. The movie sometimes feels as out-of-control as it is intense, but that's part of what makes it exciting and unique; it's more interested in expressing the chaos inside its hero's head and heart than in sorting those feelings out. Jessie Wiseman plays his love interest in her film debut; she makes it seem perfectly convincing that knowing you'd spent your last night with her would turn your mind to thoughts of the apocalypse. — P.N.

Runners-up: The Skin I Live InDriveMy Week With MarilynThe Adjustment Bureau

BEST SCENE TO MAKE YOUR MOVE

Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo tapdancing around the screen in The Artist 

In early movies like the ones The Artist emulates, people had metaphorical sex all the time, and this neat little pas de deux is a perfectly period-appropriate recreation. Jean Dujardin first spots Bérénice Bejo's dancing legs when she's standing behind a screen that conceals the rest of her. Without revealing his presence or knowing what those gams are attached to, he joins in, and soon they're dancing together, except she doesn't know it. Then the screen is taken away, and she's sweetly embarrassed yet at the same time thrilled that he's drawn to her. It's flirtation and foreplay mixed together; consummation doesn't arrive until the last scene of the movie, a perfect resolution. — P.N.

Runners-up: Jennifer Aniston seduces Jason Sudeikis in Horrible Bosses, Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan drive together in Drive, Ewan McGregor and Mélanie Laurent move in together in Beginners

BIGGEST LOSS OF SEX APPEAL

Greta Gerwig in Arthur

Greta Gerwig came to fame in cinéma vérité films like Hannah Takes the Stairs and Baghead, as the kind of gently offbeat sex symbol who can play a charming trumpet duet in a bathtub one moment and break your heart the next. Unfortunately, the human foibles that made her so appealing as Ben Stiller's love interest in Greenberg are flattened into quirky "manic pixie dreamgirl" clichés in this overblown, unnecessary remake of the Dudley Moore classic Arthur. It's definitely Gerwig's least sexy performance to date. But we'll forgive her if the occasional big Hollywood payday frees her up to appear in more interesting independent films (like Whit Stillman's upcoming Damsels In Distress) the rest of the time. — A.O.

Runners-up: Jason Bateman in The Change-Up, Emma Roberts in Scream 4, Stephen Dorff in Somewhere, Paul Rudd in Our Idiot Brother

THE PHILLIP F. "DUCKIE" DALE AWARD FOR MOST DESERVING SIDEKICK

Patton Oswalt in Young Adult

Charlize Theron's queen bee Mavis had everything in high school. Patton Oswalt's Matt was a miserable nerd. Yet the two are drawn together in adulthood by their sardonic outsider perspectives. The popular mean girl became a lonely alcoholic, isolated by her ambition and narcissism, while the nerd survived a traumatic past by embracing a sideline view of "normal" society. The insightful Matt sees Mavis more clearly than she sees herself, making him an invaluable advisor and foil. Yet what elevates Oswalt's character to Duckie Award status, even though he absolutely knows better and probably hates himself for it, is his helpless admission to Mavis late in the film that "Guys like me are born loving women like you." — A.O.

Runners-up: Seth Rogen in 50/50, Aziz Ansari in 30 Minutes or Less, Nicholas Hoult in X-Men: First Class

SEXIEST PERFORMANCE, FEMALE

Emma Stone in Crazy, Stupid, Love

Unlike many of the bimbos (of both genders) who've been touted as sex symbols lately, Emma Stone seems almost too smart for someone so young, and she has a way of bringing the idiot out in people who are old enough to know better. (When Jim Carrey embarrassed himself with that "joking" declaration of love on YouTube, a lot of men were simultaneously appalled and glad that they hadn't had easy access to a camera the last time they watched one of her movies.) In Crazy, Stupid, Love, Stone manages to get your heart beating faster in a bedroom scene where the boy and girl have so much fun talking and kidding around that they forget to have sex; we are in the presence of sex-symbol royalty. — P.N.

Runners-up: Elena Anaya in The Skin I Live In, Mila Kunis in Friends With Benefits, Emily Browning in Sleeping Beauty, Carla Gugino in Sucker Punch, Bérénice Bejo in The Artist

SEXIEST PERFORMANCE, MALE

Ryan Gosling in Drive

Apparently, it's not just the jacket. Aziz Ansari's character wore The Driver's badass scorpion on a recent episode of Parks and Recreation and barely raised the room temperature — but that's because he broke the cardinal rule of male sexiness by opening his mouth to chat, smile, and be friendly. In Drive, Ryan Gosling avoids the problem by chewing on a toothpick, staring soulfully and, oh yes, looking like Ryan Gosling. — A.O.

Runners-up: Colin Farrell in Fright Night, Daniel Craig in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Michael Fassbender in A Dangerous Method, Johnny Depp in The Rum Diary, George Clooney in The Descendants

IMAGINARY GIRLFRIEND OF THE YEAR

Adriana (Marion Cotillard) in Midnight in Paris

Of all the crush-worthy characters in this year's films, Marion Cotillard's Adriana almost has to win Imaginary Girlfriend of the Year, because that's already the role she plays in Midnight in Paris. She represents a time and a place, a nostalgia for something Gil (Owen Wilson) never experienced, but is certain he was meant for — unlike his dreadfully American, practical, unromantic real-life girlfriend Inez (Rachel McAdams). And besides Adriana being elegant, French, and from the Lost Generation, she's actually interested in Gil's Woody Allen-style babbling, deeming it "poetic." Isn't that what every neurotic wants — someone who finds their nerves charming? — Maura Hehir

Runners-up: Hannah Weaver (Emma Stone) in Crazy, Stupid, Love, Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, Jamie Rellis (Mila Kunis) in Friends With Benefits, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) in The Artist

IMAGINARY BOYFRIEND OF THE YEAR

Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II

Although Ron Weasley has been my imaginary boyfriend since Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (he might have been playing a pre-teen, but Rupert Grint was actually seventeen! It's not that weird!), the mature, less-confused Ron Weasley in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II should be everyone's. When tall, ginger, and handsome Ron finally kisses Hermione after, like, a decade of built-up tension, you remember how frustratingly long young love can seem to take — but also how great it feels when you can finally hold the person you've been pining for. — M.H.

Runners-up: Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender) in Jane Eyre, Driver (Ryan Gosling) in Drive, Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) in One Day, Will Rodman (James Franco) in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Professor X (James McAvoy) in X-Men: First Class

SEXIEST VILLAIN

Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class

This must just be Michael Fassbender's year. It's one thing to be sexy in a film where you play a sexy sex addict who has sexy sex with all kinds of sexy sex-women. It's another to pull it off in a film where you a) have no sex and b) are also required to wear this ridiculous helmet. (Granted, Fassbender doesn't actually have to put the thing on until act three, but you knew it was coming the whole time, didn't you?) Never mind. Fassbender commits fully to the part, and his tragic friendship — more than friendship? — with James McAvoy's Professor X has a libidinal intensity that no actual mutant-on-mutant coupling could match. — Peter Smith

Runners-up: George Clooney in The Ides of March, Lea Seydoux in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Alexander Skarsgard in Straw Dogs, Jennifer Aniston in Horrible Bosses, Jon Hamm in Sucker Punch, Charlize Theron in Young Adult

THE LIFETIME SEXINESS AWARD

Helen Mirren

Many actresses hope for the kind of career Helen Mirren has had. Equally at home on the stage and screen, well-recognized for both, she's also capable of receiving absurd awards like LA Fitness's Best Female Body without seeming less dignified for it. Though her most recent film (The Debt) wasn't a run-away box-office success, it showed that Mirren is capable of playing edgy, forceful characters at an age when most of her peers are simply turning on the charm and coasting on elder-stateswoman status. She's also the only person on this list to have a Mars Volta song named after her ("Ilyena," from The Bedlam and Goliath). Take that, Fassbender. — Alex Heigl

Runners-up: Pam Grier, Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, George Clooney, Colin Firth

SEXIEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR

Weekend

Back in the days of old Hollywood, the makers of classic sexy tearjerkers like Casablanca knew a secret: having the hero and heroine get together, and then tearing them apart at the end so that they'd linger as happy memories in each other's minds, was sexy. The writer-director Andrew Haigh is hip to this too, though, being a young indie guy, he might well think that the idea originated with Richard Linklater. Working on a shoestring budget with a lot of visual invention and two go-for-broke actors, Tom Cullen and Chris New, he made a vibrant little movie that transcends its "one-night stand that will live forever" genre, proving that the key to having the sexiest movie of the year (and one of the best movies, period) can just be having the right two people and taking the time to get to know them in full. — P.N.

Runners-up: DriveA Dangerous MethodMy Week With MarilynSleeping Beauty

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