Let’s start with what I don’t mean by sexy.
I don’t mean pretty. Katie Holmes and Natalie Portman are pretty but I’ve never found them particularly hot. Oh, and I don’t mean hot, either. Yes, Jessica Simpson in her Daisy Dukes is hot. But for all the back-and-forth about her intelligence — she’s dumb as a stump; no wait, she’s smart like a fox; no wait, she’s got an I.Q. of 150 — there’s still a stunned look in her eyes that is the antithesis of sexy. She may turn out to be a good comic actress — I like her line reading of “I think something bounced up into my undercarriage” — and, with the help of a personal trainer, her body is now one of the hottest around. But sexy doesn’t come from a personal trainer.
Sexy is balance. Cool and hot at the same time. Interest and disinterest. It’s not passive but it’s not in a hurry either. It seems to arrive at that moment in a woman’s life when she’s still hot but can no longer rely on it completely. Or maybe it arrives when a woman decides to take charge. Or maybe I just like women taking charge.
Most women in their 20s (I’m 42) aren’t particularly sexy to me. They’ve got this stuff, and boys like it, and that seems enough: Here I am, entertain me. Susan Sarandon started out as a bug-eyed beauty in the 1970s, and her “Toucha-toucha-touch-me” number in “Rocky Horror” was certainly hot, as was the lemony goodness of “Atlantic City,” but it wasn’t until “Bull Durham,” at the age of 41, that she became blow-out sexy to me. Now she’s sexy’s Grand Dame. On the other hand I found Kim Cattrall sexy even in her 20s. Go figure.
Sexy is personal, and so the list below is personal. It’s not like People magazine’s list of “The 50 Most Beautiful People Who Are Successful This Year.” (It’s amazing how winning an Oscar can make somebody beautiful.) Some of the women below are on every one of these lists, some are on none, but all make me happy to be a man.
10. Sigourney Weaver, 55
As part of a mother-daughter con team in “Heartbreakers,” Jennifer Love Hewitt flounces around in various skimpy outfits but it’s Sigourney who raises temperatures simply by raising her eyebrow. She’s been doing that for years. She played dumb but sexy in “Galaxy Quest,” sexy but bitchy in “The Ice Storm,” and in “Dave” is the First Lady we’d most like to interrupt our shower. All of this in her 40s. Now she’s in her 50s. As is Susan Sarandon and Rene Russo. A half-century never looked so good.
9. Anastasya Makeyeva, 24
Anastasya Who? Don’t worry. She’s a Russian model who’s appeared in exactly one film (in Russia), but it points up the advantage of being a film critic and going to the screenings and seeing the films no one sees. You get in on the ground floor. Consider this the IPO of a very hot product. To be honest, I don’t even know if Anastasya is a particularly good actress. All I know is that when I was watching “The Rider Named Death” and she came onscreen I said, “Who is that?” Now I want to see more of her.
8. Annabella Sciorra, 41
Consider myself just one of many men who rue the day Gloria Trillo died in the fourth season of “The Sopranos.” Tony thought he was heartbroken? C’mon! Take some raw meat in the face for the team, big guy... As with Susan Sarandon, I didn’t find Annabella particularly sexy in her younger days (“Jungle Fever”), or her mom days (“The Hand that Rocks the Cradle”) or her idyllic wife days (“What Dreams May Come”), but as Gloria Trillo she smoked. Some combination of the right lingerie and the right sexual aggressiveness. In 2001, when the third season of “The Sopranos” aired, men all over the country were picking their jaws up off the floor, and, as a result, I assumed Annabella would soon be getting plum roles in movies. Nope. Just one of those “Law & Order” TV shows. Not sure who’s running the studios these days and why they’re not listening to their gut, but you’d think they’d at least listen to that body part slightly to its south.
7. Jessica Alba, 24
OK, she’s on the list because she’s too hot not to put on the list, but the girl’s got to watch her pretty mouth. “Entertainment Weekly” made her No. 3 of their 122 People and Things You Must Whatever This Summer, and, in the interview segment, she complained that she’s sick of being stereotyped as “this exotic, strong-minded, kick-butt action” star. In other words, she’s complaining that people see her for what she’s done, not what she wants to do. Darling, if we were all seen for what we wanted to do, there would be 10 million Jessica Albas running around Hollywood. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing – unless you’re Jessica Alba.
6. Cameron Diaz, 32
Whenever I worry that I’m a candidate for Oprah’s couch by equating bitchiness with sexiness (see: Gloria Trillo; Sigourney in “Ice Storm”), Cameron comes along to save, or at least momentarily pardon, my soul. Because she’s sexiest when she’s most innocent. Think of the unabashed way she danced in “The Mask” and the unselfconscious way she danced in her underwear in “Charlie’s Angels,” and the way her eyes lit up when she greeted Ben Stiller’s Ted Stroehmann in “There’s Something About Mary.” She’s sexiest when she plays an uncomplicated girl who just wants to have fun.
5. Salma Hayek, 38
Before Tenoch and Julio begin their adventures in “Y Tu Mama Tambien” they spend some time poolside, um, relieving tension. Salma’s is the name that comes up most often. Smart kids. Interestingly, a year later, Tenoch (Diego Luna), became her boyfriend in “Frida.” Shows the power of positive thinking. The rest of us have been thinking positively about Salma since “Desperado,” and thinking more positively about her since “Frida,” but she is still the walking definition of a mixed message. Her eyes say “Don’t mess” but the rest of her can’t help but say: Mess.
4. Kelly Preston, 42
She became famous playing bad-girl blondes in bad ‘80s teen flicks like “Mischief” and “Secret Admirer” and hasn’t been taken seriously since. It’s similar to the way her husband, John Travolta, wasn’t taken seriously in 1993. It was a mistake with him then and it’s a mistake with her now. After a few surprising sweet girl roles in the 1990s (“Addicted to Love,” “For the Love of the Game”), Preston has, unfortunately, graduated to Mom roles: “The Cat in the Hat”; “What a Girl Wants”; “Sky High.” But like Stacy’s mom, she’s got it going on. Always has.
3. Catherine Zeta-Jones, 35
Emerged on the Hollywood scene when Zorro and his not-so-gay blade defrocked her in “The Mask of Zorro,” and made an indelible impression somehow squeezing her bodacious behind under sensors in the horrible “Entrapment” and vamped it up as Velma in the Cell Block Tango of “Chicago,” but her sexiest role may be her bitchiest: Charlie Nicholson in “High Fidelity.” When she takes her top off heading upstairs, who wouldn’t follow? To quote George Clooney’s great line-reading in “Intolerable Cruelty”: You...fascinate me.
2. Famke Janssen, 39
This is one tall drink of water. Like Diaz, she’s able to play the sexy innocent (see: Kamalah in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”), but is just as sexy, if not more so, when she gets aggressive (Xenia Onatopp in “Goldeneye”). But put her in leather? Like in “I Spy” and the X-Men movies? That’s when I surrender unconditionally. White flag time. Famke’s also surprisingly adept at ordinary women roles — like the underrated “Love & Sex” and Woody Allen’s “Celebrity,” where she is easily every male writer’s fantasy editor. And, hey, if the Batman series continues? Catwoman.
1. Angelina Jolie, 30
She’s got the sexy movie poster thing down, doesn’t she? First the sweaty hot pants of “Lara Croft,” then the lips parted (in fear? in excitement?) in “Taking Lives,” and finally the coup-de-grace: the long black dress with the healthy slit up the side exposing (or not — depends on the market) a gun strapped mid-gam in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” What man wouldn’t beg to kiss his way up those legs? You get the feeling that Angelina wouldn’t mind the begging either. Might even toy with you a little first. That’s why she’s No. 1. Now if she’d only make some good movies.