Men We Love: The Most Admirable Men In This Year’s Academy Race

In making the case for gender equality in all aspects of pop culture, it’s often become easy for women to overlook the notion of the heroic man. These days, lists for women tend to favor celebrating society’s strong, powerful females, talking about what women can learn from other women regarding succeeding in a traditionally male-dominated world.

Of course, to assume that women can, or should, only learn from women is its own form of gender-typing. It also gives short shift to men, many of whom have called on some traditionally feminine qualities to succeed: sensitivity, equanimity, gentility, creativity, the ability and willingness to be many things to many people. This year’s Academy Award nominees include just a few such men. (Though, yes: They’re undeniably sexy, too.)

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln. Day-Lewis so famously adheres to a Method style of acting, that even Lincoln director Steven Spielberg addressed him as “Mr. President.” But he’s not an obsessive careerist: A few years back, he took a break from film to work as a cobbler in Italy. At 55, he’s as handsome as he was in 1992’s Last of the Mohicans.

Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables. As an actor, and a man, he’s frequently described as strong, but kind and graceful. “He’s also so nice, it’s unbelievable,” Les Mis director Tom Hooper has said. “Put him in the ocean, put him up a mountain, below freezing, however long hours you work, however much he has to sing, he’s always gracious… he really is kind of a rather amazing person.”

Denzel Washington, Flight. A committed Christian (he reads from the Bible every day) and a suspected Republican, Washington values his personal past and stands up for what he believes in, even in an industry that’s traditionally very liberal. He’s been married to the same woman since 1983. They still hold hands.

Alan Arkin, Argo. The four-time Oscar nominee, and one-time winner, is that guy who does everything: he acts, directs, produces, writes, sings, composes. “I have incredibly high regard for him,” co-star Steve Carell has said. “I think he’s one of a kind.”

Tim Burton, Frankenweenie. Burton, a two-time nominee, has made a career out of celebrating misfits and non-conformists, a group he’s proud to be a part of himself. “Wanting people to like you is nice, but I’m confident that there’s always going to be lots that don’t,” he has said. He’s okay with that.

John Hawkes, The SessionsThough he wasn’t actually nominated for his performance as a guy with polio looking to lose his virginity, he should’ve been. In real life, Hawkes is admirably modest and exceedingly low-key: never had a new car or an assistant, and has said, “My favorite people aren’t the ones who are the life of the party.” When he first started making money, he bought his mom a house.

Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook. Robert De Niro is a very serious film and stage actor, and famously private. But he also knows how to have fun, as we’ve seen in his various roles in the Meet the Parents series. And he proves that talent doesn’t have a shelf life: This is his first Oscar nomination in 21 years.

Ang Lee, Life of Pi. Born in Taiwan and now one of the most influential directors of the last 20 years, Lee pulled off Life of Pi, a story many feared was too complicated for film. But, of course, Lee is known for taking chances, and he’s been rewarded for that quality: He’s the only Asian to win the Academy Award for Best Director.

Ben Affleck, Argo. Not long ago, Affleck was known as the dumber sidekick to Matt Damon and the beau du jour of Jennifer Lopez. These days, he’s earned recognition as one of film’s most daring directors, a laughingstock to no one. Argo earned a whopping seven Oscar nominations.

John Legend, Django UnchainedThe Ivy League–educated singer/songwriter wasn’t nominated for the track he contributed to Django Unchained, but it was the fearless way in which he scored the gig that counts: He wrote and recorded “Who Did That to You,” a song about retribution and “avenging your lover’s honor” simply because he was inspired to do so, then sent the track to director Quentin Tarantino on a cassette tape. It worked.

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