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OPULUXE Lounge GroovesPlayList

In a year of head-hanging cultural low points
(we’re looking at you, Jersey Shore), ELLE presents the 25 best reasons
to keep the faith—from the year’s must-hear genre-busting albums to
Cher’s showstopping return to celluloid. (We’ll fist pump to that!)



1. THE HEARTBREAK KID

When rapper Kid Cudi released Man on the Moon: The End of Day
last fall, his emotive hip-hop outcooled every thugged-out MC on the
market. Almost overnight, the 26-year-old, dressed in skinny jeans and
thick-frame glasses, sold nearly half a million albums, lent vocals to
Jay-Z’s “Already Home” on The Blueprint 3, and became a lead player in HBO’s dramedy How to Make It in America. On September 14, he’ll release Man on the Moon Pt. 2: The Legend of Mr. Rager,
a sophomore effort that upstages his first, with booming choruses
(Cudi sings—sans Auto-Tune, at that!), raging electro beats, and a
rock-rooted single, “Erase Me,” which features that other hypercool skinny-jean-clad rapper, Kanye West.—Julie Vadnal

Photo: Matt Doyle/Contour by Getty Images

 

2. WE NEED A HERO

 

Director Davis Guggenheim hopes his new documentary, Waiting for “Superman”, will do for education what his An Inconvenient Truth
did for global warming. In the legendary Harlem school reformer
Geoffrey Canada and the fearless, magnetic Washington, DC, schools
chancellor ­Michelle Rhee, the film finds charisma to burn­—and showing
us poor kids waiting to hear ­whether they got into model schools might
just stand in for Superman as a game-changer. “One of the reactions I
get,” says Guggenheim, “is, ‘Oh, you picked the good families, the bright kids.’ That makes me really angry. They’re all born learners, born dreamers.”—Ben Dickinson

Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

 

3. THE NEW FACE

“I looked at a lot of actresses, but I couldn’t cast it for the life
of me. Then I saw Jennifer, and I went, ‘Wow, she’s incredible. We
need to rewrite the role for her.’ There’s wells and wells of stuff
going on inside her. Her face has the symmetry of somebody who is
classically beautiful but looks like she’s really lived, not someone who
wakes up at noon and puts on a bunch of makeup. That’s not something
you can manufacture. That’s something you’re born with.”—Jodie Foster on
casting 20-year-old Jennifer Lawrence, star of this spring’s acclaimed
Winter’s Bone, as the moody valedictorian Norah in The Beaver

Photo: Stevie and Mada (steviemada.com)

 

4. THE BIG TELL-ALL

“So many people have a secret self that never comes out,” Portia de Rossi says. “And I’m just sick of it.” In her new memoir, Unbearable Lightness,
out October 5, the actress writes about her past struggles with
anorexia and bulimia, from her first Jenny Craig meeting at age 15 to
the horrors of walking the red carpet for Ally McBeal to
desperately trying to burn off the calories from a pack of gum by
running circles in a parking lot. But the story has a happy ending: She
married Ellen DeGeneres after years spent in the closet—also among the
book’s topics.—Nojan Aminosharei

Photo: Randee St. Nicholas/courtesy of the subject

 

5. OSCAR BAIT

Four beautifully calibrated performances have Academy Award
handicappers already granting front-runner status to two eagerly
anticipated love stories. In Derek Cianfrance’s Sundance favorite, Blue Valentine,
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams create a piercingly intimate
portrait of a passionate marriage going off the rails. The story offers
glimpses of a chemistry so joyous and specific that we feel the lovers’
anguish almost as sharply as they do. And veteran writer/director
Edward Zwick reunites Brokeback Mountain vets Jake Gyllenhaal
and Anne Hathaway as a hotshot pharmaceutical salesman and an artist
with early-stage Parkinson’s disease in Love and Other Drugs.

Photo: Blue Valentine: Davi Russo/The Weinstein Company

 

5. OSCAR BAIT (CONT’D)

It may sound like a classic weeper, but Zwick leavens the sadness
with high-flying humor and great sex. Zwick nabbed his own Oscar in
1999 for Shakespeare in Love and was nominated two years later for Traffic. Gyllenhaal, Williams, Hathaway, and Gosling have all earned previous nominations—the first two for their Brokeback work, Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married, and Gosling for Half Nelson. This year they’ll be competing with each other, which could make Oscar night a genuine nail-biter. —Karen Durbin

Photo: Love and Other Drugs: David James/20th Century Fox

 

6. THE BIG UNEASY

Most blockbuster Broadway plays of late have been 90-minute, small-cast imports, such as Red and God of Carnage. Good as they are, they don’t feel very American, in content or scale. By comparison, John Guare’s A Free Man of Color, at Lincoln Center Theater this fall, represents the return of the native—not just for Guare, whose House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation
anatomized social class in New York City, but for the idea of American
epic. A sprawling historical comedy with tragic overtones (and vice
versa), Free Man begins in French Louisiana, circa 1802: “in
the last moments,” as director George C. Wolfe puts it, “before
history—in the form of America, just next door—invades.”

Photo: Michal Daniel/courtesy of the subject

 

6. THE BIG UNEASY (CONT’D)

When it does, the title character (likely to be played by Jeffrey
Wright) transforms from the richest man in New Orleans to the
equivalent of the slaves who run his plantation. What started out as a
Restoration comedy turns almost Shakespearean in its consequences—not
just for the characters but for the United States, which has been
entangled in questions of racial identity and equality ever since.
Wolfe, who also directed the epic Angels in America on
Broadway, naturally sees that entanglement in theatrical terms.
“America feels like this unresolved, incredibly astonishing work in
progress,” he says. “But is it a well-made play or a vaudeville? Is it a
commedia or some kind of Revenger’s Tragedy? Any given day it’s all of those”—and, no surprise, so is the season’s biggest play.—Jesse Green

Photo: Courtesy of Lincoln Center Theater

7. THE NEXT GENERATION

Last winter, the world lost Alexander McQueen, leaving his protégé,
35-year-old Sarah Burton, to carry on his legacy as the house’s new
designer. (Her first collection—filled with architectural cocktail
dresses in snow-white and buff lace, and dramatic gowns in chinoiserie
prints—will debut this November.) And Lindsay Lohan’s ever-so-short
tenure as artistic adviser (along with former chief designer Estrella
Archs) for Emanuel Ungaro has ended, making way for British bad boy
Giles Deacon to be appointed the brand’s new creative director. However
you slice it, this year—despite its darker hours—has seen the rising of
two bright stars, now at the center of fashion’s solar system.—Alexa Brazilian

Photo: Burton and McQueen images: David Burton; Deacon: Nick Harvey/WireImage.com; Ungaro storefront: courtesy of the designer.

 

8. THE WISE GUYS

When Martin Scorsese told Sopranos writer Terence Winter he wanted to direct the pilot for Boardwalk Empire,
an HBO series Winter had written about prohibition-era Atlantic City,
he was thrilled, but not convinced the stars would align. “I thought,
I’ll believe it when I see it,” Winter says. “We were standing on the
set the first day and his car pulled up. He got out and started blocking
out a scene. I looked to one of the other producers and was like, This
is really happening.” Scorsese, also an executive producer,
makes the inaugural episode feel like a fully realized mob movie, while
Steve Buscemi deserves critical gushings for his portrayal of corrupt
politician “Nucky” Thompson, who’s keeping AC swimming in bootleg
liquor. “He reminds me of Bogart,” Winter says of Buscemi. And maybe
that other compellingly flawed fictional mobster with depth.—Candice Rainey

Photo: Abbot Genser/HBO

 

9. THE WHITE-KNUCKLER

Most crisis films cut back and forth from the victims to the rescue
teams, the distraught relatives, the frenzied media. But with 127 Hours, out this fall, director Danny Boyle—buoyed by his Slumdog Millionaire Oscar
triumph—does the opposite: He keeps the camera locked on the
minute-to-minute struggle of mountain climber Aron Ralston (James
Franco), who famously spent five days in 2003 trapped in a narrow Utah
canyon after a boulder fell on his arm. He eventually severed his own
limb with a pocketknife in order to escape. “Truth is, we would all do
it,” Boyle says. “What looks like a story of extraordinary individualism
is actually one that represents all of our potential.”—Maggie Bullock

Photo: Chuck Zlotnick

 

10. THE SINGLE MAN

Brandon Flowers’ career sounds like a screenplay titled American Dream Realized.
The Killers’ lead singer hails from Sin City, spent his teen years
waiting tables at Caesars Palace, and met guitarist Dave Keuning by
answering an ad in a local paper. After selling 14 million albums
worldwide with the glam-rock band, “a couple of guys wanted to take a
break,” says the 28-year-old Flowers, who didn’t feel like hitting
pause. Instead, he worked on Flamingo, his wildly buzzed-about
first solo record—a sweeping, country-tinged classic-American-rock
homage to the nation he loves. “Our foundations are built on this land
of opportunity,” Flowers says, with genuine gratitude. “I don’t know if I
have a romantic notion of it or what.”

Photo: Williams and Hirakawa

10. THE SINGLE MAN (CONT’D)

On Flamingo, his rough-hewn vocals evoke a young Bruce
Springsteen (one of his personal rock idols) on odes to religion (he’s
Mormon), the “conventions of old-fashioned love,” and his hometown. “I
find myself defending it a lot,” he says about Las Vegas. “I think it’s
very American, the hustle and bustle of it all.” Spend a few minutes
with him—or any of the Killers’ four ridiculously infectious,
genre-spanning records—and it’s clear Flowers isn’t built to sit still.
“I’ve been writing songs since the last day that I recorded vocals on
[2008’s] Day & Age,” he says. “I think this is some of the strongest work I’ve ever done.” One spin of the propulsively kinetic Flamingo, and you’ll be ready to bet on Flowers too.—Rachel Rosenblit

Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.com

 

11. THE LEGEND

She gave us indelible performances in ’80s flicks Moonstruck, Mask, and Silkwood.
Now Oscar-winning triple threat and grande dame of camp Cher is back
on celluloid as the tough-broad owner of a musical revue nightclub in
November’s Burlesque. Belting out a racy number in a sequined
bustier with enough screen presence to upstage all the pretty young
things in fishnets (including Christina Aguilera and Kristen Bell),
Cher’s mama hen nabs the movie’s best lines and flaunts the biggest
hair.—R.R.

Photo: Stephen Vaughan SMPSP/© 2010 Screen Gems Inc.

 

12. THE HOT COVERTS

The stars of NBC’s upcoming spy thriller Undercovers,
actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw and former tennis pro and model Boris Kodjoe,
are officially TV’s sexiest new couple. When Kodjoe auditioned, says
creator J. J. Abrams, “I thought, There’s no way a guy that looks like
him can also read a line.”—N.A.

Photo: Chris Haston/NBC

 

13. THE FILM AUTEUR

Ben Affleck sounds happily crazed on a break from locking his new film, The Town. Based on Prince of Thieves,
Chuck Hogan’s prize-winning suspense novel about a gang of young bank
robbers whose shrewd leader falls hard for Rebecca Hall’s upscale
victim, Claire, the movie takes Affleck back to the gritty Boston world
of his 2007 directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone. This time, the
neighborhood is gentrifying, and Affleck is director and star. “This
was not the kind of moviemaking that I’d been used to at all, so it
definitely tested me,” he says, describing the story’s climax, a
spectacular shoot-out in Fenway Park.

Photo: Matthias Vriens McGrath/Trunk Archive

 

13. THE FILM AUTEUR (CONT’D)

Like its predecessor, however, The Town is much more than
an action picture. “It’s about loving people who are damaged and how
children pay for the sins of their fathers and how change is so
difficult that we continue to do things that are bad despite our best
intentions,” Affleck says. “I wanted all that, and I got it because
between Rebecca, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Blake Lively, and Chris
Cooper, I had such extraordinary talent.” Last but hardly least, his
own.—K.D.

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

 

14. NERD REVENGE

Based on Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires, The Social Network
stars Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield as the Harvard boy wonders
who in 2004 dreamed up “the biggest change in the way we socialize since
the invention of the telephone,” Eisenberg says. It’s a morality tale
about what can happen to a friendship when a back-of-the-napkin idea
begets fabulous wealth, with a sly casting twist: Justin Timberlake
plays Napster cofounder (turned Facebook president) Sean Parker.—M.B

Photo: Merrick Morton/courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

 

15. DREAM WEAVER

We’d bet the farm on Reed Krakoff’s debut ready-to-wear line
matching his success with Coach—where, as executive creative director
for more than a decade, he’s helped turn an American heritage brand into
a multibillion-dollar phenomenon. With his unabashedly luxe
collection, which includes rich utilitarian coats (the shearling
aviator is worth its weight in gold) and chunky ribbed knits trimmed in
fur, Krakoff’s new flagship—which is opening its doors on Madison
Avenue in Manhattan—is certainly the place to be this fall.—A.B.

Photo: Runway: Imaxtree.com; Krakoff: Courtesy of the subject

 

16. ACTING FUNNY

In an era of good musicals about heavy subjects (bipolar disorder,
African corruption, teen alienation), Broadway seems to have lost its
touch for musical comedy. For every Hairspray, there are 10
unfunny and untuneful stabs at this much-more-difficult-than-it-looks
genre. But this season brings a terrific prospect in Lincoln Center
Theater’s production of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, based on the 1988 Pedro Almodóvar film. Songwriter David Yazbek and book writer Jeffrey Lane—the team behind the hilarious Dirty Rotten Scoundrels—build on the movie’s screwball plot about the complications and dangers of love as experienced by four hysterical madrileñas soon after the fall of Franco.

Photo: Courtesy of the production

 

16. ACTING FUNNY (CONT’D)

But burning beds, drugged gazpacho, and answering machines used as
deadly weapons are only the start. “It’s really about women finding
their voice,” says Lane, pointing out that the main character, Pepa,
played by Broadway favo­rite Sherie Rene Scott, has a job dubbing
Hollywood musicals into Spanish. (Mega­diva Patti LuPone is in talks to
play another member of the quartet, who’s fresh out of the asylum.)
That’s why the musical sticks to the 1980s, before cell phones, text
messages, and Facebook: a time when, Lane says, “people really had to
work on communication.” Could it be that in our instant-intimacy world,
talk is too cheap for sophisticated comedy? Like love in Women on the Verge, humor on Broadway doesn’t blossom without serious obstacles.—J.G.

Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

 

17. THE NEW GUY

Lone Star, FOX’s new Dallas–meets–Catch Me If You Can
drama, follows con-man-with-a-conscience Robert Allen—played by
newcomer (and a young George Clooney ringer) James Wolk among a cast of
equally genetically blessed male costars. This makes it difficult to
focus on the show’s less gratuitous (but also alluring) aspects:
emotionally hefty plotlines (Allen juggles identities, alibis, and wives
as he sells shares in a phony energy company to unassuming small-town
folk) and Jon Voight’s stunning turn as a gritty Texas oil tycoon who’s
about to hand over the keys to his kingdom to his grifter son-in-law.
It’s worth tuning in if only to catch the scene of Wolk mowing the lawn
in the stifling Texas heat. Shirtless.—J.V.

Photo: Bill Matlock/FOX

18. BIG BOOKS

Two big, brassy sagas drop this fall: Some Sing, Some Cry (St.
Martin’s), from ­visionary writer Ntozake Shange and her ­playwright
sister, Ifa Bayeza, is the musical, magical, must-read epic of freed
slave Bette ­Mayfield and her progeny from Reconstruction to 9/11 and
beyond. Or you can pick up one of the ­million first-run copies of Ken
Follett’s ­behemoth Fall of Giants ­(Dutton), the first in a trilogy tracking five families across ­Europe and America through the tumul­tuous twentieth century.—Lisa Shea

Photo: Len Lagrua

 

19. THE REPUBLICAN OF WOMEN

This fall’s big midterm-election story is the GOP’s huge shot of
estrogen. From Nikki Haley to Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, will
Republicanism’s feminization narrow the parties’ gender gap? Will Sarah
Palin’s anointed “mama grizzlies” clear her path to 2012? Come November
2, we’ll get some tantalizing clues.—B.D.

Photo: Fiorina: AP Photo/Charles Krupa; Haley: AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain; Whitman: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

 

20. BEST WEEK EVER

Christiane Amanpour steps in to host ABC’s This Week. “If there is a breaking story, the show will
travel,” says the half-Iranian, half-British journalist, who spent the
past 27 years as a front-lines reporter for CNN. “I’ll keep the
stalwarts, but the international focus demands I add new faces. I’m
intent on creating a different dynamic.”—Johanna Cox

Photo: Brent Stirton/Getty Images

 

21. THE BAD MAN

Before Osama bin Laden, there was Carlos the Jackal, a legendary
young terrorist from Latin America who plotted, bombed, and rampaged
across Europe in the ’70s and ’80s, finally landing in a French prison,
where he will die a forgotten man. Or he would have, except for Olivier
Assayas’ Carlos, a pulse-pounding action movie that
electrified a lackluster Cannes festival this year with the riveting
performance in the title role by its sexy 33-year-old star, Edgar
Ramirez. “It made perfect sense to him to carry out the revolution
while enjoying an extravagant playboy lifestyle,” says the multilingual
Venezuelan actor, whose Carlos is a ruthless, hedonistic rock star on a
permanent adrenaline high.

Photo: Film en Stock/courtesy of The Sundance Channel/IFC Films

 

21. THE BAD MAN (CONT’D)

After the seven-month shoot, Ramirez went into therapy for several
weeks: “He was a monster. I needed to shed all those emotions that were
not mine.” Next month, Carlos opens as a two-and-a-half-hour
movie and airs on the Sundance Channel as a five-and-a-half-hour
miniseries. Thanks to Ramirez, the long version is not to be missed.—K.D.

Photo: Courtesy of The Sundance Channel

 

22. THE ART EVENT

On September 15, New York’s Museum of Modern Art debuts its post-post-feminist show Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen.
“I’m sure that people will think, Oh what a stereotypical thing to do,
present the kitchen as a woman’s space,” says curator Juliet Kinchin.
“But our aspirations are to demonstrate, by implication, how much more
radical [women’s] designs were than many of their male contemporaries,
like Le Corbusier or Walter Gropius.”— J.V.

Photo: Wesselmann/courtesy of MoMA, NYC

 

23. BRAIN BACKLASH

“Keep your hardwires out of my brain!” say two scholars in new books
about how men and women think and behave. In recent years, MRI
technology and advances in our understanding of fetal development have
fueled the theory that even before we’re born, boys and girls are set on
divergent mental trajectories. Boys’ craniums “marinate in
testosterone” at a key stage in the womb, in the ­memorable phrase of
Luann Brizendine, MD, who wrote The Female Brain and The Male Brain
and founded and directs the Women’s Mood and ­Hormone Clinic at the
University of California at San Francisco. Thenceforth, it would seem,
men are more or less doomed to ­emotional un­intelligence and blind to
the hideousness of combining stripes and polka dots.

Photo: Courtesy of the publisher

 

23. BRAIN BACKLASH (CONT’D)

Fiddlesticks, concludes Australian academic psychologist Cordelia Fine, whose Delusions of Gender (Norton)
is an admirably fluent review of a gazillion brain-science studies.
Barnard College sociomedical scientist Rebecca M. Jordan-Young goes
deeper into the weeds in Brain Storm (Harvard), a formidably
technical analysis of the research program of the whole field of “brain
organization theory.” Both Fine and ­Jordan-Young find that culture,
socialization, and pervasively gendered expectations decisively shape
all the stereotypical behaviors that Brizendine and her confederates
dubiously attribute to the ­hormones and hardwired cells in our heads.
Social Darwinism in its time exploited the popular understanding of
natural selection to excuse and justify social inequalities as resulting
from “the survival of the fittest.” Just so, writes Jordan-Young,
“Brain organization theory is little more than an elaboration of
long-standing folktales about anta­gonistic male and female essences.”
So let the cage match begin, and may the best, er, person win.­—B.D.

Photo: Courtesy of the publisher

 

24. THE REUNION

The last time Jeff Bridges joined up with the Coen brothers, they
created one of the most worshipped deadbeats in history. This
Christmas, the trio reconvenes, banking on more strange alchemy for True Grit,
a remake of Charles Portis’ novel-turned-Western that earned John
Wayne his Oscar. Bridges stars as U.S. marshal “Rooster” Cogburn, a
hard-drinking hired gun.—N.A.

Photo: Lorey Sebastian/courtesy of Paramount Pictures

 

25. DIE, YUPPIE SCUM

Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (2001) was pretty much the last great American novel. This month, he at last follows up with Freedom (Farrar,
Straus & Giroux), about Walter and Patty ­Berglund and their
almost-­perfect children, Jessica and Joey. These urban gentrifiers in a
recently too-funky neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota, seem
effortlessly to inhabit the peaceable kingdom of conscientious ­living.
But, ­Franzen being ­Franzen, yuppie dread soon rears its ugly,
self-absorbed head, catalyzed by the ­belated success of Walter’s
indie-rocker college roommate, Richard Katz. Franzen makes a
mind-boggling stylistic miscalculation in presenting 200 pages of the
book as ­Patty’s autobiography—in his unmistakable narrative voice.

Photo: Greg Martin/GregMartinPhoto.com

 

25. DIE, YUPPIE SCUM (CONT’D)

But read on—there’s mordant pleasure aplenty to be had in
surrendering to Franzen’s hypnotic accretion of offhand observations
(“There are few things harder to imagine than other people’s
conversations about yourself”), pithy German-idealist characterizations
(“She was already fully the thing that was just starting to happen to
the rest of the street”), and brutal cultural commentary. So reserve
some hammock time this Indian summer for one more solitary reverie as
the shadows lengthen and the leaves start to fall: 562 more pages of the
merciless intelligence of Jonathan Franzen.—B.D.

Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.com





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